Season 1 of HBO’s series Watchmen wrapped up on Sunday, December 15 with a finale that brought together its previously separated plotlines, clarified some important relationships, and as usual, repeatedly looped back to the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons graphic novel that inspired the show. Creator Damon Lindelof has said that he doesn’t have plans for a second season, but the show’s success makes it hard to believe HBO won’t push for one.
Watchmen has been a mild ratings success, but more significant for HBO, which needed a post-Game of Thrones conversation-starter to keep the network in the spotlight in an increasingly competitive streaming era, it’s been an appointment-viewing show in a time when those are rare. It seems likely that HBO would push Lindelof (or other members of his team) to continue the story in some way. But should he, given that he conceived of this as a one-and-done story? Fans always tend to push for more of what they love, and then they’re often disappointed when the sequels and prequels don’t give them the high of the original. So we convened a Polygon roundtable to ask: Do we want to watch more Watchmen? And should we?
Did you enjoy season 1 enough to want more of this show?
Matt Patches: The minute Lube Man greased himself up and slid down a storm drain, I wanted 800 more episodes of Watchmen.
Karen Han: It’s that age-old conundrum of “I would watch this show forever” vs. “I don’t think there actually needs to be any more of it.”
Susana Polo: I think my rule here is the same as when the show was announced. Any adaptation of Watchmen has to have something really important to say, if only to justify going against the firmly expressed wishes of one of its creators. But I’m a bit of a comic book crank on this subject.
Austen Goslin: I don’t know if there should be more Watchmen. But I know for sure that if there was, I’d watch every episode.
Tasha Robinson: I’ll outright say that there probably shouldn’t be more Watchmen. When something surprising and original comes along, and fans demand more, they’re basically trying to re-create the experience they had the first time, and there’s no way for a second season to come out of left field in the same way.
But that said, I was on board with the entirety of this show. It basically took everything I loved about The Leftovers, combined it with a lot of what I loved about Alan Moore’s Watchmen, mixed in a significant number of enjoyably weird twists, and then came to an intriguing conclusion. Lindelof and his team really accomplished something impressive here. If there was more of it, I’d certainly be on board.
What made season 1 work? Can it be replicated?
MP: In the lead up to Watchmen’s debut, Damon Lindelof hammered home his love for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ comic, and their refusal to adapt the work for the screen. Instead, he opted to “remix” it, concocting a sequel in which storylines, characters, and specific shots echo the source material. With all nine episodes behind us, I can’t think of a more daring and rewarding format. Each episode presented two highs: the plot, and the question of how Lindelof and his crew would invert the comic’s quirks. It’s everything J.J. Abrams thought he was doing with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with the added bonus that the series still grapples with sociopolitical themes. Season 1 is Watchmen to its very core.
I would say it couldn’t be done again, but as our EIC Chris Plante reminded me after we watched the Watchmen finale, Damon Lindelof faithfully adapted Tom Perrotta’s book The Leftovers in season 1, then found more places to go and more cans of worms to rip open as he plunged into the unknown of season 2. I don’t have any idea what a season 2 would do that would feel as fulfilling as the first nine episodes, but I trust that, given the time, Lindelof and his team would one-up themselves.
TR: It’s worth noting, though, that when Lindelof headed into season 2 and 3 of The Leftovers, he was working with Perrotta himself to expand the book’s world. Lindelof doesn’t have Alan Moore in hand to help develop more Watchmen.
KH: I think one of the big things that made season 1 work is that a lot of it wasn’t completely beholden to the source material. The series played with it, by revealing Hooded Justice’s true identity, or making the squid attack the source of Looking Glass’s trauma. But those stories still felt like they could have been independent, written without the Watchmen connection.
What makes me dubious about a second season is that it feels as though that freedom gets limited every time an element from the original graphic novel is introduced. For example, once Cal is revealed as Doctor Manhattan, Manhattan begins to dominate the show. The finale, which goes all-in on Watchmen lore by comparison with the rest of season 1, was a little weak as a result. But “weak” for Watchmen is still leaps and bounds beyond anything else on TV, and at this point, I’d trust Lindelof with my life.
AG: Season 1 feels almost like reverse engineering to me. Lindelof started with the idea of telling a story about the Tulsa race riots, and Watchmen filled in the missing pieces perfectly. He used the town like a magnet to draw past figures of importance into this other world, until after just two episodes, it felt like we knew the place.
I don’t think they could do that same thing again. They couldn’t start somewhere random with no familiar faces, and tie a Dr. Manhattan-blue bow on it at the end. But the idea of using this world and its costumed adventurers as a Trojan Horse for exploring more interesting topics is what Watchmen was built for, so I don’t see why it couldn’t work a second time.
MP: But Lube Man absolutely must return for season 2.
Are there still big unanswered questions?
TR: The big one is whether Angela Abar has Doctor Manhattan’s powers now, but I don’t really want that question answered. I’m more satisfied with the “Lady or the Tiger” ending here than with something definitive, and it’d be hard for a second season to leave this question open. And after watching the finale, my only other major question was “Who the hell is Lube Man, and what’s his deal?” But that question seems to have been answered offscreen.
A second season would also have to address how the criminal charges against Adrian Veidt go, and we already did that in a much more antic, wild way with the trial against him on Europa. A boring old Earth trial probably wouldn’t feature pigs and costumes. There’s also the question of how Angela avoids charges of obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence, and colluding with the known cop-killer she’s just invited into her home, but somehow I doubt a second season would engage much with those details.
SP: And what was with that elephant???
TR: Um, elephants never forget, and Nostalgia is a memory drug, and something-something science something. I don’t know what more you need about that.
SP: I’m just saying you can’t Dumbo-drop an elephant into a show like that without explanation. But I digress. Watchmen was always a story defined by its lack of a certain ending, so it pleases me that the television adaptation was also punctuated by a twist of uncertainty.
KH: Also, is Looking Glass still single?
TR: Are you implying something about him and Laurie, or trying to pick him up?
KH: Unfortunately, this is me trying to get at that Reflectatine.
So what would we want from a second season?
TR: I wouldn’t mind a second season that largely moved away from the characters established in season 1, and that instead focused on what’s going on with Dan Dreiberg, a.k.a. Nite Owl II, the one central surviving Watchmen figure who’s barely referenced in the show. In season 1, Tulsa also seems to be undergoing a highly specific social crisis, brought on by its history and by Joe Keene’s manipulations. There isn’t much indication that the rest of America is dealing with the same specific issues. So there’s a lot of room to dive into a different city and a different culture, the way Lindelof’s The Leftovers focused on different areas of the country, and different communities with unique issues, from season to season.
SP: It was pretty bold of HBO’s Watchmen to imply that Adrian Veidt, Doctor Manhattan, and Lady Trieu all did a bad job as keepers of great power, and then just hand nigh-omnipotence to Angela and walk away. I think a second season would have to grapple with the question of whether there is a way to wield such power without losing your humanity or doing more harm than good — perhaps the foundational flight of fancy of the superhero genre. It’s easier to say “No one should have this much power!” than it is to craft a satisfying story where someone already has it.
MP: For those reasons, the final shot of the finale, Angela’s is-she/isn’t-she pool moment, is the first time I became concerned about a potential season 2. That might sound completely backward, since the closing shot clearly sets up something momentous to come. Like you, Tasha, I’d rather not see the question answered. That would mean dealing with the fallout, drilling down into the ethical and moral questions of having a god walking among mankind, and on a more macro level, continuing season 1’s story. In my perfect world, Watchmen season 2 drops into another corner of the universe to interrogate another aspect of everyday life that we take for granted, as the doomsday clock continues to tick toward the apocalypse.
KH: I’d also love to see what Nite Owl is up to in jail. Maybe a sort of Mindhunter or Silence of the Lambs take, where it’s just a season’s worth of interrogations? I’d like to see what Will got up to in the decades where we didn’t see him, too.
I think the difficulty — potentially both a blessing and a curse — about a second season is that there’d be less of the bigger Watchmen tentpoles to work into it, as everyone except Dan has been accounted for.
I also just have mild anthology distrust after The Terror, but I don’t know that continuing the story while moving away from season 1’s unresolved plots would be feasible. There’s so much to deal with — the re-trial of Ozymandias, the impeachment of Robert Redford, what’s up with Angela — that it feels like the scope has expanded too much for a show that won’t be at least five more seasons long.
AG: I totally agree. I think what I would want from a second season is something entirely different.
Lindelof and his team put an unbelievable amount of work into building out the peripheral edges of this world, but they’ve left holes big enough for anything to fit into. At my most TV-anarchy level, I love the idea of setting a different talented creator loose in this world once every few years. But I think whether that works all comes down to who’s telling the story.
Lindelof has more experience than just about anyone at making shows obsessed with larger ideas. He also had enough respect for the original comic to try to understand the spirit behind it without just remaking it. Maybe this only works if Lindelof sticks around as a guiding producer on each new version?
TR: Or if HBO just lets it go. Like all businesses, TV is ultimately just about making money, and they want to do whatever’s best for their bottom line. But that often makes for terrible TV, as shows drag on for years after they’ve exhausted their premises. This might be the perfect time for America to embrace the one-season, single-story model that so many other countries have perfected. Maybe we should just be grateful for the Watchmen we got, and move on to something new. It’s not like we’re short of great TV shows to watch right now.