Tick tock. Playing with time and tense

Creative writing

If you’ve been watching HBO’s phenomenal Watchmen, you’ll know the series transcends locations, timelines and even planets. What started off as relatively ‘okay, that’s interesting’ has turned into one of the best and most jawdropping pieces of television we have seen for years. Laurie’s reveal in episode three; Wade’s PTSD by giant squid in episode five; the incredible Nostalgia journey of Angela’s family tree in episode six; THAT reveal in episode seven; Doctor Manhattan’s ability to be everywhere at once in episode eight. It’s outstanding stuff.

The reason this works, leaving viewers sated but still hungry for more, is the quality of the storytelling. The writers and team behind it have put something very special together indeed. We feel satisfied when we watch it as another piece of the jigsaw comes together. Those squid falling out of the sky in episode one? We get the answer, going back to the 80s. What did happen in Vietnam? We find out in episodes seven and eight. Will we get any nods to the original source material by Alan Moore? Oh yes, we do, in abundance. It takes writers on the top of their game to give us this journey, this complete story, without resulting in at least some disappointment by viewers.

The show also takes risks. Many episodes are short stories within themselves, for example episode six of the Nostalgia trip, but fit into the wider Watchmen picture and overall season journey. They are perfection alone, and each one worthy of awards. Doctor Manhattan is a big gamble, but one which pays off. Jeremy Irons’ farting in a manor house full of clones and scooping babies out of a lake may not be to all tastes, but oh boy does it work. He’s having an absolute riot as an actor, and it fits perfectly into Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias journey as demonstrated as to why he’s stuck on a ‘country estate’ in episode eight.

In creative writing, we are taught that multiple timelines can be problematic. They can confuse the reader and be too ambitious if not executed properly. Structurally, you can’t embark on them lightly and they need care. This is why I’m tipping my hat to the talent, the tour de force, of what the Watchmen writers have pulled off. It’s a joy to behold for any storyteller.

Creator Damon Lindelof will not be bringing us a second season. That’s sad. However, if this is the end, Watchmen goes out on an absolute high. It couldn’t get any better. Who watches the Watchmen? We all should, as you’ll be missing out on a cracker – the finest – of storytelling.

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