The biggest flaw of 'Watchmen' could have been fixed with one more episode
At just nine episodes, 'Watchmen' couldn't tell the full story for one of its most important characters.
The original Watchmen comic, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, ran for 12 issues, an echo of the book’s motif on time. (Twelve months in a year, twelve hours on a clock — it’s all very on the nose.) But the sequel series from producer Damon Lindelof ran for just nine episodes, rather than a previously planned ten, and that’s a shame because one more episode would have fixed one of the show’s biggest flaws: Lady Trieu.
Warning: Spoilers for HBO’s Watchmen ahead.
In a December 17 interview with Collider, Lindelof talked at length about Watchmen, including what he believes is one of his biggest “regrets” about the show. To Lindelof, Hong Chau’s villainous Lady Trieu was not nearly as fleshed out onscreen as she was in the writer’s room.
“If there are any regrets, it’s that we didn’t get to dimensionalize Lady Trieu as much as we did in the writer’s room, on the screen,” he said. “It was one of those things where we got into the endgame of the season, and it felt like we were moving back too much, between episode seven and eight.”
Make no mistake, Lady Trieu was a badass bi-atch who took no shit. Her first appearance is ruthless and chilling to the bone. But Lady Trieu is, perhaps to a fault, a classic comic book villain. She’s dangerous and extremely watchable but never more complex than she needed to be.
Lindelof, to his credit, wanted more for Lady Trieu, adding: “We talked about Lady Trieu’s childhood, how she became who she was. But, a lot of her backstory got shorthanded between what Bian is saying to Angela and Lady Trieu is saying to Angela, in episode seven.”
Meanwhile, in that same interview, Lindelof talked about why Watchmen dropped one episode. Originally planned as a ten-episode series, Lindelof and his team shortened it by one when the writers decided to do away with what they intended to be a “filler” episode.
“The original plan was to do ten [episodes],” he explained. “And, then, I think around the time that we had written the scripts for four and five, and understanding what episode six was going to be — and six needed to happen exactly when it happened in the season, in our opinion — that we felt like once six ended, that we were closer to the ending than we were to the beginning. Six didn’t feel like a mid point. It felt like, we now know everything that we need to know to move into the endgame.”
He continued, “Every way that we looked at it, it felt like if we were going to do seven, eight, nine and ten, one of those episodes was going to be filler. And I was like, ‘We’re just not doing the filler episode. We know exactly what we need to do in our endgame. It’s time to start doing it. I don’t want to stall.’”
Respect to Lindelof and his team for recognizing where to slim story. A frequent problem in the current era of “Peak TV” is bloat, where shows can often feel like they’re just spinning their wheels until the end. (This issue plagued all of the Marvel/Netflix shows.) But with Lindelof revealing that Lady Trieu’s lack of development being a “regret” — supported by a handful of critics singling out Trieu as one of the show’s weakest aspects — it’s apparent one more episode focused on Trieu and her story would have made one of 2019’s best shows even better.
As Vietnamese-American author Viet Thanh Nguyen wrote for The Washington Post, Watchmen’s Vietnamese characters “never get the same interiority and backstory that are granted to white and black characters,” their actions “consequential but inexplicable, their motivations rootless. In one particularly lurid example, Lady Trieu’s mother steals a supervillain’s semen, presumably to birth a genetically gifted daughter. But for what reason? We never find out.”
Without any guarantee for a second season of Watchmen, not to mention Lady Trieu’s brutal death in the show’s finale, it’s unknown if Lindelof will ever get to explore the unexplored corners of his Watchmen sequel. But maybe one day we will. As Doctor Manhattan once told Adrian Veidt, nothing ever ends.