Spoiler alert! The following contains spoilers for Season 1, Episode 1 of HBO's "Watchmen," "It's Summer and We're Running Out of Ice."
From its very first frame, HBO's "Watchmen" is not playing around.
The new take on the seminal graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons is not a direct adaptation of the source material. Rather it's something creator Damon Lindelof ("Lost") calls a "remix," but that functions as a sequel to the source material.
That sequel is a mix of old and new characters, but the first episode, which is a bit of a rocky, confusing outing, focuses mainly on the new, with plenty of Easter eggs for longtime fans and potential for greatness (or the opposite) in episodes to come.
Welcome to the new age
The series opens with a flashback to the Tulsa race riot of 1921, a real historical event in which a wealthy black district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, known as "Black Wall Street," was attacked and burned by rioting white residents, accumulating a death toll historians estimate was close to 300. We see a young boy and a baby escape the massacre before the scene changes to Tulsa in 2019.
This is 2019 as it would be if everything in the original "Watchmen" graphic novel had taken place, although if you haven't read it, the episode quickly gets you up to speed. Robert Redford has been president since 1992. Sometimes squid rain from the sky. Vietnam is a state.
In Tulsa, police officers wear masks (and costumes, if you're high-ranking enough) to conceal their identities after a white supremacist group called the Seventh Kalvary attacked police in their homes one Christmas Eve, decimating the force. The Kalvary targeted the police officers because they were helping to enforce a racial reparations law that the supremacists took issue with. The Kalvary wear masks copied from the dead superhero Rorshach, a character from the comics who was not a white supremacist, but has a complicated, violent history.
Meet Sister Night
Things are fine and dandy in Tulsa until a member of the Kalvary shoots a black officer making a traffic stop, mobilizing the police force against the hate group, particularly Det. Angela Abar, aka Sister Night (Regina King).
When we meet Angela she's at her son's career day at school, where she poses as a pastry chef. In reality, her bakery is a high-tech Bat Cave. When she receives the call about her fellow officer, she heads to the bakery to change into her Sister Night getup, running into an over-interested elderly man in a wheelchair (Louis Gossett Jr.) along the way.
She heads to Nixonville (a trailer park named after the long-serving president before Redford that is home to suspected domestic terrorists) and picks up a "likely suspect" and delivers him to police chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) and interrogator Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson, a treat in a mirrored mask). They throw him in the "pod," a screen-laden chamber where Glass can seemingly tell who is telling the truth and who is lying.
Angela has her own way of getting information and beats the suspect until he reveals the location of a Seventh Kalvary safe house on a cattle ranch.
The police raid the farm (some flying into the fray in a very familiar craft) and find the Kalvary members separating old watches from batteries, but they are unable to question anyone as the terrorists are all dead, killed in the assault by the officers or by taking suicide pills.
There may be a new "war" between the Kalvary and the police ahead, but Angela and Judd can rest for the time being, taking the opportunity to get their families together for a sweet dinner party. Judd is sworn to uphold the law, but he's not above doing a little bit of cocaine to get him through the night, something his wife (Frances Fisher) and Angela both notice.
And now, a castle
The episode takes a detour away from Tulsa to visit a European-looking estate in an undisclosed location, where an as-yet-unidentified man (Jeremy Irons) lives. The man rides horses, wears smoking jackets and has two servants who attend to his every need. (And some of those needs are very intimate.) His servants present him a sci-fi-looking cake for a vague anniversary (and do odd things like give him a horseshoe to cut it with).
Comics readers will likely have a guess the identity of the man (and indeed, Irons' character has been revealed in many reviews and stories), but we'll refrain from speculating for those who wish to be surprised.
Listen to this week's episode of USA TODAY's podcast, The Mothership, to hear our TV Critic's six episode review of HBO's "Watchmen" in the player below.
We know who you are
After the Abar/Crawford family dinner, both police officers retire for the night. Judd gets home in time to hear that the wounded cop is awake, and decides to go visit him in the hospital. As he drives away from his huge house, his truck runs over what he discovers to be spikes, and we see him bathed in a bright light by an unseen assailant before the scene cuts away.
Angela is in the middle of passionate sex with her husband, Cal (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), when the phone rings (only landlines in the "Watchmen" world). It's an ominous voice who says he knows who she is and where she lives. Angela grabs guns she has stored around her house, hands one to Cal and heads out with the other.
The image the episode leaves us with is confusing, loaded and just a lot. Angela eventually comes to the road where Judd was ambushed and drives into the grass. She finds him, dead, hanging from a tree. Underneath him is the man in the wheelchair, who we discover is the young boy from the opening scenes of the 1921 massacre.
The way the episode ends leaves it deliberately unclear what the series is trying to say about race and policing. It seems as though the audience is meant to root for the cops, who are righteous in their pursuit of terrorists, but it's not exactly a dynamic that is echoed in the real world. With the privilege of having seen more episodes (six of the nine-episode first season), I can say that this dynamic becomes more complex than it first appears, but as a standalone episode, the pilot is distinctly hard to parse. The question is whether viewers will be turned off after this single episode, or if they'll stick around for some explanations.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Watchmen' recap: Season 1, Ep 1, 'Summer & We're Running Out of Ice'