The series creator discusses how the entire season and that jaw-dropping final episode came together — and whether he’ll continue this story
Damon Lindelof is done with Watchmen after tonight’s finale.
Unless he isn’t.
Lindelof has long been not only one of television’s most audacious writers, but perhaps its most anxious. When Lost became an instant hit right after his co-creator J.J. Abrams left to make movies, Lindelof desperately wanted to quit rather than deal with the pressure of expectations, but (as he once told me), “There was literally no one to quit to.” He admitted he “grew really depressed” working on the first season of his HBO cult classic The Leftovers. And as he began working on his remix of the classic Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons comic Watchmen, he quickly began to worry that using the story as a vehicle to address racism and white supremacy was “the hugest mistake that I’ve ever made in my life.”
But if Lindelof has spent much of his TV career panicking, he’s also spent much of it triumphing. Lost remained a big hit, and is considered a classic by countless viewers (though some are still mad about the ending). Few watched The Leftovers, but those who did praised it as few shows have been over the last 10 years. (Some knuckleheads even put it atop their best-of-the-decade lists.) And for all of Lindelof’s fear that he was out of his depth taking this approach to this source material, Watchmen has been a critical and commercial smash, one of the year’s most talked-about shows. The series’ interweaving of our country’s very real and ugly history of race relations with this fictional superhero universe has been praised by white and black viewers alike — and by those who know the comic by heart alongside those who’d never heard of Hooded Justice before.
But even as the nine-episode season concludes in thrilling fashion, Lindelof is anxious about how it will be received — particularly because, as he told me in an interview late last week, he used up every idea he and the show’s other writers had for the Watchmen universe. Barring some divine inspiration down the road, he said, he doesn’t see himself returning to it.
We spoke about the triumphs of this season, his concerns over how the ending will be interpreted, how he would feel if HBO were to renew the show without him (which, I’m told, is not what HBO intends to do), and more.
Why are you worried about the reaction to the finale?
I think it probably has more to do with the culture than it has to do with my feelings about the episode personally. Putting aside anything that relates to my own work, the Lost finale, or The Leftovers finale, I feel like we’ve moved into this space of, the only part of the game that matters is the final 30 seconds of the fourth quarter. It doesn’t matter if you had an undefeated season. If you lose in the Super Bowl on a missed field goal, that’s all anyone cares about. I don’t think this is paranoid delusion on my part. I’ve seen multiple pieces, people I really respect who have embraced Watchmen, have said things like, “If they stick the landing…” or “I’m not sure they can stick the landing.” For someone who has experienced a fair amount of finale trauma, I think I would be insane to approach this final episode of Watchmen with anything other than a high degree of trepidation and anxiety, just on general principal.
Secondary to that, I wanted to design the season of Watchmen to feel like it had a beginning, a middle, and end, just like the original 12 issues did. Although when I finished issue 12 as a 14-year-old, I certainly wanted more. But I also was feeling like the story was complete, and all the things that I cared most about were resolved. I feel that way about this final episode of Watchmen, but I don’t know if anyone else is going to feel that way. About a month ago, I had a meal with Tim Blake Nelson, who I love and adore as an actor, but also as a human and as a writer. He said to me, “If you think that people aren’t going to believe that last scene is a cliffhanger, you’re fucking crazy.” I was like, “Oh, really? It didn’t feel like a cliffhanger to me.” But the fact that he felt that way suddenly filled me with profound terror.