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If you care about your family, you are going to get out of that house.


The Watcher


Where The Pentaverate, with its piss-take, inverse conspiracy (the secret group actually represents the good guys protecting the world) came out affirming the basic tenets of such theorising, Netflix’s latest from a major Hollywood player appears to be bent on actively demolishing the same. It has been theorised that Mike Myers’ production was essentially a White Hat operation, so where would that put Ryan Murphy, a Netflix content producer in residence and “mastermind” behind an unholy rash of TV trash? Apart from being the aforementioned.

Perhaps I shouldn’t really judge, as I’ve steered clear of most of Murphy’s “oeuvre”, the Glees and American Horror Stories et al. I caught a season of American Crime Story and one of The Politician, and I have little wish to investigate Ratched (Cuckoo’s Nest’s villain gets the Disney sympathy-for-the-devil treatment) or “Tell us what’s it’s really about in the title” “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, no really, this is about Jeffrey, surname Dahmer he’s a Monster (unlikely to expose the great American serial killer deceit). A scan of reviews suggests The Watcher represents standard Murphy form, however, with an arresting concept – based on a true story! In the very loosest sense – giving way to nonsensical soapy twists and left turns in narrative trajectory.

Indeed, the twists and red herrings are so predominant as to become meaningless, voiding the piece of any cohesion, but – and this doesn’t make it any good or validate it – that may be the point. There’s the possibility this is all designed with a Season 2 in mind – which it seems has been mooted by Murphy and his cast – but if that is the intention, the lack of payoff in any way, shape or form may have shot them in the foot. The Watchermakes Lost look positively forthcoming.

Consequently, I don’t intend to spend much time critiquing the essential vacuity of the storyline, based on actual 657 Westfield couple who received threatening letters upon moving into their home in 2016 (the missives continued firing until they left in 2019). Murphy gives us former-bankrupt hubby Bobby Cannavale, who since he’s played by Cannavale inevitably goes off the deep end at some point. Although, the plot finds his Dean Brannock or Naomi Watts as his wife Nora invariably rushing to conclusions and accusing people right left and centre throughout the seven episodes.

Dean’s also peculiarly obsessed with repressing his daughter’s burgeoning womanhood. This plotline is all kinds of odd, with references to her as jailbait prior to the camera repeatedly lingering over her bikini’d body; surveillance guy Dakota is off-limits until he isn’t, mostly after she broadcasts – insanely – a TikTok video proclaiming her dad a racist. Understandably, he floats the suggestion she’s just ruined his life, although he’s doing a bang-up job of that anyway, particularly when he starts sending letters himself. Nora’s quick to assume the compromising video footage of Dean and someone with pigtails is entirely legit and not a set up at all. Very little the couple does, individually or together, makes rational sense, but this is part of the point, it seems. Or just the way Murphy writes.

No sooner have they arrived than they encounter a coterie of weird neighbours, with Mo (Margo Martindale) and Mitch (Richard Kind) camped out on their lawn in deck chairs, and Pearl (Mia Farrow) and brother Jasper (Terry Kinney) permanently hyperventilated and idiot man-child respectively. Dean wastes no time in getting on their wrong sides. And he’s repeatedly told they’ll be watching him for his pains. As do the anonymous letters portentously informing them greed has brought them there. A pet ferret gets squished. Someone is getting into the house. The local police detective (Christopher McDonald) isn’t much help, while the PI he puts Dean in touch with, Theodora Birch, reeks of a covert agenda (it turns out this is simply Noma Dumezweni’s performative, theatrical delivery). There’s also an insufferable old friend of Nora (Jennifer Coolidge’s Karen) who offers to sell the house if they’ve had enough of it.

Once you’ve got past the first episode, there’s a pervasive sense this will turn out to be some kind of Wicker Man, Stepford Wives, Midsommar kind of deal where everyone is in on it. Subsequently, if it is never really cleared up who is or isn’t in on anything or why, precisely, and it also seems evident any mutual interests are largely disparate in expression. Some of the red herrings are very obvious, such as the Mo and Mitch murder-suicide in the first two episodes, mainly because Martindale isn’t going to appear for a couple of episodes only. I have no idea if we’re supposed to believe anything about the explanation for what happens there (something to do with Mo and Mitch’s son), but it makes negligible sense. I’m guessing they wanted Ann Dowd for the imitation-Hereditary part, particularly with regard to her alleged activities (which don’t turn out to be true?)

Murphy furnishes a sinister voiceover narrating the letters, immediately intimating at cult-y vibes: “You need to fill the house with young blood. Once I know their names, I’ll call to them, and draw them to me”. This “guy” has been in control of the house for decades (it’s only a hundred years old, but I guess that’s supposed to be ancient for America). The detective only adds to this when he informs Dean and Nora this “may be the safest town in America. No murders. We’ve had a few disappearances here and there, but that’s it”. It’s Scooby Doolevel writing; Murphy stated his concern was addressing the idea that nowhere was safe anymore (“We moved out here to be inoculated from this kind of thing, right?” Is oozing with plandemic metaphors), but that sounds like flim-flam, really, since the series’ priority seems to be casting doubts on one’s ability to separate truth from fiction, possibly even to the extent where we are all the architects of our own dilemmas.

I’ve seen it suggested Murphy is something of a conspiracy enthusiast, dropping references to various theories throughout his American Horror Story seasons. The last run’s Double Feature (2021) has been said to have riffed on adrenochrome with drug “muse”, wherein it turns the talented into blood-drinking artistes and those bereft into soulless monsters (the drug is soon sold throughout Hollywood, and Tarantino takes it during his movie shoots); a character even asks for baby blood due to its purity at one point. The greyed-out, bald soulless monsters have the vague appearance of an Anunnaki riff (in Prometheus terms). The other half of the season gave a Roswell take, just a grislier account of the alien story (no, they aren’t humans from the future).

Dean: Right. I’m sorry. Why are they doing this again?
Andrew Pierce: To look younger. There are these cults, and there is something in the blood called adrenochrome that’s excreted by fear, and they fucking feed off it.

All of which is suggestive of standard-issue, intentional Hollywood obfuscation (those involved are hardly likely to get behind a “right-wing” conspiracy theory; Murphy, one of Hollywood’s foremost gay liberals, has assembled a cast and crew including Naomi Watts – fully supporting her son’s gender choices – Mia Farrow – so loopy, she almost makes you think Woody must be innocent – and Jennifer Lynch – mad, deceased dad). Here, the adrenochrome referencing is specifically identified when Dean encounters former owner Andrew Pierce (Seth Gabel of Fringe). He relates how his son was looked after by Mo and told him he saw old people in a circle in the living room wearing red robes “and in the middle of the circle – there’s this little baby on an altar and they slit his throat… They are drinking the blood of children”. His wife, meanwhile, reported Mo coming out of a secret tunnel in the basement and sucking the blood off the son’s finger. Andrew analogises this to the adrenochrome conspiracy theory (above).

Andrew is subsequently made out to be unstable – as would anyone who credited adrenochrome use as real, or potentially so, obviously – his paranoia emphasised by “Two years ago, he accused the principal of his son’s school of being a paedophile” and being “convinced William Morris is a mafia front controlled by the five families”. On top of which, Murphy layers in the idea of crisis actors, when Dean (mistakenly?) accuses Andrew of being put up to his tale after seeing him in an advert for heart medication (this whole bit suggests Ryan’s been watching Intolerable Cruelty).

And we have the suggestion, come the final episode, that Mo may be a bit crazy and obsessive but she isn’tan adrenochrome-guzzling Satanist (if Murphy – heaven forbid – gets a Season 2, he’ll probably flip on that, and even bring back Kind); it appears she’s being inducted into Pearl’s Preservation Committee, suggesting she hasn’t hitherto been part of whatever they are doing (on the other hand, they are also seen arriving at Karen’s door together with food gifts, and this may be some means of dealing with Michael Nouri’s Roger Kaplan, who evidently recognises Joe Mantello’s Bill/John Graff, who did or didn’t murder his entirely family a quarter of a century earlier).

Dean: I wouldn’t have put you for a blood cult, kind of guy.
Mo: Okay, here we go with the blood cult again.
Dean: Kinky Town, Westfield. Who knew?
Mo: That’s what we were discussing. Ways to kidnap children and drink their blood.
Roger: What?
Mo: Because we’re lizard people! We love blood orgies. That makes a lot of fucking sense.For our blood cult meetings! I can’t wait to tell our cult members and they will spread the word on QAnon…

Evidently, Bill and Pearl are at very least behaving proprietorially over the property, such that the obsessiveness-breeds-obsessiveness idea seems to be foremost for Murphy. By the end, Dean has become a watcher, sending letters and speaking weirdly to the new resident, while Nora is, in turn, watching him. There’s been no confirmation of any cults, Satanists or murders, because those are simply the nonsense things that arise from obsessiveness (ask Miles Mathis; that’s what they want you to distract yourself with). QAnon, naturally, is invoked, along with lizard people. Karen uses the Brannocks’ “lunacy” to get a knock-down sale price (“The owner maintains a satanic cabal uses the hundred-year old house as a meeting place”), but she falls victim to the neighbours’ more pedestrian fear tactics. At the point where Theodora composes her own confession of culpability, you sense Murphy is simply mocking anyone in the audience who has stuck around past the second episode.

Bill: Historical events. They don’t just happen. They’re set in motion by great men… Each unleashes a turning that lasts about twenty years, more or less. And every four turnings is a saeculum, just about the length of a human life. And at the end of each, there’s a crisis. in this country, the crisis is always war. The revolution. Eighty years later, the Civil War. Eighty years later, World War II. And that’s coming up on eighty years now, so… something is about to happen.

Perhaps the most interesting part of The Watcher isn’t the slipshod referencing, then, but the thesis delivered by Bill Webster/John Graff in the third episode, when he appears at 657 posing as a building inspector. He refers to “the Fourth Turning” – cue ominous, repeated piano note – an epochal event that comes through the actions of “great men” influencing the fabric of civilisation, typically by warfare. While Bill doesn’t necessarily couch that in terms of Illuminati puppeteering – it is characterised as a universal cycle per the 1997 book by William Strauss and Neil Howe (An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny) – we’re encouraged to divine a conspiratorial lens over how history comes to pass. Steve Bannon is cited as a fan. Crisis is a necessary tool of the Elite, of course, and much more acceptable to moot than lizards and adrenochrome (while I hadn’t come across their theory before, I’ve certainly seen other, not dissimilar cyclical theories). Murphy is thus presenting this “natural” order as keying into the fear for safety that drives Dean and Nora’s flight from the city.

In the context of the cyclic theory, the last crisis of World War II (actually 1925-42, per the book) lasted eighteen years, and we’re seventeen years into this one. Perhaps, as planned, the forthcoming Prophet (Idealist) cyclic archetype would be duly labelled the Transhumanist/gender Generation. One would be absurdly naïve to see any such cycles – perceived or actual – as organic, though, and I doubt anyone, even his fiercest critics, would accuse Bannon of such a disposition. I was curious to see The Watcher purely because I’d heard about its conspiracy-theory referencing, but its rather meagre yield in that regard – not to mention increasingly tedious and nonsensical plotting and characterisation – only reconfirmed that I’m not missing much avoiding Murphy’s content. He’s certainly ideally positioned to make a home at Netflix.

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