by Adam Chau
Since the finale of HBO’s Watchmen, I’ve been trying to reconcile my initial and absolute love for the show along with the eventual (and building) disappointment that I felt by the final episode for the Vietnamese characters and lịch sử brought into the show — but also keeping in mind that at its heart it’s a story about a Black Female Protagonist, the impetus for PTSD the Tulsa Race Riots, aka Massacre (which people still don’t know about), and the trauma and rising of a Black American lineage — không gia đình Việt Nam.
In that way it’s not a straight line from one thought to one conclusion — it’s the questions and the feelings they’ve brought up, their validity in a fictional world clearly designed to take on racism by POC, where there is inclusivity, but where I also can’t help but feel some of the underlying tones are still a recycle of already recycled stories, fictional and beleaguered, where Vietnamese and Asian Americans are still not fully embraced.
My Initial High Hopes For Team Vietnam
A strong woman of color, racist beatdowns, slick sci-fi-ness, a soundtrack to love, and they had moocakes? And a coked up Don Johnson? How could I not be in to this show? All the boxes checked themselves (and yes, there is a box for “Coked up Don Johnson”). Sure, I didn’t know exactly how I felt about the United States and Nixon winning the Vietnam War (aka America’s War) but I was willing to see where it went. How it played into the overall story. I’d given a lot less better shows the benefit of the doubt and if there was one show I felt I could give the benefit of the doubt at that moment, it was definitely Watchmen.
So when I saw themes of Vietnam, characters who were Vietnamese and seemed to be working towards the greater good, who at the outset had the foundation to be more than two dimensional characters, I was at the very least, hopeful. And if I were to be truly honest — I’d have to admit that I was more than hopeful — I was on the verge of being ecstatic that chúng tôi, Vietnamese Americans, got to play a part in what was looking to be a ground-breaking show.
I get it. The reminder “Be careful what you wish for” hasn’t eluded me. I understand my penchant for immediate gratification and the effect that it can have, particularly on that portion of my brain where it acts like a rush of C8H11NO2. Even though I know better, I enjoy the high of thinking to myself that the world, deep down, really is a just place.
So I got blindsided by Hồng Châu in her role as Lady Trieu — a stylish trillionaire bad-ass, steps ahead of everyone, her primary goal to eradicate racism and make the world a safer, and better place. A Vietnamese American woman who pulled herself up from nothing, disowned until she was the only option left, but who still stayed her course. I felt like maybe I could be witnessing a new breed of Vietnamese American character, and when I saw her with Louis Gossett Jr. (who was standing no less) I knew it. Working together, side by side — this show was going to help bridge the gap. It was going to be something different. Communities of Color along with their White allies, united in their goal to take down the fascism of White Racial Injustice once and for all.
I was so struck by the light though that I forgot everything has a price and nothing is ever free.
It Feels Like Someone Might Be Calling Me A…
Right now I’m channeling my inner Doctor Manhattan where I’m simultaneously in the past, the present, and the future, and the only way I can describe it to anyone is to just list all the ways I became disenchanted with the depictions of Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans in the show.
At the same time, since no one can feel everything I’m feeling, especially spanning three different planes of existence, and I’d like to give as accurate an account of how I truly feel (because not everything can be put into paragraphs), all listings will have a corresponding Đụ Má Scale. It’s kind of like the Scoville Scale, except everything is measured in đụ má and I feel like this is a lot more useful unless you’re going to be on Hot Ones.
Nixon And The United States Wins The Vietnam War
This one can be complicated, because there’s a lot you have to consider — but the way that I eventually looked at this, in part because the show couldn’t redeem itself on this level, was that at the end of the day a country who’d eventually dismiss the thoughts of any other country’s plan for colonization (no matter the years it might have taken), who fought the United States and their allies into submission, was instead beaten and occupied. A history of resilience wiped out.
At the same time, there’s a contingent that would say, the South won, so that’s not a bad thing — but — instead of being independent, Vietnam became an occupied state of the U.S. Colonizers, still driven by a White doctrine, that took over a land that didn’t belong to them under the guise of ‘help’ and freedom.
Đụ Má Scale: Ba đụ má. It’s problematic but also complicated.
Haven’t I Seen This Character Before?
I’m just going to call him Tuan and rename the episode “There’s Always A Viet Guy With A Bomb Strapped To Him In Movies And TV Shows About Vietnam Whose Sole Purpose Of Existence Seems To Be So People Can Point At Him And Talk About How Ungrateful A Chinky Bastard He Is.”
With almost anything about Vietnam having to do with the war, there’s always a theme of Vietnamese people, Vietnamese men, taking innocent “American” lives. For every Delicate Lotus Blossom (still an issue) there’s a Savage Vietnamese Man who’ll commit the most heinous of acts. For me it was The Deer Hunter, an award winning film, that was one of the first fictional narratives to impregnate this idea into the consciousness, where it wasn’t just the “savagery” in the moment, but its effect long afterwards and the toll it took on “American” families.
Unfortunately Watchmen continues this legacy.
Đụ Má Scale: Sáu đụ má. It’s lazy, overused, and continues to feed a one-dimensional view of Vietnamese American men.
She’s A Thief With Her Legs Spread Wide Open
Can’t trust a Viet woman? Check. Is it semi-sexual in nature? Check.
I mean did they have to show her actually getting up in the chair, spreading her legs, and then get a closeup of her, where even though she was doing it to rebel against the establishment, she just had to be feeling a little orgasmic while she was pumping herself full of White Colonizer Cum?
Đụ Má Scale: Bảy. Because in just a couple short minutes we got every cardboard cutout of Vietnamese women we’ve already seen.
Viet People Just Let You Die On The Street
If you’ve been to Vietnam — North, South, take your pick — when a bike falls, everyone hears it, and while sure, some have to speed on their way and not look back, there’s at least a few who stopped because they saw everything, and every single one of them has an opinion on who was at fault. It’s just the nature of the streets. So when Angela’s grandmother falls down, absolutely no one around trying to help — even with the taxi driver waving frantically — I call bullshit.
People are just walking by, hanging out on the steps, even smiling as they walk past?
A Black woman surrounded by Vietnamese people who don’t care?
Out of all the portrayals this felt like one of the most egregious because it had nothing to do with politics or power — just everyday people living in Saigon. Doing their thing. Apparently not giving a fuck.
Đụ Má Scale: Tám đụ má. Because disappointment is heartbreak, and that’s tougher to get over than just being mad.
Are You Kidding Me? You’re Really Trying To Sell Me On This? This???
My thought is that if you’re going to kill off a great character, at least do it right — do it in style, and make it plausible. Give me at least something, because as a viewer I feel I deserve that.
But what did they give me instead?
They gave me a hailstorm of squid. Not cool lit up squids. Not squids with an attitude. Just some frozen squid falling from the sky intended to take out one of the best characters on the show — and it didn’t even make sense.
I mean how does the squid pummel through the hand of Lady Trieu, but other people can be hit without anything happening?
How does it take down the Millennium Clock Tower with its sheer force but can’t manage to put a dent in what’s essentially some luggage?
How does someone like Lady Trieu — cloner of mothers, maker of babies, giver of Nostalgia, the one who saw the Seventh Kavalry coming before anyone else, a builder of spaceships no less, who knew Doctor Manhattan was walking around living on Earth — how does someone like her forget to weather-proof her most important invention?
No money for graphene or carbon steel? Not a hint of tungsten or a smidgen of titanium in the specs? I just don’t understand how someone puts all that work into the first wonder of the new world but didn’t do a check to see if it could withstand a sprinkling of ice cubes.
But why did she have to die anyway?
And how did she turn into the villain?
She wasn’t any more of a narcissistic threat to the world than Adrian Veidt. She didn’t cause mass hysteria and kill millions of people by unleashing a giant squid attack on New York City.
She wanted to save it. She wanted to eradicate racism.
Sure, it meant the death of Doctor Manhattan and taking his powers, but they could have changed that — she could have still lost, but not died with Angela still getting the power (presuming she does have at least some of it).
There were so many different ways it could have ended for Lady Trieu, but the fact that she died, that she was the villain and not the ally, that it was her White father, a mass murderer whose hands ultimately killed her — I felt betrayed.
I felt duped.
I thought of Anna May Wong and anti-miscegenation laws, her refusal to play any more dragon lady and concubine roles.
I thought of Miss Saigon, those final scenes, and wondered to myself how many more Vietnamese women will I see die on the stage and the screen?
By the time the final pieces from the Millennium Clock fell, I was shutdown, left searching for words to explain how I felt.
But there was nothing I could say, and there was nothing that could be done.
This was just the way it was going to have to be, because not everyone can be saved.
The world isn’t always just.
Đụ Má Scale: A hard, fast, and easy mười đụ má.
Don’t Forget About The Kids
No picture of Vietnam would be complete without orphaned children and Watchmen wouldn’t be the first. With Lady Trieu gone, Bian, her “daughter mom,” became an orphan, and I could only lament the fact that every Vietnamese person here gets the shaft — children included.
I just hope they do something good with her character in season two and give her an avenue to grow, versus using her like the Ford administration used Operation Babylift for political credit — and while sure, some people can point to it and say it did some good — it also resulted in the deaths of approximately 80 Vietnamese children.
Đụ Má Scale: Bốn đụ má. You know, ‘cause it’s the kids…
Adam Chau is a blogger, publisher, and sometimes writer who likes to photograph and film the world around him. He likes GitHub and blockchain technologies and believes skateboarding can save the world.