DMZ premieres on HBO Max on March 17, 2022.
Based on the 2005 Vertigo comic by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli, DMZ spans four hours and achieves few ratings. The four-part series is set in the near future after a new American Civil War tears the country apart, leaving a self-governing demilitarized zone (or DMZ) in Manhattan. Amid rising tensions, a doctor from outside this area, Alma Ortega (Rosario Dawson), searches for her son and becomes embroiled in local power plays for territorial control. While that premise is brimming with potential, it’s stifled by both its inconsistent politics and its labored approach to its characters, which makes even its most powerful and charismatic cast feel aimless.
What immediately stands out about DMZ is how contradictory it feels to its own premises. His dialogue alludes heavily to conflict and pandemonium (particularly on the borders of the DMZ), but his approach to these ideas is blind, with explanations heavily reliant on dialogue, given the rarity they manifest in the DMZ. screen. For the most part, the series rarely feels like it’s set in a war-torn America or a New York where community means survival, despite how many times different characters allude to these things.
Part of the problem stems from the pilot episode, which was directed by Ava DuVernay in early 2020. DuVernay, while brilliant at creating individual images, sometimes suffers as a filmmaker when she’s unable to string together shots in a way that creates rhythm or meaning. In movies like Selma and shows like When They See Us — stories based on real events — the images and performances are powerful enough to speak for themselves, and things fall into place eventually. In movies like A shortcut in time and shows like this, however, the result can be disastrous. In DMZ, even when characters like Alma cross into unfamiliar territory, there’s little danger or discovery, given how much the camera is focused on the characters’ close-ups, rather than their relationship to the world around them. surrounded. While this helps anchor us in Alma’s desperation to reunite with her son, Christian (Bryan Gael Guzman), from whom she was separated at the start of the war, it doesn’t do much to make this New York feel. feels like a living, breathing space with a volatile history, and does even less to justify the race against time structure of the first episode, as the hours count down Alma’s exit window from the DMZ. Kris Bowers’ music is propulsive, but while the dialogue would have us believe the city is a powder keg, it really is an empty barrel. By the time director Ernest Dickerson takes the reins for Episodes 2-4 – his shot-to-shot relationships are much more readable than DuVernay’s – the world doesn’t open up much more. Although the vast majority of screen time takes place in the DMZ, the show rarely offers a sense of what it’s like to live there day-to-day.
This is particularly disheartening given the source material, which transposed an Iraqi and Afghan-style invasion onto American shores (with Abu Ghraib footage in tow), making Americans the victims of their own army and creating an environment hellishly unpredictable that suited the story. By contrast, there’s a simplicity to the show’s New York, where street corners are dressed in the bare minimum – the odd abandoned bus here, a long lawn there – and people generally seem puzzled by to everything that is being prepared outside their borders, or even inside them. True, he attempts to update his political framework by rejecting much of the post-9/11 invasion imagery, but he rarely trades it for anything meaningful. An early conversation alludes to a story of border crossings and how real-world ICE and DHS policies could be activated against Americans, but it is quickly dismissed. As both the comic and the series attempt to elicit empathy in the same insular way – “What if the things America did to foreigners were done to American citizens?” – the comic at least follows its premise in a gritty and heartbreaking way.
The show, by comparison, is limited to Alma’s search for Christian, though that search eventually draws him in various directions that intersect with local politics. Alma plays a version of Zee Hernandez from the comics, though the series’ connection to the source material is nominal at best (Zee, for one thing, had no children in the comics). Two other major comic characters also appear, namely Spanish Harlem populist Parco Delgado (Benjamin Bratt) and a younger version of Chinatown kingpin Wilson Lee (Hoon Lee), both vying for governor of the DMZ. Alma happens to have previous ties to Delgado and Lee (and a number of other supporting characters), giving her practical reasons to interact with both sides of this ongoing tension as she transforms. into a sort of magic bullet, causing change. like a foreigner, although he knows little or nothing about the region and its inhabitants.
Most of Alma’s interactions take the form of long conversations steeped in reminders of events we haven’t seen. They are filled with “Do you remember when? the style reminiscence was meant to convince us that, like this New York version, these characters have a living past. And while Dawson’s performance is suitably frayed — and Bratt and Lee are charismatic at times — the dialogue rarely manages to carry the full weight of the premise or its story. Much of the DMZ is told rather than felt. So much is said, but so little is internalized by behavior or feeling, or externalized by action or design.
The more it advances, the more it feels dispersed. Its subplots, involving local orphan Odi (Jordan Preston Carter) and Delgado’s fiery right-hand man, Skel (Freddy Miyares), are eventually integrated into the main story, but for the most part they feel like directionless tangents. In addition to Delgado and Lee, there’s another local leader named Oona (Nora Dunn), giving Alma another checkpoint to bounce between, as she spends time convincing Politician A to go to school. place B in order to do thing C, a cycle that constantly repeats itself as she tries to get her son out of the DMZ. However, few of these developments reveal anything cohesive or engaging about the Zone’s relationship to the outside world – a dynamic that is, at several key points, meant to be vital to the story – and the more Alma is drawn into the politics of the zone, the more these policies turn out to be shockingly banal and simplistic. Where the comic, at least aesthetically, had something to say about the state of American politics and its impact on the world, the series instead opts for an empty sermon on idealistic belief in political systems, a perspective that clashes wildly with the premise at hand, in which America has supposedly already collapsed.
It’s so unlike the comic book — visually, narratively, wittily, and politically — that it’s hard not to wonder if it should have been an original show. More importantly, it doesn’t deliver on its own promise of a series centered around a mother’s journey to save her son (and eventually save his soul). It’s a simple, pre-loaded, out-of-the-box story concept for emotional drama, but it drags out every beat and confrontation, presenting it in the most uninviting, logical-first way, serving the purpose. intrigue that saps almost all emotion. Ultimately, neither the larger world nor the characters’ internal emotional worlds are engaging enough to matter.