Netflix’s ‘The Watcher’ Villainizes Historic Preservation

Netflix neighbors The Observer are unhappy. The Brannocks, a family that recently moved from Manhattan to Westfield Boulevard, New Jersey, the city’s most popular street, are renovating their home. Their design choices are particularly offensive to Pearl Winslow, an elderly neighbor (played by Mia Farrow) who looks like she just walked out of Grant Wood’s house. american gothic The painting. “Butcher block counters? Are you turning your house into a delicatessen?» she mocks Dean Brannock (Bobby Cannavale) in episode six. “I have never seen anyone spend then a lot of money to make a house look then terrible.

But the Brannock family is dealing with something more dangerous than a rude neighbor. Dean and his wife Nora Brannock (Naomi Watts) receive threatening letters signed by someone who calls himself “The Watcher”, and they spend most of the series desperately trying to find out who it is. The show, which premiered on October 13, is based on the true story of the Broaddus family, who were forced to abandon their six-bedroom dream home in Westfield after receiving these letters (which are read verbatim in the series), as detailed in a 2018 New York characteristic by Reeves Wiedeman. In the article and on the show, the mystery of who watches the couple and their children through “every window and door” of the house, as one letter puts it, is never solved. In Ryan Murphy’s adaptation, potential suspects include Pearl and her fellow historic home enthusiasts, who make up the three-person Westfield Preservation Society. After all, they think it’s okay to break into someone’s house to admire a dumbwaiter and smash windows they don’t think are architecturally appropriate. As another member of the company said in a meeting, they are “very interested in keeping this town the way it should be.”

Pearl Winslow, Jasper Winslow and a mysterious character who calls himself John but is actually called William Webster form the three-person Westfield Preservation Society, a group fixed on the counters of 657 Boulevard. Pictures: Netflix.

Pearl Winslow, Jasper Winslow and a mysterious character who calls himself John but is actually called William Webster form the Westfie trio…
Pearl Winslow, Jasper Winslow and a mysterious character who calls himself John but is actually called William Webster form the three-person Westfield Preservation Society, a group fixed on the counters of 657 Boulevard. Pictures: Netflix.

That’s typical Ryan Murphy of take things to the extreme, so it is not so difficult for him to portray conservatives, who often have a self-righteous side, as villains. They have their real-world counterparts in arc trad crusaders – people who present classical European architecture as a symbol of the traditional values ​​they want to see in society and see modern architecture as a threat to the way things “should be”. More recently, they’ve had their biggest champion in the White House, when Donald Trump signed an executive order to “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” in 2020, and classical architecture-themed Twitter accounts that idolize European buildings. . became a magnet for white nationalists. The ObserverThe Westfield Preservation Society is organized around a similar desire: to maintain the traditional values ​​they believe their neighborhood represents.

But would a group of eccentric, overzealous curators who spring on turrets and ornamental plaster turn violent? It seems likely. When Pearl learns that her brother, Jasper, has smashed the new glass windows the Brannocks ordered, she says approvingly, “Six by six windows on a Queen Anne is a travesty.” We hear more nostalgia for “John’s” past, whom we first encounter in the Brannocks’ kitchen making himself a sandwich. He introduces himself as the building inspector and starts asking Dean, “Are you a Christian family?” When Dean says they don’t go to church, John sighs in disapproval. “The way the world is now, all of civilization is burning,” he says. Then he adds: “When I was a child, nobody locked their door and everyone went to church. Now everyone locks their door and no one goes back to church. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. It’s a familiar lament over societal collapse often handed down by conservatives. It turns out soon after that John is not the building inspector, and may in fact be John Graff, a murderous former resident who killed his wife and children and disappeared afterwards. Could he be The Watcher? It seems possible when Dean and Nora discover a tunnel that leads to a neighbor’s house and catch someone who seems to be living in an underground room. They never see his face, but the public does. It’s John, and he exits the tunnel through Pearl’s house. “They’re on us!” he says when Pearl opens the door.

Pearl Winslow’s living room is, of course, traditional.
Picture: Netflix

The real Broaddus family didn’t have an underground tunnel and didn’t undertake any dramatic renovations. The local historical society also left them alone at the start of their short term at home. What the Broadduses experienced was something more mundane: “a clear undertone that the neighborhood was one-way for a long time, but new money has come in and is changing things,” Wiedeman told me. The real architectural drama only occurred after the family decided to list the house and, after receiving no offers, considered selling to a developer and subdividing the land, which would require a gap zoning. There was a huge outcry from the Westfield Historical Commission and block neighbors. Rather than preserving, “it was more about protecting the value of their properties,” says Wiedeman. “They wanted the neighborhood to be pretty.” The company, for its part, had this to say about her fictional portrayal in the drama: “The character of Mia Farrow is an outdated caricature of the preservationist as a reactionary scold who is unlike anyone in our diverse, multi-generational commission.” , says Jennifer. Jaruzelski, vice-president of the commission. “We’re much more interested in engaging residents through walking tours, landlord rewards and informative ‘meets and greets’.”

But it turns out the preservationist villain isn’t entirely an invention of Ryan Murphy’s amped-up brain. In a published sequel this month, a new Watcher suspect emerges: a high school English teacher who was obsessed with another historic Westfield home and even wrote letters to it. He appears in the series as Roger Kaplan, a longtime resident of Westfield who loves his old homes. A flashback shows him as a child admiring a hand-carved Newel post (he even uses the technical name!) and asking his friend, who is only a few years older, if she knows the carpenter. Dean immediately thinks Kaplan is a suspect. For a while it seems likely, but in the end Kaplan proves himself harmless and seems rather pivotal in identifying who The Watcher really is.

The Brannock family are renovating their historic home to give it a more modern look inside.
Picture: Netflix

The series, unlike real life, ends with a more satisfying ending that strongly hints at at least one Watcher contestant. In the final episode, after the Brannocks leave, we can see that the preservationist society is still obsessed with countertops, this time because the new owner of 657 Boulevard, real estate agent Karen Calhoun (Jennifer Coolidge), has installed pink marble. At the newly expanded company meeting, as the group introduces themselves, we eventually learn that “John” is William Webster, who works in the library, who has typewriters with the same font as the letters in The Watcher. He says he has lived in Westfield since 1995, the same year the Graff murders took place. Kaplan seems to recognize this and asks, “How is your family?” William, who goes by the name “Bill”, sternly replies, “You know me from the library.” Kaplan gives him a suspicious look, but the conversation continues. As they discuss suitable countertops for the home, Bill reveals that he’s been paying close attention to 657 Boulevard for decades. “I remember the counters were original. They were polished black walnut. In one of the last scenes, we see that Calhoun has left the house (The Watcher has also tormented her) and a new family has moved in. While they are outside barbecuing, Bill is inside the house watching them from a second window.

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