Review: DMZ (2022)

I recall hearing about a DMZ live action adaptation some time ago but not much else. There was not really a huge PR campaign. There were not buses or subways or billboards plastered with the faces of the cast or title across NYC or LA. There were not interview days or weeks where we would get information and behind the scenes gossip or cast activities to create hype and interest. There were not even any concentrated social media campaigns. Hell, I am going to venture that most reading this were not even aware the show exists much less that it is available to watch still, miraculously, on HBO Max. And that is both unsurprising and disappointing because it is actually a pretty good mini-series adaptation of the comic book series it is based on.

DMZ is a live action four episode mini-series based on comic books of the same name that premiered on HBO Max on March 17, 2022. The mini-series stars Rosario Dawson as Alma/Zee, a NYC medic who returns to the DMZ (the Manhattan area of New York City that has been declared such following the Second Civil War of the United States of America) in search of her son whom she lost in the initial evacuation of Manhattan. During her pursuit of her lost child, Alma discovers that her ex/baby daddy, Parco Delgado (played by the enigmatic and charming Benjamin Bratt), has led his gang, the Spanish Harlem Kings, into a powerful organization on the verge of taking control of the entire DMZ. His only real competition lies in Wilson Lin (played by Hoon Lee), the leader of Chinatown and equally compelling self-made man in power whose interests lie in direct contrast to Delgado’s. Lin also appears to have some history with Alma before the fall of Manhattan.

The DMZ in all its glory.

While navigating the treacherous and tumultuous waters between these two factions and the other major players and organizations of the DMZ, Alma becomes a bit of an inspirational hero and symbol for the potential and future of the DMZ and its people apart from the federal government, the Free State armies, and the machinations of the two power players in Manhattan. The short series ends with Alma having fulfilled her goals of finding and saving her son, but also realizes that she has found a new purpose after being elected to Governor of the DMZ in its first ever election after eight hard years of surviving between two opposing powers and declaring itself a free state on its own.

The world of DMZ is essentially a microcosm of the political and social landscape of the United States of America. That was true of the original comics in its original run from 2005 to 2012. And, sadly, it is probably even more true of the current political landscape. Yet, the distinct ideologies, and the reasons behind them, that characters possess make sense. Delgado is secretly working with the US government to take out the FSA with the promise of the DMZ being given independence and he being elevated to its leader. Of course, Delgado knows this isn’t true since he is a former US army veteran and knows of the duplicity of the American military. Really, all Delgado wants is a ticket out and a return to a semblance of peace that he had before, or the closest approximation. Wilson wants the DMZ to remain as it is with no one fully in control and a profitable criminal underworld being the governing force.

Both these men’s backgrounds and histories directly relate to why they believe and want what they do. Delgado is a soldier who upon returning from war was abandoned and left to deal with the horrors he witnessed and causes. He just wants what he feels he was promised from his time in service and only the US government can grant that. Wilson is the child of immigrants and understands how much opportunity can be found in the grey areas of the law and society. The DMZ is tailor made for his success. These are both ideologies and beliefs of citizens now. Neither is necessarily wrong but neither is truly, fully correct either.

If nothing else, the show knew how to cast.

Alma represents another perspective and American ideal. She does not want power or prestige. During her time in the DMZ, outside of trying to find and save her son, Alma spends her time helping people with her medical skills. Yes, she is trying to curry favor with the locals, but she consistently puts herself in harm’s way simply to provide aid to those who desperately need it. She also uses her words and voice to rally people and powers and to attempt to ensure more equal access to the limited water, healthcare, food, and other resources in the DMZ. In essence, Alma is the true American ideal that is possible and that we should strive for where every citizen has a voice and a chance.

The show ends on an oddly happy note with Alma being elected, the restart of the war being averted, Alma’s son being saved, and the US army retreating back to its own territory. The end allows for the possibility of more in this world, but I doubt that is a viable option. Which is unfortunate because there is so much potential for stories in this universe even with the extreme divergence from the source material, specifically the change in main character and their intentions within the DMZ. While I don’t hate the change, the comics main character allowed for more organic exploration of the DMZ and its inhabitants that the mini-series did not really have.

What is most aggravating is that a show with this level of talent in front of and behind the camera (one of the directors/producers is Ava DuVernay) still didn’t get the promotion and attention it so richly deserved. It was an unapologetic political drama with an amazingly talented and diverse cast that paid respect to its narrative, characters, and world. Perhaps that is the reason it had so little fanfare, especially considering WB/DC’s new owners. Hopefully, more will watch this before it is unceremoniously removed from the streaming service and there will be opportunities for more stories in this world. With the right group, this series and universe could really be something special.

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