The Watcher: Grade the Premiere of Ryan Murphy's True-Crime Nightmare

The Watcher Episode 1 Recap Netflix

Never one to let spooky season go uncelebrated, Ryan Murphy is telling another American horror story by way of The Watcher, a true-crime adaptation that dropped in full on Thursday.

If you’re not familiar with the source material that inspired Murphy and Ian Brennan’s take, The Watcher pulls from a real story — best chronicled by New York Magazine in 2018; carve out some time for the read! — about the owners of a suburban New Jersey home who were stalked and threatened by an anonymous letter writer calling themselves The Watcher. And though the premiere episode of Murphy’s adaptation does include many of the elements that made the real-life tale so fascinating (including, of course, The Watcher’s ominous notes), it also adds new characters and scares along the way that appear to be entirely fictional.

Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale lead the series as married couple Nora and Dean Brannock, who, along with their kids Carter and Ellie, relocate to 657 Boulevard in Westfield, N.J., after falling in love with the mansion both online and in person at its open house. (Episode 1 only skims the surface of Dean and Nora’s money troubles, but this much is clear: They can’t afford to buy this house, and they’re putting a lot on the line financially to do so.)

The Watcher Episode 1 Recap NetflixThe Brannocks encounter quite a few neighborhood oddballs during the open house, which interestingly doesn’t deter them from making an offer, but probably should. Dean meets Pearl (played by horror icon Mia Farrow), the eccentric president of the local preservation society, and her mentally unbalanced brother, Jasper; both of them are strangely invested in 657 Boulevard’s still-functional dumbwaiter. Another prospective buyer bizarrely asks realtor Karen (The White Lotus‘ Jennifer Coolidge) if indentured servants built the house. Both Carter and Ellie notice a man in one of the bedrooms, silently looking out the window to the front yard. In short: This place is weird from the start.

Upon the Brannocks’ move-in, things only get more foreboding — and most concerning of all is a letter the Brannocks receive in the mail, typed up by someone called The Watcher. In the note, The Watcher claims that other members of his or her family have been responsible for keeping watch over 657 Boulevard for decades, and now it’s their turn to do so. “You have two children. I have seen them,” The Watcher writes. “You need to fill the house with young blood. Better for me… Who am I? There are hundreds of cars that drive by each day. Maybe I am in one… This message will not be the last. Welcome, friends.”

Nora and Dean take the letter to the police station, where the detective they meet with is largely useless. He agrees to analyze the handwriting and run a DNA test on places where the envelope would have been licked — but beyond that, the police will continue to regularly drive by 657 Boulevard, as some kind of warning to The Watcher that the cops are on the case.

The Watcher Episode 1 Recap NetflixIn the wake of The Watcher’s first letter, things at 657 Boulevard grow more concerning, and quickly. Dean has an uncomfortable chat in the garden with two of his next-door neighbors — Mitch and Maureen, played to weirdo perfection by Richard Kind and Margo Martindale — who like to sit outside in lawn chairs and watch 657 Boulevard with binoculars; the moment the Brannocks moved in, Mitch and Mo despised them. Then there’s Jasper, who freaks out the entire family by showing up, crouched, in their dumbwaiter one night. (!) And when Carter’s new pet ferret is found dead in the hallway one morning, having been grabbed by an intruder in the middle of the night, it’s time for Dean and Nora to once again call the police… who, once again, are useless, offering only to have a squad car go by hourly instead of every two hours.

By the end of Episode 1, Nora and Dean haven’t made many new friends, and it seems The Watcher could be almost anyone in close proximity. Maureen, for example, tells Dean, “Folks around here, we watch out for each other. Now I’m gonna be watching you for different reasons.” Then there’s Pearl, who shudders at the thought of the Brannocks renovating their new house: “You better watch yourself, funny guy,” she tells Dean. “I got my eye on you.”

We also have realtor Karen, who initially befriends Nora — they attended college together — but appears to have an insidious nature of her own; one night, she pulls up outside 657 Boulevard, looks at it warily, then drives away. It could even be Dakota, who arrives at the house to install security cameras, but immediately starts flirting with Ellie and peering in on the family while they’re eating dinner.

The Watcher’s identity remains a mystery by the end of the hour… but the Brannocks do receive a second letter, this one even more unnerving than the last. “Have you found all the secrets [the house] holds yet?” The Watcher asks. “Will the young blood play in the basement, or are they too afraid to go down there alone? I would be very afraid if I were them. It is far away from the rest of the house. If you were upstairs, you would never hear them scream.” (Of all The Watcher’s real-life correspondence, this excerpt remains the most chilling — and it’s a direct quote!)

“657 Boulevard is my job now, my life, my obsession. And now you are, too, Brannock family,” The Watcher continues via voiceover as Dean frantically looks around the neighborhood for the letter’s author. “Welcome to the product of your greed… You know I will be watching.”

OK, your turn. How did you feel about The Watcher‘s first outing — and will you stick around for more? Cast your votes in our polls below, then drop a comment with your full reviews!

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