This week’s Watchmen, “Little Fear of Lightning”, gives us backstory on Looking Glass, as well as a LOT of worldbuilding.
It’s my favorite episode so far.
Last Week, On Watchmen:
So let me begin with a confession: I utterly missed the fact that the opening scenes of last week’s episode were a prologue! Obviously knowing that changes a few things. First, Lady Trieu is either older than I previously thought, or, as I’ve begun to suspect, a clone. Because the “daughter” she brings with her appears to be the same age as the daughter we meet later on, who should be the same person who’s being fed nightmares that are, I’m assuming, memories of the original Lady Trieu. I’m guessing she’s been cloning herself and replanting the memories for a while now? And that now she’s finally able to pull the trigger on the scheme she’s working on with Will Reeves, which most likely involves a much harsher form of reckoning for the crimes the U.S. committed against Vietnam and against the Black American community.
I’ve also seen speculation that Veidt sections might also be happening on a different timeline, and that he might be the glowing orb that crashes to the ground on the Clark’s farm.
Which, could I just take a moment to doff my metaphorical cap to this show’s baldfaced superhero references? The Clark farm, The Red Scare, Will holding a baby wrapped in a flag, Laurie’s speech about trauma=masked vengeance, Petey being an unabashed nerd, it just adds such a nice spike of pure fun to a very heavy, time-twisty show.
Now, speaking of Veidt, is Trieu the one holding him prisoner? After all, if my clone theories are correct then she could be the mind behind Clone Lake. I’ve begun to hope that all the mentions of Doctor Manhattan are pure red herrings, and that the blue bastard never shows up. (Although that might make me even more sad for Laurie, who already has a lot on her plate.) But I think it would be kind of interesting if Manhattan actually did exactly what he planned, split for another dimension, and if all the humans worrying about him and bandying theories are just, well, adding to a discourse that no longer involves him.
Oh and presumably Joe Keene set up his own assassination.
OK and SOMETHING is up with Cal, right?
Last Week, On Watchmen:
We open on Hoboken, in 1985. Which means we’re not quite at Ground Zero, but we’re close enough that we see how horrifying the Attack actually was. We then jump back to Tulsa in 2019, where we pick up with Wade, who’s trying to help Angela by asking his ex, Cynthia, to sequence her pills. We get a long, desperately sad glimpse of Wade’s life, where we learn that he’s ruled completely by his terror of the Squid returning. For all that he feels genuine empathy for the Baby Squid, he has engineered his entire life around the idea that one day the Big One might teleport into his dimension again. This is the backdrop for his continued search for the Seventh Kavalry.
We also check in with Veidt, and get considerably more context on what’s going on with him. More in spoiler territory below!
Here Be a Black Freighter Full of Spoilers:
As I said, this week was almost entirely a Looking Glass episode.
It turns out the Young Wade was a Jehovah’s Witness, and was in Hoboken in 1985. He was trying to evangelize as midnight approached, but instead was sexually assaulted and had his clothes stolen by a punk girl. Because of this, he was trapped naked in the Hall of Mirrors. Because of that, he didn’t die. But he’s lived the rest of his life in utter fear. The image of Young Wade, naked, screaming “WHAT HAPPENED???” as the camera pans back to reveal the Squid in Manhattan, may be one of the best pieces of television I’ve ever watched.
This episode also turns into a surprisingly nuanced look at trauma, fragility, and religious belief—and how it can transmute into other types of belief.
Once we’re back in Tulsa we see that Wade has a squid shelter, that his wife left probably because of the fear, that he runs a group for “Friends of Nemo” that has pamphlets titled “Extra-dimensional anxiety and you”—Wade never could get away from the pamphlets it seems. Also everyone refers to Squid Attack Day as 11/2, so that was fun. (Speaking as a person who, no joke, finished my first-ever read of Watchmen on 9/09/01.) This episode does an impeccable job of showing us what life is like in a world that lived through that kind of event. The way the trauma still affects people thirty years later.
Wade’s cover job is as an assistant in Market Research, because, presumably because of the girl who molested him, he’s become very adept at spotting a liar. Because of this did, we get to watch him watch a focus group for a New York tourism ad: “Come Back To New York!” people exclaim, while eating calamari. So we learn that even this far in the future, New York is a shadow of its former self. There’s also a group for a cereal called “Smiley-O’s” because this show will be DAMNED if a week goes by without a smiley reference. According to the children testing them, they have no flavor.
Which leads into another interesting note, which is that while cloning is legal, tobacco is now a controlled substance, and clearly sugar is not supposed to be in products for kids anymore. So we’re getting more of a sense of life under a somewhat oppressive liberal regime. I’ll admit that I still prefer this alternate reality to the Nixon Nation of the comic, but I see the point.
We also learn that Laurie has bugged the cactus on Wade’s desk (“Don’t take it personally. I’m FBI, we bug shit.”) and we see that as good as he might be at detecting lies, he’s also rather easily trapped by the Seventh Kavalry. All of which leads up to a couple of beautiful scenes of him finally learning the truth about Veidt and the Squid Attack, and a gorgeously-acted moment when he betrays Angela right after he gives her her grandfather’s pills and informs her that they’re nostalgia, basically memories in pill form, that cause psychosis. Naturally Laurie, not having any context, has to arrest her. Naturally Angela, ever willing to go HAM, chugs Will’s Nostalgia so they can’t get it.
Angela has swallowed her family’s history, and will presumably be reliving Will Reeves’ past next week.
And of course the next scene shows the Kavalry showing up to Wade’s house, so most likely my favorite character is dead, and they might just renege on the promise not to hurt Angela’s family if he turned her over, so he may have just betrayed his only friend for nothing.
Good god, show.
Meanwhile, on the moon: Veidt violates the conditions of his prison, which IS IN FACT a bubble on the moon, and the clones attack him for it. He also tells them their God has forsaken them, so maybe that’s Manhattan? I’m still holding out for Trieu, but of course now we know cloning is kind of commonplace, so, maybe it’s NBD that he has a Clone Lake?
- There’s a stuffed panda on the ground after the Squid Attack, in a grotesque parody of Wade’s JH pamphlets.
- Setting most of this episode to increasingly creepy and/or poignant versions of “Careless Whisper”? This show knows my love language.
- This also gives more context to Panda Cop
- Wade rolls his mask up to eat baked beans out of a can while watching Gay Hooded Justice porn. As if I didn’t already like him already.
- OK, maybe you think I’m joking about the porn thing? But not only does the show deal with an incident of male sexual assault, without turning it into a joke or something he should toughen up about, but it shows that he’s clearly had relationships with women, his ex actually seems nice, but the fact that he’s watching gay porn isn’t a punchline or anything, either. Presumably it’s just what he was in the mood for that day—but the point of the scene is to show him watching porn where a superhero refuses to remove his mask during sex. My assumption is that this has been an issue for Wade, and that this is what he’s connecting to more than anything. Which is some fantastic layering to pack into a brief scene that a lot of shows would have played for comedy.
- It also shows us that, yes, of course there’s going to be a market for superhero porn in a universe with actual superheroes.
- Veidt’s launched himself out of prison in order to spell out “Save Me” with the corpses of previously-launched Phillipses and Crookshankses. Which, again, I’m claiming that as a Tick reference, and declaring Adrian Veidt the Chairface Chippendale of the Watchmen universe.
- In the Watchmenverse, Spielberg made a black-and-white movie called Pale Horse that featured a little girl in a red coat running through Ground Zero.
- The Phillipses and Crookshankses are also mirrors of Hoboken and Ground Zero.
- Again, SMILEY-O’s.