This article contains Watchmen episode 4 spoilers.
HBO’s Watchmen did most of its comic book referencing, additional worldbuilding, and character introductions in its first three episodes. So you would think that by the time we got to Watchmen episode 4, they’d be done mining the book for little flourishes of backstory to reference or use to make this new world even richer. You’d be wrong. There’s still plenty of Easter eggs to hunt in Watchmen episode 4, and we’re here to try and find all of ‘em.
Let’s start at the beginning…
The Superman vibes are strong in this episode once again. Just as episode one felt like it snuck elements of Kal-El’s escape from Krypton as it was destroyed into young Will Reeves’ escape during the Black Wall Street Massacre in 1921, “If You Don’t Like My Story Write Your Own” plays with other elements of the Superman origin story, particularly his adoptive Earth parents, the Kents.
Let’s start with their names: the farmers we meet are the Clarks, and they own Clark Acres Farms. Of course, Superman adopted the human identity of Clark Kent, but there’s a reason Jonathan and Martha Kent chose that first name: Clark was Martha’s maiden name. Perhaps not coincidentally, the husband here is named Jon (his wife is named Katie, and I’m having trouble finding any additional significance for that name, but there you go).
The “egg” theme that has been recurring through all of these episodes is once again present here, as that seems to be one of the primary products of Clark Acres. That also plays into the matter of fertility, as the Clarks are unable to have children of their own, just as the Kents were, and have a child miraculously brought to them via super science. Here, the Clarks get their child thanks to advanced genetic technology pioneered by Lady Trieu, while the Kents got theirs via an interstellar rocket.
And whatever it is that crash lands on Clark Acres sure feels like it could be a vessel from another world. The rocket containing baby Kal-El in the comics always landed in the fields of Kansas, while here, whatever it is that Lady Trieu is so interested in, comes to the fields of Oklahoma.
– At one point in the opening montage (set to “Islands in the Stream” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton), Katie Clark can be spotted reading a novel. That novel is Fogdancing by Max Shea. Shea was the author of the Tales of the Black Freighter comic book story that runs parallel through the Watchmen book. Shea disappeared in 1983, but was in actuality sent to an island to help design the giant squid that Adrian Veidt used to kill millions of New Yorkers on Nov. 2, 1985. You can spot another novel on Katie’s bedside table, and while I can’t make out the title, it has a similar jacket design to her copy of Fogdancing. Presumably, it’s a copy of Shea’s other novel, The Hooded Basilisk.
– Cal displays an incredibly atheism with the kids. He tells them “heaven is pretend,” as matter-of-factly as he might tell children that Santa Claus isn’t real. This isn’t met with much more than a raised eyebrow by Angela. Is an almost complete lack of religion in the Watchmen universe perhaps another byproduct of the existence of Dr. Manhattan? I’m having trouble thinking of much in the way of appeals to the divine or even the presence of churches in the book.
– Laurie Blake refers to a “thermodynamic miracle” to explain (and even intimidate) Angela about all of the coincidences that keep popping up around her. Dr. Manhattan had told Laurie that her very existence, being that it was a product of a consensual union between two people who had every reason to dislike each other (as Dale Petey points out, Edward Blake had previously sexually assaulted Laurie’s mother, Sally Jupiter).
Once again, the Rorschach parallels with Wade Tillman/Detective Looking Glass are somewhat unavoidable. Looking Glass seems to keep a genuine survivalist’s bunker in his yard, the kind of weird reactionary behavior that would make Rorschach proud. On the other hand, Tillman has a sense of humor, and is clearly capable of having genuine friendships, and even romantic relationships, as we learn here that he has been married.
But who was his wife? Apparently she was some kind of scientific mind. Is it possible that she was also a costumed police officer?
– Looking Glass has a hobby, though, and that’s studying the squid rain that periodically falls on the Watchmen universe. You can see the photos he takes and develops in his darkroom (again, note the lack of widespread use of digital technology in this world), and up close, they do indeed look exactly like the giant psychic squid that killed millions of New Yorkers in 1985.
– Looking Glass is wearing a Tulsa Tornados hat. The only reference I can find to a sports team like that was for a professional soccer team that existed for exactly one season…in 1985, the year the original book takes place. Is it possible that one other detail of Watchmen’s alternate history is that soccer is far more popular in the United States than it is in OUR America today? And if so, did this team that struggled to eke out an existence in 1985 continue to thrive into modern day Tulsa sportsfandom?
We’re now four for four in Nite Owl references on this show, even though we seem no closer to having Dan Dreiberg actually appear in the hooded flesh. Nevertheless, while it’s far less overt than what we saw in the previous three episodes, Nite Owl is once again here in spirit. How, you ask?
When Laurie is driving Angela and Dale Petey to Lady Trieu’s headquarters, the song playing in her car is Billie Holiday’s rendition of “You’re My Thrill.” That was a favorite of Dan’s, and it was the song playing in the Owlship when they had their first costumed hookup (we will never, ever speak of the horrid and unsexy abuse of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in the misguided movie adaptation of the book). Laurie is still dealing with feelings for Dan, just as she is for Dr. Manhattan.
Our mysterious old man now has a full name: William Reeves. That last name seems significant, as it ties him to the real life fictional lawman he idolized as a child: Bass Reeves. But “Reeves” also brings up those Superman vibes again. George Reeves was an actor who played Superman for seven seasons of the (excellent and available on the DC Universe app) The Adventures of Superman TV series in the 1950s. And young Will escaped the Black Wall Street Massacre just as baby Kal-El escaped Krypton.
But as we’ve surely all noticed by now, Will is fond of Hooded Justice’s preferred colors of purple and red (just as Will’s possible ancestor, Bass Reeves, looked suspiciously like Hooded Justice in that silent film portrayal in Watchmen episode one). Will was apparently a police officer in the 1940s and ‘50s, but “retired young and fell off the grid.” Could that have happened around the same time Hooded Justice stopped adventuring?
While we still don’t know much about Lady Trieu, she certainly seems to idolize Adrian Veidt. In fact, it’s possible that she holds Veidt in the same kind of regard that Veidt held Alexander the Great. She purchased his old company, dedicated her mysterious Millennium Clock project with a quote from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” (which, of course, was Veidt’s superhero name), and keeps a statue of him in full superhero regalia in her vivarium.
In fact, just the fact that she has a domed vivarium at all is a nod to Veidt, who had one in his arctic fortress, Karnak. There it was to prove that he could keep tropical flora and fauna alive in the most inhospitable environment. Here, Lady Trieu has brought a little of Vietnam into America’s heartland.
Veidt was fascinated with the old world, particularly the exploits of Alexander the Great. Trieu seems focused on creating “the first wonder of the new world” with the Millennium Clock. Veidt felt that Alexander the Great, despite conquering roughly half the known world, had fallen short of a truly lasting impact. Is it possible that Lady Trieu feels the same way about Veidt?
Anyway, speaking of Adrian Veidt…
Veidt confirms in this episode that he has been wherever he is for four years. So any speculation I may have had that time passes differently wherever he is appears to be nonsense. Instead, those “anniversaries” are indeed real, and each episode we’ve seen has indeed taken place one year apart for him. But keep in mind that Veidt has been missing since 2012, so unless additional anniversaries are going to be marked in upcoming episodes, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he has been in his mysterious “prison” since 2012.
Veidt also makes it clear he was “sent here” so he is absolutely in some kind of prison, and the lake and “baby microwave” stuff should be enough to make it obvious that “here” isn’t our usual earthly realm.
He also makes comments indicating that he knows who created where he is, referring to Mr. Phillips and Miss Crookshanks as “flaws in this thoughtless design” (as opposed to “intelligent design” nonsense) and that he is “not your maker.” At the conclusion of the book, Dr. Manhattan claimed to be departing our galaxy, and seemed to contemplate the possibility of creating human life. Are we witnessing the result here with Adrian Veidt?
There’s also this continued weirdness about how he seems to need to get these “flaws” to perform a set of actions in a certain sequence in order to make his mistake. In this episode, it’s a horseshoe that he doesn’t “need yet.”
– Who is the weird silver runner? Red calls him Lube Man. This show absolutely gets the quaint, weird vibes of the regular people who try to be superheroes in this world.
– Can anyone make out Keene’s lapel pin? It looks like it could almost have elements of the Comedian’s badge in it, but I can’t seem to get a close enough look.
– Cal is reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. This episode’s title, “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” is a quote from that book.
– The lamp in the Abar household living room looks like the face of the squid.
– Petey’s fandom shows pretty strongly with his “that show is garbage” critique of American Hero Story: Minutemen.
– The episode closes with Irma Thomas’ powerful 1964 rendition of “Time is on My Side.” It was Thomas’ arrangement that the Rolling Stones rode to considerable success a few years later.
Did you spot anything we missed? If so, drop it in the comments or let me know on Twitter!