This episode contains Watchmen episode 5 spoilers.
About halfway through Watchmen episode 5 “Little Fear of Lightning,” you should know that we’ve officially hit and surpassed the midpoint of the series. HBO’s Watchmen only consists of nine episodes (not twelve), so it’s time for the pieces to start falling into place and for some mysteries to be revealed. In this case, the mystery is why Wade Tillman/Det. Looking Glass is such an odd guy and why he behaves the way he does, while we also take giant steps towards untangling the mystery of Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias and whatever the Rorschach-influenced 7th Kavalry have been getting up to. If you spotted something I missed, let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter, and if it checks out, we’ll get this updated.
Now, let’s get to work. The clock is ticking…
– The episode opens in Hoboken, N.J. minutes before midnight on Nov. 1, 1985. You can hear a radio broadcast announce that the Doomsday Clock has been set to 1 minute to midnight, just as it was by this point in the book.
– Hoboken is located across the Hudson River from Manhattan and lines up almost exactly where the giant squid materialized, died, and detonated a psychic shockwave that killed millions. Hoboken’s proximity to Manhattan means it would be right in the path of that blastwave, just as residents of that city can often see and smell fires on the big island.
– Overall, this looks like a reasonable forgery of Hoboken in the 1980s, the buildings are all roughly the same height, and it feels like they’re roughly halfway up Washington St. As the camera pulls back from the carnage at the fair, you can spot Frank Sinatra Drive. Hoboken was the birthplace of Frank Sinatra, and his music features prominently throughout this episode.
– Hoboken was a haven for record shops back in the day, but I’m not sure if ZigZag Records ever existed there. However, the sign for that record shop here bears a strong resemblance to the defunct, departed, but beloved ZigZag Records that used to be located at Brooklyn…two rivers away.
– The pseudo-punks we see in Hoboken (and who terrorize poor young Wade) are the Knot-Tops subculture who featured in the book. One of them is wearing a shirt that says “katies” a reference to the street name for a drug called KT-28 which was used by many members of the gang. I guess they couldn’t get tickets to see Pale Horse at Madison Square Garden that night…not that it did them any good.
– You can spot a poster for the Pink Triangle benefit concert that was also hung on the side of the newsstand in the book.
– The bus that drops off the crew of young Jehovah’s Witnesses, including young Wade Tillman (the future Det. Looking Glass), is #486, but I’m having trouble finding any significance to that number or the numerals it consists of. Similarly there’s a license plate that reads BHS463, but I don’t see any greater significance there.
– As quickly becomes apparent, this episode is the origin story for Detective Looking Glass. That’s young Wade Tillman (played by Philip Labes) who gets humiliated in the funhouse hall of mirrors right before experiencing an excruciatingly traumatic psychic tragedy. It’s no wonder he’s a little bit off back in the present. His mask is more than just a convenient affectation, it’s made of something apparently called “reflectatine,” a material believed (probably just by crackpots) to protect from psychic blasts. It explains why we’ve seen him eating with his mask on at home. It’s also revealed that he lines his baseball cap with the stuff. It’s basically a “tinfoil hat.”
– Wade’s trauma has informed every aspect of his life, and keeps an alert system from a company called “Extra Dimensional Security.” Incidentally, the fact that they still deliver comprehensive print catalogs is another fun little reminder that the internet isn’t a thing in this world.
– Looking Glass is fond of eating cold baked beans right out of the can with his mask half rolled up, a habit he shares with Rorschach.
– Wade’s ex is named Cynthia Bennett, but she is an original creation for the show. Their relationship lasted seven years, and Wade makes the obvious mirror joke.
– Wade runs a support group for survivors dealing with trauma after the squid attack. He greets new members by asking if they’re a “friend of Nemo.” Captain Nemo was a creation of seminal science fiction author Jules Verne and appeared in the novels 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island. Nemo was notorious for doing battle with giant squid.
You can read the pamphlet Wade hands out at his meetings, “ExtraDimensional Anxiety And You” here. Incidentally, it reveals a lot of symptoms of EDA and behaviors that go along with it, and they describe Wade perfectly.
– It sure seems like Wade is probably gonna be taking ye olde dirt nap after this episode, but we’ll have to wait to find out. But we do hear the ominous ticking of a clock during the part of the episode when he’s exploring the warehouse, and we last heard that in the leadup to Judd Crawford’s death. So it might be a tell that if you hear the clock ticking, someone’s gonna die.
– Is anyone able to make out the newspaper headline on the wall of Wade’s bunker? It seems like it has to do with 11/2 and Manhattan, but I can’t quite nail the specifics of it.
– On the streets of Hoboken at the start of the episode you can spot someone reading a copy of Tales of the Black Freighter (presumably the same one the kid is reading all through the book), and on the back of it you can see an advertisement for “The Veidt Method.” The Veidt Method was a self-help program “for physical fitness and self-improvement” launched in the ‘80s by Adrian Veidt that was dedicated to “creating a new you” by combining mail away exercise, nutrition, and bodybuilding techniques with philosophy and new age thinking. The letter that greeted applicants contained Veidt’s “all best wishes and encouragement” sign off we heard him use in the letter to the Game Warden in episode three.
– As we see several times throughout the episode, Veidt’s philosophy about getting the world to believe there was a greater threat absolutely worked. It’s brought up in casual conversation, and you can see it in the philosophy espoused at the EDA support group, where they take the squid attack as proof that there are other dimensions.
– Veidt’s “confession” video was recorded on Nov. 1, 1985, minutes or hours before he unleashed the squid attack on New York City (and Hoboken). Redford was shown this video on Jan. 21, 1993, the day after his inauguration (which lines up with the day Bill Clinton was inaugurated in 1993 as well). HBO’s Peteypedia supplemental materials revealed that Veidt was also a major public player in the election of President Robert Redford, although the knowledge of his role in the squid attack never caught on publicly, despite the publication of Rorschach’s Journal.
– Within that video, Veidt refers to using “fear” as a weapon and says “and I am its architect.” This is more than a mere turn of phrase. “The Architects of Fear” was an episode of sci-fi anthology series The Outer Limits. It’s basic story? Scientists decide that the only way to prevent nuclear apocalypse is to convince humanity that we have a common enemy from another world and thus need to put aside our differences. Sound familiar? This story was the source of great friction between Watchmen series editor Len Wein and writer/co-creator Alan Moore, as Wein felt it was too similar to what Moore delivered in the book. The book, however, does reference the intro to The Outer Limits at one point, perhaps as Moore’s way of paying homage to the source.
Veidt also confesses that he has engineered “additional small scale extradimensional events” to keep up the illusion. In other words, the squid rain we first saw in episode one and that has been referenced throughout the series now has an official explanation.
– Veidt appears to be wearing the hieroglyph for the Eye of Horus on his makeshift spacesuit, a symbol of both protection and power.
– Is Veidt (and his prison) on a moon of Mars or Jupiter? While Mars is the obvious choice, there appears to be ice on the surface of that moon, and neither of Mars’ moons (Phobos and Deimos) have them. On the other hand, two of Jupiter’s moons, Ganymede (not Io as I originally mentioned, and Ceth on Twitter helpfully pointed out that Io is “a volcanic hellscape) and Europa contain both oxygen and water in sufficient quantities that you could imagine Dr. Manhattan successfully synthesizing the environment necessary to create life. The music playing during his little lunar adventure is Claude De Bussy’s “Clair de Lune.” Also, that sure looks like Jupiter in the background, not Mars.
– Veidt appears to write “Save Me” or “Save Me D” using the bodies of his servants (a technique that Fanamir in the comments helpfully pointed out is an echo of how the protagonist of the Tales of the Black Freighter comic story in the book used the corpses of his shipmates to build a raft). “Save Me Dr.” perhaps?
WHAT IS NOSTALGIA?
– The “memory pills” are called Nostalgia, which was also the name of a perfume line by Veidt in the 1980s. The brand was resurrected by Trieu Pharmaceuticals (a division of Trieu Industries) in 2007 according to an official medical pamphlet. That same pamphlet warns to “never take someone else’s Nostalgia.” Uh-oh.
If there’s any doubt lingering in your mind, it almost certainly appears that the bizarre environment Veidt has been imprisoned in is something of Dr. Manhattan’s creation. His outburst (and the Game Warden’s agreement) that “your god has abandoned you” would seem to be a reference to that. Specifically, right before he left Ozymandias (and our plane of existence, seemingly) in the book, Dr. Manhattan speculated on the possibility of creating life of his own.
RORSCHACH AND THE 7TH KAVALRY
– That giant red eye symbol we see painted on the wall of the warehouse that Wade explores will probably be significant later on, but it does also kind of resemble the squid eye in the book, doesn’t it?
– When Senator Joe Keene talks about being taken aside and shown a tape that reveals the truth about the world (in this case Adrian Veidt’s “confession” to President Redford), it feels like a bit that legendary comedian Bill Hicks used to do about the Kennedy assassination. OK, to be fair, Hicks did LOTS of bits about the Kennedy Assassination but this one from his Rant in E-Minor album is the most relevant…
“I have this feeling that whoever is elected president…when you win, you go into this smoke filled room with the 12 industrialist capitalist scumfucks who got you there. And you’re in this smokey room, and this little film screen comes down … and a big guy with a cigar goes, “Roll the film.” And it’s a shot of the Kennedy assassination from an angle you’ve never seen before … that looks suspiciously like it’s from the grassy knoll. And then the screen goes up and the lights come up, and they go to the new president, ‘Any questions?’ ‘Uhhh…just what my agenda is.'”
– It would appear that Judd Crawford was legitimately involved with whatever nonsense was going on with 7th Kavalary based on his relationship with Joe Keene. But neither he nor Keene seem to actually be part of the 7th Kavalry nor their generally racist mission statement. But also note that we learned from HBO’s supplemental materials that the painting in the Crawford home was actually gifted to Judd’s grandfather as a token of esteem within the order (from an ancestor of Senator Keene’s it would appear), so it’s still possible that the hood and robe discovered at the conclusion of episode two belonged to his grandfather.
– The Kavalry are experimenting with teleportation, which uses some of the same energy that Dr. Manhattan gives off, hence the blue glow you see when basketballs materialize. They’re using a CX924 Teleportation Window from The Institute for Transdimensional Studies, also referenced in the book.
– Anyone else think our actual real world President thinks it’s called “squid pro quo?”
– Fanamir in the comments made a great catch that parallels a moment in the book. Specifically, when Senator Keene hands Wade the remote he says “I leave it entirely in your hands.” That’s exactly what New Frontiersman editor Hector Godfrey told Seymour in the book’s final panel, as Seymour reached for a pile of “crank” submissions that contained Rorschach’s Journal. Of course, Rorschach’s journal had enough evidence to expose Veidt’s plan, but even when made public, the idea never caught on with the general public. The Kavalry sure believes it, and Keene shows Wade evidence even more compelling than the scrawlings in Rorschach’s journal.
– The country song in the bar is “Turtles All the Way Down” by Sturgill Simpson (thanks to Patrick on Twitter for pointing this out to me). Some sample lyrics that even Alan Moore would probably approve of…
“So don’t waste your mind on nursery rhymes Or fairy tales of blood and wine It’s turtles all the way down the line So to each their own ’til we go home To other realms our souls must roam To and through the myth that we all call space and time”
This week’s episode of American Hero Story: Minutemen offers a graphic depiction of the romantic relationship between Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis. The pair were indeed lovers in the “real” world of Watchmen. FBI Agent Dale Petey is most certainly not a fan of the show, however.
– That’s HBO’s The Sopranos star Michael Imperioli in the New York City tourism company’s “Why We Came Back” commercial. We haven’t heard much about what happened to NYC after a disaster with a body count the size of ten 9/11s (and it’s worth noting that throughout the episode the squid event is referred to as “11/2”). Needless to say, it seems to have not yet recovered, even 30 years later. It does make me wonder how different a show like the New Jersey-set The Sopranos would be in this world.
Within that commercial you can see folks waxing about Broadway shows while holding a Playbill for something called “Oppenheimer.” J. Robert Oppenheimer was a key figure in the development and design of the atomic bomb. I wonder if Oppenheimer is the Watchmen universe’s Hamilton.
– Another product being focus grouped at the company Wade works as cover is a breakfast cereal called “Happy Harry’s Smiley-O’s.” Happy Harry was the proprietor of Happy Harry’s Bar and Grill, a dive by any standards and one frequented by members of the underworld. It was a favorite place for Rorschach to beat information out of suspects and their associates.
– What is the name of the genetics company? Their slogan is something about offering “the splice of life” which is hilarious. And of course, the field of genetic experimentation was greatly advanced by Adrian Veidt in the book, as evidenced by his super-pet, a genetically engineered lynx named Bubastis.
– In this world, Steven Spielberg won Oscars for a movie called Pale Horse, about the tragedy in New York City on 11/2 and its aftermath. The scene described, with the little girl in the bright red coat in a movie that was otherwise filmed in black and white, means that this may have replaced Schindler’s List in Spielberg’s filmography in the Watchmen universe. We wrote more about the significance of Pale Horse here.
– Each episode gives us another little glimpse at what happens when every liberal hobbyhorse policy is enacted. To that end, tobacco is now contraband in this world.
– This isn’t a reference to anything in particular, but it’s worth pointing out that Red Scare eats Cheetos with a fork. On the surface, this may seem ridiculous, but if you don’t want to get orange powder all over your fingers and everything else, it makes perfect sense. I once saw someone eating Doritos out of the bag with a pair of chopsticks on a New York City subway, and that all makes so much more sense now.
– Panda is overheard saying that churches are “basically all the same.” This could be another sign about the low regard religion is held in the Watchmen universe, similar to the casual atheism Cal displayed in episode four.