This article contains spoilers for Watchmen episode 1 and the original book. We have a spoiler free review right here.
One of the many brilliant touches in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen was the supplemental material that concludes each chapter of the main story. Through newspaper clippings, magazine articles, book excerpts, and other scholarly documents, Watchmen filled out not just the backstory of its characters, but all the ways great and small that the presence of actual superheroes changed the world. Each “document” was a convincing and thorough read, some explicitly connected to the preceeding chapter, others which had connections that were less immediately obvious. And now HBO and Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen has followed suit with “Peteypedia.”
One of the keys to HBO’s Watchmen TV series is that it can stand completely on its own, even though its a sequel to the book. New viewers who are unfamiliar with the story of Watchmen are roughly in the same place that first time readers were in 1985, getting introduced to new characters in a lived-in world one chapter at a time. And just as the supplements in the book helped flesh out the original world, the “official documents” contained in Peteypedia are helpful both to Watchmen newbies and longtime fans wondering what the hell has been going on since the cataclysmic events of Nov. 2, 1985.
One of the key suspicions about Watchmen early on has been the apparent lack of the internet in 2019. “The Computer and You” memo from FBI Director James Doyan helps to clear that up. Why are computers not omnipresent in the 2019 of Watchmen as they are in our own social media obsessed hellscape? Well, it stems from the fears that Dr. Manhattan (and by extension any technological advancements that he helped bring about) caused cancer which were planted by Adrian Veidt. Other Peteypedia entries also hint at a general Ludditism that infected the culture of the Watchmen world in the years after the giant psychic squid landed in New York City and killed millions, worrying that certain technologies operated on the same radiation that emanated from the genetically engineered beast.
The next, “Trust in the Law,” is essentially a primer on real life lawman Bass Reeves (who we wrote some more about here) disguised as a museum handout detailing the historical signficance of the Trust in the Law silent film that the young boy was watching during the harrowing Black Wall Street Massacre scene that opens episode 1 of the series. This is wonderfully in keeping with the materials in the original book, which often took an indirect approach to show how culture had changed in the wake of the real life superhero fad.
“Veidt Declared Dead” is an obituary on the hero formerly known as Ozymandias (and who may or may not be played by Jeremy Irons on the show). It clarifies that allegations about Veidt’s involvement in the squid fiasco were indeed made public, but never given much credit in the media. It also fills in a few details about his superheroic career that were previously unknown to readers.
But it’s the final one, the “Veidt and Rorschach” FBI memo which contains the greatest wealth of information. This not only clears up the connection between Rorschach and the 7th Kavalry (and explains how they were able to get their hands on his journal, which was indeed published in full), but reveals why the truth about Adrian Veidt didn’t rattle the new and peaceful world order that came into being after the events of Nov. 2, 1985. It also features an immensely amusing anecdote about Elvis Presley.