The following contains spoilers for Watchmen.
The concept of nostalgia has always been important in the Watchmen universe. Back in 1985 when the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were on the verge of turning the planet to ash, a healthy dose of nostalgia was an appropriate way to remember the simpler days, where vigilantes donned masks to beat up bad guys. But nostalgia’s history with Watchmen goes beyond the merely conceptual. Nostalgia has turned up as an actual product both in the original book and now on the HBO series, albeit in very different ways.
In the ‘80s, “Nostalgia” was a brand of men’s and women’s cosmetics developed by Veidt Enterprises. Advertisements for the Nostalgia fragrance recur frequently throughout the panels of the comic. “Oh, how the ghost of you clings,” reads one such advertisement which would go on to inspire the name of not one but two emo songs in the early 2000s…so you know it’s a big deal. A bottle of Nostalgia even turns up on Mars as a helpful symbolic metaphor when Laurie relives aspects of her past.
In 2019 Watchmen, however, Nostalgia is a product with more literal nostalgic applications. At the time we catch up with Veidt in the original series, he is planning to phase out Nostalgia for a more forward thinking line called Millennium. When Lady Trieu’s Trieu Industries acquired Veidt Enterprises some time before the new series began, they certainly found a more forward thinking use for the brand. Lady Trieu and Trieu Pharmaceuticals brand of Nostalgia is a drug that allows the user to relive old memories. As evidenced by Angela Abar’s Nostalgia overdose in Watchmen episode 6 “This Extraordinary Being,” the experience of taking nostalgia is intense, realistic, and at times confusing.
Thankfully HBO’s Peteypedia has released a helpful advertisement to walk us through the benefits and side effects of Nostalgia (hippocampi/trieunanochem) tablets. The document, titled “Let your best yesterday lead you to a better tomorrow,” is a pharmaceutical magazine ad similar to what we would see in our world for something like Chantix or Humira. The ad is targeted at older folks with failing memories who would like to relive the glory days…in a therapeutically appropriate way of course.
“NOSTALGIA by TRIEU is a revolutionary, all-natural, personally customized medication for people suffering from anxiety, dementia, and psychic trauma,” reads the ad. Interesting that it would include “psychic trauma” as the aftereffects of the squid fall clearly has long-lasting psychological effects for the population. The ad then goes on to explain that Nostalgia turns memories of the user’s choosing into easily-digestible tablets that allows them to experience those memories once again “in the most lucid way possible.”
As Angela Abar can now attest to, the memories are pretty darn lucid. Will Reeves’ Nostalgia pill memories are thorough enough that they spell out the important beats of his life in chronological order. Will must have worked closely with Lady Trieu to extract hist memories and deposit them in pill form. In fact, all users of Nostalgia are required to interact with only with licensed Trieu Clinics for the memory harvest process. The Nostalgia ad describes the process of creating the drug (you know, just in case you want to try to make your own) in a convincingly logical manner:
“NOSTALGIA is a customized psychoactive compound composed of synthetic mnemonic material replicated from the patient’s brain and all-natural corticosteroids drawn from the patient or properly matched blood relative. Tablets are serviced through a proprietary process of neurochemical scanning of the hippocampus.” Basically Lady Treiu created a Harry Potter Pensieve…but with science. Pills are coded with various colors to signify the quality of the experience with red representing the most intense.
The pills that Angela took sure do seem pretty red, no? And if the intensity and volume of the pills Angela took wasn’t enough, there’s also the other major rule of Nostalgia to consider. “Since NOSTALGIA is custom-made and tailored to the specific brain chemistry of the harvest, NOSTALGIA should not be shared,” the ad reads, before adding in bold. “Never take someone else’s NOSTALGIA.”
Whoopsy daisy. In the brief moments in which Laurie can break through Angela’s memory trip in episode 6, Laurie sounds genuinely concerned for Angela. She tells her that she’s not supposed to take someone else’s nostalgia pills as this seems to be common knowledge in this universe. In fact, while Angela’s mind is very much active and alive experiencing her grandfather’s memories, her body is essentially in a coma. “You’re not moving but your eyes are wide open. It’s kind of fucking creepy, Angela,” Laurie tells her.
Ultimately, Nostalgia (capital “N”) represents the next logical step in the Watchmen universe’s approach to nostalgia (lower-case “n”). As Don Draper could tell you, the Greeks knew nostalgia as pain from an old wound and it’s a powerful force. It only makes sense that Watchmen’s nostalgia would go from metaphorical to literal as the technology within the world progresses. Of course, this all remains fictional…unless someone picks up the phone on the other end of 1-NOSTALGIA-T (1-667-725-4427) one day.