Welcome to Watchmen and our weekly post-episode analysis, and boy have we got a lot to talk about. Visit us here for deep analysis and theory from our expert Minutemen for the next nine weeks.
Tulsa. 1921. It’s summer and we’re running out of ice. A young black boy, around five years old, excitedly watches a movie on the big screen, his mother plays a tune on the organ, then begins crying as sirens blare. She knows that death is coming for her and her family. They are under attack. The little boy and his family flee the theatre as chaos fills the street. All around them black citizens are being attacked and killed by white people—many wearing the garb of the KKK—as planes fly overhead and drop explosives on buildings. This depicted a real-life event where swarms of white American citizens descended on the population of Tulsa, Oklahoma—trashing businesses and killing hundreds of black residents. It has been called “The single worst incident of racial violence in American history.”
I think we know that Lindelof and team are not going to pull any punches with their all-new imagining of Watchmen, and it feels like exactly what we need right now. It is a heartbreaking and powerful opening sequence. Only the little boy and an infant girl survive the chaos. The boy has only a note left in his pocket by his father before he was blown to smithereens, which reads, “watch over this boy.”
Wind the clock forward to the present day, but an alternative timeline to the one we are living in. In this version of 2019, the president is Robert Redford. Readers of the graphic novel will already know that the final pages of the comic books reveal the iconic actor’s intention of challenging then-president Richard Nixon (whose presidency lasted a whole lot longer than in his real political career) in the 1988 election. Clearly, Redford won and has been in power ever since. Apparently two terms then you’re out is no longer a thing here.
This is a world where the police wear masks to protect their identity, for recognition could lead to attack by the Seventh Kavalry. The members of this white supremacist group have co-opted the Rorschach identity and wear his mask as an army of vigilantes. The Keene Act was a national law passed in 1977 which made illegal any form of vigilantism by costumed adventurers, except for the few who worked solely in the remit of the United States government. The Seventh Kavalry have been hibernating for the last three years, so police chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) tells us. They are enemy number one, having carried out an attack on police called “The White Night,” when on Christmas Eve, they attacked the homes and families of Tulsa’s police force, leaving many dead and others injured—and sparking the use of bright yellow masks for police officers wishing to keep their identities safe.
I am sure there are many fans of the original Rorschach character out there who will be upset that what he stood for has been misappropriated by a far-right-wing Christian group, but this has happened throughout history. The swastika is famously a fascist symbol but is thousands of years old. In the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit, swastika means “well-being” and it was considered a good luck symbol until Hitler stole and corrupted it. So yes it kind of sucks that the Seventh Kavalry has taken the writings of Rorschach as gospel for their racist ideology, but it is good to feel angry about this, you should. Though Rorschach was not exactly the nicest guy himself, you know.
The Seventh Kavalry, for reasons we don’t know yet, are back in business and they’ve been plotting something big. Their first victim is a black police officer who stops a truck driven by a blue-eyed white male. In this reality, the tables are turned and it’s the white man’s turn to feel terror when stopped by the police. However, also in this timeline, the cops have to be granted permission to use a weapon, even for self-defence. Panda (Jacob Ming-Trent), on the other end of the radio, reluctantly gives this permission to the cop after he notices a Rorschach mask in the trucker’s glove compartment. It’s too late though; he’s shot repeatedly in his vehicle—the indicators tick-tock as his time on Earth is almost up. He’s not killed though, at least not yet anyway.
Here’s where we meet the star of the show, our heroine, Angela Abar (Regina King) A.K.A. Sister Night. During a school cookery lesson, she tells the pupils that she was a police officer until “White Night” happened. She grew up in Vietnam—oh and by the way, the U.S. won the Vietnam War in this reality, and Vietnam is a U.S. state now—but left the police after she was shot in the stomach on that fateful night. The brief mention of “Redfordations” in the classroom appears to be a system of reparations granted under Robert Redford’s presidency, allowing descendants of those affected by the riot some kind of financial support—and it’s clearly a sensitive subject. She herself makes a strange comment when breaking eggs (into a smiley face) about “mixing with the whites.”
Angela couldn’t quite give up the day (read Night) job though, as she dons her absolutely nails nun persona the second she’s called upon by her close friend, Judd Crawford, who pages her with the message “Little Bighorn”—clearly a reference to Custer’s Last Stand.
“I have a nose for white supremacy and he smells like bleach.”
Even before she gets the message, she’s tracked down a suspect at a trailer park who she believes will know something. And she is correct. After interrogation by another new character—Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson)—who determines that this guy definitely knows something and is part of the Kavalry—Angela kicks his ass into giving up their location.
It’s Raining Squid, Hallelujah!
During the interrogation, it is alluded to that the Kavalry members believe the otherwise refuted story that “transdimensional attacks are hoaxes staged by the U.S. government.” This relates to the squid rain that fell on Angela’s car, which appears to be a common enough occurrence that there is even a special siren to alert people to impending showers.
Why squid? Well, back in the comics, Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) in a pseudo-attempt to end the Cold War by getting the world to join forces against one alien enemy, created a giant psychic monster (known to fans as The Squid) and teleported it into New York City. Its tentacles exploded upon its arrival, creating a psychic wave that killed half the population of the city. Dr. Manhattan left the universe (or so we think) after he realised what he’d done to help Veidt, albeit unknowingly, and kept the truth hidden for the sake of peace on Earth. Dr. Manhattan had also killed Rorschach in the process of all this, but Rorschach had sent his journal detailing Veidt’s plan to the ultra-right-wing newspaper the New Frontiersman, which ran the story.
When the story got out, Veidt went into hiding. It’s not clear who or what is responsible for baby squids raining down even if the Kavalry blames the government for them. Either way, some entity has continued to perpetuate Ozymandias’ lie in order to keep the peace. Would Dr. Manhattan still want to protect Veidt after all this time? Or is it Veidt himself using the teleportation tech he also used then? It would be an effective way to maintain the authenticity of his lie and phony threat decades later. The poster of a squid’s anatomy in the schoolroom highlights how kids only know a world where a transdimensional “danger” could kill them at any moment.
Bring in the Clones
As for their secret grand plan, the Kavalry were collecting watch batteries that are no longer sold, “the old kind, with the synthetic lithium, the ones that were making people sick.” Judd Crawford half-jokingly asked if the “Kavalry is gonna make a cancer bomb” with them, which might not be as crazy as it sounds. In the comic, Veidt did intentionally give those closest to Dr. Manhattan radiation poisoning, which led to cancer, to trick Manhattan into thinking he was responsible for their illnesses.
So it seems that the Kavalry may be working for Veidt. They might not even be aware that they are. It would be very much in his nature to have them all ruining the memory of Rorschach by causing chaos in his name. Veidt would feel like it was revenge for what Rorschach ultimately did to his reputation. But it’s not clear what Veidt’s cunning plan is yet. In fact, he’s just been officially declared dead, whereabouts unknown, presumably having been in hiding since Rorschach’s allegations about him were confirmed true.
We know he’s alive though. Alive and naked, somewhere in Britain I would guess by the green and pleasant land he’s seen horse-riding through (those scenes were filmed at Penrhyn Castle in Wales, just up the road from me as it goes). This whole set-up is super weird and I absolutely love it. Veidt, played by Jeremy Irons, is accompanied by two servants, Ms. Crookshanks (Sara Vickers) the maid and Mr. Phillips (Tom Mison) the butler. They are totally devoted to their master and behave very strangely (like Ms. Crookshanks not being weirded out by rubbing his naked thigh, and Mr. Phillips trying to cut a cake with a horseshoe, and wrapping a gift in fur). This could be an indication they were genetically engineered by Veidt, who used the technology to make his monster squid in 1985. It’s clear they don’t have a total understanding of what it is to be truly human and are still learning.
Did Veidt have to create them for company as he absolutely cannot allow anyone to know he is still alive? Or is he building an army?
Mr. Phillips gave Veidt the gift of a pocket watch, which he made from scratch using only drawings he’d seen. The girt was for Veidt’s “anniversary.” Anniversary of what we don’t know yet, but it could be the date that he left America, or perhaps even the date of his death? It’s certainly possible that Veidt could have cloned himself; he is the smartest person in the world after all. The gift of the watch leads Veidt to give his servants a present in return: the lead roles in his new play—The Watchmaker’s Son. This is a clear reference to Jon Osterman, the man who later became Dr. Manhattan, who was the son of a watchmaker. Osterman had planned to follow in his father’s footsteps. One of his first memories was when he was 9 years old and his father gave him a complicated clock as a birthday present in order to teach him that time has weight and power. This echoes this scene perfectly.
Is Veidt planning on bringing Dr. Manhattan back from Mars? This is where he appears to be at the moment, blasting down walls just for the hell of it. Or maybe he’s planning on creating a whole new man in blue? The megalomaniac would love to have total control over a being so powerful, and it seems that Manhattan wouldn’t want to do that again, so why not someone new? Whatever the case, it seems that Veidt has plans for Ms. Crookshanks and Mr. Phillips, for better or worse.
The New Crimebusters
Back in Tulsa, Angela and the gang head for the cattle ranch where the Seventh Kavalry are removing the batteries from watches. The gang includes Looking Glass, Red Scare (played by Andrew Howard) who is Russian and wears a red tracksuit (special skills unknown), and quite probably—if the bandana is anything to go by—Pirate Jenny, who pilots what looks to be Archie, Nite Owl’s flying vehicle. These three characters are all brand-new, so very little is known about them, but I am very much intrigued to find out more on Pirate Jenny—said to be an androgynous and lustful bisexual cop, and an anarchist at heart. Sounds like she might add some real spice to the show.
Talking of Nite Owl, a lot of clues suggest that the Police Chief Judd Crawford could be the Nite Owl. Whether that means he was actually Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl II) we can only guess, but the owl mug, and a copy of Under The Hood—the book written by the original Nite Owl and member of The Minutemen, Hollis Mason—was left on his desk. A fleet of Archies was briefly seen monitoring the skies over Tulsa. It all seems a little bit too obvious to me. Judd seemed to be a really nice guy, as Dreiberg was, but perhaps a little bit too nice? The secret coke-snorting certainly showed he did have a darker side, but his wife didn’t seem too bothered by it and neither did Angela, other than for covering it up in front of the kids. Ominous music began playing when the camera panned to the photograph of Judd as a boy with who appeared to be his father, who wore a police badge. Dreiberg’s father was not a cop; he was a banker, and he was abusive. So that probably rules out Judd and Dreiberg being the same person.
It has to be mentioned that Angela and Cal’s (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) children are all white. Whether this means they are adopted, or children from a previous relationship, or other people’s children that they have taken in, we don’t know yet but I am sure we will find out.
I am also curious as to why Angela and Cal needed to have sex in the closet? Not that there’s anything wrong with doing it in there, just that coat hangers are dangerous weapons. It’s the sex equivalent of stepping on a Lego. They didn’t get to finish anyway (I felt frustrated for them) because the phone rang incessantly. The voice on the end was that of an old man (Louis Gossett Junior) who used a wheelchair that Angela had met briefly earlier that day, outside her (fake) bakery. He asked her then if she thought he could lift 200 pounds, which was a very strange question, but one that made more sense at the end of the episode.
Pore Jud is Daid
Judd Crawford also received a phone call that night. He told his wife it was from the hospital where the cop who was shot had woken up, but I’m not so sure that’s true. Judd put on his police uniform and went alone to visit him, after telling his wife he would take a guard. On the journey, he drives over a trap that bursts his car tires, leaving him stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Angela is also lured to that same location by the old man in the wheelchair, who waits alone, the note stating, “watch over this boy” on his lap, Judd Crawford strung up from a tree beside him. Judd’s body drips blood onto his police badge, just like the way in which the blood dripped on the Comedian’s smiley face badge at the time of his death. In fact, the music playing when Judd leaves his home is “Unforgettable,” the same song that was playing when the Comedian was thrown to his death in the Watchmen film. Does this suggest that Judd was not quite the good cop he seemed? Was he like the Comedian who was a very dark character, a rapist and a murderer?
It seems pretty clear that the old man was the little boy who survived the Tulsa massacre at the beginning of the episode. How was he involved in Judd’s death? His question to Angela about whether she thought he could lift 200 pounds suggests he knew what was coming, and that he is going to be arrested for this crime, and that Angela needs to think carefully about whether he would really be capable of lynching him. If he didn’t do it, who did? And why?
As Angela realises the horror unfolding in front of her eyes, a song from Oklahoma! the musical that was referenced so much during this episode plays. The song is, “Pore Jud is daid,” and it was sung by Curly, the character Judd said he played in his school performance. This song ends with these lyrics:
He’s lookin’ oh so purty and so nice
He looks like he’s asleep
It’s a shame that he won’t keep
But it’s summer and we’re running out of ice
So that was quite a shocking ending to the first episode. Taking out one of the major characters was an unexpected occurrence. I have a lot of questions…
The show within a show, American Hero Story (has to be a nod to American Horror Story) looks awesome! The graphics used in the trailer we see use the characters as per the Watchmen film, which I was really pleased to see. I am one of the few that really enjoyed the movie, especially Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are gods. Wow, just wow! to the music score. This sounds like old Nine Inch Nails, and perfectly suits the style and fast pace of the show, adding atmosphere and building tension perfectly.
Regina King is God.
What happened to the baby girl that survived along with the boy?
Why is Dr. Manhattan destroying his own buildings? He is psychic, so what can he see for the future?
Judd Crawford listened to talk radio in his car as a caller aired some of the right’s grievances with Redford’s liberal policies. He also discussed a possible opponent for the next presidential election, a candidate with a famous name in the Watchmen universe.
“But it’s a hell of a name isn’t it? Senator John Keene was a real cowboy, unlike our current Sundancer-in-Chief. Now 30 years of Redford and what do we got to show for it? More land we can’t live on, more animals we can’t kill, and a six-month wait to get a gun for our own protection. Hell, if Joe Junior wants to mount up and gallop into the White House I say let him ride.”
Loved the ads for the perfume “Nostalgia.” If you could bottle it, I’d buy it.
I can’t wait to meet Laurie, who I am pretty certain is played by the wonderful Jean Smart.
I have now seen Jeremy Irons naked.
Kavalry or Kalvary? Does anyone have the definitive answer?
Looking Glass’ interrogation questions hint at the fact that black Americans may not have to pay taxes in this alternate reality. He asked the Seventh Kavalry member, “Should all Americans pay taxes?” and he answered yes. This may explain how the cop who got shot had such an impressive home—either that or cops get paid handsomely.
More than anything, I am impressed with how Damon Lindelof has taken the graphic novel and added to it, with it so far feeling just like I imagined it should. The new characters work well for me; it feels new but with enough of the backstory represented and respected that it feels natural. It is brave in every sense of the word, and I applaud that.
What did you think of the episode? What else did you notice that harked back to the graphic novel? Let us know your thoughts here or on social media, and keep an eye out for our theory and prediction articles for the whole nine weeks. Until next time…tick-tock.
All images courtesy of HBO