Hi, welcome to “Behind the Mask.” This will be 25YL’s review of the current theories and analysis out there following the airing of each episode of HBO’s Watchmen. We’ll be releasing these on Thursdays, to give the online communities some time to digest the episode and see what the best and most interesting theories are to date.
That said, these articles will contain spoilers. Lots and lots of spoilers. We’ll not go into NDA-breaking spoiler territory, but anything that is out there and publicly available is going to be fair game here. We’re going to be trying to figure out all the answers to all the questions, as well as pointing out some of the more interesting Easter eggs and plot point details that you might have missed on first watching.
If that’s not your cup of tea, you might want to just check out our weekly review of each episode, releasing on Tuesdays and helmed by Laura Stewart.
So let’s jump right into it. There’s a lot to talk about.
OK, first thing, the writers of the show are apparently going to be putting out supplemental material each week on a website called “Peteypedia.” The premise of the website is that these are files pulled together on the newly re-introduced computer assigned to FBI Special Agent Dale Petey (a nod to FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper of Twin Peaks). This is apparently at least partially the brain child of Jeff “Doc” Jensen, one of the writers on the show, who did Entertainment Weekly’s podcast on Twin Peaks Season 3 called, quite cleverly, ”A Twin Peaks Podcast: A Podcast About Twin Peaks.” He’s a pretty big fan of Twin Peaks, as is showrunner Damon Lindelof, so expect more than a few Twin Peaks Easter egg nods in this show.
This first dump includes four articles that provide a lot of interesting back story. The lack of certain technology (internet, cell phones, etc.) is explained, there’s some back story to the silent film featured in the 1921 scene, the full text of the “Veidt Declared Dead” newspaper article is included, and it features Agent Petey’s analysis of Rorschach’s journal as pertaining to the premature declaration of Veidt’s death. Your Reddit team, hard at work for you, already has a thread summarizing much of the relevant content. There’s a lot of world building that the writers put in and it’s nice to see it is not going to waste.
Other useful background material you might want to peruse in your free time would include:
- The full (all 12 chapters, plus The Black Freighter) Watchmen motion comic on YouTube—the original Watchmen comic brought to life; a great way to “read” it for free if you do not have a copy
- The article “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, on The Atlantic—cited by Damon Lindelof as an inspiration for the series
- The Tulsa Historical Society and Museum’s page on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre—a good primer on the real-world event that was also an inspiration for the series
Was the Chief Corrupt?
In the silent movie, the masked hero takes down the corrupt sheriff. So right away, we have potential foreshadowing that the police chief was corrupt. The Chief was listening to a right-wing radio talk show on his drive out to the hospital (if that’s at all where he was headed). He also referred to Looking Glass’ mask as his “face,” as Rorschach would. And of course he was doing cocaine at the party (though no one seems too freaked out about that).
Did the Chief know he was going to die? We never got to see the text of the page he received. It could have been from anyone. He mysteriously insisted on getting into uniform for the late-night hospital visit. Rather conspicuous. Then he promised his wife he’d get “one of the boys” to drive him there, but didn’t even give it a thought as he got in his truck. He gets out of his truck, fairly calmly, looks at the tires all blown and then walks over to the rumble strip, like he expected something like this to happen.
Along with the speculation that the Chief may have been corrupt, there was also pre-show speculation that he might be Daniel Dreiberg, Nite Owl II from the comics. One of the only reasons to perhaps think this is that the original Watchmen began with the death of a superhero in his civilian alter ego, so maybe this incarnation should begin with the death of a superhero in his civilian alter ego. However, the Peteypedia files directly contradict this, stating that Dan Dreiberg is in federal custody currently.
A lot of theorizing is going on about the picture of a young Judd sitting on an older man’s lap, the older man being in a police officer uniform. If old enough (i.e., a grandfather or great grandfather, not a father), the old man could have been present at the 1921 Race Riots, where the police were largely complicit with the massacre that was going on. It could be establishing a legacy of racism in the Chief’s family tree, though that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have been trying to change that.
Lord of a Country Manor
Probably the biggest mystery established even before the pilot aired has been: who is Jeremy Irons playing in the show? At the San Diego Comic-Con panel, he was introduced as “Probably Who You Think He Is.” In official casting lists, he’s called out as “Lord of a Country Manor.” Of course, everyone “thinks” he is playing Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, but no one officially associated with the show will confirm this. Now, after the premier, it’s clear this is intended to be one of those season-long mysteries that will be spooled out to us scene by scene, with hopefully a big reveal in the season finale that gives us the final answer.
Some are theorizing that it can’t be that easy, there must be a twist. They wouldn’t be so coy about all of this if there wasn’t a twist in store. The only real evidence so far that he’s Ozymandias is that Irons looks the part, and (more of a stretch) the yellow and purple icing on the cake somewhat resembles the regal gold and purple of Ozymandias’ superhero outfit from the comics. The leading non-Veidt theory is that he could be Dr. Manhattan. Why Dr. Manhattan would assume a human form, let alone an old man human form, is a tad unclear. As a minor bit of evidence though, he has no qualms about sitting around nude in front of the staff.
Speaking of the staff, those two are a strange pair. Mr. Phillips and Ms. Crookshanks display no reaction to the master’s nudity. They put an entire honeycomb into a cake recipe. They mix up a horseshoe and knife. They have the ability to manufacture and assemble a functioning watch based on some discarded drawings. Theories abound. Are they aliens? Androids? GMO pod people (my new favorite phrase—that came from the “Watchmen on HBO” Facebook group)? If the “Lord” is Ozymandias, he’s certainly no stranger to genetically engineering artificial life forms. Though Dr. Manhattan also talked of leaving the galaxy to go attempt to make life himself. Could this storyline be happening on an entirely different planet in an entirely different galaxy?
One of the more persistent theories is that, assuming he is Ozymandias, he is trying to re-create the experiment that led to Dr. Manhattan gaining his powers. The play title, “The Watchmaker’s Son” would be an obvious reference to Dr. Manhattan (who was a watchmaker’s son), and he wants the servants to “star” in it. As part of this theory then, the servants may be clones of John and Laurie. Though once again it’s unclear why Laurie would need to be part of this.
Also unclear is why Ozymandias would want a second deity-level superbeing around in the first place, especially when he had to go to such great lengths to mask his activities from Dr. Manhattan last time. He already had a similar machine in his hands at the end of the Watchmen comic, having used it against Dr. Manhattan, and he didn’t try to make himself or some underling into a second superbeing at that time (at least, not that we know of so far). Personally, I don’t think he’d take the chance. Ozymandias was uniquely situated to understand the inhumanity of Dr. Manhattan. After all, John was thinking of wiping the slate clean of humanity until Laurie talked him out of it.
Getting back to the servants, they are celebrating an “anniversary” for the master, one that he had forgotten. Is this the anniversary of his “death” that they are celebrating, putting this scene a year into the future? Or the anniversary of his disappearance, putting it a bit into the past (per Peteypedia, Veidt disappeared in 2012). In the “In The Weeks Ahead” clips, we see one of the “Lord” sitting in what appears to be a dungeon cell, and again he has a cake, the exact same cake, but with at least six candles on it this time. That might indicate we are potentially going to see five years pass and his circumstances much changed. Given that he disappeared in 2012, this could even be a series of flashbacks covering the intervening seven years, catching his timeline up to the present-day 2019 timeline eventually.
However, the “In The Weeks Ahead” clips reveal a lot more than just that dungeon cell scene. In those scenes, it’s clear that he’s not just living in a manor with no apparent modern technology (e.g., the typewriter), he may actually be living in the past. Judging by the costuming and building interiors, perhaps in the 1700s timeframe? There is also a scene of him climbing into what I would guess is an H. G. Wells-esque time machine.
So here’s my theory that I’m going to put out there. This is indeed Ozymandias, but the twist is that he’s in the past. His plan yielded macro-level world peace, but it did not resolve micro-level racial tensions. So he builds a time machine, intending to go back to 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma, seeing it as a turning point in America’s race relations that he will “fix” somehow. He was messing with tachyons in the original comic already, right? But he overshot or miscalculated somehow and ended up in classical era England (the castle scenes are filmed in Wales). Or maybe Dr. Manhattan banished him to this past, to either punish or imprison him. Maybe John made the butler and maid to serve as Adrian’s jailers, and that’s why they have slight inhuman tendencies. Either way, he’s now building a time machine in an attempt to get back to either the present or 1921 to fulfill his mission.
One last bizarre twist to discuss with regard to the servants. In the IMDb cast list, there are two actors listed for playing each role. (Yes, I know, always take pre-airing IMDb cast lists, especially from a Damon Lindelof show, with a grain of salt, but this is what it says as of today.) Mr. Phillips is played by Tom Mison and Edward Crook. Tom Mison is who we saw in Episode 1, and he continues in the role throughout the remaining eight episodes. But in those remaining eight episodes, Edward Crook is also listed as playing Mr. Phillips. Ms. Crookshanks is played by Sara Vickers and Christie Amery. Sara Vickers is who we saw in Episode 1, but then she is apparently going to move on to play a different role, that of Erika Manson/Marionette, in the remaining episodes. That sounds like possibly a mask’s secret identity/code name, although there is also a supporting actor with the role “Marionette Puppeteer” listed as well (only one episode). Christie Amery will apparently move into the Ms. Crookshanks role starting with Episode 2 and remain in it throughout the rest of the season. What in the world all of this means, I cannot guess at this time.
Life on Mars
So we have been promised that Dr. Manhattan will be part of this new series, and sure enough we got a brief glimpse of him in a “Breaking News” banner on TV. In that clip, we see what looks like a spy satellite image of Dr. Manhattan standing in front of a structure on Mars, and then the structure collapses upon itself.
First of all, that structure looks a lot like the castle that the “Lord” is residing in (see https://i.imgur.com/78cpGDy.png). And, on top of that, in the “In The Weeks Ahead” trailers, Angela’s son Topher is building something out of Lego-like building blocks that also looks a lot like the same structure.
The fact that there is a toy set of the structure (assuming it was a boxed set) seems to indicate it had been there a while. Like those Lego Architecture sets you can get of famous buildings like the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower. Maybe this structure was something Dr. Manhattan had left behind originally. In which case, Dr. Manhattan reappearing and destroying it could indicate a change of plans for him—a transition to some new project. The similarity to the “Country Manor” might indicate, if the “Lord” is Ozymandias, that he and Dr. Manhattan are working together again. Perhaps the “Country Manor” is actually on Mars, in some large-scale version of the greenhouse Ozymandias has in the Arctic. Or again, perhaps the “Country Manor” is some sort of prison for Ozymandias and he’s working on getting himself free of it.
During the interrogation, the man in Angela’s trunk is asked “Do you believe that transdimensional attacks are hoaxes staged by the U.S. government?” Apparently these squid showers happen all the time, with the old nuclear air raid sirens now being repurposed to provide warning to pull out your umbrella or pull over your car. They may have also replaced “duck and cover” drills in the schools, as evidenced by the “Anatomy of a Squid” and “Squidfall Cycle” posters in the classroom.
They are also at least national, and likely world-wide. The Tulsa Sun newspaper that the old man in the wheelchair is reading includes an article headline reading “Boise Squid Shower Destroys Homeless Camp, Kills 2.” Luckily, the baby squids on the windshield dissolve before Angela even has a chance to completely wipe them off and are easily hosed off the sidewalks. How convenient.
So what is the purpose of these squid showers? It would appear to at least be to keep the interdimensional threat alive and real, though you can see that people no longer seem to be taking the attacks very seriously. Maybe it’s something that was set up 30+ years ago and made great sense at the time, but now just annoyingly keeps on happening and no one is able to stop them?
That would depend on who is pulling them off. The government? Veidt? Dr. Manhattan? Veidt would certainly have the technology and perhaps the know-how to make such a thing happen, and then perhaps his disappearance leaves the machinery still running on autopilot?
We already knew that in the Watchmen universe, Nixon got the 22nd Amendment rescinded and served more than two terms. In the comic, it was noted that “RR” was going to run against him in the upcoming 1988 presidential election. Apparently that was not Ronald Reagan, but rather was Robert Redford. It looks like Nixon was president until his death in 1989 (the poster in the classroom lists dates 1968-1989). Ford took over through 1992, at which time Redford was elected (having lost his initial 1988 bid against Nixon).
That means Nixon had 6 terms (’68, ’72, ’76, ’80, ’84, ’88), the last being partial; Ford remains the only president to never have been elected with his one partial term; and then Redford is on his eighth term (’92, ’96, ’00, ’04, ’08, ’12, ’14, ’16). The newspaper that the guy in Angela’s trunk was reading announced that Redford would not be seeking reelection in 2020.
A junior Senator Keane is running for president this go-around and is identified by the radio talk show host as “Joe Junior,” presumably the son of the senator who introduced the Keene Act that outlawed masked vigilantes. Though note that in the closed captioning (again, take with a grain of salt) the younger one is Keane with an “EA” and the elder is Keene with an “EE.” The IMDb cast list does indeed list Senator Keane (James Wolk) and Senator Keene Sr. (Ted Johnson). Same letter pair swap. Strange indeed.
Who is Will Reeves?
First theory that is practically fact at this point, is that Lou Gossett Jr.’s character, Will Reeves, the man in the wheelchair, is also the boy who escaped the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots. If he’s 105 now, he would have been 7 in 1921. The math adds up. The boy and the old man both have a matching conspicuous mole on the cheek. And of course, just to beat us over the head with the link, Reeves is holding the “WATCH OVER THIS BOY” paper that 1921 Boy was packed off with. Though if that’s the original piece of paper, being nearly 100 years old now it ought to be in complete tatters. Just sayin’.
Second theory is that this is the Hooded Justice, founding member of The Minutemen who never had their civilian identity exposed. Assuming Will Reeves is 1921 Boy, he may have taken his last name from the silent movie character, “Bass Reeves, the Black Marshal of Oklahoma” (identified in the Peteypedia files). If so, he might also have taken a costume cue or two as well, with the big black cloak and the rope. Now, countering this theory, it has been pointed out that historically the Hooded Justice appears to be white under the mask. But I’d point out that Angela/Sister Night paints over her eyes in black, so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to believe that a black man would don “white face” to hide his identity.
In an interview for The Hollywood Reporter, Regina King (Angela Abar) says the relationship between Will and Angela will “open up your heart and break it at the same time.” She calls it a “wonderful story of legacy.” It almost certainly has to be that her ancestry reaches back to the baby who escaped the Tulsa Race Riots with him. When he calls her to come out to the big oak tree, he specifically asks about her father, Marcus Abar. (Or was that Reeves? In the “In the Weeks Ahead” preview, he calls Angela out for cursing too much—yet in this phone call she is told “don’t wear no goddamned mask.”)
Let’s talk about one more theory pointing to potential legacy links back to the original Minutemen and/or the 1980s Watchmen.
There’s an interesting theory on Reddit about yet another daughter of the Comedian. In the comic, a pregnant Vietnamese woman confronts the Comedian in front of Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian shoots her. The scene ends with Dr. Manhattan looking thoughtfully at her body. He could have saved that baby (the woman looked imminently due) and that baby would be in their late 40s/early 50s now. One thought is that the baby could be Angela, but that would require a bit more than just “remixing” on the writing team’s part. She could, however, be the Asian lady featured in the “In the Weeks Ahead” trailer (identified as Lady Trieu in IMDb). We’ll keep an eye on this one.
- The address of Angela’s bakery is 119. A nod to Twin Peaks fans?
- The code to Angela’s superhero lair is 1985, a nod to the comic, which was set in 1985.
- Rather obvious, but the blood dripped on the Chief’s badge is a nod to the classic Comedian’s button with the blood drip, that became the icon of the original comic series. Lindelof points out that the Comedian actually referred to his smiley face pin as a “badge,” so in both instances it’s a blood drip on a badge.
- The egg smiley face Angela made even has a bit of blood in the egg that makes up the right eye, as another nod to the Comedian’s button in the comic.
- The overhead view of the round dining room table also forms the button image, with a napkin taking the place of the blood drip.
- The Chief has a copy of Under the Hood on his desk. This was the tell-all book about the Minutemen referenced in the comic, written by Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl.
- As she walks to the bakery, Angela passes someone holding a picket sign reading “The Future is Bright,” mirroring the nutter holding the “The End is Nigh” sign in the original comic. Of course, that nutter turned out to be Walter Kovacs, a.k.a. Rorschach. So is that guy important to the story? Stay tuned.
- In the Chief’s office, Angela has an owl coffee cup.
- The premise of the silent film, titled Trust in the Law!, was that “a man in white is chased by a man in black across the Oklahoma plain” (from Peteypedia). This could be a mirror reference to Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series (which begins with the line “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed”). The movie version of The Dark Tower, while awful, did feature an interesting casting decision to cast a black actor in the roll of the Gunslinger, a white man in the novels. In fact, the silent movie star Bass Reeves looks quite a bit like The Dark Tower star Idris Elba. There is also a brief glimpse in the “In The Weeks Ahead” clips of Sister Night, all in black, pursuing another mask, all in white, through an industrial warehouse of some sort.
- “Unforgettable,” the song playing while the Chief gets dressed to go to the hospital, also played in the background when the Comedian was killed in the Watchmen. So the movie is not completely forgotten by the writing team here.
- Angela’s last name, Abar, could be a nod to the 1977 blaxploitation movie Abar, the First Black Superman (source: Reddit).
- The “We Do” podcast noticed that the Hooded Justice began his crime fighting career in 1938, the same year Superman was first published.
- They also point out that the blood under the door when Angela beats the crap out of the guy they just interrogated is a nod to when Rorschach kills Big Shot in the prison from the comic.
- The Nixonville/Seventh Kavalry people are displaying the old 50-star flags. The traffic stop guy had it on his hat and the guy in Angela’s trunk had one in the window of his trailer. It apparently has become the new Confederate flag.
- At the end of the all-hands meeting, the Chief says “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” and all the assembled officers reply “Nos custodimus!” These are Latin phrases and translate literally as “Who will guard the guards themselves?” and “We guard!” (I believe the closed captions has the reply incorrectly written as “los costodimus,” resulting in “we uphold,” which of course does not make as much sense.) Or alternatively translated as “Who watches the watchmen?” / “We watch!”
- “The Future Is Bright” sign has a Statue of Liberty inverted on it. Immediately after that, we see Will Reeves’ newspaper saying the Statue was closed because of KKK vandalism. At the very least, this shows that the racial tensions are not just local to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
- The American Hero Story: Minutemen documentary opening did not include The Silhouette. Possibly because she was outted as a lesbian.
- The episode title, “It’s Summer and We’re Running out of Ice,” comes from a song in the play Oklahoma. The song is titled “Pore Jud is Daid,” and it gets to that line just as the blood drop drips onto his badge. The Chief’s name is Judd, Judd Crawford.
- The opening, where the utopian “Black Wall Street” was being destroyed and the parents send their child off to safety, parallels the origin story of Superman. Which might mean that the little baby is his cousin, Supergirl?
- The Hollywood Reporter clarifies the in-world origin of the “Seventh Kavalry” name: “In the comics, Veidt gives an interview with New Frontiersman rivals Nova Express in which he draws a line in the sand between those who root for Armageddon—the horsemen of the apocalypse—and those who are fighting against it: ‘The Seventh Cavalry,’ he says, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Custer’s last stand. The Seventh Kavalry have co-opted Veidt’s own joke and married it with the face of the one crimefighter who opposed him.” (Note: I’ve corrected “Calvary”/”Kalvary” references in the quote for “Cavalry”/”Kavalry”.) The first-letter “K” for “C” swap would apparently be a nod to the KKK. Here is a Reddit thread that has an image of that interview text from the comic.
- This also explains why the pager call for a Kavalry attack is “Little Big Horn,” a reference to when Custer’s real world 7th Cavalry met their end.
- Apparently the 200 pounds that Will Reeves was referring to being able to lift was the police chief’s dead body? Of course, that would imply he was killed before he was hanged. We’ll see.
- Killing off the big-name star was the original plan with Lost. Jack was going to die in the pilot episode.
- The closing credits included “based on characters co-created for DC by Dave Gibbons.” No mention of he-who-must-not-be-named (not by Damon Lindelof anyway). Ouch.
- Just as it’s weird that the Chief was listening to a right-wing radio talk show, the 7K guy who gets pulled over in the beginning was blasting out hip-hop, which seems a little odd for a white supremacist.
- The “WATCH OVER THIS BOY” note is written on the back of a German WWI propaganda sheet encouraging black soldiers to surrender themselves over rather than fight (see this Reddit thread for an image/discussion).
- The scroll at the bottom of the “Dr. Manhattan on Mars” breaking news story includes a headline “Water found on Mars.” By NASA or by Dr. Manhattan?
- In the “Absolute Edition” of the Watchmen trade paperback, a section penned by Alan Moore shows that Hooded Justice was originally going to be called “Brother Night.” Which would mirror Angela’s code name of “Sister Night” (source: Reddit).
- The significance of the head of lettuce being tossed into the patrol car is that the 7K guy was telling the truth, he was just hauling lettuce.
- The “Watchmen for Nixon” podcast believes that the truck featured in the traffic stop is the same one that sported the 50-caliber machine gun in the 7K headquarters raid.
- They also point out that the Chief had two bullet wound scars on his shoulder, seen while he is getting dressed. Possibly to be addressed later in flashbacks addressing White Night?
- The “We Do” podcast believes the 7K member who takes the cyanide pill before Sister Night gets to him is the same guy from the traffic stop.
That’s all for now. If you have any other theories that you’ve heard or that you’ve come up with yourself, let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear them! Other than that, see you next week.