“There is a vast and insidious conspiracy at play here in Tulsa. If I told you about it, your head would explode. So, I have to give it to you in pieces.”
“You haven’t given me shit.”
“Yes, I have. But you haven’t been listening hard enough.”
When Will Reeves says this to Angela Abar in Episode 2, be sure to realize that Damon Lindelof is also saying this to us, the audience. We’ve been here before with him. Lost. The Leftovers. The man knows how to weave a puzzle. In an interview for Sky Atlantic’s Previously On podcast, Regina King reveals:
“[Damon Lindelof] totally has planted things that you definitely will have to go back and watch, and when you go back and watch, you’ll go, oh my God, yes, that happened.”
Right now, in these first few episodes, is when we need to be listening (and watching) very hard.
Before we proceed any further, let’s clarify that this article will contain spoilers. I am not one of the lucky few who have seen the first six episodes, but we will be talking about anything and everything else that is out there available for public consumption. That includes the content from HBO’s PeteyPedia web page, interviews with cast and crew, Instagram posts, and all of the clips from future episodes given in the Official Trailer, the SDCC Trailer, and the “In the Weeks Ahead” preview at the end of Episode 1.
Who Is the Lord of a Country Manor?
We’re going to focus today on the character known as the Lord of a Country Manor. I’m going to make this part quick. I’m assuming at this point that Jeremy Irons is indeed “probably who you think he is,” i.e. Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias. I could still be proved wrong, but in original script pages he’s referred to as “The Blonde Man” and is supposed to have an American accent. There are other clues, I’m not just going on that flimsy bit of evidence, but we’ll talk about those throughout the rest of this article. The puzzle with Iron’s character is not *who* he is, but rather *where* he is.
Where is the Lord of a Country Manor?
In an interview for The Hollywood Reporter, Tom Mison (Mr. Phillips) revealed a few interesting tidbits. He says that “gradually over the nine episodes, you’ll see how our world is connected to the world of the rest of the show.” Likewise, in an interview for Paste, director Nicole Kassel refers to Irons’ character as being “marooned in a mysterious other realm.” It sounds like we are dealing with two separate “worlds” here.
Damon Lindelof dropped a bigger hint with the script pages of the Country Manor scene in Episode 1. The commentary leading into the scene says that this location is “magical” and “like a painting.” In Episode 2, the camera literally takes us into a painting to transition to that episode’s Country Manor scene. The same painting that indirectly gives that episode its name. Are you listening hard?
The first scene shows us that there is something “off” about the servants in this world, and the second shows us a tree that is likewise “off.” That tree was created by someone who doesn’t know what a tree is supposed to have on it. Like they have only seen a painting of a tree, green with red dots, and incorrectly guessed that those red dots were tomatoes. I don’t believe Dr. Manhattan has lost so much of his humanity that he would make such an error.
Veidt obviously has nothing but contempt for this world and everything in it. He calls the servants dimwits right to their face and burns a Mr. Phillips alive just as a prop for his high school quality play. Tom Mison talks of playing an army of Mr. Phillips characters and reveals that “so many of them reach a grisly end.” He seems amused by the tomato mix up, like he’s found yet another flaw in this magical realm. I can’t believe he is responsible for this world.
When is the Lord of a Country Manor?
We’ve talked a bit about *where* he is, let’s change gears a bit and talk about *when* he is. We’ve now seen two scenes with the same purple and gold anniversary cake, and in preview scenes there is at least one more coming up. The cake commemorates the master’s “anniversary,” though we don’t know yet what it is an anniversary of. However, in these three scenes, the cake features one (Episode 1), two (Episode 2), and eventually 7 (future scene) candles.
We know that Veidt went missing in 2012, and the show is set in 2019. That’s a seven-year span, or the passing of 7 anniversaries. So let’s surmise that they are celebrating the anniversary of the master’s arrival in this realm. That would place these scenes somewhat in the past. If we continue on the one anniversary per episode trend, this world’s timeline will meet up with the world of the rest of the show some time around Episode 7 or 8. That seems just about perfect, and we all know that Damon Lindelof loves putting alternate timelines in his shows.
In the previously mentioned Esquire interview, Lindelof brings up The Prisoner as a television show that deeply influenced him. “I love that this thing is weird and strange, and it’s not self-explanatory, and it feels a bit artsy-fartsy and very counter-culture,” he says. If you somehow do not know, the Wikipedia entry for the show describes it well as “a 1967 British science fiction-allegorical television series about an unidentified British intelligence agent who is abducted and imprisoned in a mysterious coastal village, where his captors try to find out why he abruptly resigned from his job.” In that show, the lead character had no name, he (and everyone else on the island) was just referred to by a number.
The Country Manor might just be on an island. The first scene of him riding Bucephalus starts at a shoreline, and in the preview scenes we see him ride by a pirate flag. Jeremy Irons is playing a character that has been thus far unnamed. I think that Damon Lindelof has used this opportunity to make his own version of The Prisoner. In the first scene, he is returning from riding “quite a distance.” A ride that took at least two days and left his thighs quite raw. Sounds to me like he’s exploring the boundaries of his prison.
Now, I don’t know what information his jailer is trying to get out of him, but I do know that in future scenes there is a trial and he’s blowing out the candles on his seventh anniversary cake sitting in what looks to be a dungeon. Perhaps he gets caught trying to escape?
Who is the Jailer?
There’s kind of three options I see for what this realm could be. It could be a real place, like a different planet or an alternate reality of this planet. It could be a mental construct. Or it could be a computer simulation. These options can, in turn, give us some ideas as to who Veidt’s jailer could be.
One possibility is Adrian Veidt himself. While the rest of the world got very technophobic in the wake of the giant squid attack, Veidt knew that Manhattan-based technology had nothing to do with it. His companies undoubtedly continued to develop that technology in secret. The possibilities for what he could have achieved in the intervening years are practically endless. However, he could have caused his own disappearance by accidentally falling into some sort of one-way portal to another world, or locking himself into a simulation without an escape hatch. He’s the smartest man alive, so you’d hope not, but we can’t rule it out entirely.
The second choice would be the inheritors of his companies. In the PeteyPedia newspaper clipping about Adrian Veidt being declared dead, it’s revealed that Trieu Industries purchased all of Veidt’s companies, without his blessing (as he was found missing when his board of directors sought him out for approval). If his approval was in question, perhaps he was removed from the equation? With his companies came his technology. Lady Trieu is a character that we will soon see in the series, presumably the head of Trieu Industries. The only question in this scenario is why keep him alive?
The popular theory is that it is Dr. Manhattan. There are obvious connections. He is building a sandcastle on Mars that looks an awful lot like the Country Manor castle. Although, we only actually see him destroy the castle on Mars, not build it. We don’t really know anything about its origins. I think we can assume that the sandcastle has been there a while though, because Topher has a Magna-Hattan Blocks set of it. It seems like maybe this is “breaking news” because Dr. Manhattan has just returned for the first time in 30+ years. Part of the ticker at the bottom of that Breaking News story is that water has been discovered on Mars. Would we have continued to send probes to Mars if there was a risk of disturbing Dr. Manhattan living there?
Making a connection in the opposite direction, we just saw Adrian put on a play all about Dr. Manhattan’s origin story. This has been stoking the fires of the theories that Veidt is obsessed with Dr. Manhattan; that he’s trying to recreate the experiment either on himself or an underling; that he’s somehow obtained John’s DNA and has cloned him to further those aims. However, in a framework where Veidt is a prisoner, trapped in this pre-industrial setting that waivers between low tech and no tech, I don’t think those theories work.
He’s probably been put here specifically to deny him access to modern technology. Yes, someone out there has access to at least cloning technology–our mystery jailer–but as we’ve seen, it’s somewhat imperfect. Certainly below Adrian’s standards, and below what we would expect Dr. Manhattan to be capable of as well.
So was there a purpose to the play? Was it some sort of bizarro dress rehearsal for Adrian’s grand scheme of recreating the original Dr. Manhattan experiment? I mean, really, how could it be? That just doesn’t make sense on so many levels. Could he be trying to get John’s attention, as his jailer or his rescuer? Hmm, maybe. I’d note, however, that there were no indications. He wasn’t looking around, expecting someone to materialize right next to him and put a stop to his shenanigans. The egregious death of Mr. Phillips might also have been the signal, but apparently this wasn’t the first dead body to be produced and undoubtedly won’t be the last. Honestly, I think he’s just bored. He seemed really into it, anxious to get the anniversary celebration done so they could get on with the show.
The End Is Nigh
OK, look, so here’s where the train car runs off the rails, I’ll admit. There’s one more possibility for Ozymandias’ jailer, but it might be a little farfetched. When I say it out loud, you’re going to say “aw man, I just invested all that time reading this and it turns out this guy’s a nutter.” But try to keep an open mind. Are you ready?
What if it were the giant psychic squid?
OK, I know what you’re going to say, the giant squid exploded and died when Veidt teleported it to New York City. Sure, that was the plan. But what if it didn’t die? What if scientists really are baffled by the squid rain, or at least this recent one that hit four cities at once? That’s the thing about a show like this. Sometimes they’re going to put something right in front of our faces, knowing that we’ll reject it as an obvious diversion. Then it turns out they were telling us the truth all along, but we weren’t listening hard enough.
We know that the giant squid attack will feature prominently in the back story for Looking Glass, which will show up in Episode 5. Present-day Looking Glass is shown in several of the preview scenes poking around what appears to be a large underground structure. He sees a symbol spray-painted on a door in red. It looks like… well, frankly it looks like the Eye of Sauron placed in a Dr. Manhattan circle. In another preview scene, Laurie is tied to a chair, maybe in the same building, with a much larger version of the red eye painted on the wall behind her. The kind of calling card you would expect of a vast and insidious conspiracy.
Most importantly though, there’s also a courtroom scene set in Veidt’s prison world coming up. It looks to be the kind of over-the-top craziness you would expect from The Prisoner. In it, Ms. Crookshanks, garbed as an old-time English lawyer, is standing next to a hand-drawn picture of what could only be the giant squid. A giant squid with one eye staring out. It’s a dead ringer for the red eye graffiti symbol in the real world. These would seem to be connected.
So, what if the psychic squid survived, or at least some part of it survived, maybe that makes more sense. It took time to recover. Then it begins its own plans for world domination. Maybe it starts by sowing the seeds of unrest, disturbing Ozymandias’ plan for world peace. He worked at the macro-level, but perhaps this is more of a micro-level thing — a metaphor for the Russian hacking of the US election in 2016. You can see how that would appeal to Lindelof.
What if Ozymandias discovered it and tried to stop it? Maybe the squid doesn’t kill him outright because it knows him as its “father,” or perhaps he has a key piece of information. Either way, it makes a prison world to place him in—probably a mental construct of some sort, since we’re talking about a giant psychic squid — a world created by someone who doesn’t quite understand humans and apple trees.
Let me just put one last crazy thought in your head before we leave this. In April 2018, the peer-reviewed journal “Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology” published a controversial scientific paper “Cause of the Cambrian Explosion – Terrestrial or Cosmic?” that put forth the idea that cephalopods—octopuses, squids and nautiluses—may have had extraterrestrial origins, perhaps seeded on Earth by a passing comet or meteorite. Filming on Watchmen started in June 2018, a few months later. Granted, the scriptwriting process began in the fall of 2017, so they were probably pretty solid by April of 2018. But this idea of an extraterrestrial origin to cephalopods isn’t new either.
You Haven’t Been Listening Hard Enough
Let’s wrap up by listening to the “In the Weeks Ahead” trailer. A few quotes jump out:
- Veidt: “The only way to stave off mankind’s extinction is with a weapon more powerful than any atomic device. That weapon is fear.”
- Lady Trieu: “I have a secret plan to save humanity, and it starts in Oklahoma.”
- Joe Keene Jr: “She threatens to disrupt the peace.”
The stakes are much bigger than a war fought between the police and the Seventh Kavalry in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In an interview for Esquire, Lindelof says that he believes “good guys and bad guys are not really even part of the vernacular” in the Watchmen universe. It’s humanity itself that is in need of saving.
Veidt’s words could be looked upon as him hatching yet another ends-justify-the-means scheme to unite humanity, or he could be fighting a real threat to humanity this time. The kind of expectation dashing switcheroo that Damon Lindelof would just love. Lady Trieu might be following in his old footsteps with her own “secret plan”, or she might be in league with or coopted by a larger threat. If she’s the one Senator Keene Jr is talking about (he says this to Looking Glass in civilian garb), there’s a larger struggle going on in “high places.”
My goal here is not to provide a concrete answer that “solves” all of the mysteries of the show a mere two episodes in. I know that’s ridiculous. As ridiculous as a giant psychic squid surviving the events of the comic book to go on to become a real threat to humanity. I just want to give you some things to think about as you watch the Watchmen.
25YL is providing continual coverage of HBO’s Watchmen, with a weekly recap and commentary on Tuesdays, our “Behind the Mask” series covering the latest theories and analysis on Thursdays, pre-episode polls on Saturdays, character profiles on the original Watchmen, and more.