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Behind the Mask: Theories and Analysis for Watchmen S1E3

“She Was Killed by Space Junk”

Watchmen Season 1, Episode 3 Jean Smart photo: Mark Hill/HBO

Welcome back, dear reader, to your one-stop-shop for all the latest and greatest theories and analysis stemming from this week’s episode of the HBO television series Watchmen. As a reminder, this article will be chock-full of spoilers. I’ve scrubbed internet forums, YouTube videos, podcasts, preview clips, and various interviews, so you don’t have to. Be forewarned; if it’s publicly available, we’ll be talking about it here.

If that’s not your cup of tea, you might rather check out 25YL’s weekly recap and review written by Laura Stewart this week.

Still here? Great! “Are you ready to venture into the great beyond?”

Historical Background

Here we review some of the real-world history that the series is pointing us to. This week was a little light on real-world history, but I do have one thing to mention:

  • Just before Watchmen aired, the city of Tusla announced an effort underway to search for evidence of mass graves associated with the “1921 Tulsa Race Riots”. The effort is expected to take a few months. This is being done in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the event coming up in 2021.

Watchmen - A yellow diskette with a blood splatter

PeteyPedia

Three new files in the PeteyPedia files this week:

  • “MEMO: AHS: Based on UNFactual Events” – Having now watched the first two episodes of American Hero Story: Minutemen, Agent Petey continues to rail against the depictions of the heroes in the show. He says criminals who survived crossing Hooded Justice’s path claimed he had supernatural abilities, of which Agent Petey will only confirm “uncommon physical strength.” Petey also discounts Hollis Mason’s “glib” accusations in Under the Hood that Hooded Justice was a secret agent of the Soviet Union. He also notes discrepancies in the coming accounts of both the Comedian and the Silk Spectre.
  • “CLIPPING: White Flight to Mars” – This is a clipping from the New Frontiersman, a right-wing newsletter that features prominently in both the original Watchmen and this incarnation. In this particular article, the editor is ranting about President Redford’s newest Supreme Court nominee, author John Grisham (although in this world he wrote “The Pelican Deposition,” not “The Pelican Brief”). As usual, there are all kinds of fun nods to real-world politicians and celebrities beyond that big one. We learn the “Victims of Racial Violence Act” applied to 50 selected incidents of historical racial atrocities, of which the “1921 Tulsa Race Riots” was just one. He salutes the “good soldiers” of the Seventh Kavalry but does not condone their actions. He calls on similarly minded folks to vote for Joe Keene Jr., but acknowledges that the stacked Supreme Court means they are defeated—and they should work to “get [their] asses to Mars!”
  • “EVIDENCE: Four Letters” – This one is the bombshell. This is a letter written on June 2, 1955, from J. David Keene to a Sheriff Crawford. This pushes the family ties between the Keenes and the Crawfords back at least one more generation. It addresses the sheriff’s receipt of the painting, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship,” giving, at long last, an explanation of the tweak to the painting’s name (as we know it in our world). More interesting is that only “custody” of the painting is being transferred to Sheriff Crawford, as it is a “totem” of responsibility that was apparently transferred over to the sheriff in a ceremony the night before. One that will, in turn, be transferred to the sheriff’s predecessor someday. The “four letters” Agent Petey refers to are in the signature, “Akia,” which is a known KKK acronym meaning “A Klansman I Am.” As if that is not enough, the signature is also accompanied by a symbol, which shows up multiple times in the coming previews.
Watchmen - Senator Joe Keene Jr addresses the press, with a bit of blood on his collar
Senator Keene addresses the press.

Conspiracy

This was the section where I talked about whether or not Chief Judd Crawford was corrupt. I’m going to expand that a bit and talk more generally about the “vast and insidious conspiracy,” what it is and who may or may not be involved. That said though, let’s start with a few more tidbits about Judd.

The song that Judd has Angela sing at his funeral is “The Last Round-Up”, originally a Gene Autry song, but possibly made more famous by Johnny Cash. The final chorus makes mention of Custer, i.e. the general whose 7th Cavalry gives the Seventh Kavalry their name:

I’m heading for the last roundup
There’ll be Buffalo Bill with his long snow-white hair
There’ll be old Kit Carson and Custer waiting there
A-riding in the last roundup

So it seems that, given the length of the tunnel to the mausoleum, it was likely in place before Judd was even killed. A tunnel that would place them near the Crawford family plot (we see other existing Crawford headstones). This would seem to indicate his death was not a snap decision, but rather the execution of a plan that has been in the works for a while. Did he know he was going to his pre-planned death when he left for the “hospital?” We’ll have to see.

Angela’s actions at the funeral at first glance seem quite heroic, but Laurie’s later comment to her, “you saved us,” seems to come across as just a bit sarcastic (though what dialogue coming from her doesn’t?). It is a bit strange though. The entire crowd had already bolted, likely out of range. Putting the bomber in the hole probably would have sealed the deal. Dumping the casket on top of that didn’t muffle the blast, so much as it provided a source of shrapnel to blow out into the sky. So many, myself included, are wondering if Angela’s actions might really have been intended to get rid of a bit of inconvenient evidence.

Now if so, it may be as innocent as not wanting to tarnish his reputation with a toxicology report that would surely show the cocaine in his system. That probably explains the rushed funeral in the first place. No, Angela couldn’t know that the FBI was going to exhume the body, but she might guess at that as a possibility. Was there something else less innocent that went into the decision? Maybe we’ll find out more about what Angela did on her day off next episode and find out.

We got a bit more of Senator Joe Keene Jr. this episode. He pulled strings to get Laurie specifically sent to Tulsa. People are theorizing everything from him being Nite Owl III to the head of the Seventh Kavalry—quite a spectrum. As Freud would say, sometimes a Senator is just a Senator, though he too probably has “friends in high places.” The aforementioned familiar ties between the Keenes and the Crawfords, complete with links to the KKK, definitely makes him someone to keep an eye on.

Some are wondering if Keene’s foiled kidnapping might have been staged, paralleling Ozymandias’ staged assassination attempt in the original comic. You have to wonder, what was the end game of his would-be kidnapper? If he wanted to kill Keene, he could have just pushed the button once he was standing beside him. If the goal was an actual kidnapping, a bomb vest is not exactly the best weapon to keep your victim in check once you’ve got them.

A lot of things are converging on Tulsa. We now know that Trieu Industries, inheritors to Veidt Enterprises right around the time of his disappearance, built a massive tower called the “Millennium Clock” in Tulsa. A future preview clip seems to show Lady Trieu, head of Trieu Industries, giving Laurie and Sister Night a tour of the place. With her introduction in the next episode, we probably have all the pieces on the board at last.

Watchmen - Veidt walks towards Mr Philips and Ms Crookshanks holding an anniversary cake with 3 candles
Third episode = third anniversary.

The Prisoner

Well, there ya go. As predicted, here in Episode 3 we are celebrating the master’s third anniversary, though he’s not feeling such a jolly fellow this year. We’ve discussed previously that there is a future scene from the “In the Weeks Ahead” trailer that shows the same cake with seven candles, so we can guess that he’ll be marooned here for at least four more episodes. We also see the design diagrams and a scale model of the trebuchet that has been seen in those same previews (apparently coming up in the next episode).

In HBO’s Official Watchmen Podcast, Damon Lindelof seems to be officially concurring that Jeremy Irons is cast as Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias. He claims that the reasoning behind the thinly veiled deception was because they couldn’t be marketing the show as not being a “sequel” to the original Watchmen, while at the same time trumpeting one of its biggest stars playing the chief villain of the original Watchmen comic. To some degree, he says, they were also trying to replicate Walter Kovacs being seen in his civilian guise in multiple places throughout the first few issues of the comic before the reveal that he’s Rorschach.

Of course, even without that confirmation and the show’s own signatory reveal, the clues just kept piling up. I’m going to move those to the Easter Eggs section though and stop treating them as clues to Veidt’s identity. All that said and done, there are always still some possibilities for shenanigans. This could be a clone/simulation/ whatever of Veidt. Maybe he dies in one of these scenes eventually, and a new Veidt walks out of that steampunk time travel capsule in the basement? That’d be a hoot.

Well, for now, let’s assume this he’s the real deal and change gears to talk about *where* he is. The song playing as we enter the Country Manor scene this time is “Israelites” by Desmond Dekker & The Aces from 1968. (This was, incidentally, the first Jamaican-produced song to reach number one on the UK Singles charts.) Israelites? A people in exile, looking for a way back to the Promised Land? Hmm.

The Game Warden refers to “agreed upon … terms of your captivity” and Veidt writes back that he “would never imagine to transgress the terms upon which we agreed.” So Veidt is confirmed to be in some sort of captive within this realm, and perhaps even voluntarily so. A realm that appears to be the English countryside, and yet buffalo herds are roaming. We see Veidt riding past the pirate flag to get to those buffalo, perhaps marking the perimeter of his captivity. The Game Warden’s seal upon his letter also features a skull and crossbones, matching the flag.

And then, of course, there is this week’s installment of the grisly deaths of Mr. Philips. He burned up last week, so naturally he froze to death this week. Only makes sense. Many folks have jumped ahead and assumed that he was flung upwards by the trebuchet, but all we really saw was Veidt playing out a rope tied around Mr. Philips’ waist, and then cut to his frozen corpse lying on the ground. Personally, it looked to me more like he was about to be lowered down somewhere, or that he only had to remain standing there, as the master backed away out of the danger zone. Obviously there’s more to be filled in here.

The nature of his solidly frozen body opens up a lot of questions as to just where he went. Had to be fairly nearby, there was only so much rope to play out. Theories range from the surface of Mars, the backside of the Moon, the Antarctic, or just outer space in general. As the master stomps his frozen arm off at the shoulder, we get a brief glimpse of Mr. Philips’ insides, including what appears to be an arm bone protruding out. Some think they see something non-organic there, indicating the servants might be robots. However, in the HBO Official Watchmen Podcast once again, Lindelof states clearly that the servants are organic, though he does shy away from the use of the word “clone.” When the host asks “why [Veidt]’s made these people,” Lindelof stops him and asks “what makes you think he made them at all?”

Watchmen - Blue Booth Network control panel, showing a diagram of Earth transmitting to Mars
40 seconds to Mars.

Life on Mars

So apparently, Dr. Manhattan is still living on Mars, and he did not execute his stated intention to travel to another galaxy and see about creating life out there. Then again, he is able to split himself into multiple forms, so maybe he’s just left a part of himself on Mars.

Or this is an elaborate ruse put on by Trieu Industries in order to eavesdrop on all the prayers sent up to our new blue god. At HBO’s Watchmen party at the New York Comic-Con, they had two of these “Blue Booths” on-site for attendees to check out. Inside, there was graffiti of “Psalm 22:2” on the screen: “My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.” (Source: Reddit)

The Blue Booth claims that it will take approximately 40 seconds for Laurie’s message to reach Mars. According to Space.com, depending on the planetary alignment, it can take anywhere between 3 to 24 minutes for a speed of light transmission to reach Mars. Since Laurie sees Mars in the night sky, we are apparently on the closer side of that approach, but nonetheless, that means the transmission is potentially travelling five times the speed of light!

Some people are taking the car drop as a message to Laurie from Dr. Mahattan, but the drop happens just about precisely 40 seconds after her transmission ends. She’s probably just laughing at the coincidence of it all. I don’t think she suddenly thinks Jon was listening to her all along.

Watchmen - Laurie stands outside a glass door, the intricate iron work frames her face like a mask
Who is knocking at the door?

Legacy

I’ve retitled this section just to expand the scope a bit, still focused on the Will Reeves / Angela Abar relationship, but also allowing us to tackle “legacy” as a more general driving force in the series (as Lindelof has stated it).

Obviously we had no Will Reeves in this episode, but there is a new theory that maybe explains something he said in the last episode. He was pretty emphatic to Angela that “I’m the one who strung your chief of police up,” stating it three times. The theory says—hold on to your seat—that maybe time travel is involved, so a younger Will was the one who strung up Judd, thus allowing older Will to truthfully identify himself as the culprit.

In another tidbit from HBO’s Official Watchmen Podcast, Damon Lindelof clarifies that Angela was born in 1978 in Vietnam before it had become a state, and that both her parents are African American. Thus endeth the theories that she might also be an illegitimate daughter of the Comedian. (We can now be fairly confident we’re going to see her as a young girl with her father and mother from one of the preview scenes.)

Another legacy thread is presented with Laurie Blake. This is being rehashed literally everywhere, but she took on the last name (“Blake”) and hero moniker (gender-bent into the “Comedienne”) of the man she found out was her father at the end of the original Watchmen. In her joke, the bricklayer teaches his daughter to be a bricklayer, “because, after all, all a man has is his legacy.”

Watchmen - An aerial view of the parking lot of the Black Freighter Inns & Suites, with strange towers in the background
Agents Blake and Petey pull into the Black Freighter Inns & Suites.

Easter Eggs

  • Agent Blake and Agent Petey are staying at the “Black Freighter Inn & Suites.”
  • Devo’s “Mongoloid” is the song that plays in Laurie’s apartment. It’s the first single Devo ever released, back in 1977. It was first part of an Extended Play (EP) “B Stiff,” but then got reincorporated into their first album “Q. Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!” An album which also contains the song “Space Junk.”
  • In the comic, when Laurie sees Dan in his Nite Owl goggles, she says, “Pretty Devo.”
  • The cemetery is named “Tartarus Cemetery.” Tartarus was a deep abyss in Hades—from Greek mythology—where Zeus imprisoned the Titans—the pre-Olympian gods—after their defeat.
  • Laurie having Agent Petey wear the mask was a nod to the comic when she and Dan couldn’t get it on until they suited up.
  • Veidt has a terrarium on his desk (the one from which he removes enough glass to make a faceplate for Mr. Philips’ suit). He had a giant terrarium in his secret Antarctic base in the comic book.
  • That was a bust of Alexander the Great, with Ozymandias’ mask on it.
  • In the letter to the Game Warden, Veidt re-uses the phrase “republic serial villain”, something he says in his confession to Nite Owl and Rorschach in the comic.
  • Also, “best wishes and encouragement” is how he signs off on his message on an advertisement for “The Veidt Method” (a kind of bodybuilding/self-help course) in the comics.
  • In the Watchmen comic, in an interview with Nova Express (a rival magazine to The New Frontiersman), Adrian Veidt establishes that he is a fan of dub reggae music. Just like the music playing in this week’s scene. Now that’s a deep cut.
  • The bank that is “robbed” in the first scene is a National Bank Co. Bank. This is the same bank company that sponsored Dollar Bill, one of the original Minutemen (there was even a bank poster featuring Dollar Bill in the trailer of the 7K guy who ended up in Angela’s trunk).
  • During that bank robbery, the D.C. Post-Times newspaper one of Laurie’s agents is reading has a headline “Grisham to retire from the Supreme Court.” This would be John Grisham, the author, who is in real life also a lawyer and under Redford apparently was nominated to the Supreme Court.
  • When Petey looks out the plane window at the Millennium Clock, he says “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair”. This is a line from the poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
  • Laurie’s joke ends with “Good joke. Everybody laughs. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.” This is how Rorschach ended a joke he told in the original comic with the same line verbatim.
  • The “One Drink In” podcast points out that “Mr. Shadow” was the unseen baddie that Zorg (Gary Oldman) reports to in The Fifth Element.
  • Revolver Magazine has posted an amazing review of the re-release of Sons of a Pale Horse’s “The Book of Rorschach” album, treating this in-universe event that was mentioned in the PeteyPedia files last week as a real-world event.
Watchmen - A briefcase combo set to 667
Everything is a joke to Laurie.

Quick Takes

  • In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Jean Smart (Laurie Blake) notes that Laurie only has black suits in her closet, which she finds “kind of sad.”
  • Boy, you thought last week’s big blue phallic symbol was a blockbuster reveal, amiright?
  • That the big silver tower structure we’ve seen in the previews is the “Millennium Clock.” Perhaps a counter to the “Doomsday Clock?”
  • The “Brick Joke” is actually a well-known TV Trope. For instance, in the context of the show, the car is the brick, thrown up in the air at the end of Episode 2, and then boom, out of nowhere it unexpectedly reappears at the end of Episode 3. (Source: Reddit)
  • A late but interesting catch from Episode 1. OK, maybe only interesting if you’re a map nerd, but the map in the background behind Angela in the classroom is a “Peters projection” instead of the usual “Mercator projection.” A Mercator projection stretched out the landmasses at higher latitudes, giving the impression of larger size to the North American landmass in particular. The Peters projection corrects for this to maintain a more comparable sizing. The idea maybe being that this is a more global, less Western-centric society, so something like this becomes the favored depiction. (Source: Reddit)
  • Note also that Angela gives the tunnel length in meters, not yards, perhaps indicating that the US finally converted over to the metric system. Although in the FBI presentation, Judd’s weight was listed as 190 pounds (just short of the 200 pounds that Will can lift).
  • The FBI files indicated Angela’s hero name, Sister Night. So it’s pretty clear they know all of the masked detective’s real names. As the “anti-vigilante task force,” they probably keep an eye on the masked police force in Tulsa.
  • The combo on Laurie’s special briefcase is “667,” a.k.a. The neighbor of the beast. Also one-upping the “666” combo on the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.
  • A reporter asks Keene if he can comment on the Russian’s building an Intrinsic Field Generator. An Intrinsic Field Generator is what caused Jonathan Osterman to become Dr. Manhattan. This could be the start of a new arms race — a very bad one.
  • One intrepid Reddit user noticed a potential inspiration for the scene of Will’s apparent heat resistance in a “Mysteries of the Unexplained” story about a slave in 1814 who could reach in a boiling pot to grab red hot dumplings and drink scalding hot coffee. Hmm, could be.
  • The scene of Hooded Justice foiling the supermarket robbery was lifted directly out of the Nite Owl memoir Under the Hood (as presented in the comic), although greatly embellished. (Source: Reddit)
  • In the hospital after White Night, Judd tells Angela “I reckon there’s somebody up there lookin’ out for you.” She’s got friends in high places too. (Source: Reddit)
  • The HBO GO app gave some background information to Laurie’s joke, comparing it to “The Parable of the Talents” from the Bible. The analysis ends with this: “Laurie’s parable sends a clear message: Nite Owl, Ozymandias, Dr. Manhattan and God are four men she will send to hell. And it doesn’t look like she’s kidding.”(Source: Reddit)
  • In another fun tidbit from the HBO GO app, Louis Gossett Jr. is identified in the Episode 3 cast list as “Old Man Will (Hooded Justice).” Of course, in the same list, Tom Mison (Mr. Philips) is identified as “Bernard,” which just has to be an inside joke for Westworld (Source: Reddit)
  • The Game Warden rides a black horse while Adrian rides a white horse.
  • Lori is a “platinum user” of the Blue Booth Network. She talks to Jon a lot.
  • Along with racism, sexism also seems to have a firmer foothold in this reality. Lori is the only woman in the elevator and the sole woman in the FBI brief.
  • Looking Glass wiped sweat off of his mask. That was weird.
  • All of the other named masked cops (Looking Glass, Red Scare, Pirate Jenny, and even Panda) were present at the funeral, only in the same dress uniform and yellow mask as all the other police officers. (Source / screen capture: Reddit)
  • Amazon’s “X-Ray” extras may have accidentally given away who will be playing Dr. Manhattan. Don’t look if you don’t want to know. (Source: Reddit)

Interviews

In this section, I’ll be pointing you to a few of the more interesting interviews with cast and crew. With the introduction of Laurie Blake this episode, Jean Smart is the highlight of the interview circuit (as Tom Mason (Mr. Philips) was last week).

  • I already mentioned this earlier; the Entertainment Weekly interview of Jean Smart (Laurie Blake) is pretty good, especially when she digs into what she thinks about the character’s self-imposed isolation.
  • In an interview for IGN, Lindelof confirms, once again, that there will be no Nite Owl this season.
  • Writer Lila Byock has a wonderful interview with Vulture in which she reveals that the big blue prop was pitched by her as a joke until Lindelof called her bluff on it. She also clarifies that in her mind, Laurie had this custom-made. It is not an off-the-shelf item. (This question has popped up in a lot of podcasts.)
Watchmen - The images of the red eye symbol, two from future scenes spray painted on the wall, one from the 1955 PeteyPedia letter
The red eye symbol now dates back to at least 1955.

My Own Thoughts

In this section, I pose some of my own thoughts and any unique theories I might be harboring.

  • If you haven’t already, please give a look at my standalone article, “Behind the Mask: Be Seeing You,” in which I posed some theories about the Lord of a Country Manor. To give you the quick summary, these scenes are Lindelof making his own version of The Prisoner, and I propose that maybe his jailer is the giant psychic squid! Yeah, sure, maybe a bit out there, but nothing has contradicted it so far.
  • People are going to jump to the conclusion that Veidt genetically engineered the tomato trees, but I would point out that the Game Warden only said, “Thank you again for the delicious tomatoes.” That could easily just mean that they picked a bushel of tomatoes on the estate and sent them over to the Warden as a peace offering.
  • Episode 2: “Yes, I have. But you haven’t been listening hard enough.” Episode 3: “He never saw it coming.” Same message.
  • To clarify, it’s FBI Agent Dale Petey. Petey is his last name, not his first name. A lot of folks seem to be confused about that.
  • When we look back on things, will the catalyst have been the declaration of Veidt being dead? Allowing Trieu to move forward on her “secret plan?”
  • I want to dig into the squid rain thing a little bit. We see the one that Angela and Topher are caught in. There’s a newspaper article that says there was one in Boise the day before. A newspaper article the next day establishes that Tulsa was one of four cities hit and that this is baffling scientists (either the squid rain in general or the fact that four cities were hit simultaneously). This has been going on for a while, long enough to establish a system of warning sirens and quick response street cleaners dedicated to mopping up afterwards.
  • Angela pretends to go faint at the accusation that she faked fainting. Classic.

That’s it for this week. If you have any interesting theories or clever Easter eggs that I missed, let me know in the comments below.

25YL is providing continual, in-depth coverage of HBO’s Watchmen, including:


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Written by Brien Allen

Brien Allen is the last of the original crazy people who responded to this nutjob on Facebook wanting to start an online blog prior to Twin Peaks S3. Some of his other favorite shows have been Vr.5, Buffy, Lost, Stargate: Universe, The OA, and Counterpart. He's an OG BBSer, Trekkie, Blue Blaze Irregular, and former semi-professional improviser. He is also a staunch defender of putting two spaces after a period, but has been told to shut up and color.

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