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Behind the Mask: Theories and Analysis for Watchmen S1E4

“If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own”

Welcome back, dear reader, to your one-stop-shop for all the latest and greatest theories and analysis following the airing of HBO’s Watchmen S1E4 “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own.” 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 Hawk Ripjaw this week.

Still here? Great! “Three, two, one, away!”

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:

  • Lady Trieu gets her name from a character in Vietnamese mythology, Lady Triệu. She was a Joan of Arc type character, a female warrior whose goal was to repel the invading Chinese forces from Vietnam in the third century. Her famous quote is: “I’d like to ride storms, kill sharks in the open sea, drive out the aggressors, reconquer the country, undo the ties of serfdom, and never bend my back to be the concubine of whatever man.”
  • The title of the episode comes from author Chinua Achebe, a quote from his novel “Things Fall Apart.” The novel is, in part, a tale of the Western colonization on Africa. The hero attempts to dispel his father’s bad legacy by building himself up to become a leader in his society, obsessed with tradition and masculinity. Through his arrogance, he offends the gods of his people and is sent into exile for seven years. Upon his return he finds his village converted under the rule of white men, and tries to lead a resistance, only to find it is too late. In the end, he hangs himself to avoid trial at the hands of the white government.

An image of a computer disc in the style of the Watchmen smiley face with blood splat

PeteyPedia (and Other Supplemental Material)

Only two new files in the PeteyPedia files this week:

  • INTERROGATION (REDACTIONS): Juspeczyk, Laurel Jane (4/25/95) – This is the modestly redacted transcript of the initial interrogation of Laurie Blake after she and Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl II) were captured by the FBI. We find out that Dan was voluntarily sharing his Nite Owl technology with law enforcement, like the “Archie” aircraft, through a company he owned named MerlinCorp. Surprisingly, we find out that Dan is the one who designed the big, blue prop (though the color is azure, technically). He and Laurie had a falling out (probably over Dr. Manhattan) and just came back together for this one last wrap-up case, to stop the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh. Laurie calls President Redford “Gatsby,” a reference to his starring role in the 1974 movie, “The Great Gatsby.”
  • EVIDENCE: “Excalibur,” MerlinCorp. Raid (4/28/95) – Lindelof and company go all-in on the big blue prop with the blueprint of the design. Probably the only relevant thing of note here is that it is confirmed as a custom, not off the shelf, product.

Making up for the light week on PeteyPedia, we got a data dump in the form of the album liner notes for Volume 1 of the Watchmen series soundtrack. The album comes in two formats, one of which is an “in-world” version, set up to be the re-release of Sons of Pale Horse’s “Book of Rorschach” (we talked about this a bit in the last two Behind the Mask articles). Some hero of the internet posted good quality snapshots of the inserts on Reddit. A few tidbits from that:

  • There is also apparently a companion radio series to the TV show, “The Serial Radio Hour, American Hero Story.” One wonders what Agent Petey thinks of it.
  • The “Luddite lunacy of the Ford era” led to a purging of technology, and in particular, anything powered by Manhattan synthesized lithium. Broadcast media, TV and radio, was shut down, leading to a boom in print media. Microsoft collapsed in the wake of this mania. The refuse was launched into space in “garbage arks.”
  • There were “big blue” science cults in the sixties that worshipped Dr. Mahhattan as a “messianic ubermensch.”
  • In the wake of 11/2, there were at least two brands of conspiracy-minded “Truthers:” the “Veidtists” and the “Cthulhuists.”
  • The band Sons of Pale Horse initially called themselves Space Junk and started out performing covers of Devo and David Bowie.
  • Quentin Tarantino made an unlicensed Star Trek Man would I love to see that.
  • Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Blake were captured foiling this world’s version of the Oklahoma City Bombing (thus Laurie’s response to Senator Keene’s sending her there). Blake took a plea deal while Dreiberg took the Keene Act mandated 30-year sentence. He issued a statement, “Never compromise, never surrender!” quoting Rorschach.

Volume 1 of the soundtrack was released on 11/4. Volume 2 is available 11/25, and Volume 3 is available 12/16. Expect that those other two releases will also contain more supplemental information. The podcast Who Pods the Watchmen? did a supplemental podcast just on this material which is worth giving a listen to.

Yet another source of in-world data dumps has been HBO EXTRAS, an app for HBO Digital Latin America that gives additional background information at seemingly random times throughout the episode. Another hero of the internet has been capturing images from these popups and posting them to Reddit (one for episodes 1, 2, and 3, and one for episode 4).

Mr Philips and Ms Crookshanks look astounded as they enter an opulent room
Mr. Philips and Ms. Crookshanks observe the aftermath of their master’s “bad night.”

Attack of the Clones

Ever since the Dr. Manhattan of Veidt’s play removed his fencing mask to reveal that he was another incarnation of Mr. Philips, the Watchmen viewing community has been overrun with what I will generously refer to as “Clone-Mania.” Honestly, I’ve not seen wild theorizing this far off the reservation since the wave of “Tulpa-Mania” that hit the Twin Peaks community midway through Season 3.

Let’s start by restating that in the HBO Official Watchmen Podcast, Lindelof shied away from the use of the word “clone” with regard to Mr. Philips and Ms. Crookshanks. His reasoning there seems pretty clear now that we’ve had a chance to see Adrian Veidt’s late-night fishing expedition. Does that mean there are no other actual clones in the series? Well no, of course not, but I also do expect that the story-within-a-story element of this chapter of Watchmen will reflect the main story to some extent.

So, who are these theorized clones, you ask? Let’s go through just a sampling of some of the many that have been proposed:

  • Bian is a clone of Lady Trieu – OK, we’ll start with the only one that has a little bit of footing to stand on. Bian came to her mother with the dream of being force-marched after watching her village being burned down. That did indeed seem like some sort of memory transfer going on. Does that make her a clone and not a true biological daughter? We’ll talk more about this one here in a bit.
  • Senator Joe Keene Jr is a clone of Senator Joe Keene Sr – This one is surprisingly popular and has no basis whatsoever in anything we’ve seen or heard thus far.
  • Topher is a clone of Dr. Manhattan – Because, well, they did both built a castle—solid.
  • Cal is a clone of Dr. Manhattan – Yeah, OK, there have been a few nudges that we can’t ignore about Cal’s weirdness. We’re gonna talk more later about this one too.
  • Philips and Ms. Crookshanks are clones of Dr. Manhattan and his first girlfriend, or just a male and female version of Dr. Manhattan only
  • Philips and Ms. Crookshanks are clones of Adrian Veidt
  • Lady Trieu is a clone of Adrian Veidt
  • Adrian Veidt is a clone of Dr. Manhattan
  • Judd was a clone of… I can’t remember, it was either Dr. Manhattan or Adrian Veidt probably. Or maybe his own grandfather.

I’m sure there are more that I’m forgetting. It’s not that there can’t be a clone thing happening somewhere in all of this. We learned a few things about how babies are made in this universe (assuming Veidt is still in this universe), and even though the egg imagery is becoming overwhelming here in this episode, a viable egg is not a necessary ingredient.

While not exactly a clone theory, there are also some rumblings that Lady Trieu and Adrian Veidt have somehow switched bodies. Not sure why we would think that. I guess the idea is that he gave up his old body for a new one, though for some reason he decided to change sex, change race, and start out already into middle age.

Bian sits up in bed after a dream with an IV drip in her arms
Bian wakes up from a bad dream.

Conspiracy

So another chess piece was placed on the board this week with the introduction of Lady Trieu (the white queen?). As mentioned above, there is some historical significance to her name in Vietnamese mythology. This might even be her hero moniker, in the same way that Adrian Veidt took his name from Greek/Egyptian mythology. We also know that there is a movement to “liberate” Vietnam from being an American state. Could that be something she agrees with and/or is putting her resources behind?

It seems that the lynchpin of the conspiracy may turn out to be the Millennium Clock. In the coming previews, Lady Trieu says, “I have a secret plan to save humanity, and it starts in Oklahoma.” That would almost certainly have to be related to the building of the Clock. Bian calls it, not the eighth wonder of the old world, but rather the first wonder of the new world. Her commentary about the Millennium Clock being resistant to all manner of natural disasters is a bit ominous. Sounds like a great place to wait out an Armageddon you might be planning to unleash.

So what is the “secret plan to save humanity?” Clearly there are going to be some broken eggs in the making of this particular omelet. Will laments that Angela (his family) is going to hate him for what he has done. Note what he says there—it’s already done, she’s just going to find out in three days. This secret plan is somehow going to save all of humanity, yet in its execution, he has somehow betrayed Angela in particular.

Two possibilities come to mind. Lady Trieu’s plan could be to eliminate men from the world somehow. OK, yeah, that’s a lot of broken eggs, but hear me out. We know she can make babies now, even from non-viable eggs. There’s been this background theme of eggs running throughout the show. When she has Angela and Lori back to talk, it’s ladies only, and Agent Petey is turned away. Most of the leads in this series are women. Bian dreamed of “men” burning down the village. For Angela’s part, while she does have two daughters, they’ve really focused on her relationship with Topher and Cal.

The other possibility is that Lady Trieu’s plan could be to eliminate white people. In which case, the reference to Angela specifically is about the children she adopted. That at least makes better sense of why she, in particular, would feel betrayed by what’s about to happen, and it would explain why Will is not worried about himself since he gets to stick around in this plan.

Those are both pretty outrageous possibilities. Another, more grounded theory that doesn’t involve pulling a Thanos is that she will somehow generate empathy by transmitting cultural memories of events like the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots and the Vietnam My Lai Massacre. I like that theory better, but I just don’t yet see how it affects Angela negatively.

By the way, one of the theories about the Millennium Clock is that it’s a time machine, or at least allows Trieu to see into the future, to predict things like the space junk coming down in the Clark family farmstead, or perhaps allowing her to amass her enormous fortune. Small problem though, the Clock is not yet fully built. That what all the airships buzzing around it are doing—still working on the construction.

Specifically, when asked what it does, Bian says, “It tells time.” Lady Trieu told the Clarks that it’s “much more than a big clock.” To me, it looks like the Eye of Sauron. Well, three days to go and then we’ll know what that means.

One small note to throw in. Some have made the connection to the floating ring shown on the Washington Monument in Episode 3, and wonder if there could perhaps be a linked network of tower-type objects around the globe? Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Statue of Ozymandias in gold
A truly great man.

The Prisoner

So, here we are again, another episode and another year has passed for Adrian Veidt. Apparently, when presented with his fourth anniversary cake, he went berserk and killed all of the Mr. Philips and Ms. Crookshanks. So what’s a Lord to do? Well naturally, you go out to the lake to check your fetus traps, bring a pair back to your steampunk Easy-Bake™ oven capsule, and grow a new set of servants. (I was wondering what the baby carriage was for, next to the capsule in the preview scenes.) And as an added bonus, now you have a collection of dead bodies to fling into the void with your giant trebuchet. It all makes perfect sense.

Once again, we see that Adrian is not the creator of this magical realm. He tells the new Mr. Philips and Ms. Crookshanks precisely this—he is their master, but most definitely not their maker. He clearly has a growing disdain towards whoever (or whatever) is the maker of this world. He deems his dimwitted servants unworthy of life because they have no purpose other than to serve. Incidentally, his talk of “the gift of life” and what it means “to be alive” would seem to indicate that this is some sort of real-world and they are real living beings, albeit some kind of organic automaton. It would seem to indicate against any simulation or mental construct theories about where Veidt is.

Last episode, his correspondence with the Game Warden revealed that he was in “captivity” and that he had agreed upon the terms of that captivity. This episode he further reveals that initially he thought of this place as a paradise, but has now come to see it as a prison that he must escape. We still seem to be no closer to knowing who his real jailer is though (it’s not the Game Warden, I’m willing to wager). Someone else built this place for him, and he went into it willingly.

The transition from Veidt looking through the spyglass to the full moon in the sky has theorizers taking that as a clue that his actual location is on the Moon. That would explain why he’s not worried so much about the landing on the other side of the projected cloud hologram dome (I presume). This then leads to a follow on theory that the object that came down on the Clark family farm was some kind of ship returning Adrian Veidt to terra firma. This leads to yet another follow on theory that present-day Veidt actually *is* the statue in Lady Trieu’s vivarium. Kind of a frozen in carbonite kind of thing. Or “carbon-Veidt” (groan away and blame Reddit for that one). Lady Trieu did say that he “is old”, not “was old.” Telling.

One possibility a few folks are still pointing out is that Adrian Veidt did get plastic surgery and moved to Argentina, as Agent Petey’s buddy told him. Are we not listening hard enough? Do we already have all the clues we need?

Of course, the planet Mars still remains in the running as a possible location. I think I mentioned this, but in case I didn’t, a growing consensus theorizes that the clip of Dr. Manhattan leveling a sandcastle on Mars was him removing the castle Veidt was in after he escaped. The crater it sits in could be the boundaries of the “bubble” Veidt is being held prisoner in. If the two are one and the same, could Veidt be much further back in time than a mere seven years or so? So much so that the “sandcastle” was actually the remaining ruins of the castle we are seeing him live in now?

One last weirdness to note; when looking at the horseshoe this time, Veidt says to himself, “I don’t need it yet. Not yet.” What could he need of a single horseshoe? Its inherent good luck? (As if luck would be something Ozymandias would believe in.) Does Mr. Philips try to hand him a horseshoe to cut the cake with every anniversary, and that’s what caused him to snap this time?

Sister Night looks on holograms of her great grandparents
Sister Night discovers her legacy.

Legacy

Like we mentioned earlier, a lot of people are surmising that Lady Trieu’s daughter is actually her clone, who is experiencing some sort of genetic memories. A few things about that. Hong Chau, the actress playing Lady Trieu, was born in 1979, well after the Vietnam War. Assuming they tried to cast someone at roughly the age of the character, Lady Trieu herself would not have had such a personal experience. Could she be a clone of Lady Trieu’s mother? Well, maybe, I guess, but now we’re starting to get a bit removed, and we’re heading into territory that doesn’t seem relevant to what we’ve seen thus far.

I think more interesting is the fact that Bian was sleeping with a type of IV drip, presumably receiving a feed of medication. Remember what Will Reeves said about his pills? They “help me get my memory.” Could his medication be the same as Bian’s medication, helping her get memories? Rather than these being some genetic memory she’s retrieving; perhaps she is just a run of the mill psychic (which are well established in the Watchmen universe) and the pills enhance her ability.

Speaking of Will Reeves, dude’s looking pretty spry for his age, ain’t he? Although his age no longer appears to be 105 years old, so that might have a lot to do with it. (Why is no one talking about that?) After Bian leaves, he and Lady Trieu continue their conversation about how he’s giving Angela “passive-aggressive exposition” because she has to experience things for herself. He draws a parallel to what Lady Trieu is doing to her daughter—making her experience something, i.e. the horror of the Vietnam War. So much so that her feet still hurt from the memory.

In another interesting tidbit, it appears that Cal took Angela’s last name when they were married. He’s a “21st-century man” per the HBO website, which is maybe supposed to explain it. I say this because Angela’s family tree flows as follows (per her “acorn”):

  • Generation 1: Angela Abar
  • Generation 2: Marcus Abar and [unidentified mother]
  • Generation 3: Will Reeves [just added] and June Abar [not in archive]
  • Generation 4: Obie Williams and Ruth Robeson

It also looks like Marcus may have taken on his mother’s last name, Abar. So the Abar name has been passed on maternally for two generations now. Strange.

Cal Abar looks at his kids over the breakfast table
“Now he’s nowhere, again.”

What’s the Deal with Cal?

Speaking of Cal, we’re overdue to give him his own section. Coming out of the White Night flashback in Episode 2, there were questions about what happened to Cal in that scene and how Angela avoided getting shot in the face after she blacked out. With Cal’s scene in this episode, the questions about him are starting to pile up.

The primary theory is that he is Dr. Manhattan, or is somehow connected to him. Of course, right? Everybody is just dying to spot Dr. Manhattan somewhere in all this puzzle box mess. Cal is honest, to a fault. No sugar coating Uncle Judd’s death for the kids, and he didn’t appreciate lying to the FBI woman. The FBI woman is strangely attracted to him. He had an “accident.” He has a “feeling” that Laurie wants to help Angela. When Angela woke up, Judd told her that she got her attacker, just one. Did Cal atomize the second attacker in the manner of Dr. Manhattan, so that no one would even realize there was a second attacker?

There are also some possible plays on Cal’s name. He’s “cal-abar,” part of “Excalibur,” the name of Laurie’s big blue toy that reminds her of her ex (ah, that’s why she’s so attracted to him). He’s “cal-abar” like “caliber,” as in a measure of someone’s character/ability, or the measure of a gun barrel. He’s “cal-abar” like Calabar, a city dubbed “the tourism capital of Nigeria.”

Watchmen - Katy Clark reads the book "Fogdancing"
Another slow day at the Clark egg stand.

Easter Eggs

  • The last episode invoked feelings of The Dark Knight with opening the bank robbery scene, this time it’s back to Superman with the opening scene. We have the Clark family (the husband’s first name is even Jonathan), living on a farmstead, unable to have a child of their own, until one is dropped in their lap. How far do the parallels go? Did they trade the baby in hand for one falling out of the sky? Too cliché?
  • Katy Clark was reading the book “Fogdancing” by Max Shea. Max Shea is the writer of “Tales of the Black Freighter” and was part of the group of artists taken to the island to work on the giant psychic squid for Adrian Veidt. (Source: Reddit)
  • Cal Abar was reading the aforementioned “Things Fall Apart” when Angela came home to quiz him about his interview with Laurie.
  • The doll that Topher hands over to Angela is a Bubastis doll, the lynx hybrid that Ozymandias genetically engineered as a pet in the original comic. (Source: Reddit)
  • When Agent Blake, Sister Night and Agent Petey are driving, the song “You’re My Thrill” by Billie Holiday is playing on the radio. That song is playing in the Archie while Nite Owl and Silk Spectre rescue people from a burning building in defiance of the Keene Act. (Source: Reddit)
  • Lady Trieu revealed her plan to the Clarks having already executed it (“You misunderstand me. I’m not offering to make you a baby—I already did.”). Just as Veidt revealed his plan to Rorschach and Nite Owl having already executed it 35 minutes ago.
  • Not exactly an Easter egg, per se, but the Lost Boys podcast pointed out that it was in Episode 4 of Lost that we found out John Locke had been in a wheelchair. Now here in Watchmen Episode 4, we find out the Will Reeves doesn’t need a wheelchair.
  • Lady Trieu has a vivarium in the Millennium Clock facility. Ozymandias also had a vivarium in Karnak, his secret Antarctica base.
  • I’m not the only one who got some serious White Rose (from Mr Robot) vibes from Lady Trieu when she whipped out that 3-min hourglass timer.
Watchmen - Lubeman stands on a highway overpass looking in our direction
He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector.

Quick Takes

  • There’s been a lot of interesting talk about the use of “split-focus” shots in the show and what they might be trying to highlight to us. For example, from Episode 2, the scene with Will Reeves in the wheelchair in the background and his pill bottle in the foreground, both in focus. (Source: Reddit)
  • I love that following 11/2 there was a strain of “truthers” referred to as Cthulhuists, implying that they believed the giant psychic squid was not a transdimensional alien, but rather a reawakened elder god. You could see where they might get that idea.
  • Needless to say, most people already think Agent Petey is Lube Man. He has the right build for it and seems the type who would be caught just standing there, staring at his quarry. Although, it could always be an agent of Lady Trieu… Nah, it’s gotta be Petey.
  • In case you did not note the detail, the fetuses that Veidt threw back in the water had visible physical deformities, that’s why they were rejected.
  • Why did Angela pick a nun themed costume? Apparently even Laurie doesn’t know. It’s especially interesting in light of the fact that her husband is clearly an atheist.
  • We already surmise that Will Reeves took his last name from the silent movie star Bass Reeves. Now we can probably guess that he took his first name from his given last name, Williams.
  • Probably goes without saying, but Will Reeves being a cop in New York City in the ‘40s and ‘50s would put him in the right time and the right place to be Hooded Justice.
  • “You’ve reached the Milk & Hanoi Bakery, where we let Saigons be Saigons.”—maybe Angela should have been the Comedienne, not Laurie. (Credit: One Drink In podcast)
  • This is an older take, but is it possible that Angela didn’t bat an eye at Will’s apparent heat resistance because she too has this same ability, now knowingly inherited from him?

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 Mison (Mr. Philips) was last week).

  • Jeremy Irons has fun outlining how his character’s behavior is “perfectly logical” in an interview with IndieWire (November 11), including an explanation that the Dr. Manhattan play was done just because he was getting bored.
  • Hong Chau (Lady Trieu) gave the Hollywood Reporter some insight into how she sees her character and reveals Regina King’s humorous problems with speaking Vietnamese.
  • Tulsa ABC Channel 8 posted a series of videos with extended interviews of Executive Producer Nicole Kassell and Tulsa native (who knew?) Tim Blake Nelson (Looking Glass) (November 12).
Watchmen - Lady Trieu and Will Reeves look skyward, standing in her vivarium
Lady Trieu and Will Reeves look up at the Millennium Clock.

My Own Thoughts

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

  • I’m wondering if they aren’t setting up Trieu Industries to be a sort of in-world stand in for Facebook, Google, etc. data mining people’s personal data for their own nefarious uses. Whoever is running the DNA testing for the Reparations Act, likely Trieu, could potentially be building up an extensive database (remember that this is not just isolated to Tulsa, but includes 50 different incidents, such as the WWII Japanese Internment Camps). They also run the Blue Booth Network and could potentially be collecting all the thoughts and prayers being communicated up to Dr. Manhattan. Now in Episode 4, we find out they are also involved with fertility clinics, with people willingly handing over egg and sperm samples basically. I posted this one on Reddit, feel free to chime in over there with your thoughts.
  • The giant squid drawing from the upcoming Veidt courtroom scene was lifted directly from the comic. More support for the idea that the giant psychic squid could still be in play? You tell me, I posted the pictures on Reddit. I also noticed another, less consequential prop lifted directly from the comics in a headline from the New Frontiersman.
  • There have been a few inconsistencies popping up in the ancillary materials. The most glaring one that I posted about on Reddit is that in the show, a newspaper article says John Grisham is retiring from the Supreme Court; whereas a PeteyPedia reference says he was just nominated for the Supreme Court. Pretty big difference.
  • Theoretically, Angela just found out about her link to the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. Yet twice it’s been implied that she is already a beneficiary of Reparations, once by Topher’s classmate and once by Topher’s grandfather (I assume that’s his relation). So is she linked to one of the other 49 incidents linked to the Reparations Act? Or was she already linked through her mother (the “new branch” was on her father’s side)? Or is it even perhaps Cal who is the beneficiary?

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, or catch me on Reddit as u/catnapspirit.

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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