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 S1E5 “Little Fear of Lightning.” 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! “Chop-chop, everyone! Come on! Time is of the essence!”
Here we review some of the real-world history that the series is pointing us to. Not much to talk about this week, but in anticipation of next week’s episode, with Angela Abar tripping through her grandfather’s memories, here’s at least one historical event we have a hint (see the PeteyPedia section) that we would do well to brush up on:
- The Harlem Riots of 1943 was a two-day long riot set off when a white police officer shot a black soldier at a hotel. It was one in a series of six such riots across the nation, as WWII wound down and frustrated black soldiers returned to face discrimination and mistreatment despite their service to their country.
PeteyPedia (and Other Supplemental Material)
Three new files in the PeteyPedia files this week:
- MEMO: AHS: More Infernal “Affairs” – More of Agent Petey railing against the show-within-a-show, American Hero Story. The most interesting thing mentioned is the Harlem riot of 1943, which you can be sure will be part of the memories Angela experiences from swallowing her grandfather’s “Nostalgia” pills. He also continues to confirm the narrative that no one on the Minutemen ever saw the Hooded Justice’s true face. Not even Sally Jupiter during their publicity dating stint.
- MEDIA: NOSTALGIA (2007) – This file is a full-page glossy ad for the drug “Nostalgia” by Trieu from back in 2007 when it had not yet been outlawed. We learn a few facts about the drug. Each tablet may contain 1-5 memories. There are three color-coded levels of experiences—red, white, and blue—with red being the most intense. They can be absorbed into a developing fetus. Needless to say, the potential side effects, for both regular usage and an overdose, are appropriately frightening. Taking “Nostalgia” made for another individual (as Angela just did) is even worse. Outside of those facts, this also serves up another confirmation that “tobacco usage is illegal in all 51 states and most commonwealths.”
- MISC: “Extra-Dimensional Anxiety & You” (2009) – Another brochure, this one for Extra-Dimensional Anxiety (EDA), an umbrella term that covers the general fear of Dimensional Incursion Events (DIE) and a more specific PTSD related to “close encounters with Exotic Cephalopodian Entities (ECEs),” i.e. alien squids. Mostly this is a fun bit of fluff that confirms most of the more paranoid behaviors we saw from Wade Tillman in this episode, such as being “prone to over-spending on ECE protection technologies.” As far as world-building goes, this tells us that “ECE showers” are still occurring 25.4 times a year on average (implying they were more frequent initially) and that Russia and China have seen a disproportionate number of showers since 2001 (does this imply someone in the US is in control of the showers?).
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. Reddit user u/Bbkoul has been capturing images from these popups and posting them. The Episode 5 popups are mostly fluff unfortunately, but they’re mildly entertaining to read.
Speaking of background material from HBO, here’s an interesting tidbit. Someone else on Reddit dug up a two year old casting call for Watchmen that gives a little blurb describing most of the main characters on the show. What’s changed is changed now, but this provides some interesting background on early thoughts about the characters and their stories. Worth taking a look.
Attack of the Clones
In the closed captions (at least as captured by the wonderful Springfield! Springfield! site), when the Game Warden suddenly moves to cut Adrian’s helmet off, it reads “(CLONES EXCLAIM).” When Adrian declares that their god has abandoned them, the “(CLONES EXCLAIM)” once again. OK, yes, the closed captions are often wrong. But still.
We did have verifiable clones in this episode, in the form of the cloned animals at the Forever Pet clinic where Cynthia, Wade’s ex, works. The best meme of the week on Reddit is Heath Ledger’s Joker saying, “Drop fetuses on a lake and no one bats an eye. Drop a puppy in the incinerator and everybody loses their minds.” It’s also noteworthy that there seem to be a lot of twins working at that facility. Is human cloning a thing in this Watchmen universe? And if so, are they as cavalier about disposing of them?
In the wacky theories about who could be a clone department, one new and slightly interesting one did pop up on Reddit proposing that Angela actually did die on “White Night,” and that the Angela we’ve been seeing is a Nostalgia-fueled clone of her. I would write this off if I hadn’t listened to an interview with Regina King (Angela Abar) did for the Previously On… podcast from Sky Atlantic. Trying to avoid spoilers (yeah right), the host asks her, “I’ve just watched the season finale, how am I feeling?” She answers, “Um, you’re feeling like, what?! No!! Is she…” Keep an eye on Angela, I’m telling you.
So, if we believe Senator Keene (does Wade?), he came in after White Night to take over the Seventh Kavalry, and at the same time his “buddy” Judd took over the police. Since then, they’ve each managed their respective teams to maintain the peace. So much for the “masks save lives” slogan of the Senator’s upcoming presidential campaign. More like “conspiracies save lives,” but that’s not a very good campaign slogan to run on.
Also, if he is to be believed, he apparently has no idea who killed Judd. That wasn’t part of their plan. He actually suspects Angela might have done it, or at least she knows who did (he’s right on that last part). So, assuming he truly is in control of the Seventh Kavalry, it really wasn’t them who killed the police chief. That tracks with the interrogation campaign the police has been conducting, which has yielded “absolutely f**king nothing,” as Laurie admonishes.
The Seventh Kavalry is definitely going to do something. Something original. Something that will presumably happen in a couple of days, because that’s how long Keene needs Angela “off the board” while he wraps things up. Of course, Lady Trieu and Will Reeves are also going to do “something” in three days. Same thing? Well now, that’s a good question.
We know Will Reeves was involved in Judd’s death. He’s the killer, in fact, if he is to be believed. That would seem to put the Keene-Crawford faction against the Trieu-Reeves faction. If we consider that Judd knew he was sacrificing himself—dulling the fear with cocaine, dressing in his full uniform, taking none of his subordinates with him—we have to consider the idea that maybe he flipped sides.
One of Keene’s 7K guys stepped out of line and shot a cop, but it could have stopped there. Judd is the one who upped the ante on the police side of things. He authorized the release of guns, a move that he expected pushback from Angela on. He’s the one who pressed the Archie to its limits to blow up the 7K plane before it got away. Maybe whatever Keene is up to was unknown to Judd, or at least not agreed to. Maybe Trieu-Reeves clues him in on it and devises a counter plan, but it requires a sacrifice. Maybe Judd has some blood on his hands over White Night or Vietnam. Enough guilt to motivate his sacrifice for a larger good—to fall on one last grenade to save his people.
Could they all be in league together? We can’t rule it out yet, but it seems unlikely. On one side, we have two white guys, controlling the two oppressing powers of white supremacy and government-sanctioned brutality. On the other side, we have the oppressed minorities, dealing with pharmaceuticals that share generational trauma. Do their timelines coincide because one is trying to stop the other then? Maybe, but it seems like they both have positive goals in mind. More likely one side is unknowingly playing patsy to the other, i.e. Trieu is using Keene.
We talked a bit last week about what Trieu could be up to with the Millennium Clock, so let’s turn to what the 7K could be up to with the teleportation window. They’re tuning it for a fairly close-in operation that needs precision. They’re dropping objects from the ceiling, so it’s doubtful they are sending people. Besides, last we heard, this technology scrambles and kills organic creatures, and this is a model that was in use back in 1985. Sounds like precision bomb-dropping into a building or set of buildings. While it could be a government building, like maybe trying to complete what McVeigh was stopped from doing in 1995 (by Laurie Blake, mind you), there is one obvious tall structure in Tulsa that would make an excellent target for toppling.
This is our recurring section devoted to the best bits of Watchmen (IMHO), those involving the character formerly known as “probably who you think he is.” We now have two avenues to explore, present-day Veidt and 1985 Veidt. Let’s start with the latter.
In his video message to the newly elected President Redford, Veidt starts with, “Assuming my instructions have been followed to the letter.” That implies he anticipated that he might not be around to deliver the tape in person. Interesting.
People are a bit freaked out by the idea that Veidt would leave evidence implicating himself in the giant squid hoax. They are saying this would not have been “smart” for the smartest man in the world to have done—even going so far as to call it a “retcon.” I don’t see it that way at all. Especially in light of the idea that he anticipated not being present to see phase two of his plan carried out. A phase two that apparently starts with the election of President Robert Redford, after allowing the world sufficient time to heal. He gives the video to Redford in order to win him over as a willing partner in that project.
In the video, Adrian says that he’ll “have to maintain the peace with additional small-scale extra-dimensional events,” which most are presuming refers to the squid-fall. If the tape implies he knew he might not be around, he may have set up something to keep the squid-fall going in his absence, even 30+ years later.
Now let’s turn to the present day (more or less) Adrian Veidt. First of all, we now know he’s on Europa, one of the four larger moons of Jupiter. Lindelof has confirmed this. I’m amazed by how many quick turn-around podcasts mistook that looming planet in the background (those who even noticed it) for Mars or even Earth—the astronomy geek in me wept a bit at that. The imaging satellite he was aiming for is likely Juno, which launched in 2011 and arrived in orbit in 2016 (in our world, at least). Time enough for Veidt to have been aware of it, assuming he left in 2012. Though counting on there being no issues with its final deployment upon arrival at Jupiter was a bit presumptive.
It’s also clear now that he is in some sort of cloaked vivarium on that moon. Hmm, who likes to build vivariums in harsh environments? Oh, I know: Adrian Veidt. So dig this, assuming that’s right, what Lindelof has done here is show us that Adrian Veidt was already working on phase two (or three) of his plan: getting humanity off-planet. We were shown this at the end of the Watchmen comic and just didn’t know what we were seeing. If this is where they are going, and I’d wager it is, that’s the most amazing inclusion of the original source material yet.
This ties in with the PeteyPedia article from the New Frontiersman where the editor suggests at the end that the white supremacists get their butts to Mars. Heck, that might have even been something Adrian has planted into the public discourse to seed acceptance of the idea of colonization once it is revealed. Figuring that he can’t resolve humanity’s internal conflicts, only put them on hold through the use of fear, the goal of this phase would be to give us breathing room to dispel conflict. This would also explain why the Appropriations Committee (of which Senator Keene is a member) would be shown the Adrian Veidt video because they would need to be quietly funnelling funding from anti-squid defence to future colonization projects.
The one hard thing to distil out of this though is Veidt’s disdain for the “maker”, that “god” of the Philips / Crookshanks clones who has abandoned them. Maybe Veidt didn’t work on those bits, having help from Dr. Manhattan (who wanted to work on creating life) or Lady Trieu (who works on cloning and fertility technology). Although Veidt does call their god a “he”, so probably not Lady Trieu. But labeling Dr. Manhattan as a “god” just seems a tad too obvious, right? The other possibility is (I hate to say it) this Veidt is a clone sent to babysit the prototype colony and his disdain is for the original Veidt, who got plastic surgery and retired to Argentina.
One last thing to discuss is Adrian’s message: “SAVE ME D…” Everyone wants to know what the rest of that message is. Guesses include:
- “DAN”, as in Dan Dreiberg / Nite Owl. Who is *not* going to be in this series! Stop it.
- “DOC” / “DR M” / “DR MANHATTAN” / etc., signaling the one person who could whisk him away.
- “DAMNIT” / “DUDE” / etc. – Fun, but unlikely.
- “DAMON LINDELOF” – I don’t even want to consider the implications of this one.
There’s a theory that’s gaining traction, especially with me, that Lady Trieu could, in some manner, be working towards getting revenge for the United States’ actions in the Vietnam War. Certainly with Lady Trieu, Angela, and Cal all having ties back to Vietnam, our 51st state is going to become more of an influence on the story soon.
Laurie was requested by name to come to Oklahoma to lead the FBI investigation into Judd Crawford’s death. We’ve seen a future clips scene of Laurie tied to a chair in what is likely the same 7K headquarters in the abandoned department store, with another big red eye logo on the wall behind her. If someone were targeting Laurie, that would be a strike against both the Comedian, as his daughter, and Dr. Manhattan, as his former lover. As Wade puts it in his conversation with the radiologist at the bar, “technically, Dr. Manhattan won Vietnam.” Laurie could be the bait that would finally motivate Dr. Manhattan to return to Earth to save her—stepping into a trap.
That would even say that Judd’s hanging was set into motion specifically to get Laurie to Oklahoma. Added bonus: Judd fought in Vietnam. A lot of us can’t shake the nagging feeling that Judd knew he was going to his death, as I mentioned above. He was making a sacrifice for some larger good.
Instead of a trap to kill Dr. Manhattan, what if the “empathy bomb” (as many are calling this theory; we talked about it last week) is targeting him specifically, not the world at large? Trying to get him to care about humanity again, to step in and start helping. Maybe this is phase three of Veidt’s plan.
Speaking of the “empathy bomb” theory, some more support for this idea came when the guy in Wade’s support group talked about “genetic trauma,” locked into his mother’s DNA so that he inherits her pain ten years later. Sounds just like what Bian is tapping into with her dream of the Vietnam War. We also got a data dump in the PeteyPedia files on the drug “Nostalgia” that, if nothing else, tells us that memory transfer is a real thing in this universe. Although like teleportation in the original Watchmen, it’s a dangerous technology that can go wrong and injure people when misused.
What’s the Deal with Cal?
Many have commented on Laurie’s constant references to how good looking Cal is, humorously suggesting that Cal is Dr. Manhattan and that’s why she is inexplicably attracted to him. If we assume though that, like everything else, Laurie already knew about his “accident” before she rolled into town, then perhaps it was a disfiguring accident and his recovery presents another one of those “thermodynamic miracles.” Maybe he was a masked vigilante in Vietnam and got injured doing so, which would be a good reason to want to hide it from Agent Blake. Perhaps he even died for a bit, which would explain why he’s so confident that there’s nothing after death.
- I think I’ve forgotten to mention that these internal FBI memos from Agent Petey are always signed off with his full title and desk location, which is “Sub-Basement 1, Room X, Desk 2,” a definite nod to The X-Files. Is Agent Mulder sitting at “Desk 1?”
- “Clark” was also Martha Kent’s maiden name. That’s why it became Clark Kent’s first name when they adopted him.
- The cameo at the end of the “COME BACK 2 NY” campaign ad was Michael Imperioli, New York native (Mt. Vernon) and actor best known for his role as Christopher Moltisanti on The Sopranos. While a lot of people are wondering if The Sopranos would even exist in the Watchmen universe, I think they might be missing the point. Maybe Imperioli is the mayor of NYC. This seems like the kind of thing an actor-turned-politician would want to put their mug on.
- When the radiologist walks into Wade’s support group meeting, he asks her if she is a “friend of Nemo.” This is a take on Alcoholics Anonymous’ use of the phrase “friend of Bill W.” to identify each other without breaking anonymity.
- At the end of his meeting, Wade closes by saying “Does it ever end? Of course it does.” This is a twisted mirroring of what Dr. Manhattan told Adrian Veidt at the end of the Watchmen comic, that “nothing ever ends.”
- Apparently in this world, Steven Spielberg made the movie Pale Horse in 1992, a movie in black and white with the exception of a girl in a red coat, instead of Schindler’s List in 1993, featuring the same cinematic highlight.
- Likewise, we seem to have Oppenheimer the musical as an in-world replacement for Hamilton, because this world is obsessed with science. (Source: Comic Book Club podcast)
- Wade spells it out for us, but in case you didn’t catch it, that portal the 7K members were tuning by throwing basketballs into it was a “CX-924 teleportation window. Just like the one they were playing around with at the Institute for Transdimensional Studies in Herald Square on 11/2.” Part of the narrative Veidt built up around the giant squid attack was that their tampering is what opened the interdimensional portal that allowed the giant alien squid to come through.
- Wade knows about such an esoteric thing because he has a degree in “Extraterrestrial Squid Science” hanging on his wall.
- There are so many Easter eggs in the opening scene set in 1985. There is a “Veidt Method” ad on the back of a comic. There are posters for the Pale Horse concert in NYC. The thugs are “Knot Tops,” a New York City gang featured in the original comic (and showing Alan Moore’s uncanny ability to predict the modern-day horror that is the “man bun”). The street carnival was on Sinatra Drive (Credit: Lost Boys podcast). The Ferris wheel was named The Atomic Clock (credit TV Podcast Industries podcast).
- The use of multiple covers of a song, “Careless Whisper” in this case, is a trick Damon Lindelof also used in The Leftovers, with multiple covers of A-Ha’s “Take on Me” in the episode “G’ day Melbourne.” Both are also iconic 1980s songs. (Source: Reddit)
- “Thermodynamic miracle” is a phrase Dr. Manhattan used when talking about Laurie’s improbable birth, convincing himself that humanity was an experiment worth keeping around.
- We know Angela was orphaned at a young age. Perhaps she was taken in by a Catholic orphanage and raised by nuns, and that’s why she took on the Sister Night persona. (Credit: TV Podcast Industries podcast)
- We were told there were three survivors of the “White Night” attacks. Assuming this refers to police officers (after all, Judd’s wife and Angela’s husband would already push the count to four, plus the kids), we still don’t know who number three is. We only know now that it was not Wade / Looking Glass. (Credit: TV Podcast Industries podcast)
- Did Wade survive the psychic blast because he was in a house of mirrors, or because he has latent psychic abilities that allowed him to unknowingly shield himself somehow?
- Always looking for Twin Peaks references, could the bugging of the cactus at the police station have been a nod to Windom Earle bugging the banzai tree at the Sheriff’s station? I’m going to say yes.
- Just to clarify, because apparently a remarkable number of people didn’t catch this, Wade was not watching gay porn at home while eating beans straight from the can. That was another episode of American Hero Story: Minutemen. As Agent Petey promised from his early screeners, the show is propagating the trashy rumors that Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis were having a homosexual affair behind the scenes.
- Wade’s hat features the “Tulsa Tornados.” They were a professional soccer team that only existed for one year, 1985. That would mean he’s had this hat since day one of his trauma. Seriously deep cut. (Source: Reddit)
- The title of the episode is part of a quote by Jules Verne from Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea: “If there were no thunder, men would have little fear of lightning—although the danger is in the lightning, not in the thunder.” The context of the quote is that natives are rowing out to the Nautilus with no understanding that they will be zapped by an electric pulse weapon because there is no noise associated with it.
- There are some places where the quote is attributed instead to Verne’s novel In Search of the Castaways, which could also be highly appropriate to this episode and/or Watchmen in general, but looking through a few online versions of the novel, these seem to be erroneous.
- Were you getting vibes of the Halloween movie theme in this week’s score? So was u/RustAndCoal91 on Reddit, and he posted a YouTube link to a version of John Carpenter’s Halloween performed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from two years ago. Worth a listen.
- Wade is literally wearing a tinfoil hat. Well, OK, Reflectatine, but same difference.
- Several podcasts have confirmed Lady Trieu purchased the Clark farm on the night of Judd’s funeral. That was not something that happened in the past.
- Wade is a “valued customer” of ExtraDimensional Security in the same manner that Laurie is a “platinum user” of the Blue Booth Network.
- The 7K “church” where they filmed the video sent to the police has an arch over the crucifixion that has the phrase “Praise Waiteth for Thee O God in Zion.” This is from Psalm 65.
- From Episode 3, when Senator Keene is at Laurie’s apartment, through the curtains you can see that ring around the Washington Monument, lit up and rotating, not unlike the ring atop the “Blue Booth.” (Source: Reddit)
- “Bian” (bí ẩn) is Vietnamese for “secret.” (Credit: One Drink In podcast)
- Another Reddit hero of the internet actually took the time to map out the blast radius of the giant squid attack, based on the knowledge that it reached at least as far as Hoboken, NJ. Interesting stuff.
In this section, I’ll be pointing you to a few of the more interesting interviews with cast and crew:
- As mentioned previously, Damon Lindelof confirmed in an interview with Collider that Veidt is on Europa (a moon of Jupiter).
- Jean Smart (Laurie Blake) also had an interview with Collider which, on the surface, didn’t really give us anything new, except for when she got to talking about the Jeremy Irons. She let slip that “Working with him was so much fun.” It sounds like we’re going to get to see an Ozymandias and Silk Spectre team-up. Or face-off more likely.
- Tim Blake Nelson proves he’s not just a dumb Okie with his well thought out reply to Martin Scorsese’s comments about superhero movies in an interview with Build.
- Jeff “Doc” Jensen did a fun little in-world interview with /Film in which he outlines some of the “history” of the Redford Administration.
- Multiple people involved with the production gave /Film a lot of really interesting details about how the fetus pond scene from the last episode came together.
My Own Thoughts
In this section, I pose some of my own thoughts and any unique theories I might be harboring.
Firstly, a shout out to the Daily DVR podcast, which had me on Sunday night for their “Initial Reaction” podcast for this week’s episode. It was a blast, and I thank them so much for the opportunity. These guys are one of my go-to podcasts, doing three podcasts a week on each episode. Check them out.
Now on to the theories:
- The Masks could also be an allegory for the anonymity of the internet and troll culture. As Laurie says, pretty soon everyone’s wearing a mask and you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys. It also brings out the worst people. So the cops are beating the crap out of people and not acting like the good guys at all. In the HBO featurette from prior to the start of the series, someone in a voice-over says “Masks make men cruel.”
- If Adrian orchestrated election of Robert Redford in 1992, does that mean he also orchestrated the death of Nixon in 1989?
- People are already assuming that Wade is a dead man, with the four armed 7K guys about to bust in on his humble abode. Fear not, because we’ve seen a future clips scene showing Agent Petey investigating his squid shelter, complete with a few dead 7K guys lying around. I’m thinking he’s not locked in with them; they’re locked in with him.
- What if Judd hanged himself? Crazier than Veidt imprisoning himself, you say? Well, what if a prototype of the “empathy bomb” was tried out on Judd? When he was stopped in the road on the way to the hospital, he got the spotlight in the eyes similar to Angela, but it was strobing. Several folks have commented on that difference. The idea here would be that he was already carrying around some guilt about his family’s past. He has the picture of him and his racist grandfather prominently displayed and he keeps his grandfather’s KKK robes in a secret compartment in his closet. In the aftermath of “White Night,” he tells Angela, “I’m sorry. I let you down. I let you down.” The empathy bomb prototype pushes him over the edge, leaving him suggestible to hanging himself. This would also explain how and why Will only “strung up” the chief. He never says he killed Judd because he only helped the chief kill himself. (Partial Credit: Reddit)
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:
- Tuesday: A weekly recap and commentary
- Thursday: “Behind the Mask” series covering the latest theories and analysis
- Saturday: A different Watchmen podcast reviewed on our “What’s the Buzz” series
- Saturday: A pre-episode reader poll