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Behind the Mask: Theories and Analysis for Watchmen S1E9

“See How They Fly”

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 S1E9 “See How They Fly.” 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! “Godspeed.”

Watchmen - PeteyPedia disk icon

PeteyPedia (and Other Supplemental Material)

Only one new file in the PeteyPedia files this week:

  • MEMO: Dale Petey – Internal FBI memo from someone new this week, Deputy Director Max Farragut, Agent Dale Petey and Agent Laurie Blake’s boss. Except not so much anymore for Petey, because he’s been fired. Among the contents of his office that are being offered to his colleagues before they get boxed up is “a jug of what appears to be some kind of canola oil.” Laurie Blake apparently resurfaced and is being “debriefed” in a secure, classified location due to the sensitive nature of her discoveries (which are already leaking out to have included the sitting president). Agent Petey was fired for refusing to accept the closure of the investigation and return to Washington. He has since gone missing and is presumed to be continuing his investigation on his own, and is “at risk for vigilante behavior.” NOTE: If you click on the words “canola oil” it will link you to a Tulsa PD wanted poster for Lubeman. Cute.

Lubeman wanted poster

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, but we haven’t gotten one yet for episode 9. When it becomes available, I’ll add a comment below with a link to it.

We got our third Official Watchmen Podcast from HBO this Sunday, and finally, Damon Lindelof was in a question answering mood. Here’s a list of things I gleaned out of the discussion:

  • The truck from Episode 1 had some of those batteries stolen from Lady Trieu’s worksite in the back underneath the lettuce.
  • Angela probably surprised Judd when she came in with a 7K guy in her trunk, anticipating he would direct the force to “round up the likelies.” Lindelof indicates the shooting was unexpected and that Judd was improvising. As part of that, he was indeed making sure no one survived at the cattle ranch raid when he pushed the Archie to shoot down the plane.
  • Lady Trieu uses the elephant-like an enormous thumb drive to store memories, potentially more than just Angela’s.
  • The play that Adrian was writing at the end of Episode 1 was actually about everything that happened to him on Europa. It wasn’t just the trial that was staged. He also indicates that Adrian does not feel guilty about what he has done. So that tear that he shed was also part of the play.
  • Regarding Jon seeing the Lord and Lady of the manor fooling around, Damon says, “Now he has a thing for closets.”
  • The Lord and Lady of the manor are unnamed. They “certainly” are not Phillips and Crookshanks.
  • Lindelof confirmed that the object that came down at the Clark Farm was Adrian Veidt’s return ship. He called it a “glorified Carbonite gag.”
  • Angela will never wear a mask again.

We also got Volume 3 of the soundtrack this week. This one is done up as an in-world album from “The” Nine Inch Nails titled The Manhattan Project. It has an official Halo number and everything. Birth Movies Death has a nice write-up about it, where they noted a few things:

  • It explains how the word “The” was prepended to the band’s name.
  • In this world, Trent Reznor disappeared in 1995 after walking off the stage at a concert in Saigon.
  • The Manhattan Project was recorded at “The Crater,” the name given to the spot where Cartwithen Castle used to sit (before Dr. Manhattan teleported it to Europa).

The store at NIN.com is also selling “Blue Sunday,” which is “irradiated soil (8.5 or higher on the Cherenkov-Glass meter) hand-salvaged directly from the voided foundation of Cartwithen Castle in Gwynedd, North Wales.” It’s priced at $195, and if you try to order it, you’ll get a warning from the FDTA. (Source: Reddit)

Watchmen - The full message, "SAVE ME DAUGHTER," is spelled out in bodies on the Europan surface
The mystery “D” is finally revealed.

All These Worlds…

I thought this week, since the series is over now, that we’d look back and sort out a couple of things in the past episodes that make more sense now in light of the many revelations from the finale.

Last week I speculated that the trial of Adrian Veidt was a farcical play staged for, and possibly by, Adrian himself. It is now clear that the scope is much larger than that. At the end of year 1, when he tells Crookshanks and Phillips that he is writing a play, it was not just the story of Dr. Manhattan’s origin. It was everything we saw play out over the next seven years of his captivity in Paradise. When he rides up to the tomato tree, pics one and squeezes it, he’s very likely coming up with the future scene where the servants ask him if he will stay and crush tomatoes in his face when he repeatedly answers no. He has his “bad night” because they put the horseshoe in the cake way ahead of the scene where that prop is actually called for. As with everything else, things we saw in earlier episodes are all starting to fall into place.

Adrian presumably used that horseshoe to tunnel his way out of his prison cell over the intervening year since we last saw him. Yes, it has been another year. He makes his own mud cake with eight stick candles to celebrate the anniversary this episode. Apparently Crookshanks and Phillips were not so insistent that the master get his anniversary cake, having already delivered the crucial prop for the upcoming scenes. Adrian also made double use of the horseshoe by sharpening it into a weapon for his final confrontation with the Game Warden.

Another thing that may need clearing up with some folks. Looking Glass did not go back to the 7K headquarters to rescue Laurie. He had no idea that was going on. “I came back to get something,” he explains to Laurie. That “something” was the recording of Veidt’s message to the newly elected President Redford. In fact, this is a nice corollary to Rorschach’s Journal at the end of the comic. Once again, the Rorschach character (at least in some people’s eyes) could be the key to blowing the lid off the conspiracy. It’s also clever that they ended up with him in a Rorschach mask at the last episode.

Watchmen - An egg carton is held open with only one egg remaining in it
One egg left unbroken–a thermodynamic miracle.

Walk on Water

“So, that’s a thing you can do? Give someone your powers?”
“I suppose, I could transfer my atomic components into some sort of organic material. If someone were to consume it, they would inherit, as you call them, my powers.”
“So, you could put them in this egg, and if I ate it, I could walk on water?”
“Theoretically, yes.”

So the burning question is did she or didn’t she? This quote, the last spoken words of the series (albeit in flashback), seems to point to Angela getting the power. It was important for her to see him walk on water because it would eventually remind her of that first conversation they had in the bar 10 years ago.

The official poster motto, “It’s time,” and the song used in the campaign, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” seem to both refer to it being time for a black female superhero, i.e. Angela with Dr. Manhattan powers. And yes, yes, she is lit in a blue glow on the poster.

On the other hand, if she had his power, why would she need to test it by stepping out onto the water? She would just know. Why not float up into the air or teleport across the room? And why didn’t she turn blue?

One proposal I like, which popped up on the Afterbuzz TV podcast, is that Angela steps into the pool and sinks like a rock. But then over some period of time (like the course of a second season), she develops the powers slowly, mirroring how Jon had to piece himself back together.

Another theory circulating is that it wouldn’t have mattered if Keene or Trieu had gotten Jon’s powers because the powers come at the cost of stripping you of your humanity. Once they became gods, the petty concerns of humanity, ill-willed or good-intentioned, would fall to the way-side. Notice that the one person who potentially could have pursued Jon’s powers but very purposely did not was Adrian Veidt. He wanted to remove Dr. Manhattan from the playing field, but he never wanted to become Dr. Manhattan. This is why he’s the world’s smartest man.

So even if Angela gets Dr. Manhattan’s powers, she could end up as something less than human, and maybe someday she too will long to put that chip in her head and forget all about it.

Watchmen - Angela and her family walk through the carnage, the Dreamland Theatre marquee in the background
Dr. M’s presence will continue to be felt for some time.

Easter Eggs

  • The name “Calvin” could also be a nod to Calvinism, a religious doctrine about predestination. Named after Jo(h)n Calvin, of course.
  • During the “Infinite Crisis” crossover on the WB DC Comics shows, on The Flash, there was a poster for Watchmen on Earth 666. (Source: TV Podcast Industries podcast)
  • Veidt scoffs at the idea that a “cowboy actor” could get into the White House without his behind the scenes manipulation, an obvious nod to Ronald Reagan.
  • What’s left lit on the “Dreamland Theatre” marquee spells out “DR M”.
  • Janey Slater did leave Jon alone when he originally died and became Dr. Manhattan. So this time he made sure he wasn’t alone when he died again (and Angela stayed with him). (Source: Series Regular podcast)
  • Joe Keene’s V-shaped speedo outfit matched one Dr. Manhattan wore during his Vietnam War era.
  • Nice callback to the comic with Adrian catching the Game Wardens bullet. He just wanted to prove he’s still got “it.”
  • Bian’s story (Trieu’s actual mother, not her clone) parallels that of Pirate Jenny from the song of the same name. An overlooked servant who imagines avenging herself on those who look down on her with contempt. (Source: DCTV podcast)
Watchmen - Trieu looks up, with the 7K church crucifix in the background
Lady Trieu looks to the heavens.

Quick Takes

  • I didn’t acknowledge this last week, but maybe should have mentioned it. There was a lot of talk about Adrian’s “8 million” children. This was a typo in the closed captions, on-screen he clearly said “8 billion,” as a reference to all of humanity back on Earth, who “need” him. Then again, maybe he was referring to his samples hidden behind the Alexander the Great portrait.
  • We will never know what was in the present that Angela had for Cal on “White Night,” but it is apparent now that the point of that scene was that Cal/Dr. Manhattan did not know what was in it. He got to feel suspense and surprise and all of these normal human feelings. (Source: DCTV podcast)
  • We all thought Panda was nuts when he theorized that Hooded Justice was Dr. Manhattan (while he and Red Scare were talking about American Hero Story). But look at us all last week (and hey, it’s still not completely out of the question). (Source: Reddit)
  • The nice British couple (who would become the templates for Mr. Philips and Mrs. Crookshanks) were secretly trying to convert the Jewish kids to Christianity. Another instance of cultural imperialism. (Source: DCTV podcast)
  • A couple more thoughts about the morgue scene: In Angela’s mind, was there a link between original Calvin dropping dead and her grandmother dropping dead, and maybe this was why she was hesitant to pick that body? Like she worried that his sudden death would always remind her of her grandmother’s sudden death, and/or remind her that whenever she feels happiness with someone, they die on her. Also, June told her it must be hard with nobody else who looks like her, and here she is picking out someone who looks like her. (Source: Phantastic Geek podcast)
  • Clearly Joe Keene lied to Laurie when he said that he and Judd came in after “White Knight.”
  • Those polls out on the town square were first highlighted at the end of the Clark farm purchasing scene, and now we find out that they were part of Lady Trieu’s plan. Kudos to the few people who made that prediction.
  • Angela gulped that egg down just like she pounded the pills, without a second’s hesitation. (Source: Daily DVR podcast)
  • The “Watchmen for Nixon” podcast points out that the only interracial relationship on the show is between Adrian Veidt and Lady Trieu’s mother, and that doesn’t really count. Although they acknowledge that Captain Metropolis and Hooded Justice could count.
  • Jon wishes Adrian “Godspeed” when he originally sends him to Europa. Mrs. Crookshanks wishes him “Godspeed” as he departs to return to Earth.

Interviews

In this section, I’ll be pointing you to a few of the more interesting interviews with cast and crew:

  • In an interview with AV Club, Louis Gossett Jr. claims to have displayed “superhuman abilities” when Will Reeves reached into the boiling water and ate the piping hot egg. That could always be his own personal interpretation though.
Watchmen - Lady Trieu holds her gloved hand in front of her face, with a hole punched clean through it
Hey, where did this plot hole come from?

My Own Thoughts

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

  • I’ve been playing around with why Adrian wanted Wade to set the temperature to “exactly 22.” It just seems so weirdly specific. If you have any ideas, comment on my Reddit
  • Both Keene and Lady Trieu are every bit “Republic serial villains” in the sense of Adrian Veidt’s indignant slur. They gather an audience to monologue to and witness the culmination of their evil plans, unlike Veidt who executed his plans well before he allows any witnesses to arrive. Lady Trieu even has a speech written down (albeit from Will Reeves).
  • Lady Trieu announced her own weakness when she was talking with Will at the end of Episode 4. “When family’s involved, judgment gets cloudy.” She wanted her mother and father to be there with her. Her mother to see her triumph in her daughter’s accomplishment, and her father to rub his nose in it. That hubris was ultimately her downfall.
  • A lot of people are asking why the frozen bullet squid shot a hole through her hand when they otherwise act like pretty much like large hail to all the other people and structures around her. Sadly, the obvious and probably correct answer is that it looked cool. Especially mirroring the image of the Crucifixion behind her that came with the 7K “church” when it was teleported. She’s even wearing a halo—I mean, come on.
  • There did appear to be a few police officer’s down in the chaos, but actually having 5 square blocks leveled would have been more impactful and a better homage to the original graphic novel.
  • I love that LG keeps throwing up every time they teleport.
  • The character Jud is a bad guy in the play Oklahoma! How did we not see that coming?
  • Will Laurie bringing in Adrian Veidt perhaps heal her own trauma? It seems that maybe at least some of the impetus to become the Comedienne stemmed from her cynicism over having to let Adrian get away with his horrible crime.
  • The squidfall ended up being the brick from Laurie’s joke, killing the (wanna-be) god.
  • Will Reeves is still wanted for the murder of Judge Crawford. How’s that going to work out? Especially when Laurie returns from her debrief.

Also, here’s my list of unanswered questions:

  • Was that Eve, the first Mrs. Crookshanks, who laid the kiss on Adrian and wished him “Godspeed?” If not, then whatever happened to Eve?
  • Why did Lady Trieu perpetuate the myth of Dr. Manhattan still being on Mars? Both with the images from her “Eye on Mars” satellites and encouraging the worship of him essentially with her Blue Booth Network. Was the Blue Booth Network perhaps intended for her after her ascendancy?
  • How was Will integral to Lady Trieu’s plan? She worried that he might get cold feet and back out, but in hindsight now, it appears that his part was already played out.
  • How did the Millennium Clock “tell time” exactly? I’m still a little lost on that. I guess it’s essentially an egg timer.
  • What were the 7K guys doing with the basketballs? My take is that while stealing batteries and other tech from Trieu, they stumbled upon this and were just playing around with it that night. It doesn’t seem to have been integral to their plan.
  • Who was the third cop who survived “White Night?”
  • Is Will Reeves impervious to heat or super-powered in some way?
  • How did Adrian get his record collection to Europa?
Watchmen - Wade looks very unhappy standing in front of some equipment
Wade is just about done putting up with Adrian Veidt.

Final Commentary

This being a theories recap article, I don’t normally do much in the way of general commentary on the show. However, now that it’s all over, I wanted to take this opportunity to put down a few thoughts.

If it wasn’t already clear from the time and effort I put into these articles, I loved the series. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I signed up for this, but I never should have doubted Damon Lindelof. This has been an amazing ride. The constant flow of puzzles and payoff was so well done, with just the right mix of mysteries we’ll never know the final answer to. The multimedia tie-in with the PeteyPedia files and other content was also executed flawlessly, allowing the obsessive theorists to have their fun, but not losing the casual viewer along the way. It stands as an example for all future puzzle box type shows to look to and try to emulate.

All that said and done, I was not 100% happy with the final episode. For one thing, there was too much mustache-twirling villainy, as all the greys melted into black and white. I expected more from Lady Trieu, but in the end, her plan was essentially the same as the Seventh Kavalry’s. This is why I don’t want Angela to have Dr. Manhattan’s powers. As long as they continue to exist, any future Watchmen story will always have to address it. Just as this chapter started out with this amazing story about racial injustice and its legacy, only to devolve into what I have heard best termed an It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World race to get Dr. Manhattan’s powers.

The show’s final solution to racism seems to have been just kill the racists, which is immensely unsatisfying. Will Reeves did just this and it seems to have been completely forgotten, and he’s just gonna settle in as Great Grandpa Will with the kids. All of the setup with mesmerism and Nostaligia was misdirection, but it was much more interesting than the direction the story finally took us.

The show was like this perfectly woven tapestry, rendering an amazingly rich and detailed picture. Then, as you’re panning down its length to exam it, you get to the bottom edge and find that there are some frayed ends and parts where the weave is coming undone. You can’t help but be a little bit disappointed.

The best bits were always the emotional connections that stand apart from the convoluted comic book elements. The love story between Jon and Angela. The emotional trauma of the various origin stories. The life lessons that Will passes on to his granddaughter. Those and the absolute WTF moments every week with Adrian Veidt, of course. Those are the parts that still elevate Watchmen to be one of the best shows of 2019 in my mind, but sadly, no longer the best show.


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.

Prior to and during the series run, 25YL has been providing continual, in-depth coverage of HBO’s Watchmen, and that coverage will continue with future articles exploring the themes and impact of the show in the coming months. Subscribe below to make sure you don’t miss out!

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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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