If HBO’s Watchmen is your first step into the world that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created in the 1980s, it’s probably safe to say that the raining squid scene in the series premiere caught you off guard. But in Damon Lindelof’s latest mystery-box TV series, explanations for all the strange happenings in Tulsa, Oklahoma (squid rain included) are eventually—graciously—granted. You just have to be patient.
Four episodes after that off-putting scene in the premiere, we finally learn what that “squidfall” was all about, as we revisit the fateful day, November 2, 1985, when 3 million people were killed by a massive, extradimensional squid that appeared in New York City.
Just as Episode 3 stepped away from Angela’s investigation of the Seventh Kavalry to introduce us to Laurie Blake, Episode 5 (“Little Fear of Lightning”) takes the time to give us a proper introduction to Wade Tillman, the Tulsa police officer known as Looking Glass. And just like Laurie, Wade guides us through the history of Watchmen.
Officially past the halfway point of the season, Watchmen is finally beginning to answer more questions than it raises. Here are the three key characters of the week and our weekly look back at the graphic novel.
The Key Players
Wade Tillman/Looking Glass
On November 2, 1985—the day that later became known as simply 11/2—a young Wade Tillman was at a carnival in Hoboken, New Jersey, when the squid landed in Manhattan.
With the Doomsday Clock only one minute away from Armageddon, Wade arrives with his group of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who traveled all the way from Tulsa to enter the “whore’s den”—as their group leader calls the tristate area—in order to guide its inhabitants toward salvation before it was too late. Wade, nervous but determined to hand out his Watchtower pamphlets, approaches a group of individuals wearing matching leather jackets (who, unbeknownst to Wade, are members of a gang known as “Knot Tops”) and immediately gets denied an audience as they cut off Wade’s speech and slap the pamphlets out of his hands. One member—a young woman—sticks up for him, and leads him away from the group and into a house of mirrors. Inside, she seduces him, undressing him despite his half-hearted attempts to stop her, and then dips out with all of Wade’s clothing in hand.
Wade—butt-naked, shocked, and furious at himself for giving into temptation—scolds himself while staring at his reflection when an explosion goes off in the distance. A ringing noise intensifies, and glass shatters all over him. Concussed, with blood seeping out of his ears, Wade exits the broken house of mirrors moments later to find piles of dead bodies laying around him. As he screams, the camera pans out and travels across the Hudson River to show the destruction of New York, and the one-eyed beast in the middle of it all:
After returning to the present, we’re shown how Wade’s entire life has been shaped by that one day.
Wade is now a loyal customer of Extra-Dimensional Security, a company that designed an alarm system that runs drills to prepare its users for the next Dimensional Incursion Event (the fancy name for Squid Day), and also produces the reflective material that Wade uses for his Looking Glass mask. (The material supposedly shields its wearers from “psychic blasts” in the event of another massive squid impact; Wade even wears his mask to go to sleep.) We learn that Wade conducts drills with the EDS system every three to four days, where an alarm sounds and he has to run to the shelter behind his house to turn it off. When Wade tells the EDS customer service guy that he’s performed over 500 drills on his current unit, the man is shocked by the figure and reminds him drills are supposed to be scheduled no more than once every six weeks—Wade basically tells him to fuck off and send a new unit. 11/2 also gave Wade trust issues, causing the collapse of his seven-year marriage after his ex-wife grew tired of his fear that she would run off with his clothes in the middle of the night. Wade also leads group therapy sessions for people struggling with extra-dimensional anxiety. Wade’s life is so sad that his theme music is just “Careless Whisper” performed in various ways (the acoustic version is kind of a banger though, I’m not gonna lie).
At the end of the extra-dimensional anxiety group meeting, Wade delivers a speech about how he’s no longer afraid of the “enormous, tentacled abomination” and that there’s light at the end of the tunnel for all of them. In the parking lot following the meeting, a first-time member (Paula Malcomson) tells him she didn’t believe him and to follow her. The two have a few drinks at a bar, share their squid stories, exchange a kiss goodbye, and just as she’s leaving with a friend, a piece of lettuce drops out the back of their truck. Quickly remembering that the police were still searching for the truck that belonged to the Seventh Kavalry member that shot a Tulsa cop in the season premiere (which had lettuce in its bed), Wade hops in his car and follows them.
The truck stops at an abandoned department store, where the driver and Wade’s new friend get out and put on Rorschach masks. He calls for backup, sneaks into their truck where he finds a gun, and then enters the building alone. Wade realizes he’s stumbled upon the church where the Seventh Kavalry filmed their video announcing Tulsa’s reckoning, and he also discovers that the Kavalry has been experimenting with teleportation technology. But Wade quickly finds out he’s been lured into a trap: A massive group of Kavalry members are at the site, his gun fires blanks, and his call for backup is intercepted; the Seventh Kavalry wanted Wade to find them. And all of it was planned by Senator Joseph Keene Jr.
The senator is still wearing his Rorschach mask as he sits down next to Wade in the room they’ve dragged him to—one that has a wall of TV monitors—but Wade immediately picks up on the unmistakable twang in his voice. “Shit … am I still wearing my mask?” Keene says, as he begins rolling the mask off his face. “Sorry. That is just incredibly rude. This is just for them.”
Keene explains his connection to the Seventh Kavalry before bringing up what he knows is on Wade’s mind: the teleportation device. “You’re gonna open up a portal in Tulsa,” Wade theorizes. “Drop another squid on us.”
“Come on. Where’s the originality in that?” Keene responds. “No… no, we’re going to do something new.”
Keene then pulls out a disc and offers to reveal the truth that will “set [Wade] free,” but in return, he requires a favor—excuse me, a “squid pro quo.” Angela Abar, Keene says, threatens to disrupt their plans for peace since she either killed Judd Crawford or knows who did. Wade needs to either help agent Laurie Blake catch Angela—since Laurie already suspects her—or do nothing at all, and let the Seventh Kavalry go to her house to kill her and her family. “I just need to get her off the board for a couple days while I wrap things up,” Keene tells him. “Your call, Wade. Either way works for me.”
Keene explains that the video he’s about to show Wade was the same one that the U.S. government showed to Keene shortly after he was elected senator and appointed to the Appropriations Committee. He gives Wade another choice: leave now and try to convince the police of what he’s seen, or press play, and “finally be free.” Wade does the latter, and the dozens of screens before him flash the same image of one man: Adrian Veidt.
The video is a recording from the day before 11/2 and it’s addressed to President Robert Redford on the day of his inauguration, seven years in the future. “How could I predict that you would be elected president with such incredible accuracy?” Veidt asks. “Because I didn’t predict it—I planned it.”
Veidt explains to the new president—and indirectly to Wade, all these years later—how he designed a weapon “more powerful than any atomic device”: fear. “In 24 hours time—that’s seven years ago for you—an extra-dimensional monster will materialize in Manhattan, unleashing a psychic blast that kills half the city’s population, and traumatizes millions more. Yet the monster will not have come from another dimension at all … it will have come from me. A hoax, Mr. President. An elaborate, meticulously engineered hoax, to save the world.”
Eyes widened, mouth agape, Wade watches as everything he’s ever known to be true crumbles beneath him. Near the end of the episode, Wade is—understandably—still shaken by the revelation, but he makes his decision on what to do about Angela.
At the police precinct, Wade returns the pills Angela gave him in the previous episode—which his ex-wife confirmed were Nostalgia pills (more on those in a bit)—and, knowing that Laurie planted a listening device at his desk, baits Angela into explaining the pills’ origins. “They’re my grandfather’s,” Angela finally tells him, after skipping a few beats to think things through. “He was at the tree, he said he killed Crawford, but he’s 100 years old—it’s not possible. So I covered it up.”
Agent Blake, hearing everything thanks to the bug, storms out of her office to arrest Angela. Right before the handcuffs go on, Angela swallows every single pill.
Wade didn’t have much choice in dealing with Angela—it was either give her up to Blake, or let her and her whole family die. Regardless, Wade made his decision, and Keene, by sending four armed Kavalry members to Wade’s house right before the credits roll, made his. After over 30 years of living in fear of an extradimensional squid, Wade finally knows the truth behind the tragedy of 11/2. And now, after just one day of being “set free,” Wade might die because of it.
Senator Keene only appears in one scene with Wade in the episode, but it is one of the biggest reveals of the season so far. When Keene first removes his Rorschach mask, Wade accuses him of being a cop killer, alluding to Keene’s role in the White Night. Keene denies having any part in it. “I came down here to assume leadership of these idiots to prevent that shit from happening again,” he explains. “And my buddy Judd did the same as chief of police. Each of us managing our respective teams so that we could maintain the peace.”
Keene confirms what Angela and Wade had already suspected: Police chief Judd Crawford was a member of the Seventh Kavalry. But more importantly, Keene is a part of a much larger conspiracy, likely the same one that involves Lady Trieu and Will Reeves.
Just like Lady Trieu and Reeves in the previous episode, Keene is ramping up for a big event in Tulsa, and they appear to be following the same timeline: Trieu told Reeves that their plan will unfold in three days, and Keene tells Wade he needs Angela “off the board for a couple days” for him to finish up the Kavalry’s plan.
The teleportation technology that the Kavalry got their hands on—the CX-924 Teleportation Window—likely belongs to Trieu as well, since one of Adrian’s companies funded the research for it as part of his 11/2 plans, and Trieu now owns all of Veidt’s holdings.
The vast conspiracy web grows larger and larger, and it’s not yet clear how every piece connects to each other. Is President Redford—Gatsby? the Sundance Kid?!—in on the plan as well? Or is he completely clueless about the senator’s intentions? And if Laurie is investigating both Trieu and Seventh Kavalry, why isn’t Keene more concerned with her than he is with Angela?
This episode finally illuminates a great deal of information about Adrian’s increasingly confusing present situation. All the past experiments and catapulted bodies were apart of his plan to escape his imprisonment, which very well might not be on our planet at all.
We find Adrian in a spacesuit, being loaded into the same catapult we last saw being used to launch his slain servants. With an elongated rope connecting his suit to the ground, Mr. Phillips sends his master toward the same abyss his predecessors were sent through, except this time we get to see where it leads: space.
Adrian lands on a moon orbiting Jupiter, where piles of his servants’ catapulted corpses lay frozen across the surface. Breaking off the limbs of their remains, Adrian pieces together a massive sign—large enough for a nearby satellite to pick up—that reads:
Watching as a satellite draws closer to the moon’s surface, Adrian celebrates his successful mission to signal for help before he’s yanked back into the portal (?) he entered through. He finds an angry Game Warden, and all of Adrian’s servants, waiting for him. “I warned you, time, and time, and time again,” he says of Veidt crossing the boundaries. “Yet you continue to defy the laws of this land and those of us who serve it.” Up close, the Game Warden appears to be just another version of Mr. Phillips, though he strikes a more defiant tone (not to mention his mask and his outdated parlance). “By the power vested in me as warden of these lands, I place you under arrest. May God have mercy on your soul.”
Adrian, finally able to breathe again after nearly suffocating in his helmet, responds: “God? Your God’s abandoned ya, why wouldn’t he? You’re pathetic, every one of ya!”
The Game Warden kicks Adrian in the face, drawing gasps from the crowd of servants, and imparts one last gem before kicking him again: “Alas, Master Veidt is correct. Our God has left us, and it is unlikely he return. No mercy it is.”
In the fourth episode, we saw how the clones were made, but Adrian made sure to tell his latest recruits that he was not their creator. By the sound of it, Adrian knows who that creator is though, as do all the servants—who might not be clones at all, or at least, not ones genetically designed by man. Their god could only logically be Doctor Manhattan.
In Moore’s story, the last contact Doctor Manhattan has with humanity is with Adrian on 11/2. Manhattan acknowledges to Veidt that he’d regained interest in human life and even says, “I think perhaps I’ll create some,” shortly before disappearing in part of the greatest mic drop of all time. Why the omnipotent Doctor Manhattan would want to imprison Adrian makes little sense, and how Lady Trieu—the only one in the series who seems to have any connection to Adrian aside from Laurie Blake—factors into everything is even more puzzling. But after five episodes of only being referenced in conversations, news reports, or conversations in interplanetary phone booths, Doctor Manhattan might finally make his grand entrance soon enough.
A major key to unraveling the mystery in Tulsa moving forward is going to be the “Nostalgia” pills that Wade returns to Angela at the end of the episode. Angela had given Wade her grandfather’s pills in Episode 4 in the hopes that his ex-wife, Cynthia, would be able to figure out what they are. Cynthia is a scientist who works for a company called Forever Pet (which has a creepy ad that goes: “We offer the splice of life, taking your beloved animal’s unique DNA and making an exact replica so you never have to say goodbye again”). The company is most likely connected to Veidt Enterprises—which is currently controlled by Trieu Industries—since, according FBI agent Dale Petey’s research files: “In 1999, Veidt Enterprises … began licensing proprietary technology to other fields, most notably, pet cloning, through a subsidiary named after his famed lynx, Bubastis.”
Cynthia’s workplace is significant because Nostalgia was previously owned by Veidt as well; the cosmetics brand’s ads appear throughout Moore and Gibbons’s novel:
The pills themselves don’t appear in the original source material, but Cynthia provides valuable information on them: “I’m pretty sure they outlawed those, ’cause it turns out that turning memories into pill form led to psychosis.”
Will Reeves deliberately left behind the pill bottle for Angela to find, and since we now know that he and Lady Trieu are working together, we know where he likely got them from. As Trieu told Reeves in the previous episode, the pills are no more than “passive-aggressive exposition,” and that he should just tell Angela his motives, but Reeves insists that Angela needs to experience things by herself. So, it seems that ingestion of the pills serve as a look into a pensieve; they’re an injection of a memory.
Right before getting arrested at the police precinct, Angela consumes the entire bottle. Assuming that she doesn’t lose her mind, she’s likely going to be able to see exactly what her grandfather has done—and perhaps, finally, who he really is. Either way, Angela’s in for one hell of a trip.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.