‘Watchmen’ Might Actually Have Something to Say: Season 1, Episode 5 Recap
This week’s episode of Watchmen might be the best yet — certainly, it’s one of the most worth talking about. Here’s how it went.
We open on a flashback scene set in Hoboken in 1985. The radio tells us that the Doomsday Clock has been set at one minute to midnight, and a bus full of young missionaries pulls up to a carnival. Their leader prays with them and sends them out with religious tracts that trade on a doomsday message. One of the boys is Wade — Wade Tillman, who will grow up to be Looking Glass — and he goes up to a group of knot-tops (a subculture Moore invented for the comic, mixing punk aesthetics with skinhead ideology). They bully him, but one of the girls tells them to leave him alone, then takes his hand and leads him to a funhouse. In the hall of mirrors, she seduces and undresses him, then takes his clothes and leaves him there.
Wade is berating himself for his stupidity in the mirror when there’s a sudden earthquake. He wakes in the dark–the funhouse half-demolished and mirrors cracked — and steps outside to find almost every carnvial-goer dead. He takes his clothes back from the corpse of the girl who stole them, panicking and shouting, “What happened?” Then we zoom out, crossing the water until we are in New York, where we see a massive, gruesome squid-like beast with its tentacles impaling several skyscrapers. This is the calamitous event that happened at the end of the Watchmen comic, about thirty years before the show takes place.
Cut to what appears to be a tourism ad, where various people are talking about the reasons they moved back to New York. An uncomfortable Wade is watching what appears to be a focus group as they rate the ad. Afterward, he is seen telling a group of executives that the surveys lie: the viewers were only frightened by the reminder of the reason people left New York in the first place. Which, again, is the dropping of an apparent alien on the city in an initial blast that killed millions and traumatized millions more, for no apparent reason.
Wade picks up his mask from a locker in a garage and goes in to work. Laurie Blake is speaking to the Tulsa PD, exhorting them to find the church pictured in the Cavalry terrorist video. Later, at their desks, Angela asks Wade what his ex said about the pills Will left in her car (which she passed on to Wade for testing last episode). Wade says he’s still waiting, and Angela expresses her impatience. Laurie then calls Wade into her office. She tells him to take his mask off, and he is reluctant to. When she finally convinces him, she says, “You were in New York on 11/2…you still scared shitless?” It transpires that 11/2 was the date of the alien’s appearance and the resulting psychic blast, and that the reflective material Wade uses as a mask is commonly thought to protect against psychic blasts. Then Laurie observes that Wade joined the police force just after the White Night (the massacre of cops and their families that resulted in the Tulsa police hiding their identities). He says it’s because justice needed to be served. Just as Wade is leaving, Laurie asks one more thing: “What pills?” She reveals that she has had the cactus on Wade’s desk bugged, and heard his conversation with Angela. Wade refuses to answer the question.
At his house, Wade takes off his baseball cap (which is lined with reflective material) and exchanges it for another mask. He eats beans from the can with his mask rolled up (as Rorschach famously did in the comic) and watches an episode of American Hero Story, the in-universe show about superheroes past. As he’s watching, a siren goes off. He switches his mask for his cap, runs to the bomb shelter he keeps in his yard, and presses a button to turn the alarm off. It doesn’t turn off, and we see him run to his house and destroy the alarm system in his closet, then call the company — Extra-Dimensional Security — and frantically demand a new unit. This, it turns out, was a drill to ensure the alarm system will function in the event of another psychic blast. After extracting a promise that a new unit will be overnighted to him, Wade goes to sleep, in his mask, on the couch in his bomb shelter.
The next day, Wade goes to see his ex — Cynthia — at her workplace, a lab that clones pets. Cynthia tells Wade that the pills are “nostalgia,” memories in pill form, and that they were outlawed because they cause psychosis. That evening, we see Wade leading a support group for those suffering “extra-dimensional anxiety” — trauma related to the psychic blast. A new member arrives, a pretty blond woman about Wade’s age. After the meeting, she tells Wade she doesn’t believe the support group will be effective, but tells him to follow her to a bar, where they end up drinking together. At the end of the night, she says she is drunk and calls a friend for a ride home; before the ride arrives, she kisses Wade and tells him she intends to return to the support group.
Except, her ride is a pickup truck, and as it drives away, a head of lettuce falls out of its bed. Since the Seventh Kavalry terrorist who shot a cop at the beginning of the first episode drove a pickup truck with lettuce hiding the contraband in the back, Wade realizes this may be the same driver and follows. When they arrive at their destination — an abandoned department store — and go inside wearing their Rorschach masks, Wade calls in backup, then searches the truck, taking a gun he finds in the backseat. Inside, he discovers a theatre set: the apparent church in which they filmed the terrorist video.
As he’s exploring, a basketball falls from the ceiling. A masked man retrieves it, and Wade follows him to a room where, it turns out, they have an interdimensional portal rigged up and are testing it with the basketball. He aims the gun and announces himself as Tulsa police, but the Kavalry members are not frightened; the woman he was with tells him to “be cool.” She reveals that the whole evening was a setup to get him there (including faking the call for backup), and when he tries to shoot the gun, it shoots blanks. “This is the only way to show you the truth,” she tells him, and two masked men drag him away to a room lined with video screens. A masked man sits across from Wade and starts to chat, and Wade immediately recognizes his voice: it’s Senator Keene.
He says he joined the Seventh Kavalry to prevent them from committing a crime like the White Night ever again, and that Judd was doing the same from his position as chief of police. Wade, horrified, assumes that the portal the Kavalry is building — which resembles the one built at the Institute for Transdimensional Studies, which was blamed for the psychic blast in 1985 — is designed to “drop another squid” on the nation. “We’re gonna do something new,” Keene corrects him. Then he takes out a disk and says he’s going to show Wade a video that will set him free from his fear, and that in exchange, he wants Wade to set up Angela for Judd’s murder so that he can “get her off the board.” With a parting threat to kill Angela and her whole family otherwise, he leaves Wade to watch the video.
It’s a video of a young Adrien Veidt, filming in 1985 and addressing the newly elected President Robert Redford in 1993. Veidt says he knows Redford will be president because he planned it, then does a quick exposition dump, describing how he plotted to drop the squid and accompanying psychic blast in order to give people of all nations a common enemy and save a world that was on the brink of nuclear war. Veidt says that, now that people have had a few years to recover, Redford can lead America into a new era that Veidt calls a “utopia.”
As Wade watches the rest of the video, we see Veidt himself on his creepy estate, his clone servants strapping him into one of his makeshift spacesuits. They catapult him into the air, and he moves through the forcefield; we find that he is indeed in space. Judging by the size of Jupiter in the sky, it’s probably one of Jupiter’s moons. Veidt immediately begins arranging the frozen corpses of clones he previously catapulted to their deaths, spelling out “save me” for a satellite passing nearby. Just as he finishes, he is reeled back to his estate by the rope attached to his spacesuit. The man holding the rope is the mysterious “game warden” that wrote him a threatening letter in an earlier episode; he says that Veidt has violated the laws of the land and is under arrest. Veidt tells the man that his god has abandoned him (apparently as a distraction tactic?) and the game warden agrees, but still says he will show Veidt no mercy.
Back on Earth, Wade is distracted by flashbacks to the psychic blast as he goes about his day. At the police station, he tells Angela that the pills contain memories, then adds that he wants to help and asks for more information. Angela, leaning right over the bugged cactus, tells Wade that she found Will by Judd’s corpse and covered it up. Laurie immediately comes out of her office and places Angela under arrest, but not before Angela manages to swallow all the pills. Betrayed, she asks Wade, “Why?” as she is taken away.
Pulling up to his house, Wade leaves his cap with its reflective lining in his passenger seat, throws out his newly arrived alarm system…and then fetches it back out of the trash. Once he’s inside, we see a van pull up to the driveway, and four armed men in Rorschach masks pile out to follow him inside. The episode ends there.
This episode, exploring the recruitment tactics of a white supremacist group, is interesting, if fraught with questions. Since this universe’s equivalent of 9/11 really was a false flag operation, and there really is a massive liberal government conspiracy, we had our doubts as to whether this show could have much to say on the subject of racist, conspiracy-theorist misinformation. The ambiguity of Wade’s position in this episode is promising food for thought.
Then there’s the setup for next episode: Angela’s fractured journey through Will’s memories is sure to be, if nothing else, an entertaining ride. As for Veidt, trapped within an abandoned world that appears to be of Dr. Manhattan’s creation? Well, we suppose there’s still a chance that could become interesting.