Friday, June 21, 2024

Watchmen Peeks Through the Looking Glass

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As has been the trend all season, this latest episode of Watchmen was the best yet. With each new episode, the clash of style between Watchmen and Damon Lindelof has only blended together with more skill, creating something unique and amazing to watch. “Little Fear of Lightning” felt like the most Lindelof-type episode yet, a character-focused journey into the traumas of the Tulsa police department’s resident racist detector, Wade Tillman. Alias: Looking Glass.

This was an episode bringing to mind the best of Lost, giving us a deep-dive into the defining trauma of a main character. And damn if it didn’t make for a fascinating hour of television. Oh, and a giant squid attacked New York City. Also, Adrian Veidt is on one of Jupiter’s moons. Yeah, this is still Watchmen.

Previous episodes gave us quick glimpses of Wade having some sort of difficulty with the faked squid attack on New York that ends Alan Moore’s graphic novel. We knew he had his bunker full of alien-detection equipment, and we could see that he belonged to an extra-dimensional support group. His role as chief interrogator of the Tulsa PD led many to theorize about Wade’s potential psychic abilities.

This episode fleshed out the hints considerably. Wade does have psychic abilities of some kind, which he can use to sense truth or lies in people. He was a young man in New Jersey when the alien squid attacked, and the fair he was at was directly affected. He not only belongs to a support group over the attack, he leads it. Every moment of his life seems to be affected by this trauma, to the point where his mask is made of a material meant to shield him from another psychic attack and his hats are lined with it.

It all sounds somewhat silly, but the beauty of this episode is how compelling and convincing his trauma comes across as. Crafting a convincing, empathetic portrayal of grief out of such an absurd scenario is even more impressive than doing so with more realistic scenarios. It’s the best of speculative fiction, take the absurd and apply real human emotion.

Wade is clearly a broken man dealing with a variety of traumatic events in his life. The specifics of it don’t matter; the portrayal is one we all recognize and can all sympathize with. Wade lives a life ruled by fear. He has lost a marriage over the night the squid attacked. He lives alone, eating baked beans from a can. In many ways he reminds you of Rorschach, only without the homicidal righteousness and prejudices. Wade is clearly effective at his job, but he lives in a sort of isolation from everyone else, like Rorschach was isolated from his fellow vigilantes.

One thing I really hoped for from this show was some follow-up on the aftermath of Adrian Veidt’s murderous plan to stop doomsday. An event like that would affect the world well beyond the dead itself. Think of how people today would react simply to the existence of aliens, let alone one dropping into one of the largest cities in the world and killing half the people there. This attack clearly works as a stand-in for the type of large-scale deadly attacks which have occurred throughout modern history, such as the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. These crimes have an impact well beyond the day they happen.

Watchmen does a terrific job portraying that kind of grief with Wade. I mean, this is Damon Lindelof. Showrunner of The Leftovers, a show literally about the grief of a world post-traumatic event taking 140-million people from the world. He has made his reputation off of showing characters struggle with loss. Wade’s story contains all the hallmarks that made this man famous. Sometimes, grief controls a person’s life. They can never let it go.

The ad campaign to bring people back to New York City speaks volumes about the trouble people still have with coping with the attack, even after 3 decades. These incidents stick for the entirety of a person’s life. Wade was not alone. Even people who weren’t alive during the attack struggle with the possibility of hostile alien life. Wade experienced it personally.

Now, consider what might happen if someone who survived the September 11 attack found out 30 years later that it was all a giant conspiracy, that everything they believed about their trauma and grief was wrong, that it was all a lie.

I’m fascinated to see what happens now that Wade has had his grief and trauma nearly invalidated by the truth of Veidt’s plot. I don’t know if he plans to join the 7th Kavalry or if he went along with their plan for Angela just to keep her safe. If he joins them, it would make sense. This episode showed us that, for all their racist intentions and extremist interpretations of Rorschach’s values, they also adopted his overall mission of exposing Veidt.

Senator Keene and Judd being 7th Kavalry isn’t a huge shock, but the fact that they are in on it for the larger overall mission creates a connection to something greater that many fans were waiting for. Now we see them experimenting with portal technology. Where did they get it? What is their big plan? You have to assume it ties to Lady Trieu in some way. The truck Wade follows had something with Trieu’s logo on it in the bed.

To be clear, I am not going to argue that this in any way creates a subtlety to the 7th Kavalry’s racism or excuses it in any way. However, I’m glad there’s something more to the group, and I’m excited to see the role they play in whatever larger plan is destined to hit Tulsa. If they recruit not just through their racism, but by revealing the truth of Veidt’s crime, it explains their numbers and support.

A man like Wade would naturally be a recruit for an extremist organization. Angry, traumatized, fearful, isolated people make easy targets. We see this play out every day in the real world. Extremist groups prey on that isolation and fear. It is hard for some to resist their efforts. Learning the truth has cast Wade adrift in a way he probably hasn’t felt since the attack in 1985. He will desperately need direction.

Add in his clear affinity for truth and I can see him joining the 7th Kavalry. I can also see him sticking to his morals and sense of justice.

Whatever the case, I doubt we’ll find out next episode. Not with Angela having downed the entire bottle of nostalgia pills her grandfather gave her. She’s in for a bad ride that I fully expect to take up the majority of the next episode, a ride likely to focus on her and Will rather than anything to do with Looking Glass. It’s almost a shame, if I wasn’t so desperate for more information about Will.

And in our scheduled random discourse separate from Earth, we finally found out where Adrian Veidt is being held prison; a moon of Jupiter. We can also reasonably assume that it was Dr. Manhattan put him there. Besides the seeming implausibility of anyone on Earth, even a trillionaire, being able to build this type of prison on a celestial body so far from Earth, the Game Warden gets his first lines and talks about a He who is their god and abandoned them on this moon.

With Veidt now going to end up in prison after escaping the safe zone of his prison to create his message from his dead servants, it feels like this plot is finally reaching an end. I can’t wait to see how he ties into everything else. I stick by my prediction that the crashed object from last week was Veidt returning to Earth, and the statue is him frozen.

Next week looks prime to deliver a lot of answers. If early teasing from critics who viewed it are an early indication, it will yet again be the best episode yet and a standout episode of anything for the year. We may get a look at Will, at Trieu, at Veidt’s disappearance, and probably at least some hint of the larger plan with the 7th Kavalry.

In the process, I expect more of the exceptional characterization and depiction of grief that Lindelof is just so consistently skilled with.

Images Courtesy of HBO

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