‘Watchmen:’ The Tragic Origin of Looking Glass

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Tim Blake Nelson in Watchmen,
Image: Mark Hill/HBO

In its first four episodes, “Watchmen” established and deepened a host of compelling mysteries. However, in its fifth installment, the series finally provided answers for some of its biggest questions. Following the events of “Little Fear of Lightning,” it’s now known who leads the Seventh Kavalry and what the group’s aims are in a broad sense. The program also revealed where Adrian Veidt has been and who affected his imprisonment.

Moreover, the episode revealed a great deal of information about the detective known as Looking Glass.

In providing all that information, “Watchmen” established what its central conflict really is and the nature of its belligerents. While the program has now turned over many of its cards, it hasn’t lost an ounce of tension. Indeed, with its stakes revealed, the series has now become considerably more captivating.

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**This article contains spoilers for “Watchmen,” the graphic novel and TV series **

One Bad Night

In the past, “Watchmen” has avoided depicting any of the events directly featured in its comic book predecessor. “Little Fear” broke with that trend by showing the events of November 2, 1985. That day, Ozymandias teleported a giant mutant squid into Manhattan to trick the United States and the Soviet Union into ending the Cold War. However, it also happened to be the single worst day of Wade Tillman’s life.

Philip Labes in Watchmen, "Little Fear of Lightning"
Image: Mark Hill/HBO

A young Jehovah’s Witness, Wade journeyed to New Jersey to distribute literature and possibly save some souls with his comrades. Unfortunately, he was seduced and humiliated by a young woman who left him naked in a hall of mirrors. Subsequently, the squid materialized and killed nearly everyone in the vicinity. As a result of that experience, Tillman became terrified of extra-dimensional beings and intimacy.

Three decades after Veidt’s hoax, Tillman joined the Tulsa PD and took the alias Looking Glass.

The most impressive thing about “Little Fear” is its narrative economy. Within its eight and a half minute prologue, the episode gave context for Looking Glass’s gruffness, emotional remoteness, and alienation. By implication, it also revealed how much Chief Crawford meant to the detective. In 1985, the squid hoax severely impacted Wade’s ability to form meaningful relationships with other people. However, he cried openly after losing his former commanding officer.

For someone with so few human connections, losing a single one would be absolutely devastating. As such, it’s no mystery why Wade did what he did at the end of the episode.

Valid Trust Issues

In the present, Agent Blake asked Looking Glass about the pills Angela Abar gave him, but he offered no answers. Later, he retrieved them from his ex-wife and learned they are something called Nostalgia. The drug gives users the ability to transfer memories between one another, but they can also induce psychosis.

Wade’s meeting with his former wife also revealed their marriage ended because he couldn’t move past the trauma of 11/2. Indeed, the character is so terrified of another squid attack occurring, he always wears a reflective material that supposedly blocks psychic assaults at all times.

After work, Wade attended a squid attack support group meeting and made a connection with an unnamed young woman. However, it turned out the Seventh Kavalry sent the woman to lure the policeman into their headquarters so he could meet their leader, Senator Joe Keene, Jr. The politician revealed he took over the group post-White Night and worked with Chief Crawford to mollify them.

While investigating the Seventh Kavalry’s base, Looking Glass found out the group has access to teleportation technology. It seems the terrorists stole caches of Doctor Manhattan created lithium to power their transports. Moreover, Keene said he plans on launching an 11/2-style attack on Tulsa.

Although it’s unclear precisely what he intends to do, Keene’s larger ambition is to recreate Veidt’s false flag attack. As such, his scheme likely involves killing a large number of residents and setting himself up as a hero. Indeed, the senator’s intentions to expose a hoax and contain a group of violent reactionaries are altruistic. But his ruthless methodology suggests he’s actually a villain.

Ultimately, “Watchmen” is not a series that deals with simple bad guys and good guys. Accordingly, Keene’s morality will likely remain ambiguous until the series’ final minutes.

The Awful Truth

During his conversation with Wade, Keene showed the detective a recording Adrian Veidt made in which he confessed to faking the alien attack and orchestrating the election of President Redford. The politician then asked Looking Glass to incapacitate Angela because she is a threat to his plans. As an added incentive, Keene threatened to have her killed if he didn’t.

The next day, Wade tricked Angela into confessing to covering up her grandfather’s role in Chief Crawford’s murder.

Because she bugged Tulsa police headquarters, Agent Blake heard Angela’s admission and had her taken into custody. However, Sister Night swallowed all of her grandfather’s pills before being cuffed. After work, Wade returned home and agonized over what he learned and what he had done. Immediately afterward, a group of armed Seventh Kavalrymen invaded his home.

Following “Little Fear,” it’s hard to say what’s going to happen to Looking Glass. The way the episode ended, it’s unclear if he completely accepted what Keene told him. It’s not that the character didn’t believe what he saw with his own eyes, it’s that the squid and all it entailed defined his life. For him, the creature being a lie calls his entire identity into question.

Hopefully, Wade’s crisis of faith will resolve with him embracing one of the few undeniable truths in his life. He is a policeman, and he joined the Tulsa PD to see justice done. As such, becoming a cop is one of the character’s few non-fear motivated life choices. Therefore, he should follow that impulse and work to save his fellow officer.

The Lone and Level Sands

Another one of this episode’s big revelations was the reveal of Veidt’s location. After dozens of tests, Ozymandias built himself a hermetic spacesuit and had his servants launch him out of his estate. Once he cleared the area’s confines, he landed on the surface of a moon orbiting Jupiter. While there, he collected the frozen remains of his staffers and used them to spell out the words “SAVE ME.”

Veidt also timed his adventure, so the NASA satellite Juno captured his message. However, right after being spotted, the Game Warden pulled him back into his virtual prison. The jailer, a higher functioning Mr. Phillips clone, then arrested the ex-hero for breaking the rules.

Notably, Ozymandias and the Game Warden referred to the creator of the lunar environment as a male god. As such, Doctor Manhattan is almost certainly the party behind Veidt’s once voluntary exile. Now, the big question is why the world’s only true superhero imprisoned its greatest villain. In the graphic novel, Manhattan expressed hostility toward the billionaire but approved of his world uniting hoax. He also departed the Earth rather than judge the former masked adventurer’s actions.

So, did Doctor Manhattan change his mind and transport Veidt to Jupiter as punishment? Or did he send him to Jupiter as a kind of witness protection to keep him from being interrogated by the authorities? At this point, either scenario works as a viable explanation. Nevertheless, having violated his prison’s rules, Veidt has put himself on the path to returning to Earth.

With events in Tulsa threatening to unravel his greatest work, it will be interesting to see how Ozymandias deals with Angela, Keene, Agent Blake, and Lady Trieu. And it will be even more interesting to see his inevitable confrontation with Doctor Manhattan.

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“Watchmen” airs on HBO Sundays at 9 pm ET. Come back to The Burn-In for coverage of the show’s first season.