Watchmen Decoded s1ep1: Unpacking the season’s big mystery 

Regina King and Andrew Howard in Watchmen,
Image: Watchmen| HBO

In the coming weeks, the Burn-In will recap every episode of “Watchmen’s” first season. However, like the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons graphic novel the TV show is based on, the program is incredibly dense. As such, Decoding Watchmen will examine the program’s many mysteries, ambiguous details, and oblique references to its source material.

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

Why Chief Crawford Died

While firmly ensconced in the superhero genre, “Watchmen” is also a 12-issue hardboiled murder mystery. In it, vigilante Rorschach investigates the murder of Edward Blake, a government fixer and former hero called the Comedian. As it turns out, Adrian “Ozymandias” Veidt killed Blake because he uncovered his plot to save the world/kill 3 million people.

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In the “Watchmen” TV series, the murder of Tulsa Police Chief Judd Crawford appears to be the show’s central mystery. The program highlights the parallel by having a single drop of Crawford’s blood fall on his police badge postmortem. That image directly references the single drop of blood that fell on the Comedian’s smiley face button after his death.

Notably, “It’s Summer, and We’re Running Out of Ice” inverts the graphic novel by seemingly revealing Crawford’s killer straight away. An unnamed elderly paraplegic man summons Detective Angela Abar to the site of Crawford’s hanging. In the installment’s next episode preview, the character claims responsibility for killing the lawman. Moreover, early in the episode, the man asked Angela if she thought he could lift 200 pounds.

Besides, in the next episode teaser, the man claims to be 105 years old, making it unlikely he overpowered and hanged the police chief. But, supposing the older man did kill Crawford, why did he do it? If the show parallels the graphic novel, the lawman died because he knew too much.

Conversely, as the series revealed the old man was the little boy featured in its opening sequence, Crawford might’ve been killed for a different reason. Notably, the scene showed the boy watching a film about a U.S. Marshall who captured a cattle rustler posing as a sheriff. It’s possible the deceased police chief had a secret identity.

It’s Raining Squid

For viewers who have never read “Watchmen,” the premiere’s strangest moment has to be the squid incident. In the episode, Angela has to pull over because an inexplicable rain of tiny squids reduces her visibility. The borderline non-sequitur scene references the finale of the graphic novel, wherein Veidt teleports a giant squid-like monster into the middle of Manhattan.

Ozymandias orchestrated the happening, referred to as the Dimensional Incursion Event (DIE) in the TV series, to usher in world peace. The genius superhero launched the attack because he realized the United States and the Soviet Union would inevitably go to war. Desperate to prevent Armageddon, Veidt utilized developed groundbreaking genetic engineering and teleportation technology. He then used those advances to transport what appeared to be a gigantic alien monster into the heart of New York City.

As the creature released a massive psychic blast upon his death, its arrival in Manhattan killed 3 million people. Believing the attack to be extraterrestrial, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. allied to take on the new threat. It appears Veidt created a system that stages smaller DIEs to maintain his illusion 30 years after the initial attack.

Jeremy Irons in Watchmen, "It's Summer and We're Running Out of Ice"
Image: Watchmen| HBO

Low-Tech Utopia

While Ozymandias’s false flag attack ended the Cold War, it had another side effect that Veidt did not intend. As one part of Veidt’s larger scheme, the former superhero neutralized Dr. Manhattan, “Watchmen’s” only super-powered being. As a wealthy industrialist, the character secretly employed several of Manhattan’s former associates and gave him cancer. In the graphic novel, a journalist called Doug Roth discovered the link between cancer patients but not how they became ill.

Roth publicly accused Dr. Manhattan of giving people cancer, an allegation that caused the increasingly apathetic superhuman to leave Earth. On the show, Roth’s writing inspired the United States to seize technological advances connected to material synthesized by Manhattan. For instance, the superhero created enough lithium to make electric cars viable decades before their advent in the real world. Consequently, the America of “Watchmen’s” world became somewhat technophobic, and key real-world developments never happened.

As seen in the show’s premiere, the world’s cellular technology advancement stopped at the beeper. Moreover, the program’s alternate Earth does not have the Internet. Conversely, the series’ version of Earth has some cool tech. As an example, Veidt’s research paved the way for the widespread adoption of electric cars.

The Seventh Cavalry in Watchmen, "It's Summer and We're Running Out of Ice"
Image: Watchmen| HBO

The Sons of Rorschach

In the “Watchmen” graphic novel, Rorschach kept a journal documenting his investigation of Blake’s death. Before the vigilante confronted Veidt, he mailed his diary to a hard right tabloid called The New Frontiersman. On the show, the paper published its contents, but the public dismissed its revelations as a baseless conspiracy theory.

However, a group of white supremacists called the Seventh Calvary took Rorschach’s journal as gospel. In their video message to the police, the organization quoted several passages from the tome. The Kavalry’s extremist views mirror Rorschach’s own, though he was not an overt racist. Moreover, the group uses a variation of his iconic mask to conceal their identities.

The final entry in Rorschach’s journal implicates Veidt as Blake’s murderer and the architect of a vast conspiracy. Moreover, HBO’s “Watchmen” site hosts tie-in material revealing Veidt helped fund Robert Redford’s presidential campaign. If the group believes Veidt made the world a more equitable, multicultural place, they might be plotting their own false flag revolution.

Theoretically, the group might be planning to stage a mass casualty event and pin the crime on an African-American perpetrator. The organization might be gathering Dr. Manhattan-synthesized lithium to facilitate a cross-dimensional attack a la Veidt’s squid. Consequently, the United States might shift away from its cosmopolitan outlook and embrace right-wing guiding philosophy.

On its face, the Seventh Calvary’s world-changing plot seems ludicrous. But the “Watchmen” universe already experienced one successful paradigm-shifting cataclysm.

That said, it seems likely a low-rent group of racists came up with such an elaborate scheme. As such, the group probably has the backing of a smarter and more insidious grandmaster. Right now, Adrian Veidt best fits the description of such a character.

The Good Doctor Has Come Home

In “Watchmen’s” final chapter, Ozymandias’ former allies attack the hero turned villain after discovering the details of his grand scheme. However, the group decides not to expose Veidt’s actions because he succeeded in affecting world peace. After having an ambiguous conversation with Veidt, Dr. Manhattan chose to leave Earth. Before exiting, the omnipotent former hero mused that he might create human life in another galaxy

The TV series has brought Dr. Manhattan back to his home system. When Chief Crawford tells the wife of one of his officers he’d been shot, the woman’s television reveals the character is once again in the Milky Way galaxy. The woman’s TV shows a glowing blue figure has built and destroyed a massive sandcastle on Mars. In the graphic novel, Dr. Manhattan created another elaborate structure on the Red Planet during his brief self-imposed exile.

It’s worth noting that “Watchmen’s” first trailer strongly hints Dr. Manhattan will make a return to Earth.

The big question is, why has the character chosen to return home after a 34-year absence? Given the deeply interconnected nature of the graphic novel and TV show creator Damon Lindelof’s prior work, there is a link between his arrival and the Seventh Calvary’s activities. That’s not to say the band of white supremacists is of interest to the godlike former superhero. Instead, their mysterious conspiracy might have implications that would interest even a cosmic being like Dr. Manhattan.

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