Although it’s one of television’s best contemporary series, “Watchmen” is also one of TV’s most opaque. As such, “Watchmen Decoded” will bring light to some of the show’s more ambiguous elements, oblique references, and elaborate but understated world-building.
**This article contains spoilers for “Watchmen,” the graphic novel and TV series **
11/2’s Impact on Society
Like the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel it’s based on, “Watchmen” spends a lot of time in the past. However, “Little Fear of Lightning” is unique in that it dedicates most of its run time to the program’s narrative backstory. The episode revealed Looking Glass’ tragic origin story, and it also delved into what happened to the world after November 2, 1985.
On that date, Adrian Veidt teleported a giant squid-like monster into New York City. Thanks to Ozymandias’ careful manipulation of events, the world at large perceived the incident as an attack from another dimension. Because of the scale of the occurrence, the whole of American society changed in its wake.
For instance, “Lightning” explained New York City became depopulated post the Dimensional Incursion Event (D.I.E). Besides, actor Robert Redford got into politics and became a six-term U.S. president. Moreover, the federal government mandated a slowdown in technological development because it believed a company’s teleportation experiment prompted the D.I.E. However, some industrialists like Veidt and Lady Trieu ignored the ban and became obscenely wealthy by developing new technology.
The attack also had a significant impact on popular culture. In our world, director Steven Spielberg earned widespread critical acclaim for directing the 1993 Holocaust drama “Schindler’s List.” But in the “Watchmen” universe, he made the similarly praised “Pale Horse” that year, a film about the D.I.E.
Veidt’s squid hoax also resulted in the development of a host of attack profiteering companies. Indeed, Looking Glass wears a mask made by a company that claims its material blocks psychic attacks. Moreover, the character has a security system created by a business that can detect “squidfalls” before they occur.
A Human Lie Detector
Though “Lightning” didn’t offer a direct confirmation, it heavily implied Looking Glass has some level of psychic ability. Previously, the show hinted at his extrasensory empathy by establishing that he’s Tulsa PD’s best interrogator. This week’s episode showed he doesn’t need The Pod to uncover and interpret people’s hidden feelings or emotions.
When not serving and protecting, Wade Tillman works as a marketing research consultant. Using his psychic abilities, the policeman tells corporations what test groups really think about their products and advertising material. Moreover, while on an ad hoc date with the female Seventh Kavalry member, he demonstrated his capacity to act as a human lie detector.
Notably, Wade’s powers aren’t akin to those of more famous fictional psychics like Professor X. He doesn’t possess the capacity to read the thoughts of other people actively. If he did, he would’ve sensed the Seventh Kavalry’s ambush before walking into it. He also seems to need his subjects to express something to know if it’s true or not. For instance, he only knew the marketing group rejected the New York tourism ad because he was there when they said they liked it.
The fact that Looking Glass is a psychic also explains his inability to move past the D.I.E. In the graphic novel, Veidt said he created his squid monster in part using the brain tissue of human mediums. He genetically engineered it that way so it would send out a psionic blast last upon death. The villain also noted the telepathic wave would have a psychologically damaging effect on psychics worldwide for years to come.
Nostalgia in a Bottle
“Lightning” also offered information on Will Reeves’s mysterious bottle of memory pills. However, “Watchmen’s” producers kept their description vague on the show and provided a more elaborate explanation online.
Trieu Industries introduced Nostalgia in 2007 as a medication capable of treating psychic trauma, anxiety, and dementia. The company made the drug by harvesting and replicating tissue from a patient’s brain. When ingested, the drug causes users to re-experience specific memories in a manner akin to an extremely visceral dream.
However, Nostalgia patients retain lucidity while under its effects.
Despite the medication’s immense potential, the government outlawed Nostalgia at some point before 2019. Unfortunately, the drug, when taken in large quantities, causes psychosis. U.S. authorities also objected to patients sharing the drug. Users who ingested nostalgia made for other people suffered severe side effects such as hallucinations, schizophrenia, and “hyperactive empathy.”
Though Trieu Industries stopped making Nostalgia, the company’s founder produced a batch for Will to give to his granddaughter Angela. As she haphazardly swallowed an entire bottle of the meds, Sister Night is in for an intensely psychoactive experience. However, the capsules are unlikely to drive her insane.
As seen in “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own,” Trieu gives her daughter a liquid form of the medication so she can experience memories from either herself or her own mother. Consequently, the pharmaceutical scientist probably developed a newer version of Nostalgia that has fewer side effects.
Furthermore, “Watchmen’s” writers have put so much emphasis on the drug, it must be relevant to the show’s endgame. Right now, it seems likely Trieu and her allies will distribute a version of the medication encoded with memories from victims of war and terrorism. Indeed, a vast and secret dispersal of Nostalgia might be Trieu’s version of a giant squid.
Life on Jupiter
“Lightning’s” single biggest revelation is that Ozymandias’ prison is located on one of Jupiter’s moons. In an interview, “Watchmen” creator Damon Lindelof stated the villain has specifically been imprisoned on Europa. He also said Veidt’s jailer put him there as no terrestrial prison could hold him for any real length of time.
Given the extraordinarily complex and surreal nature of Veidt’s imprisonment, Doctor Manhattan likely banished him to Europa. Indeed, no other character in the “Watchmen” universe has the resources or capacity to make a faux British estate on another planet. Also, Ozymandias alluded to his jailer’s identity by referring to the clones’ creator as a “he.”
Furthermore, the episode also dropped a major clue about Veidt’s ultimate fate. In it, the former superhero used a pile of corpses to spell out the message “SAVE ME” in view of NASA’s Juno satellite. The installment also revealed Veidt helped install President Redford into office. As such, he likely tried to make contact with the Commander-in-Chief to ask for an interplanetary pickup.
That said, it’s unclear if the show’s version of America can perform such a rescue. Instead, its possible Veidt’s escape will be facilitated by Lady Trieu. The show has established she is not only a gifted technologist herself but also the owner of Veidt’s old companies. As such, she might have the resources to send a rocketship to Jupiter.
Alternatively, Trieu might’ve sent him a ship he could pilot back to earth. If so, that would explain the UFO crash featured in last week’s episode. And how Trieu knew what the present-day Ozymandias looked like even though he had been missing for years.
That said, Veidt’s whereabouts in 2019 remain tantalizingly unknown.