Watchmen: Little Fear of Lightning

“Call it a squid-pro-quo.”

This episode is all about how perception can become reality.

This is mostly explored through the character of Wade Tillman aka Looking Glass, who up until now had been a bit of a mystery.

And up until now, there hadn't really been a character on this show that I really engaged with on a deep level. I think the reason for this has been because a lot of time is spent fleshing out the plot and the setting; a legitimate necessity with this material. But this is episode is a deep dive into this character's psyche, and smartly uses that to help advance the plot.

I figured from the promos for the show that Looking Glass would be a significant character. As I've said before, he's clearly got a rural Rorschach vibe about him and learning his origin here only made the comparisons between the two all the more striking. Wade is mentally scarred, lives a crazy loner lifestyle, indulges conspiracy theories, and he even seems to think of his mask as his "face." And, of course, trauma and sexual frustration are at the root of many of his issues.

What makes Looking Glass particularly interesting, though, is that he was literally created by the events of the original Watchmen graphic novel. A teenaged Wade Tillman was at a New Jersey carnival in 1985, on the night the Doomsday Clock was to strike midnight and signal the end of the world. Wade was there as part of a church function to implore the urban sinners to repent in the face of Armageddon, but didn't seem too bothered when a cute '80s punk girl pulled him into a hall of mirrors. Sadly, what would have been his first sexual experience turned out to be a prank, with the girl stealing his clothes and running away. And what would have simply been the most embarrassing moment of his youth became the most horrifically traumatic night of his life when the "giant extra-dimensional squid" teleported onto Manhattan island and killed half the population in a psychic blast, with Wade being one of the countless survivors of the blast.

Much like Angela Abar, who uses her Sister Night identity to exorcise her lifelong identity issues and anger towards racial injustice, it turns out that Wade's Looking Glass alter ego isn't just a disguise. It's how he copes with his trauma. The mask he wears is made of "reflectitine," a material that apparently blocks psychic blasts; he keeps several masks around and even has it on the inside of his cap. The reflectitine is just one of many Extra-Dimensional Security products that Wade owns, along with the fallout shelter and his squidfall alarm. Laurie Blake notes that he joined the force after the White Night and suggests he did so to have an excuse to wear his reflectitine mask 24/7.

Looking Glass's skill as an interrogator is not derived from a keen understanding of the criminal mind, but seems to actually be linked to the '80s punk girl who tricked and humiliated him moments before the psychic blast killed her and broke him. And this is also the reason he and his wife Cynthia are no longer together. He became a master of snuffing out lies and ascertaining the truth, which is of great use to him as a focus group consultant by day and as a masked detective by night, yet he was apparently never able to fully trust the woman he loved.

Being a walking contradiction is another way he's similar to Rorschach. Wade makes a point of being cold and no-nonsense, and claims to not be afraid, but we see that this is a lie. Wade is secretly in a state of constant terror of unexpected alien attacks. He wants his wife back, but she left him because he was always afraid she would betray and abandon him. And he holds group meetings for other victims of the squid attack, guiding them to live their lives free from fear, despite later admitting that he still lives in fear.

And this is where we get the significance of the episode title. Wade's flirtation with a fellow squid survivor and subsequent discovery that she is a member of the Seventh Kavalry leads him to several revelations. The first being that the Kavalry has a teleportation device they are testing.

Secondly, the slick and successful Senator Joe Keene, Jr. is the one leading the 7K. Through him, we learn that the 7K didn't kill Judd Crawford, because Crawford was secretly working alongside Keene; it is strongly hinted that Crawford and Keene had very different goals for the Kavalry than the majority of its members, with Keene expressing very little respect for the murderously racist direction of the group even as he uses them to enforce his will.

Finally, Keene reveals to a captured Wade the big secret. Wade watches a video recording to the newly elected President Robert Redford in 1993, sent in advance by Adrian Veidt in 1985. And the gut-punch Wade receives must have been even greater than whatever the hell Redford's reaction was as an utterly proud and confident Veidt explains that the extra-dimensional attack was a hoax, and Redford's presidency is just one facet of the new world order the hoax created. The squid was Veidt's creation, a genetically fabricated monstrosity designed for the purpose of preventing full-scale nuclear war by uniting the United States and the Soviet Union against a common enemy: a nonexistent alien threat.

So not only do we see that Wade's cool front is hollow. His fear is hollow too, because another squid attack would be rarer than lightning striking twice in the same place. A man who spent his whole life deciphering the truth finds that nearly his entire existence (and that of the entire state of the world) is a lie, and he's once again just as lost and confused as the god-fearing church kid he was.

The shock of learning such a thing is hard to imagine. Wade now has the weight of a secret kept from the entire world on his shoulders, which Keene uses to force him to betray Angela. Having discovered the pills she recovered from Will Reeves were Nostalgia -- memories in pill form, as seen in the comic -- Wade tricks his comrade into incriminating herself. But before Laurie Blake can throw her in a cell, Angela swallows a bunch of the pills.

This betrayal is evidently paid back in kind, as a group of shotgun-toting Seventh Kavalry thugs converge on Wade's home.

I imagine he's smart enough to have seen this coming, though.

Which leaves me wondering where this goes from here. Will Looking Glass attempt to reveal the truth he now knows? Do all the Seventh Kavalry members know the truth about the squid? What are they and Senator Keene planning with that teleportation device? Is Keene in league with Lady Trieu? The suspense is killing me!

The Shattered Visage

While this is all going on, we return to that mastermind who saved the world by way of surprise genocidal squid, Adrian Veidt. He has used his vast intellect to connive a way of escaping his prison, which finally reveals the nature of said prison. We discover that he wasn't trying to build a suit for freezing people, but one that could counteract freezing temperatures; that's right, Veidt built his own space suit out of medieval armor, buffalo hide and whatever other materials he had lying around his vast estate. A suit that comes in handy when he launches himself into the sky and out of the virtual construct he was locked in, whereupon he finds himself on the Europa moon orbiting Jupiter. And, in what might be the most outrageous sequence I've seen in awhile, this majestic self-made astronaut uses the numerous corpses of Mr. Phillips and Ms. Crookshanks he propelled out of the construct to send a message to the Juno satellite before he is ripped back into his prison, where he is about to face punishment at the hands of the Game Warden and many mistreated copies of Phillips and Crookshanks.

Capes and Masks:

* Lot of great music tracks in this episode. “Turtles All the Way Down” by Sturgill Simpson, two renditions of “Careless Whisper,” and “Some Enchanted Evening” in the scenes taking place at Looking Glass's home.

* During the 1985 flashback, a kid can be seen reading The Veidt Method. Clever foreshadowing.

* Laurie’s total lack of respect for masks and costumes, like calling Looking Glass "mirror guy," is still pretty hilarious.

* This week on American Hero Story: Minute Men, we get a pretty graphic gay sex scene between Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis. They’re definitely staying true to that Ryan Murphy aesthetic.

* If Wade’s comments are any indication, this world’s drug laws are both stricter and more enlightened than ours. Tobacco is considered a controlled substance and about as illegal as marijuana, and sugar is no longer served to children because of how unhealthy it is; did they get rid of high-fructose corn syrup as well? Of course, neither Wade or Angela had much to say about Judd Crawford's cocaine habit.

* Renee, the 7K member who baits Wade, is played by Paula Malcolmson, who has starred in Deadwood and Ray Donovon and even played one of the Others in Lost.

* Instead of making Schindler’s List, Stephen Spielberg apparently made a movie called Pale Horse. It’s still shot in black and white and still features the scene of the little girl in the red coat wandering through the chaos, but the movie is about the Squid attack as opposed to the Holocaust. Alrighty then.

* Renee claimed that they rigged the lettuce to fall out of their truck to tip Wade off. So does this mean the lettuce was there merely to draw Wade's attention specifically? In the first episode, did the 7K shooter threw lettuce at Officer Sutton knowing Wade would find it significant so they could use it to draw him in later? If so, wow. Pretty roundabout way of getting it done.

* The pattern on Senator Keene’s Rorschach mask looks like a jagged smiley face.

* The Game Warden turns out to be another copy of the male frequently relegated to the role of "Mr. Phillips," although the Game Warden stands apart from the other "humans" within the prison in that he has agency that he acts on.

* We see a lot more examples of this world’s advancements in genetics. Wade’s ex-wife Cynthia works at Forever-Pet, a pet store that specializes in cloning your pet so you never have to lose it; half of the store’s employees appear to be cloned humans too. We also find out that Lady Trieu may not have been entirely joking last episode; if a clone is imperfect, they are quietly incinerated, as seen with the cute little puppy in this episode. And the man speaking at Wade’s Extra-Dimensional Anxiety group meeting was born ten years after his mother died of the psychic blast in New York, but is suffering because he claims to have retained some of his mother’s memories of the event. Wade seemed a bit insulted by this, which I totally get, but the guy might be right; in the previous episode it certainly seemed as if Lady Trieu’s daughter was haunted by her mother’s memories.

* Wade's decision to retrieve the newly arrived EDS package after throwing it in the garbage was interesting. Is it meant to show us that, despite knowing the truth, he's not ready to let go of the pain that has ruled his life for so long?

Quotes:

‘80s Punk Girl: You wouldn’t wanna get nuked before you get fucked.

Looking Glass: You bugged my cactus?
Laurie Blake: Well, don’t take it personally. I’m FBI, we bug shit.

Cynthia: You have your pick of good women, so why do you keep getting mixed up with the ones that are just gonna kick you in the balls?
Wade: I picked you. You’re a good woman.
Cynthia: And for seven years I tried to convince you that I wasn’t gonna run off with your clothes and leave you naked all by yourself.
Wade: Huh. Seven years of bad luck.

Wade: We know there are other dimensions than this one, but this is the one where we live. And we will not live in fear.

Joe Keene, Jr.: You wanna guess what that bad boy’s for?
Wade: You’re gonna open up a portal in Tulsa. Drop another squid on us.
Joe Keene, Jr.: Come on. Where’s the originality in that? No. No, we’re gonna do something new.
Is Damon Lindelof just talking to us now?

Joe Keene, Jr.: So Wade, you can tell your cop buddies I’m running the Kavalry and I’ll convince them you’re crazy, which will not be difficult given your secret shiny hats, or you can press play and finally be free. I leave it entirely in your hands.
That last sentence is also the last line in the graphic novel, if I recall.

Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias in 1985: (to Robert Redford in 1993) But now, I’m sure as you watch this, mankind is ready for change. I envision a stronger, loving world, committed to caring for the weak, reversing environmental ruin, and cultivating true equality.
Oh, you poor, dumb son of a bitch.

Veidt: I DID IT!

Looking Glass: Is anything true?

Five out of five broken mirrors.

2 comments:

Desomondo said...

Five out of five indeed. Great write up! So far this show has been a wonderful surprise, especially when comparably shallow series like The Mandalorian are getting all the attention right now. I just hope they can keep it up till the finish line. I'm really glad someone is covering this gem. Thanks Logan!

Logan Cox said...

I wasn't sure about this show at first, but I'm very glad that I started reviewing it now. I'll be disappointed if this show doesn't find its audience, but I know a lot of people are turned off right away by it being an expansion to something as hallowed as Watchmen. And if that didn't do the trick, then its very timely subject matter has for many others. Which, in my opinion, only proves the show's point.

It is good to know there are those who enjoy the show and my reviews, though. Thank you for the comment.