Watchmen’s fifth episode opens in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1985. For fans of the comic—or anyone who’s been paying close attention to the show—that year should immediately ring some ominous bells. But even if you’re bad with dates, no doubt you were quickly clued in that something was up once the bodies started dropping. And failing that, you surely noticed what looked like a giant squid, writhing atop the Manhattan skyline.
In Watchmen’s slightly skewed version of our world, this is what happened on November 2, 1985, “a 9/11-like event,” in the words of showrunner Damon Lindelof, that served as the climax of the comic. Still, most of what actually happened on “11/2” has never been seen until now. The comic punted, focusing instead on the bloody, tentacle-strewn aftermath. Zack Snyder’s 2009 film cut the squid altogether, with Snyder blaming the squid’s absence on the runtime he’d need just to make it seem, well, a little less ridiculous. So now that HBO has finally given us all the hot, giant-alien-squid action we’ve been craving, it’s only natural that you might have some questions. Here’s everything we know about Watchmen’s squid.
Yep, a squid (or something like it) landed on New York City in 1985.
Just before midnight on November 2, 1985, an enormous tentacled monster appeared suddenly in the heart of Manhattan. Most of its body materialized inside the Institute for Extraspatial Studies, a research hub for possible extra-dimensional energy sources. The creature’s massive tentacles exploded upon impact, killing it instantly and, generally speaking, making a huge mess of the city. Most of those who weren’t crushed by crumbling buildings or falling cephalopod chunks mysteriously collapsed, blood pouring from their ears. All told, half of New York (approximately three million people) died beneath the squid that night.
The squid was the work of Adrian Veidt.
The monster was the final act of a complex plan Veidt first began hatching in 1966, after Edward Blake/The Comedian (father to Jean Smart’s Laurie Blake) pointed out to Veidt the inevitability of mankind destroying itself with nuclear war. Determined to avert extinction—and to deny Blake the pleasure of being right—Veidt began meticulously plotting to stage a cataclysmic event, one that could terrify the world into forgetting its petty international squabbles.
Veidt (played by Jeremy Irons in HBO's series) started by perfecting the technologies for teleportation and genetic engineering. In 1970, he purchased a remote island, where he stashed a collective of scientists and artists whom he tasked with creating “a monstrous new life form” that could finally scare Earth straight. Meanwhile, he cleverly stoked humanity’s fears of an alien invasion by screening retro science-fiction movies at his repertory movie theater, Utopia (right across the street from the Institute for Extraspatial Studies), and by planting subliminal messages inside ads for his company’s products.
When Blake stumbled upon Veidt’s secret island, Veidt killed him in order to cover it up, setting most of the events of Watchmen in motion. At some point, he also blew up the ship that was ferrying his monster’s creators back to the mainland. According to documents compiled by Agent Petey, the creature later dissolved into “a puddle of harmless water” and evaporated before anyone could study it.
The squid was made from the cloned brain of a dead psychic.
In addition to being massive and gross, Veidt’s monster was outfitted with a powerfully augmented brain cloned from that of Robert Deschaines, a medium who’d died of stroke at a young age, and whose decapitated head was stolen from a mortuary. Veidt acquired Deschaines’ brain and had his geneticists transform it into a “psychic resonator” capable of broadcasting grotesque images and sounds. Most of these images were created by Max Shea, writer of the gory pirate comic-within-a-comic Tales of the Black Freighter, who concocted grisly images like baby squids chewing their way out of their mother’s womb. The squid unleashed this awful mental payload on impact, flooding the minds of everyone in the vicinity. As Wade witnessed in Hoboken, most of them died instantly of shock. Many others were driven insane. According to Veidt in the comics, “Sensitives worldwide will have bad dreams for years to come.”
The squid actually worked.
The Dimensional Incursion Event, as it came to be known, was immediately successful in pulling the world back from the brink of war. As the world witnessed the devastation in New York, Russia declared it would cease all Cold War hostilities until the new external threat could be assessed and dealt with. Veidt was triumphant, and the progressive utopia he dreamed of became a reality—at least, for a little while.
And yet, the squid was a lie.
Veidt’s fellow masked crimefighters, including Laurie, discovered the secret behind his “greatest practical joke in human history,” but they were too late to stop it. They came to the cold realization that they would have to go along with the ruse, or risk upending the fragile peace and dooming humanity all over again. They agreed to help Veidt cover it up—all except for Rorschach, whose unflinching moral absolutism wouldn’t allow it. Unable to convince him to remain silent, Doctor Manhattan vaporizes Rorschach.
Rorschach exposed the truth, which led to the Seventh Kavalry.
In the final panels of the comic, Rorschach’s journal—where he wrote down everything he knew about Veidt’s ploy—ended up in the office of conservative newspaper The New Frontiersman. As explained by Agent Petey’s dossier, the journal was eventually published, becoming a counterculture classic among fringe radicals. On the show, many of them now form the ranks of the Seventh Kavalry, a domestic terrorist group in Rorschach masks that seeks to dismantle the entire system Veidt built upon his lie.
Nevertheless, the squids persisted.
As we saw in the premiere episode, the squids (albeit much tinier) still fall from time to time, an occurrence that’s common enough to necessitate a dedicated municipal squid crew. However, we still don’t know exactly how those squids and Veidt’s big squid might be connected. Could they be hoaxes as well, designed to make another alien invasion, in Petey’s words, “a threat kept top of mind by random downpours of fetal cephalopods,” as well as to make the original D.I.E. seem all the more believable? If so, who’s creating those squids? Is it Veidt again? Or Lady Trieu, who assumed control of Veidt’s genetic engineering company around the time of his disappearance? Could this be the work of the Robert Redford administration? Is this the world that liberals want—terrified and covered in squids? Given that Watchmen is bringing this major moment from the comics front and center again, and Lindelof has promised that all your questions will be answered by the season finale, we’re guessing we’ll know soon enough. In the meantime, keep watching the skies. And the squids.
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