You knew it was coming, as sure as an interdimensional anomaly in the dead of night: The definitive Watchmen squid episode. Told from the perspective of Wade Tillman (AKA Looking Glass), the fifth installment of Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen series explores what American life would look like if an alien squid teleported into New York City and killed millions on impact.
Confused? Here’s a quick refresher before we get into Episode Five: If you'll recall, in the end of the original Watchmen comic, Adrian Veidt’s grand plan involves kidnapping a bunch of scientists and writers to dream up a massive squid creature. This squid contains a brain created by the cloned brain of a dead psychic, and augmented to transmit terrible images dreamed up by the writers. Veidt uses one of his company's technology to teleport the being into the middle of Manhattan. As the Watchmen wiki describes:
At midnight on November 2, 1985, Veidt teleports his monster into the heart of New York City. As predicted, large sections of its body (namely its tentacles) explode upon arrival, causing considerable collateral damage and killing the creature instantly. Its death generates a massive psychic shockwave from within its brain, killing half of the population of New York City.
Millions are killed in the incident, and, as Veidt predicted, world leaders believe the Earth is under attack by an alien threat and come together—ending the threat of nuclear war—to fight this new enemy. To be clear, the 2009 Zack Snyder movie changed the ending, removed the squid, and made it an attack to frame Doctor Manhattan. Damon Lindelof's new show ignores this ending and only uses the 12 original comics as canon.
“We're married to certain things that the canon put out, like Vietnam is a state, or that Robert Redford was running for president against Nixon, or that Adrian Veidt dropped an enormous fake alien being in the middle of Manhattan that killed three million people. That is a 9/11-like event. What does 30 years after something like that happens, what does the world look like?” Lindelof told Esquire. “You can’t just do that in passing reference.”
So Episode Five, naturally, starts with Squidmaggedon itself. We see Tillman as a young man in Hoboken, New Jersey, part of a traveling group of preachers attempting to convince people to accept the Lord in time for nuclear doomsday. The group is spreading the good word at a carnival (with some major Stranger Things vibes going on), when a woman pulls Tillman into a hall of mirrors and acts like she’s going to give him a blowjob, only to steal his clothes and run away. Which ends up being the second-worst thing to happen to young Wade that day—the squid drop happens a minute later.
And as we see in the rest of the episode, the event changes Tillman’s life—and America at large—forever. Wade becomes plagued with interdimensional anxiety—which we learn is a nasty combo of PTSD from the squid attack, potentially-permanent brain scrambling from the psychic shockwave, and fear of future interdimensional meddling. Tillman leads a support group for those with particularly unpleasant interdimensional anxiety, and even invests in a heavy-duty security system designed to alert him to any interdimensional screwery afoot.
And that shiny mask Tillman wears? It’s implied in the episode that people believe mirrored material can protect your brain from psychic waves, and that’s why he is almost always either wearing the mask, or a hat with the material underneath it. Elsewhere in the episode, we get a few snapshots of life after squid: People are still extremely hesitant to visit New York City, Steven Spielberg directed an award-winning film about the attack (which sounds a lot like Schindler's List), and we can infer that Episode One’s squid rain, presumably, is a ploy by Veidt to keep up the ruse and make sure people are always fearing another attack.
Near the end of the episode, we get something of a postscript from Veidt’s end of the squidding. Senator Joe Keane, whom we just found out is acting as a mole within the Seventh Kalvary, shows Tillman a 1985 video of Veidt explaining his role in the destruction to President Redford. Veidt admits that it was a hoax, explaining, “The monster will not have come from another dimension at all—but have come from me.”
With seemingly more people learning about what Veidt truly did, expect future Watchmen episodes to explore what characters like Tillman live with that knowledge.
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