HBO’s Watchmen is full of all sorts of nods and references to the original comic book series–what else would you expect from the creator of Lost adapting one of the most famously dense graphic novels of all time?
The show certainly doesn’t hold your hand when it comes to playing in the Watchmen sandbox, which can be a little intimidating–but don’t panic. That’s why we’re here. Whether you’re still on the fence about diving into each episode or you simply want a refresher of the comics, we’re going to break down the Watchmen mythology for you piece by piece. First up? Ozymandias, giant squids, and the end of the Watchmen story in the comics.
Obviously, major comics spoilers from here on out, and some minor spoilers for the first two episodes of HBO’s Watchmen. Please proceed with caution!
In the show, there are squids everywhere in Tulsa, and presumably, the rest of the world, if the headlines about “interdimensional attacks” and “hoaxes” on newspapers like The New Frontiersmen are any indication. They occasionally rain down from the sky. Kids learn about them in school. So, what’s the deal?
It all relates back to Ozymandias’s grand scheme to avoid nuclear annihilation and end the Cold War back in the 1980s. In a twist on the typical supervillain tropes of the superhero genre, Adrien Veidt, one of the smartest people in the Watchmen world, had concocted a plan that would, in his mind, be the only real way to prevent the Doomsday Clock from actually ticking down to midnight. By way of careful manipulation and liberal use of his public persona as a billionaire genius and former superhero, he set up what essentially amounted to a long con. He would stage a massive “alien invasion” with the help of experimental tech developed in secret by his company, in New York City. The “alien” creature–a giant squid-like monster–would teleport in, seemingly from another dimension or planet, and kill thousands upon thousands of people, both from the sudden destruction caused by its body appearing in the middle of Manhattan and because of a “psychic blast” it would emit that would fry onlookers’ brains up to miles away.
In reality, the creature wasn’t an alien, or even from another dimension at all, but a genetic mutation Veidt himself had developed in a lab. The teleportation wasn’t a gateway to another world or an attack, but teleportation tech Veidt had invented that would move objects from point A to point B, in this case with “point A” being one of Veidt’s secret labs and “point B” being New York City. The psychic blast, however, was real–the creature Vedit designed did very much have the ability to fry people’s brains, and it did. The resulting loss of life numbered in the millions.
The goal of the squid was, for all its frills, pretty simple: The “attack” would functionally force every major government superpower in the world to stop looking at one another as enemies and immediately pivot their attention to this looming extraterrestrial threat. By Veidt’s calculation, humans are simply not designed to be peaceful; they can only have their aggressions redirected and refocused on things that aren’t one another–in this case, an enemy that they will never actually be able to find, much less fight or kill, because it doesn’t actually exist. In that way, the squid attack had to be completely and 100% believable–the sort of wild goose chase that would keep every country in the world so distracted and fixated that the idea of blowing each other up wouldn’t even be on anyone’s radar anymore.
Sure, the whole thing cost millions of innocent lives, but better that than a full-on nuclear holocaust, right?
Of course, the graphic novel ends almost immediately after the attack. We get to see the dust beginning to settle, and it seems that Veidt was correct. Almost instantly, Russia and the United States come to a peace agreement, characters comment on the community’s abrupt mood swing from anxiety and fear to peace and love, etc. But what we learn in the TV show is that things aren’t that simple. For one, Rorschach–one of the only people to fully uncover Veidt’s plan–did indeed have his journals published by the New Frontiersman. Unfortunately, Rorschach was also a known sociopath with a criminal record and a reputation for psychotic delusions, so the details he was able to lay out about Vedit and the attack were never widely accepted.
In fact, rather than debunking the squid, the publication of Rorschach’s journals really only managed to galvanize radical groups like the white supremacist organization The 7th Kavalry in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and provide dogma for conspiracy theorists.
Interestingly enough, somewhere in the 30-year time jump between the end of the Watchmen comics and the start of the Watchmen TV show, someone involved in Veidt’s plan–or perhaps Veidt himself–apparently engineered some sort of failsafe. Tiny squids rain down harmlessly from the sky in “transdimensional attacks,” presumably meant to keep everyone on their toes–but where they’re coming from or how they’re happening remains a mystery. Veidt himself is missing and has recently been declared dead, but knowing what we know about his hoax, it’s safe to assume that these squid rains are not random and certainly not actually coming from another dimension. Someone must be pulling the trigger somewhere.
The question is who? And what would happen if, 30 years later, Veidt’s carefully stacked house of cards were to come crumbling down? Would the peace he sacrificed so many to earn survive the collapse? Was it ever really peace at all?
With any luck, these questions and more will be answered on the show in the future. HBO’s Watchmen airs Sunday nights at 9PM.