“Watchmen – Episode Five: Little Fear of Lightning” (2019)
Developed by: Damon Lindelof based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Directed by: Steph Green
Featuring: Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Andrew Howard, Jacob Ming-Trent, Tom Mison, Sara Vickers, Dylan Schombing, Louis Gossett Jr. and Jeremy Irons
Rorschach’s Diary: “Soon they will shout, ‘Save us!’ And we will whisper, ‘No.’”
The Story so far…
The Watchmen series is based on the comic of the same name, taking place in an alternative, contemporary reality in the United States. Masked vigilantes became outlawed due to their violent methods. Despite this, some gather around in order to start a revolution while others are out to stop it before it is too late. In this reality, the Watergate scandal never happened, allowing President Richard Nixon to dismiss term limits and run for five terms and lead the United States to a decisive victory in the Vietnam War with help of some of the vigilantes that sided with the government. The comics events end in 1985 after Adrian Veidt, a former vigilante known as Ozymandias, created a fake alien attack in New York City with millions dead in the resulting psychic shockwave, leading to a new accord between the United States and the Soviet Union ending the Cold War and avoiding a potential nuclear holocaust. Veidt asserts his actions were for the greater good, but they disgust his former allies; Rorschach seeks to tell the world of Veidt’s misdeeds but is vaporized by Doctor Manhattan before he can do so, after which Dr. Manhattan decides to depart Earth, seeking a place less complicated than Earth. Unaware to them, Rorschach had sent his journal to be published before he accosted Veidt.
The fifth episode of the HBO series “Watchmen” has aired, following on from last weeks discoveries this instalment takes a step back as well as revisiting one the key moments from the original graphic novel as well as the denouement of that epic story. That being a flashback to New York, 2nd November 1985, when a giant inter-dimensional squid killed millions and effected millions more, all the while being a plan orchestrated by Veidt who it has now been revealed to be trapped on a moon of Jupiter, obviously put there by Dr. Manhattan. Much of this episode is built around the character of policeman Looking Glass who was a young man in 1985 and present at the squid attack who has been mentally and emotionally scarred and who finds out the truth about not only the giant squid but the intermittent showers of baby squids that we witnessed in the first episode. What is refreshing about this episode (as well as the show) is that almost all characters are treated equally, even though it has appeared that some high profile actors were in support only but have been given their own narratives that are unknown to others but are revealed to audiences. So we spend a large part of this episode with Looking Glass who is a straight arrow until the truth about New York, Veidt and the election of President Robert Redford is revealed to him but his supposed enemy. Of course these type of narratives are popular not only in straight fiction but especially in fantasy fiction where a perceived enemy is actually at the very least the anti-heroes of the story, meaning that many supposed heroes are in actuality the villains or unknowing collaborators in the suppression that is taking place as is the case we, and some of our characters find ourselves in. The other important element is that we have found out where Veidt actually is and that he is has been put on a moon of Jupiter by Dr.Manhattan and that his subjects are there for him as well which it seems they are all aware of. I still hope that Manhattan will make an appearance of some sort which for me will be welcoming especially as it will tie this show more to the graphic novel which after this episode is, for me, mandatory.
Some of the ongoing themes that occur within this episode are of course some of the same that we face today, politics, social commentary, past actions having real effects on the modern world, the reliability of news, forgiveness, racism, left versus right and one of the more important, that of decision making and the outcomes of those decisions. There are of course a multitude of others which will become apparent on repeat viewings and as the episodes unfold from week to week.
Some important aspects to consider in this alternate present:
- The series takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma;
- Vietnam is now a U.S. state;
- Fossil fuels have been eliminated by Dr. Manhattan;
- Robert Redford is the President and has been in office since 1992, he is now the longest-serving President.
- There is an Act named as the ‘Victims Of Racial Violence Legislation’ designed to give reparations for those affected from past racial injustice, which is seen as unfavorable by a large portion of the white population.
- The ‘Seventh Kavalry’, a white supremacy group in Tulsa has taken to the writings of Rorschach and use masks similar to his own.
- Laws are passed to allow the police to take extra precautions to protect themselves and their families, including wearing their own masks.
Whilst there have already been readings of this being about possible white power as well as a variety of what could be called anti-left stances this is far too simple. This new world is not just a place where we have back versus white, but there are serious political, economic and social realties that have come to the fore which like today is something that divides people along rigid lines. Unlike the world in which we live where there is a right wing President in office who seems at peace with disrupting the left as well as behave like some new millennium Nixon this new one is run by the left, so a figurehead like Robert Redford is apt to be able to embody this for all audiences who know his obvious allegiances. This is a world we can see what would happen to the right if the left were in charge, making laws that were not agreed with and where the price for disagreement can be ultimate. We live in an age where right wing politicians globally are making a comeback in many countries and hard liners are making their feelings grow. At the same time we are also seeing the lot flex their own muscles in social media where they are negating others opinions so that wokeness and SJW are able to influence where there should be none, these are juxtaposing narratives which exist in “Watchmen”. I am looking forward to how these dichotomies shake out in weeks to come and if they can be brought together somehow, unlike in real life.
This episode has a new director in Steph Green, it matches the general look and feel of the first four episodes which is to be commended when different people are behind subsequent episodes. Green is a somewhat experienced director of television especially in terms of singular or standalone episodes which is a strength as she is only heeling one episode here, but has enough talent to seemingly fit in well. Interestingly as the episodes move towards their conclusion the narratives are becoming more complicated which means attention and care by the people behind the camera needs to be taken so as to not lose the audience or to over complicate a narrative and plot that has been streamlined to make sure it is one self contained season.
What is unique about the “Watchman” series is that in any given episode we can be in a small room or in a giant machine that keeps time, one a real environment that other a CGI creation but both are as good as each other, the mise en scène for each scene is intricate, important and sometimes extremely subtle. The construction of sets or scenery is as important as the music, the characters or the direction which lends itself to proving why this is a prestige drama. I have to admit that Damon Lindelof has done an exquisite job something I would not have been thought possible.
I cannot wait until next week.
Episode Five: Little Fear of Lightning
Wade suffers PTSD as a survivor of Veidt’s 1985 squid attack. Laurie has bugged Wade’s desk, and knows Angela asked him about the pills. Wade’s ex-wife Cynthia tells him the pills are Nostalgia, which contain other people’s memories. The Kavalry lure Wade to a warehouse, where they are testing a teleportation portal. Joe explains both he and Judd are Kavalry members trying to keep them in check. Joe coerces Wade’s help to learn what Angela knows about Judd’s death, in exchange showing him a video of Veidt, made a day before the 1985 attack, to future President Redford explaining his long-term plan, which shakes Wade’s core. At the station the next day, Wade gets Angela to state that her grandfather was behind Judd’s death. Laurie hears this via the audio bug and arrests Angela, but not before she ingests the pills. Wade returns home after work and Kavalry members arrive with guns. Veidt finds his prison is on a moon of Jupiter, and arranges the frozen bodies of his servents to spell out “SAVE ME” visible to Juno. He is pulled back into the prison and arrested by the Game Warden.