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Watchmen 1.5 Review – ‘Little Fear of Lightning’

November 18, 2019 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Watchmen - Little Fear About Lightning
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Watchmen 1.5 Review – ‘Little Fear of Lightning’  

[Warning: spoilers abound for those who have not seen Sunday’s episode of Watchmen.]

There’s a question that Alan Moore’s Watchmen wants to ask its reader. It’s a big, messy question, one without an easy answer. That question, put simply, is this: Was Adrian Veidt right in his actions? In the end of the comic, Veidt unleashes a genetically engineered psychic squid monster on New York City, killing millions of people and driving more insane. It’s a horrific act, but one that puts a stop to what seemed like an inevitable nuclear war between the 1985 powers of the United States and Soviet Union.

It’s not an easy question, but it is an obvious one. It’s so obvious that Veidt himself asks Dr. Manhattan in the text. But that’s the thing; Dr. Manhattan dismisses the question entirely and says when Veidt notes it all worked out in the end, “’In the end?’ Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends,” before leaving the galaxy for “one less complicated.” The question of whether Veidt was right is entirely unimportant to the being who was once Jon Ostrander; whether millions of lives die and suffer don’t matter when you’re so far removed from them by the weight of power.

I know I’m talking a lot about the comic book while I’m supposed to discuss the TV show. But the end of Watchmen and those themes color everything about “Little Fear of Lightning.” In addition to serving as an origin story for Wade Tillman, aka Looking Glass, the episode provides a direct narrative connection to Veidt’s actions in 1985 on a day known in-universe as “11/2,” much like our 9/11. It also draws parallels on how the more power people have, the more they lose sight of whether their actions have significance to those without power.

Watchmen Wade Laurie

Zack Snyder’s Watchmen film was considered by most who saw it to be an almost-entirely faithful adaptation of the comic on the page. How well it adapted the themes is a matter of debate, but there’s only one major thing that, famously, Snyder changed. That would be the method of Veidt’s plan to stop nuclear war. Believing that a giant squid monster would be too much for audiences to accept, he instead turned Dr. Manhattan into a patsy in Veidt’s plan.

But almost like a “hold my beer” response to Snyder’s faithfulness, Damon Lindelof decided to stick with the squid monster. And this week we flash back to see it in all of its horrible glory. It’s a stunning moment that works near-perfectly; it doesn’t quite capture the audacity of the six-page layout of the monster in the book, but it comes damned close. In all fairness to Snyder, Lindelof has had four episodes to prep his audience for what to expect and did a very good job of it. It’s a scene of real horror, magnified through the lens of young Wade’s point of view.

We also learn what that horrific act led to, and exactly how it got there. We already knew that the US government was far from benign at this point, but we learn more directly how corrupt the seat of power is. Again, the higher up you are the more difficult it is to relate to the people below you, and thus see them as important. Veidt specifically laid out his ideal for a liberal utopia to Robert Redford, who he set up to win the White House. That “utopia” is anything but, obviously. And even if it seemed like it on the outside (it doesn’t), I’m pretty sure we should trust any government that Veidt – who, right or not, is undoubtedly the villain of the graphic novel – has laid out.

Watchmen Wade

While the Seventh Kavalry are the ones wearing the mask, “Little Fear of Lightning” does its best to paint Looking Glass as the spiritual successor to Rorschach. It’s not a coincidence that Wade Tillman wears a mask that completely hides his features, after all. There’s a narrative reason that we learn in this episode, of course; it’s made of Reflectatine, which supposedly keeps psychic blasts out. But that in itself gives Looking Glass a distinctly Rorschach-like state of mind. We’re not supposed to be certain he’s entirely sane; he’s literally wearing a the Watchmen equivalent of a tin-foil hat, even when he doesn’t have his mask on.

That’s not the only Rorschach comparison, of course. Looking Glass is a character with a tragic past, who hasn’t escaped his trauma and uses it to fuel his motivations. He lives alone and even eats beans right out of the can. The allusions aren’t subtle, and the point seems to be to paint Looking Glass as the opposition to the men behind the conspiracy, like Rorschach was to Veidt.

Trust Damon Lindelof, then, to flip the script on us while still remaining true to what we’ve seen of Looking Glass thus far. Wade is doing what he can to help people. He serves as a cop – a comparatively honest and competent one, from the looks of it. He leads a support group for people traumatized by 11/2. But as we saw in the opening sequence, Wade’s trauma is understandably severe. And when the gauze is ripped away from his eyes, he has a reason to believe in the light at the end of the tunnel he’s been talking about. That hope is a potent drug, and it lures Wade in, at least for now.

Watchmen Wade Angela

That leads us to an interesting situation. The show ostensibly seems to be setting up a new Ozymandias-type character in Senator Keene’s reveal as the secret head of 7K (not a big shocker, but a potent reveal), which would logically make us look for a Rorschach. If it’s not Looking Glass, is it Angela? She is the investigator, but she’s not the absolutist that Rorschach was. It seems like the more accurate answer is that these characters aren’t analogues. That would be a bit tropey, and while Lindelof doesn’t mind tropes it looks like he’s going for something different here.

Either way, Angela has unwittingly ended up in the crosshairs of some very important people and with Wade compromised, the loop closes on her. That in turn pushes her to a desperate action to ingest her grandfather’s Nostalgia, which is memory in pill form. That strongly seems to suggest that we’ll get some answers next week about Will’s role in everything, and I’m intensely interested in seeing where this goes.

But before then, let’s get back to Veidt. We also see a little bit from him, and his plan becomes clear as he catapults himself out of his prison and uses the launched dead bodies of his clone servants to send a message. It’s now very clear that Veidt is on another heavenly body – presumably Mars or the moon, where he’s been imprisoned in another reality. Going back to the comic again, Manhattan said before leaving, “I’m leaving this galaxy for one less complicated” and suggested he’d create some life. Veidt’s comment about how the clones’ god has left them seems to pretty clearly insinuate that they were the endgame of that statement. How he’ll fit into the present isn’t yet clear, but it’s nice to get some answers around his situation.

Watchmen Veidt

This episode is essentially focused on one character in Wade/Looking Glass, much like episode three focused on Laurie. It’s also, much like that episode, concerned with drawing those narrative through lines between the comic and the show. This one works better for a couple of reasons. First, we have more context here, and “Little Fear of Lightning” is less concerned with setup than it is progression. It doesn’t feel like we’re putting the story to a screeching halt so we can get deep into one character’s mind.

It’s hard to believe that we’re now over halfway done with what this event series (assuming, of course, HBO doesn’t convince Lindelof to do more). There are still a lot of answers left to unspool in the final four episodes of the show. And that could have some people concerned; after all, Lindelof isn’t as well known for his ability to conclude a series as he is for being able to set them up. But it feels like all of the pieces are properly on the table and are just waiting to be set into place. There’s good reason to hope that there won’t be any pieces inexplicably missing by the time the finale airs.

Watchmen Laurie

Some Final Thoughts:

• This week was inundated with a host of musical choices from Howard Jones’ “Things Can Only Get Better” in the 1985 scene to two uses of Frank Sinatra’s “Some Enchanted Evening” and one of “New York, New York,” to multiple versions of “Careless Whisper.”

• Laurie’s casual style of admitting how much she doesn’t care about ethical practices is something I have to appreciate as a character choice. “Don’t take it personally. I’m FBI. We bug shit.”

• As a pop culture freak, I love the little touches that show how this alternate future is different. Like the fact that Spielberg didn’t make Schindler’s List; instead, he made an 11/2 movie using the same elements titled Pale Horse.

• “Squid pro quo.” Man, if I didn’t want to punch Senator Keene in the face before, I do now.

• The fact that the episode ended with 7K men walking up to Looking Glass’ house with guns and not Looking Glass dead makes me suspect they’re not going to be able to kill him. Still, a little concern there isn’t unwarranted.

• That New York City tourism ad is basically all you need to know about Mad Men in about 30 seconds.

• Next week: Angela has visions of her grandfather’s memories. Gee, I wonder if we won’t be able to trust whether the memories are real or not.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
"Little Fear of Lightning" is a stellar example of a character-focused episode that still moves plot and answers questions. The narrative paths drawn between the graphic novel and series are done in a way that should work for newcomers and fans of the source, and it sets up a lot of promising plot elements to come. Add in a wonderful performance from Tim Blake Nelson and you have the best episode the show has given us thus far.