Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Watchmen Wednesdays: Episode 5

A deep character dive into Wade/Looking Glass.

Episode Five, "Little Fear of Lightning," opens with Wade (Looking Glass played by Tim Blake Nelson) in 1985. Wade is on an evangelizing mission from Oklahoma to New Jersey to convert people before the Doomsday Clock hits midnight with the onslaught of nuclear holocaust. Those that have read the original comic book will recognize what's about to happen--a giant squid drops on NYC, thus uniting humanity and diverting nuclear holocaust. Wade lives with the psychological fallout of being within the psychic blast from the squid. Much of the episode is a deep dive into Wade's neurosis.

Wade/Looking Glass with his mask rolled up

The other plot thread of this episode remains Veidt/Ozymandias. He finally realizes his dream of breaking free from his idyllic "prison" by having his clone slaves catapult him out of what we discover is some sort of atmosphere bubble or perhaps a hologram. On the other side, he walks on a moon around Jupiter. Out of the bodies of dead clones he catapulted last episode, he spells "HELP" just in time for a satellite to float by and snap a photo. He's jerked back to "earth" by the Game Warden, who says he's under arrest. The Game Warden is masked, so we still don't know who (or what) he is.

Ready to moon walk

One of the final plot points to keep in mind going forward is that Wade betrays Angela/Sister Knight to Agent Blake. But more on this in a second. 

Over the past five episodes, showrunner Damon Lindelof has switched from a plot driven series--following the mystery of who killed police Chief Judd Crawford--to multiple mysterious plot threads that focus on character motivations, such as this episode with Wade's fear of extra-dimensional attack. While this decision doesn't help progress the plot that much, it does engage with some of the social justice issues that are permeating the plot and characters of Watchmen.

This episode in particular demonstrates how white supremacists radicalize others in a way that feels incredibly relevant to the current rise of fascism in the US. Let's take a closer look at Wade.

  1. As a child, he's not only religious but a part of a cultish doomsday group. On an evangelizing mission is when this idea is shattered by the falling squid, which is tied up in his PTSD. 
  2. This experience leaves him with PTSD that we see him working out through a type of anonymous meeting. His PTSD appears to have broken up his marriage with a successful woman, further destabilizing him. 
  3. After meeting with a woman who Wade instantly likes, and who also experiences paranoia over extra-dimensional attack, he ends up believing she is working for the Seventh Kavalry and follows her to one of their headquarters. This relationship, though short, continues to destabilize what the "truth" is for Wade. It also further ostracizes him as he claims he doesn't have any friends and then is tricked by this woman.
  4. The Seventh Kavalry capture him and basically red pill him by revealing the "truth"--they show him videos that state the squid was created by Veidt/Ozymandias as part of a decades-long plan to have Robert Redford elected president and make for a more peaceful and equitable world. 

While the viewer is unsure whether Wade has been converted to the Seventh Kavalry, the first thing Wade does afterward is purposefully betray Angela/Sister Knight, which causes an all too familiar scene: A black person with hands up and police with guns drawn while a white person watches.

One of the more sinister moments of the series also happens during Wade's capture. The Oklahoma senator Joe Keene (James Wolk) is revealed as part of the Kavalry as was Judd Crawford, the police chief with a Klan hood in his closet. Keene says: "Each of us manag[ed] our respective teams to keep the peace." While such a line can go unnoticed, it points to the power structures seen in place today as inherently racist leadership maintains power, whether it's Iowa Representative Steve King or ICE agents. Watchmen continues to be subversive since episode one, and even though Wade's episode only inches the plot forward, the social justice issues again play an important role.

And, let's not forget that Watchmen somehow turned a joke into political commentary with squid-pro-quo. Even Veidt couldn't have planned better timing.


Phoebe Wagner currently studies at University of Nevada: Reno. When not writing or reading, she can be found kayaking at the nearest lake. Follow her at phoebe-wagner.com or on Twitter @pheebs_w.

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