The fifth chapter of HBO’s Watchmen takes us right to the end of the comic and reveals how it all happened.
Watchmen is much more of a sequel to the comic than it first seems. It’s set decades later and focuses primarily on a different set of characters, but there’s no question that it’s a direct continuation of the story laid out by writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins more than 30 years ago.
The idea in these weekly looks back isn’t to leave you with spoiler-y details that the show will get into further down the line, but rather to give you the context you need so you can better understand what just happened. If you’ve never read the comics and don’t plan to any time soon, but you still want to keep up with HBO’s Watchmen, keep reading.
Before we get to the big reveal, let’s talk about the original squidfall and what the latest episode does to fill us in on that climactic moment in the comics.
Watchmen‘s world never knew 9/11, but everyone on the planet remembers 11/2. That was the day in 1985 when an enormous and seemingly alien squid creature materialized right in the middle of downtown Manhattan.
The squid itself caused considerable damage, bringing the bustling city to a halt — and, as we see in Episode 5, effectively killing Big Apple tourism for multiple decades after. The squid’s arrival also brought with it an enormous psychic shockwave that caused harm well beyond the immediate ring of destruction in midtown Manhattan.
Poor Wade Tillman witnessed the extended carnage firsthand. He was attending an outdoor carnival in New Jersey, part of some kind of church group, when the squid arrived. We can guess that his being in the funhouse hall of mirrors at that precise moment is what kept him alive when everyone outside seemingly died.
We know some of what happened in the aftermath already: Global powers worked together to end the Cold War and an era of peace ensued. Steven Spielberg made his Schindler’s List mark with Pale Horse, a black and white feature about 11/2.
But in all the time that followed 11/2/85, only a small handful of people actually understood the truth of what happened.
All is revealed
You probably suspected this already, but now you know the truth: Adrian Veidt is a full-blown villain. Villain, right? What he did was really bad, even if it brought about world peace.
Wade’s run-in with the Seventh Kavalry brings a few surprising revelations. Senator Joseph Keene Jr. is apparently in bed with them, and he claims that Judd Crawford, Tulsa’s dear departed police chief, was as well. The two worked together, Keene says, to keep the peace between cops and 7K while they did their work, whatever that is.
But the big surprise of Wade’s stay with the 7K, at least for those who never read the comic, is revelations it brings regarding Veidt. The big squid fall on 11/2 was staged, and so were the smaller incidents that followed — including, presumably, the one in the series premiere.
That’s not all. Veidt also apparently engineered Robert Redford being elected as president in 1992, and he let the incoming Commander-in-Chief in on the big secret right as he was inaugurated. Based on the fact that Redford is still in office at the start of the 2019-set series, it seems like a safe bet that the president has been in on the plan for decades.
In the comic, Veidt’s plan to save the world — that’s how he sees it — started back during his early days as a costumed crimefighter. He realized early on that crime is merely a symptom of the planet’s larger problems, and decided that uniting humanity against something greater than itself was a better bet for curing the world of its ills.
The squid, then, was the product of decades worth of planning. Veidt’s post-vigilante life as a corporate leader gave him the resources he would need to create the “squid,” develop the technology to support his ruse, and subconsciously prepare the people of Earth to accept such an unbelievable turn of events.
I mentioned the Max Shea connection referenced in Episode 4’s comics explainer, and now I can share the rest of that picture. Shea isn’t just the author of the comic’s story-within-the-story. He’s also one of larger group of writers, artists, and scientists who were employed by Veidt and ferreted away to a secret island.
It was on the island, privately owned by Veidt, that the squid plot took shape. Veidt’s sequestered team, led to believe they working working on a secret movie project, labored for months. In a final twist, Veidt had them all killed on their way back to the mainland, in order to protect his secret.
None of this explains what led to Veidt being locked away on — as we just learned! — one of Jupiter’s moons. Doctor Manhattan’s current home of Mars is visible in the sky when Veidt shares his grisly “Save Me” message, but it’s a camera-equipped satellite he seems to be addressing.