Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Watchmen premiere, episode one.
Here’s every reference, Easter egg, world-building development, and plot point you need to know from the premiere of Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen on HBO.
The Episode’s Title
If you’re the biggest fan of Oklahoma this was probably the greatest episode of television you’ve ever seen, and not just because it included a stage performance of the musical’s title track. The episode’s name, “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice,” is a lyric from another Oklahoma song, and it contained some major foreshadowing about the episode’s shocking end.
Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921
The show’s opening scene is not from an alternate history of the United States. It was a real event that took place from May 31 to June 1, in what is one of the worst race riots in American history. White citizens in the highly segregated city of Tulsa tried to storm a courthouse where a young black boy was under the protection of armed black men, some of them WWI veterans like the father seen in the episode. After shots were fired the black citizens, outnumbered 1,500 to 75, retreated to the neighborhood of Greenwood, an affluent part of town known as “Black Wall Street.” From History.com:
“Over the next several hours, groups of white Tulsans—some of whom were deputized and given weapons by city officials—committed numerous acts of violence against blacks, including shooting an unarmed man in a movie theater.
The false belief that a large-scale insurrection among black Tulsans was underway, including reinforcements from nearby towns and cities with large African-American populations, fueled the growing hysteria.
As dawn broke on June 1, thousands of white citizens poured into the Greenwood District, looting and burning homes and businesses over an area of 35 city blocks. Firefighters who arrived to help put out fires later testified that rioters had threatened them with guns and forced them to leave.
According to a later Red Cross estimate, some 1,256 houses were burned; 215 others were looted but not torched. Two newspapers, a school, a library, a hospital, churches, hotels, stores and many other black-owned businesses were among the buildings destroyed or damaged by fire.”
For decades records and reports on the massacre were intentionally hidden, erased, or ignored, with a near total media blackout keeping the true story hidden from most Americans. There was no memorial service until 1996 on the 75th anniversary. A 2001 report found that, rather than 36 deaths originally reported, “between 100 and 300 people were killed and more than 8,000 people made homeless over those 18 hours in 1921.” The tragedy is now taught in all Oklahoma schools.
The Seventh Cavalry
The show’s white supremacist terror organization known as the Seventh Cavalry takes its name from the 7th Cavalry, a U.S. Army regiment that was created after the Civil War. The unit originally fought in the Indian Wars, and are most famously remembered for being slaughtered in 1876 at the Battle of Little Bighorn, also known as “Custer’s Last Stand.” (That’s why Judd used the code “Little Bighorn” when he paged Angela.) While the regiment has fought in many American wars since then, including WWII, in 1890 the 7th Calvary was responsible for the Wounded Knee Massacre, which marked the end of the Indian Wars. The show’s Seventh Cavalry, which wants to exterminate all people of color, “whores,” and “race traitors,” take their name from the regiment’s early years.
The masks they wear pay tribute to Rorschach, Watchmen comic book’s uncompromising “hero” who was also a fascist with a rigid worldview. He left his journal outlining the truth of Ozymandias’ fake squid alien scheme to the ultra right wing newspaper the New Frontiersman, which ran the story.
Based on the pod interrogation scene the Seventh Calvary believe the otherwise refuted story that “transdimensional attacks are hoaxes staged by the U.S. government.”
It’s not clear who or what is responsible for baby squids raining down with little warning outside of a siren alert, even if the Calvary blames the government for them. Either way, some entity has continued to perpetuate Ozymandias’s lie in order to keep the peace.
The leader of the Seventh Calvary also made two direct references to Rorschach. The first was when he echoed the vigilante’s famous quote about whispering “no” when people call out to “save us.” The other came when the group’s leader said, “And we will never compromise,” just like Rorschach refused to compromise even in the face of Armageddon.
As for their secret grand plan, the group was collecting watch batteries that are no longer sold, “the old kind, with the synthetic lithium, the ones that were making people sick.” Judd Crawford half-jokingly asked if the “Cavalry is gonna make a cancer bomb” with them, which might not be as crazy as it sounds. In the comic book Adrian Veidt did give people cancer to trick Dr. Manhattan into thinking he was responsible for their illnesses. And since Dr. Manhattan was responsible for that lithium battery technology it’s likely they blamed his tech for making them sick.
Masked Police Officers
Three years prior to the start of the show the Seventh Cavalry staged simultaneous attacks on the police at the officers’ own homes. After the “White Night” attack cops started wearing masks to maintain total anonymity, with higher-ranking officers like Sister Night, Red Scare, and Looking Glass dressing up in costumes rather than uniforms with yellow masks. These protective protocols require each officer to have their own cover story for where they are when they are on duty, just like masked superheroes.
The Tulsa police were all frustrated with their colleague, Panda. Responsible for authorizing the release of a police officer’s gun, which is kept locked in their patrol car until Panda is the only one on the force concerned with following the law and not escalating the violence in response to the Calvary’s shooting of a cop.
Panda was unable to stop the implementation of Article 4, which allowed all police officers to be armed for 24 hours.
Judd Crawford also ended the meeting by saying, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” which famously translates to “who watched the watchmen?” Previously that was a cry from citizens fed up with masked vigilantes. Now it is a rallying slogan for the police.
Watchmen‘s America of 2019
Robert Redford has been president of the United States for nearly 30 years, during which time he has governed as a liberal. At some point under President Redford the U.S. instituted reparations for Black Americans, derisively referred to as “Redfordations” by that burgeoning young racist who asked Angela Abar if she used that money to open her (fake) bakery. Another question asked during the pod interrogation implied these reparations have come in the form of not taxing black Americans. Tim Blake Nelson’s shiny-mask wearing Looking Glass asked the Seventh Cavalry member, “Should all Americans pay taxes?” and he answered yes.
Vietnam is also a U.S. state, dating back almost 50 years during Richard Nixon’s extended presidency after Dr. Manhattan led the U.S. to a decisive victory. Angela Abar was born there three years prior to Vietnam joining the Union.
President Redford is not popular with right-wing Americans. The trailer park where Angela kidnapped the Calvary member had a giant statue of his predecessor Richard Nixon, and one trailer had “Fuck Redford” spray-painted on it.
Later in the episode, Judd Crawford listened to talk radio in his car as a caller aired some of the right’s grievances with Redford’s liberal policies. He also discussed a possible opponent for the next presidential election, a candidate with a famous name in the Watchmen universe.
“But it’s a hell of a name isn’t it? Senator John Keene was a real cowboy, unlike our current Sundancer-in-Chief. Now thirty years of Redford and what do we got to show for it? More land we can’t live on, more animals we can’t kill, and a six month wait to get a gun for our own protection. Hell, if Joe Junior wants to mount up and gallop into the White House I say let him ride.”
John Keene Sr. was the senator who wrote the 1977 bill known as the Keene Act. In response to an anti-vigilante police strike, it outlawed all “costumed adventuring,” ending the legal protections of masked vigilantes after the public grew disillusioned by superheroes. (Only Rorschach, who precipitated much of the backlash to superheroes after he started executing criminals without trial, refused to comply with the law).
Keene’s son appears to be a viable opponent for President Redford’s right-wing detractors to get behind. With his name and father’s legacy, Keene the younger could stand as a voice against police who now use many of the same lawless tactics the Watchmen employed long ago.
American Hero Story: Minutemen
The premiere teased the upcoming release of a heavily promoted show-within-a-show, a docu-series about the original Minutemen, the official name of the superhero group. The first masked vigilante was the figure seen on the side of the bus, Hooded Justice. His story, as well as those of the first “superheroes” who were seen in a commercial, is likely to be explored in greater detail when we get to “watch” the first episode. What’s clear already though is the history and importance of masked vigilantes on society have not been forgotten. How the former Minutemen are presented – as heroes or lawbreakers – should tell us about the legacy they left, which will likely reflect on the attitudes towards masked police officers now.
The tell-all book Under the Hood by Hollis T. Mason, the original Night Owl and member of the first Minutemen group, was also spotted on Judd Crawford’s desk. Angela Abar also drank out of his owl mug, a clear reference to the superhero Night Owl.
Crawford also flew in Night Owl II’s Archie, the rotund flying apparatus that resembles an owl. How the police came to have Daniel Dreiberg’s technology is unknown, but a fleet of Archies was briefly seen monitoring the skies over Tulsa.
Adrian Veidt, Not Dead
While unnamed, Jeremy Irons is playing Adrian Veidt, the smartest person in the world and former superhero Ozymandias who engineered the fake giant squid attack that united the world in peace in 1985. A newspaper said he has been officially declared dead, though it’s unknown why he went into hiding in the first place and would want to be presumed deceased. It’s also not clear what “anniversary” of his Veidt’s two servants were celebrating.
Mr. Crookshanks and Miss Phillips total devotion and strange behavior (like not being weirded out by rubbing his naked thigh, trying to cut a cake with a horseshoe, and wrapping a gift in fur) could be an indication they were genetically engineered by Veidt, who used the technology to make his monster squid in 1985.
Is Veidt also responsible for the baby squid rains using the teleportation tech he also used then? It would be an effective way to maintain the authenticity of his lie and phony threat decades later. The poster of a squid’s anatomy in the schoolroom highlights how kids only know a world where a transdimensional “danger” could kill them at any moment.
Crookshanks gave his master a pocket watch that resembled – possibly even was – the one once owned by Dr. Manhattan. Veidt’s new play, the tragedy in five acts “The Watchmaker’s Son,” is a direct reference to Dr. Manhattan, who was born Jonathan Osterman, the son of a watchmaker.
Clocks and the passage of time were a recurring motif in the Watchmen comic, and they were found throughout the show’s premiere. Tick tock, tick tock….
The cyanide capsule the Seventh Calvary member used to kill himself was also a reference to the pill Ozymandias forced into the mouth of the assassin he hired to try and kill him (to throw everyone off the scent of his plan) in the graphic novel.
It’s not clear when the big blue demigod came back to Earth’s solar system, but Dr. Manhattan was spotted on Mars during a live news broadcast destroying his own sand buildings. Why did he come back? What does he know about the future of Earth and mankind that would interest him enough to return?
And why didn’t his appearance on Mars generate a bigger reaction from the characters?
Not So Super Heroes
Unlike the Watchmen movie, the “superheroes” of the comic book were not especially superhuman outside of Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias, who didn’t even have superpowers himself. Adrian Veidt was just a genius with incredible physical capabilities.
The unremarkable nature of masked heroes is especially true of the show’s new police super figures, who outside of Sister Night’s hand-to-hand combat skills, mostly looked unremarkable, if not downright silly.
“Pore Jud is Daid,” the song the episode took its title from, is a number where Curly jokingly sings to a somber Jud about what it would look like if Jud hanged himself. Don Johnson’s character Judd Crawford was hanged, and “Pore Jud is Daid” played before the credits.
Judd’s death at the hands of Louis Gossett Jr.’s old man, the same young black child who survived the opening massacre in 1921, was also foreshadowed when he asked Regina King’s Angela “Hey, you think I could lift two hundred pounds?”
She was right – he could.
A Drop of Blood on a Badge
Fittingly the last image of the premiere recreated the iconic Watchmen logo – which had a drop of blood across a yellow smiley face – as a streak of Judd Crawford’s blood dripped onto his fallen police badge.
Did we miss anything? Help us with any references, world-building, or major plot points we missed by sharing them in the comments below.
Featured Image: HBO