Warning: This post contains spoilers for Watchmen.
HBO’s Watchmen TV show tells a separate story from the 1987 graphic novel from which it borrows its name. The graphic novel was set in an alternate version of New York in 1985, at the height of the Reagan era, and dealt with a group of masked men and women trying to figure out who is picking them off one by one. The television series is set in an alternate version of Tulsa in 2019. Everything that happened in the 1985 graphic novel is canon, but the show focuses on totally new characters and a new set of events.
The central character in the show is Angela (Regina King), a policewoman living in Tulsa who — along with her colleagues — was the target of a mass attack several years before by a group called the Seventh Cavalry. The White Supremacist group invaded the homes of police officers on Christmas Eve, killing them and their families.
Angela survived, but in the years since, she and fellow members of law enforcement have been forced to hide their jobs from the public, wearing masks while on duty and resorting to ethically questionable practices when they hunt down, interrogate and capture suspected white supremacists. The tension in the town is informed by the real-life massacre of black business owners and residents in Tulsa in 1921, as depicted in the opening scenes of the series.
While all these characters and elements are new to the show, the series has abundant references to the original story. The white supremacists wear masks inspired by the odious antihero Rorschach from the graphic novel. A character from the original story, Adrian Viedt, shows up midway through the first episode. And the scenes are littered with images of smiley faces and clocks, potent symbols from the original comic. They even may give us a hint of what is to come in the show.
Here are all the Easter eggs and references you may have missed in Watchmen, to be updated after each episode of the show.
Rorschach is one of the most controversial “heroes” in the original Watchmen graphic novel — and arguably in all of comics. He lived by a black and white moral code (as reflected on his ever-shifting black and white mask, which resembled a Rorschach Test). But his personal prejudices against women, gay people, people of color and poor people informed that code. What readers thought of his actions proved, itself, to be a Rorschach test for their own personal and political beliefs.
In the television show, a group of white supremacists have adopted Rorschach’s mask and wear it while carrying out acts of terror. There’s a clear visual parallel between the KKK hoods featured in the first scene of the show when white people, including Klan members, massacre a group of black residents and business owners in Tulsa in 1921, and the Rorschach masks that the white supremacists of 2019 wear later in the episode.
They even quote Rorschach in the threatening video they send to the police, though they offer a slightly altered version. Rorschach wrote in his diary in the graphic novel, “all the whores and politicians will look up and shout, ‘Save us!’…and I’ll look down and whisper, ‘No.'” The men in Rorschach masks in the show end their video with the same message, though they change the word “politician” to “race traitors.”
Dr. Manhattan destroying his palace on Mars
The show offers a fleeting shot of a news cast of Doctor Manhattan on Mars. In the graphic novel, Doctor Manhattan — who gained his powers during a radioactive accident — eventually becomes fed up with humanity and banishes himself to the red planet. There, he builds a giant glass clock-like towering structure from sand.
Eventually, he and his girlfriend, Silk Spectre, debate whether Doctor Manhattan should return to Earth to protect humanity. During the conversation, Silk Spectre becomes frustrated with the fact that Doctor Manhattan can see all of time at once and thus predict everything she will do or say. (Everything is preordained.) As they discuss the past, Silk Spectre realizes her father is another masked fighter, The Comedian, and that she was conceived when he raped her mother. In anger, she throws something at the wall and the entire structure collapses. It is at this point that Doctor Manhattan decides to help humanity, citing the extraordinary series of coincidences that had to happen to lead to Silk Spectre’s birth.
It seems that in the television show Doctor Manhattan has returned to Mars and the U.S. has set up some sort of live video stream to him.
The smiley face in the eggs
During a classroom demonstration, Angela (who masquerades as a baker but is really a cop) cracks three eggs in a bowl, making the shape of a smiley face. Smiley faces show up throughout the graphic novel, beginning with the death of the Comedian in the first scene of the book. He falls out a window and a drop of blood drips across a happy face pin he wears, giving the graphic novel its eventual cover image.
Nixon and the U.S. won the Vietnam War
Angela tells the classroom that she lived in Vietnam both before and after “it became a state.” This is a reference to the events of the comic book: The U.S. won the Vietnam War with the help of Doctor Manhattan. As a result, Nixon was re-elected.
Nixon shows up again and again in the show. The suspected white supremacists live in “Nixonville.” When a suspect is being interrogated in the pod, we see an image of Mount Rushmore, which now includes Nixon’s face. And in the classroom, behind Angela, there’s a poster that lists the “four most important presidents”: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Richard Nixon and the current president, Robert Redford.
Conspiracy theories about the fake alien attacks
During the interrogation scene, the suspected Seventh Cavalry member is asked whether he thinks the otherworldly attacks against the United States are a government conspiracy. This is a direct reference to the events in the final pages of Watchmen.
In the graphic novel, a caped crusader-turned-businessman named Adrian Veidt (alias: Ozymandias, played in the show by Jeremy Irons) orchestrates a fake alien attack on New York City. He argues that creating a fake threat from space will force humans to end their squabbling and unite against this new foe. He’s right: Shortly after the fake invasion, the Cold War ends. But Doctor Manhattan — the only superhero with actual superpowers in the graphic novel — suggests that the peace will not last for long. And it seems that since the 1980s, people have become suspicious of the attack. Perhaps the fact that there have seemingly been no other alien attacks on the planet has nudged conspiracy theorists closer to the truth.
American Hero Story: Minutemen
A bus advertisement introduces a show within the show: American Hero Story: Minutemen. The series seems to riff on the true story of the Minutemen, the group of masked men and women who joined together to fight crime — for better or worse — in the 1940s. The Watchmen graphic novel flashes between a group of younger heroes in the 1980s and their predecessors in the 1940s. In both time periods the various vigilantes’ motives and codes of ethics prove questionable.
The show suggests that the Minutemen have become a key part of American mythology, politics and entertainment in 2019.
“Veidt officially declared dead” headline
Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, played a key role in the Watchmen graphic novel, between killing off many other Masked Men and faking his own assassination attempt and the faked alien attack described above. In the book, Doctor Manhattan leaves Veidt at his hideout in the Arctic. Now, in 2019, it seems that the media presumes him dead. But in the episode, we see him at a fancy castle, living out a strange and opulent existence with bizarre-acting servants.
The blood on the police chief badge
The graphic novel begins with the murder of the masked antihero, the Comedian. He is kicked out of his own window and lands on the ground. A drop of blood falls on a happy face pin that he wears, an image so indelible it eventually served as the cover art for the book. Rorschach begins to investigate the death, discovering a conspiracy as he proceeds.
The first episode of the show ends with the killing of the police chief. The drop of blood on the police chief’s badge mirrors that image of the Comedian’s pin from the comic. It seems that Angela, like Rorschach before her, will have to investigate the murder — and possibly uncover an insidious plot against the police. The image also suggests that the police chief’s honor is stained in some way, just like the Comedian. Could there be more to this man than meets the eye?
Much of the graphic novel is set at a newspaper stand. There, the owner discusses the daily political events with shoppers and passersby, a man with a doomsday sign (who turns out to be Rorschach) marches the streets and a little kid reads a comic book about a man turned to madness who accidentally murders his own family. (His mental breakdown corresponds to the revelation that the so-called heroes of the story are not acting particularly heroically.)
In the TV show, we get a lot of our information from newspaper headlines, carrying on that tradition. It looks like the show will include a nod to those newspaper stand discussions too.
Topher destroys a castle
Angela’s son Topher has a Dr. Manhattan-like moment in the second episode when he is building a castle with toys in his room. When he finds out that his Uncle Judd has been killed, he knocks over the structure, mirroring Dr. Manhattan’s destruction of the glass building he built on Mars, shown both in the graphic novel and on TV in the first episode of the show.
It’s unclear as of yet what the connection between these two actions might be. Topher could just be fed up with humanity and its penchant for evil, as Dr. Manhattan was when he decamped to Mars in the graphic novel. Or perhaps there’s a more direct parallel at play: Could Topher be mimicking Dr. Manhattan? Does he see him as a hero? What will that mean for what he does in the future?
The Minutemen TV show warning
We get our first real glimpse at the American Hero Story: Minutemen show within a show, which was advertised in the background of episode 1. The show chronicles the deeds of masked “heroes” like Hooded Justice (the man with the noose around his neck who violently stops a store holdup) and Captain Metropolis. Minutemen begins with a warning that the content is racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, homophobic, etc. This is a not-so-tacit acknowledgment on the part of Lindelof that the original graphic novel upon which his show is based was accused of being all those things.
The story about the Minutemen is particularly brutal toward its female characters. Silhouette, the first female member of the crime-fighting group, was voted out by her fellow heroes after the press discovered she was in a lesbian relationship. Silhouette and her girlfriend were later murdered in what was considered, at least in part, a hate crime. Another female member of the group, Silk Spectre, was assaulted by the Comedian. She later fell in love with the Comedian, despite the fact that he attempted to rape her, and they had a child together. Her daughter, the second Silk Spectre, struggles to reconcile the Comedian’s attempted rape with her mother’s affections for him — a problematic plot line that has puzzled readers.
Nite Owl’s goggles
Angela goes to Judd Crawford’s house after the police chief is murdered to look for metaphorical skeletons in his literal closet, per the instructions of the old man by the tree where Crawford was hanged. She uses large goggles that look a lot like the goggles Nite Owl uses in the graphic novel to see in the dark. It’s likely that the police have simply started using Nite Owl’s technology: The ship that Crawford flies in the first episode also resembles Nite Owl’s ship.
A play about Dr. Manhattan
Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, seems to have a lot of time to kill in his far-off estate. That includes writing and staging a play based on the life of Dr. Manhattan. His servants turn out to be clones or robots or…something. All the men look the same, as do all the women, and they are very expendable. So expendable, in fact, that Adrian forces them to play out the story of Dr. Manhattan with deadly consequences.
The son of a watchmaker, Dr. Jon Osterman worked at a research base, where he fell in love with another researcher, Janey Slater. As a romantic gesture, he fixed Janey’s watch when it broke. But when he went to give it to her at work, he realized he left it in his lab coat inside a test chamber. There, he gets into a nuclear accident and is vaporized. He’s officially declared dead. Weeks later, parts of his body begin reappearing and it becomes clear that his consciousness survived as an electromagnetic pattern. He learns to control particles and use them to reform himself, equating the deed to reassembling a watch. This is the part that we see reenacted in Adrian’s mansion — stopwatch and all — though unfortunately for the servant playing Jon Osterman, he is actually killed in a fire.
It’s unclear why Adrian continues to be obsessed with Dr. Manhattan.
This episode, “She Was Killed by Space Junk,” centers on federal agent Laurie Blake, who in a previous life fought crime as the second Silk Spectre. That means we get many references to the original graphic novel in this installment.
Laurie’s name alone carries much significance. In the graphic novel, Laurie goes by Laurie Jupiter, after her mother, Sally Jupiter. During the course of the graphic novel, she finds out that her father is Edward Blake, a.k.a. The Comedian. The Comedian, it turns out, tried to rape Sally, and then later Sally fell in love with him, and they had Laurie together. Laurie struggles with this revelation. The fact that she has now taken on her father’s last name is strange and left unexplained.
Laurie’s Dr. Manhattan phone call
The episode begins with Laurie calling Dr. Manhattan, her onetime boyfriend at a phonebooth that supposedly has a line directly to Dr. Manhattan on Mars. Dr. Manhattan decamped to the far-off planet after another masked man, Adrian Veidt (known as Ozymandias), spread the conspiracy theory that Dr. Manhattan was poisoning those surrounding him with radiation and causing cancer. (It turned out that this was a part of Ozymandias’ conspiracy to rid the world of masked men.) It seems Dr. Manhattan is still on Mars since Laurie has to use a Mars phone booth to call him.
Over the course of the episode, Laurie tells Dr. Manhattan a long joke about three heroes dying and encountering God at the pearly gates. She describes her three fellow crime-fighters from the graphic novel and what they did over the course of that story.
The first hero is Nite Owl, who has a fantastic ability to invent but is too weak-willed to actually kill anyone in the name of justice.
The second is Ozymandias, “smartest man in the world” who dropped a fake alien squid on New York City, killing 3 million people. He reasoned that by faking an outside threat, he would unite the world against a possible alien attack and stop humans from fighting one another. He was right: The faux-alien invasion ended the Cold War.
The third is Dr. Manhattan, a blue god-like man with real superpowers who fell in love with two women (Janey Slater and then Laurie). Dr. Manhattan can see everything that happened in the past and everything that will happen in the future. This perspective has warped his view of humanity such that he has no real empathy for his fellow man. All three are sent to hell. Then a woman that God doesn’t recognize walks up and kills god. That woman is Laurie, who is often dismissed or overlooked in the original comic as a superhero’s girlfriend, not a hero herself.
“Comedy begets tragedy” slogan
We get another brief look at an ad for the show-within-a-show Minutemen. (The show, you will recall, recounts the historic deeds of the first group of masked vigilantes, the Minutemen. The Minutemen operated before the Watchmen came on the scene.) This time we see a slogan for the series that reads, “Comedy begets tragedy.” This is a reference to the fate of the Comedian, a masked man who both commits terrible acts — including attempting to rape Laurie’s mother and killing a woman in Vietnam who was pregnant with his child — and meets a horrible end, kicked out a window by Ozymandias. The Comedian’s death kicked off the events of the original story.
Laurie’s pet owl
At the end of the graphic novel, Laurie, a.k.a. Silk Spectre, and Dan, a.k.a. Nite Owl, fall in love and take on new, secret identities, Sam and Sandra Hollis. Their gambit apparently didn’t last, since Laurie is now going by her own name and several people in the episode reference her past as Silk Spectre. Laurie keeps a few momentos from her younger days, including a pet owl as an homage to Nite Owl.
The real Nite Owl, however, is nowhere to be found. We can assume he’s in prison given some cryptic comments by Senator Keane. When the politician visits Laurie’s house he says that if he becomes president he can grant pardons and even “get your owl out of that cage,” presumably referring to Dan’s imprisonment. We don’t know why Dan was arrested. But based on Laurie’s behavior in the episode — and the fact that she works at the anti-vigilante task force at the FBI — we can assume she has renounced her vigilante ways. Perhaps Dan did not.
Laurie has a painting hanging in her apartment that shows four heroes. Beginning with the upper left hand corner and moving counter-clockwise, they are Nite Owl, Ozymandias, Silk Spectre and Dr. Manhattan.
Rorschach was arguably the most controversial Watchmen. He had a strict code of conduct but also bigotted views. His influence looms large in the television show. White supremacists have taken up his masks and wear it while committing hate crimes or killing cops. The graphic novel often quotes excerpts from a journal that Rorscach kept. The diary is filled with homophobic slurs and pronunciations that the end is nigh. In the show, a page from the journal shows up on a slide in an FBI presentation about the white supremicsts who wear Rorschach’s mask. The journal presumably has become public since Rorschach’s death, and an FBI agent describes it as a sort of manifesto for white supremicists.
Before Rorschach traveled to Antarctica to confront Ozymandias at the end of the graphic novel, he mailed the journal to the New Frontiersman, a pro-masked men, right-wing newspaper. After Dr. Manhattan kills Rorschach (unbeknownst to the world at large), the editor of the New Frontiersman instructs a hapless worker to find something in the pile of submissions on his desk to fill two pages of the next issue. The journal sits nearby the young man’s desk, suggesting that the paper will publish Rorschach’s words.
Rorschach was a racist, sexist, homophobic man, and his scribblings probably read as conspiracy theory drivel to most of the world. But Watchmen is a complicated story. This particularly loathsome figure also happened to be quite close to solving the mystery of the murders of masked men, pointing the finger at Ozymandias. It’s likely that the white supremicists in the show embraced both his bigotted views and his actually accurate assessment of Ozymandias’ conspiracy.
That’s probably why Looking Glass asks suspected Cavalry members about government conspiracies to create fake alien attacks: They believe Rorschach. When Laurie visits Looking Glass in the interrogation pod later in the episode, we see a giant squid up on the screen, just like the one Ozymandias dropped on New York City.
During this episode, we get a few more hints as to where Adrian Viedt, a.k.a. Ozymandias actually is. We learn that someone named Lady Trieu bought his company from him. She has since built a structure called the Millennium Clock in Tulsa. At the unveiling she said, “Look on my works ye mighty and despair,” a line from the famous poem “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Later, we see Veidt conducting some sort of experiment — sending his replicated, possibly robotic servants into space. But it turns out his actions are being monitored by some sort of cowboy figure. Veidt finally confirms his identity, signing off a letter as Adrian Veidt, and then puts on his Ozymandias costume. It’s unclear where he is, but we know that he still clings to his past as a vigilante.
The police strike of 1977
Agent Petey tells Laurie that he wrote his thesis on the police strike of ’77 when Silk Spectre and her first boyfriend, Dr. Manhattan, were in Washington, D.C. The strike features prominently in the graphic novel: Cops feared their jobs were being threatened by vigilantes. Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre tried to control the protests in D.C. while the Comedian and Nite Owl tried to control crowds in New York. Eventually, Dr. Manhattan teleported all the D.C. protestors back to their homes, giving two people heart attacks in the process and killing them. Meanwhile, the Comedian outright shot one protestor in New York.
The chaos eventually led to the Keene Act, which outlawed masked vigilantes who did not work directly for the United States government.
Joe Keene as the son of John Keene
Senator Joe Keene plays a prominent role in this episode. It’s revealed that Crawford’s wife Jane used to work for him. We also learn that he was the one who passed the law that allows police officers to cover their faces. He is the person who deploys Laurie to Tulsa to investigate Crawford’s murder. And he’s the target of a Cavalry attack, foiled by Laurie and Angela.
We’re not sure yet what his significance will be in the show, but we can assume that he is the son (or nephew or cousin) of John Keene, the congressman who passed the Keene act outlawing vigilantes in the graphic novel.
The Comedian’s closet
At the end of the episode, Laurie asks Angela what she found in the secret compartment in Crawford’s closet. When Angela asks how she even knew about the secret compartment, Laurie replies, “When my dad was murdered they found a secret compartment in his closet, so I always check.”
She is, of course, referencing the time that Rorschach found Edward Blake’s secret Comedian gear in his closet after Edward was murdered. This is yet another parallel between Crawford and the Comedian: Both were murdered, both found with a drop of blood on their badges of honor (a happy face pin for the Comedian, a policeman’s badge for Crawford) and both were hiding secret, insidious costumes in their closet.
The squid rainfall
In the original Watchmen comic, Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, drops a giant squid on the city of New York in the 1980s in order to convince the world that there is an alien invasion. The U.S. government is so worried about the alleged extraterrestrial threat that they make peace with the U.S.S.R.
Decades on, we’ve seen that mini-squids still fall from the sky: Angela and her son have to pull over in the first episode to wait out one such squid storm. In this episode, we find out that Wade Tillman (a.k.a. Looking Glass) spends his spare time taking photographs of the creatures before they disintegrate.
Given that we found out in Episode 3 that Ozymandias is being held captive in some far-off land, we can reasonably assume he is not the person continuing to create these squids and drop them from the sky. The government may have created them to maintain Ozymandias’ ruse and thus stave off the Cold War.
Alternatively, another powerful figure could be carrying on Ozymandias’ legacy. Lady Trieu (played by Hong Chau) seems a likely candidate. We hear in a previous episode that she bought Ozymandias’ company from him. We officially meet the character for the first time in episode four and learn that she is a billionaire with few moral qualms: She gives a couple a baby in exchange for their house in the opening scene.
Laurie Blake’s history
During a car ride, Laurie posits to Angela that people who wear masks and fight crime are driven by some sort of trauma, usually from their childhood. Angela asks Laurie what her trauma is, and Laurie enlists Petey — the other FBI agent who happened to write his thesis on Laurie and the other Watchmen — to talk about her parents. Petey tells Angela that Laurie’s parents were the Comedian and the first Silk Spectre, two of the Minutemen, the masked men and women who fought crime in the 1940s and ‘50s before the Watchmen came along in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Petey tells Angela that the Comedian tried to rape Silk Spectre. Laurie found out about the assault when she was an adult. All these events are chronicled in the original comic. Laurie comes to the revelation about the identity of her father (the Comedian) and his violent relationship with her mother (the first Silk Spectre) while visiting Mars with Dr. Manhattan, her ex-boyfriend.
The U.S. wins the Vietnam War
Lady Trieu’s daughter has a dream about men invading a village and making her and the other villagers walk for a long time. The daughter is wearing an IV when she has this dream, which suggests that maybe she is on some sort of medication that’s giving her these dreams. When Lady Trieu hears about the dream, she seems happy that her daughter had it and refuses to comfort her. It’s possible that the dream is actually a real memory — either pulled from the brain of Lady Trieu or another person — who lived in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
In the Watchmen graphic novel, the U.S. government uses Dr. Manhattan to win the Vietnam War. Lady Trieu is from Vietnam and, depending on her age, could have been a child around the time of the war. It’s possible that she has memories of her village being invaded by soldiers and masked men alike, and that trauma even motivated her to become the high-powered businesswoman she is today, even buying out the company of the most successful masked man in U.S. history.