“Little Fear of Lightning,” the most masterfully crafted episode of Watchmen yet, is the most Lindelof-ass hour of the series, uniting itself around a single image – the fun house mirror – and projecting out the author’s many, many thoughts on identity, reason, morality… and specifically, justice. The gods are unkind in Lindelof’s work, and the cosmic injustice of Looking Glass’s life is laid bare in “Little Fear of Lightning,” an hour that beautifully walks the line between character piece and narrative fulcrum.
Watchmen is firmly back on track with “Little Fear of Lightning,” a thematically rich hour that firmly embeds itself in the history of its inspiration, and yet never feels handcuffed by it.
Opening on the fateful night of Eleven-Two (the day Veidt’s monstrous concoction was dropped on New York), “Little Fear of Lightning” is an origin story of Matt Jamison-esque proportions. Like Matt on The Leftovers, Wade is a man of faith, to an overwhelming degree: he believes the government’s story of Eleven-Two being an alien attack so much, he lives in paranoid fear of it happening again. He has a special (albeit buggy) security system, attends a support group for other survivors, and even bases his masked identity around the moment where his religion changed from fearing an ethereal white dude, to a big ass motherfuckin’ squid.
From the episode’s opening scene, “Little Fear of Lightning” drenches itself in Watchmen‘s history; from the Knot Top-ish girl who steals all Wade’s clothes (and promptly dies a gruesome death), to references to Veidt’s old perfume company, the fifth hour of Watchmen lives in reverence to its source material. In a way, it turns Wade – a dude whose obsession and fear ruined his marriage, and left him a paranoid life of bad luck and solititude – into the series’ own Rorschach for a moment, as the man with the uncanny ability to spot a liar suddenly realizes he’s the one whose been played for the past three-plus decades.
Though ostensibly a gentler, slightly more gathered individual, the similarities between Watchmen‘s original protagonist and Wade as “Little Fear of Lightning” continues are potent, and help further the aura of reflection and redefinition (… like a Rorschach test would) that is the episode’s backbone. The first two acts spend the episode neatly arranging the pieces of his strange, quiet life – and the third act brings them all crashing to the ground, forcing Wade to cling to the very few fundamental beliefs he has: mistrust and fear, the very same tools the Seventh Kavalry’s inspiration derived his sense of purpose from.
(I mean, he even eats a can of beans this episode… how obvious could the parallels get?)
His final question – the one he proposes to Night just before letting her into Laurie’s trap – is “Is anything true?” It’s a question I imagine most Americans post Eleven-Two (or in our world, 9/11) have had to ask themselves over the years. Steel beams in our universe, sentient tentacles in Watchmen‘s; the point is, whatever the actual facts of either event are, there are always questions bad people are willing to provide answers to.
In this case, it is Ozymandias and Senator Joe Keene that provide Wade with the answers he never knew he wanted; and it is the second time everything in his world is utterly and absolutely shattered. After learning Judd and Joe Keene worked together to form the “peace” in Tulsa – and that the Kavalry is experimenting with an outlawed teleporter, for an “original idea” they have – Wade watches the infamous Ozymandias video, where he details his plans to save the world to future-President Redford.
This all comes after he watches his ex-wife incinerate a puppy in front of him (it was just a little bit too small, after all), and the first girl he’s kissed in ages reveals herself to be part of the white nationalist group he’s been at war with. In a series fascinated with the power of perspective, “Little Fear of Lightning” spends its entire time treating Looking Glass like a Rubik’s Cube, the patterns of his life rearranging over and over until they’re a complete mess of half-truths, disappointments, and traumatic memories, all vying for absolute control of Wade’s sanity.
There isn’t enough Reflecteen in the world to protect Wade’s mind from the truth, the single most weaponized element of Watchmen‘s 2019 America. From the moment Veidt completed his creature and killed his entire creative team, the truth of what really happened in 1985 has rested with a handful of individuals; one a god, another an imprisoned genius, and a third one of the most pragmatic federal officers in the country. They’ve successfully protected the lie in the name of world peace; but as that dam prepares to break, the Seventh Kavalry is poised to deliver a historical moment of such devastating, unfixable damage, it would be a massacre on a level no physical, traditional weapon could ever replicate, even nuclear (which makes me think about the scientific theories around nuclear winter could mitigating the effects of climate change).
In Watchmen‘s 2019, the government (we can assume) is continuing to drop squid fall on the nation, a little reminder of the thunder brought down in the episode’s opening moments; and as that realization crosses Wade’s fact, it provides deep, necessary context to how the world of Watchmen operates on a fundamental level. The ever-present threat of another disaster serves two purposes; it reminds humans to be obedient and fearful… and it also ensures said population is cognizant of their own mortality, which helps give context to some of the general disregard for the sanctity of life we’ve seen throughout the series.
“Little Fear of Lightning” is able to do all this, and still leave plenty of room for Tim Blake Nelson to chew up the scenery, as Wade’s world is broken into jagged pieces around him once again, which is just an absolute pleasure to watch. His even-mannered temper, even when everthing is blowing fucking mind, subtly gives room for the thematic material room to shine: his performance is careful and deliberate, but measured in a way to carefully build out the traumatic ironies of his character (and unfortunately, what appears to be a potentially terrible fate).
After a couple weeks of thumb twiddling, Watchmen is firmly back on track with “Little Fear of Lightning,” a thematically rich hour that firmly embeds itself in the history of its inspiration, and yet never feels handcuffed by it. It is a creative tightrope to walk that is downright mesmerizing when pulled off as it is here, a re-purposing of the novel’s ideals and ruminations in ways that feel prescient and fresh, rather than stale and imitative.
Not only is “Little Fear of Lightning” a great hour, but is an absolutely essential one, the moment where Lindelof and company finally spread their wings, briding the gap between past and present, setting themselves free in the process (as the preview for next week’s episode proves; this show is about to get fucking nuts, and quickly). Most importantly, it reminds us the absolute power of truth, perspective, and just how fucked up things can get when “both sides” end up being members of the same team. As normal as it looks on the surface, Watchmen‘s world is a fun house mirror of distorted truths and elaborate, false representations of self: I think Wade might agree the only time anyone is being completely honest with themselves and the world around them, is when we’re completely naked and alone, and there’s truly nowhere to hide.
Laurie: “I’m the FBI. We bug shit.”
Deadwood‘s Paula Malcomson plays the woman who seduces (and manipulates) Wade into his meeting with Joe Keene. She is one of my favorite actors, and if you haven’t seen her in the Deadwood movie, you really should.
Ozymandias’ prediction was for Redford to become president in exactly 7 years, which he did. 7 years imprisoned, 7 years until president, all signs pointing to episode 7 as the one Where The Big Thing Happens… Lindelof sure loves patterns and numbers, and this is one of the more fun ones he’s done in awhile.
It appears Ozymandias is jailed on a moon of Jupiter… which isn’t Dr. Manhattan’s favorite planet, which may be a hint towards who imprisoned him. Then again, the Warden mentions a “him” when he talks about the god who abandoned him and the clones.
boy, if this episode had aired six months from now, “squid pro quo” would feel way too on-the-nose.
In this week’s American Hero Story: two heroes have gay sex. Weakest scene of the episode by a long shot, though Wade’s nacsent curiosity gives it a strange hint of subtext.
Keene, grinning: “I’m not a murderer… I’m a politician.”
Ozymandias, in the present, takes a trip to one of Jupiter’s moons, and makes an SOS sign out of his servant’s bodies that a Trieu satellite captures. (It reads “SAVE ME D”… could he be asking Dr. Manhattan for help?)
Angela is certainly in for a fun time, after downing a bunch of pills consisting of her grandfather’s memories while getting arrested. See you on the other side, Sister Night!
Are they going to do anything with Red Scare and Panda? I’m starting to wonder if these two side characters will end up the weakest elements of the series.
In this world, Steven Spielberg directed Pale Horse instead of Schindler’s List – the visual motifs remained the same, only the topic matter of a more recent act of mass murder.
Though the references to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea are more obvious (Friends of Nemo, the episode title, etc.), there are hints of Through the Looking-Glass in it, as well, as Wade goes through the literal rabbit hole of America’s hidden truth.