This review contains spoilers for Watchmen, episode 5, “Little Fear of Lightning.” Read our previous review.
Looking at interviews leading up to Watchmen’s release, showrunner Damon Lindeloff has claimed multiple times that Watchmen would be a remix of the original graphic novel. Up until this point, the series has come across more as a sequel than a remix, and while I would still readily call Watchmen a sequel first rather than a remix, “Little Fear of Lightning” is probably the closest the show will ever get to recreating the original comic and giving the audience an idea of the events that took place on Nov. 2, 1985.
Shown through the eyes of a young Wade, we’re able to see exactly what happened to everyone the night that Adrian Veidt saved the world at the cost of millions of lives. Going through a psychic blast naked that left a mountain of corpses had an unsurprisingly negative psychological impact on him. With the exception of DC’s ongoing Watchmen sequel Doomsday Clock, this is our first time seeing what happened to the populace immediately following Ozymandias dropping his squid onto Manhattan.
“Little Fear of Lightning” spends the first half of its runtime following Wade (Tim Blake Nelson) going about his daily routine with the specter of the blast still hanging over him. He runs a support group for people who believe in future extra-dimensional attacks, goes through constant drills in case of future incursions from other dimensions, and even wears a hat to protect himself from psionic blasts at all times. That fear is present in every corner of his life. Even his Looking Glass mask is made from the same material as his psychic prevention hat, making it abundantly clear that, 30 years later, he still lives in fear of what he experienced that day.
The exploration of societal trauma is a nice avenue for the series to explore – and a well-deserved one given the ending of the original comic – but it comes at a price for stopping all forward momentum for the series yet again. If there’s one all-encompassing weakness that Watchmen falls victim to, it is that it cannot keep a consistent pace. This exploration into Wade’s psyche is compelling, but it is at the cost of virtually no advancements in any of the mysteries presented last episode. We do learn that Will’s pills are called Nostalgia – medication that contains a person’s memories – but there’s no new information regarding the oil man, Lady Trieu’s plan, Will’s involvement in the conspiracy, or even who Judd’s killer was.
However, the second half of the episode halts Wade’s development in favor of finally explaining what’s going on with the Cavalry. We learn that not only are the Cavalry experimenting with technology that would enable them to teleport objects, but the head of the Cavalry is Senator Joe Keene Jr. (James Wolk). Keene has been the head of the Cavalry since the White Night and has worked together with Chief Judd to keep the Cavalry in check, having minor skirmishes between the two in order to keep both factions under control. While the specifics are a bit hazy as to how they did this, one fact that is clear is that Senator Keene wants to know who was responsible for Judd’s murder. The Cavalry has its own big plans according to Keene, but Judd’s murder was not a part of it. Now the balance between the Cavalry and the Tulsa PD is threatening his mysterious master plan.
Senator Keene becomes a walking piece of exposition in “Little Fear of Lightning,” but the revelations for Watchmen are still greatly appreciated. The Cavalry seems to have been a directionless and violent group of racists and murderers before Keene restrained them and gave them a new purpose. What that purpose is and how Judd could have allowed it is unclear, though with Keene’s presidential ambitions, the end goal is most likely to recreate a large-scale tragedy on the scale of 11/2 to catapult himself into the Oval Office. But regardless of how noble and altruistic his goals may be, Keene is still willing to utilize a terrorist organization for his own gains.
Keene promises one thing to Wade that he ultimately couldn’t resist: peace of mind. In exchange for stopping Angela for a few days so the Cavalry can conduct its business – which makes me wonder if the Cavalry / Senator Keene and Lady Trieu are in cahoots – Keene offers to show Wade a video where Veidt (Jeremy Irons) admits that the events of 11/2 were a fraud. After years of paranoia and PTSD dictating his life, Wade gives in and agrees to Senator Keene’s demands.
Unfortunately, the knowledge doesn’t give Wade peace. In fact, his reality is shattered. He betrayed Angela (Regina King) for this knowledge and has nothing left. Well, nothing except a group of armed Cavalry members at his door.
Meanwhile, Adrian Veidt finally breaks free of his prison for a few short minutes only to reveal that he’s captive on one of the moons of Jupiter. Using the pile of corpses from his cloned servants, he spells out “SAVE ME” for a nearby satellite, only for him to be yanked back into his quaint prison by the Game Master, who is set to put him on trial.
At this point the Adrian side plot feels like eating your vegetables. For five episodes, it’s been so far removed from the events of the main plot that, once again, the show loses all momentum. Discovering that his story isn’t even on the same planet as our heroes’ is a fascinating development, but at this point I’m more interested in the payoff than anything else. The show needs to stop playing coy and get on with it.
The majority of “Little Fear of Lightning” works wonderfully, but now Watchmen’s problems need to stop getting in the way. Even though everything is starting to come together, the show can’t afford any more diversions. No more Adrian vignettes that don’t reveal their purpose. No more world-building. Most importantly, no more new mysteries. Next episode is set to reveal Will’s backstory and will most likely reveal what he and Trieu are cooking up, with Angela living through these moments in a strange psychological thriller, so one can hope that the show will finally play most of its cards and explain what is happening. Watchmen did a strong job here – now it just needs to follow through.