I really only have one pressing question after the last episode of Watchmen and that is: Is Wade okay?! We’re heading into the back half of Watchmen, and things are coming together, though Wade’s fate remains unclear. We might not get an answer to this question, as episode 6 looks like a trip into William Reeves’ memories by way of the pills Angela took. We’re going to get some more answers by taking a side trip down memory lane while Angela is tripping balls. With a show this dense and symbol-laden, that should be fun. The preview certainly looks trippy. I hope we find out not only Wade’s fate, but also maybe what Bass Reeves has to do with anything.
My broader, thematic question for Watchmen at this point is where the conspiracy narrative is going, and what, if any, point Watchmen is making ABOUT conspiracy narratives. Film and culture critic Lindsay Ellis broached this topic on Twitter this week, noting that Watchmen is leaning into “9/11 trutherism” but isn’t really saying anything about that (so far). There are still four episodes to go, so Watchmen may well build to some grand point about conspiracies, but let’s take a look at what has developed so far, and what point has, or has not, been made.
We know from the graphic novel that the squid attack was, in reality, an inside job. Adrian Veidt orchestrated a hoax to make people think that space squids could kill them at any moment, but really, he brought the squid, he MADE it happen. Rorschach’s journal, detailing Veidt’s plan, has been relegated to the conspiracy pile, embraced by truther nutjobs like the Seventh Kavalry. Except in this world, the truthers…are right. The space squid (“11/2”) IS an inside job. Just as with Steven Spielberg making a movie about the squid attack and not Schindler’s List, this says something about the world of Watchmen, and it isn’t good. The Seventh Kavalry are a bunch of racists devolved from the KKK, but they’ve also got the power of truth on their side. That’s an interesting choice? For a group that we are socially and culturally conditioned to see as the bad guys? But they’re doing the hero’s job of revealing the greater truth to people?
This is where “wait and see” for the final four episodes kicks in, because maybe Watchmen finds some way to completely flip this on its head. But it is a little distressing that, so far, Watchmen is using the trappings of a real-world conspiracy theory to ground its fictional conspiracy without really examining the ramifications. It’s like the Spielberg thing—it’s world building that makes Watchmen’s world recognizable to our own, but it implies a certain amount of moral corruption that has been absorbed as baseline among the populace. Up to now, Watchmen has not tied that assumed moral decay into its themes of justice and race in America. I hope it does. Otherwise, we’ll be in the position of the racist truthers being right about the conspiracy, and nobody likes it when the racist truthers are right.
It’s also similar to how Joker approaches violence. You want to make the edgy, real world parallel, but you don’t actually want to say anything of meaning about the real-world issues, so you just handwave it all as style and render it window-dressing. That’s cheap and cowardly, and I would not accuse Watchmen of being a show that is cheap and cowardly. But it is pushing some buttons, and it will be interesting to see if Watchmen can bring it all together in a meaningful way, or if it does tread into these murky waters regarding conspiracies and just leaves us with mud on our shoes.