Damon Lindelof's sequel series to the landmark 1980s graphic novel Watchmen finally hit HBO on Sunday, and, good lord, it did not disappoint. Lindelof has found a way to take the alternate history and push it into 2019, swapping the original comic's focus on Cold War nuclear fears for America's scourge of white terror of today. Lindelof and pilot director Nicole Kassell also managed to strike a careful balance mimicking the comic's tone without slipping into Zack Snyder levels of imitation.
There are ticking clock motifs, Dave Gibbons-style match cuts, and so, so, so many Easter eggs and references to the source material—even some that are, well, actual eggs. The whole hour-long episode was an almost constant barrage of plot and mysteries to unpack, save for a brief breath to watch Don Johnson do coke and sing show tunes at a dinner table. It's easy to miss every homage and nod to the original comic while trying to do the math to see if that kid who survived the Black Wall Street massacre in 1921 could actually be alive in 2019, or contemplate why a white supremacist terror group likes romaine lettuce and watch batteries so much.
So in honor of Sunday night's Watchmen premiere, here's an exhaustive and kind-of-sort-of-hopefully definitive breakdown of every reference and wink to the original Watchmen comic, from the extremely obvious blood drips to the brief shots of props in the background and beyond.
Are you ready? Let's get started!
DIY Rorschach Masks
Rorschach was already a pretty awful dude, but at least the comic gave us enough insight into his backstory to at least understand how he became that way. The guys who have adopted his look by spray-painting some blobs on a gray Champion sweatshirt or something and called it good like it's the afternoon before a Halloween party? They're even worse.
It turns out that by 2019, a white terrorist group called the Seventh Kavalry has taken Rorschach's journals and run with them, pushing his bigoted, hardline ideas even further into the extreme. According to Chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson), the Seventh Kavalry was behind a coordinated attack on the police in Tulsa now called the White Night—an attack that nearly killed Regina King's character, Angela Abar, and inspired the city's police to start wearing those _Watchmen_-yellow masks (or shiny mirror masks or Panda heads, if they're feeling creative).
It's unclear what, exactly, the Seventh Kavalry are doing with all those watch batteries—a "cancer bomb" seems too obvious, especially given the dense storytelling of the show—but whatever it is, it's nothing good.
OK, some of the references to the original comic aren't exactly deep cuts. Those egg yolks making a smiley face in the bowl? Yeah, we get it. If only there was a little well-placed blood in one of those yolks creating a little drip, but don't worry—that'll come later.
Surprise Squid Storms
Apparently, sudden downpours of squid like a seafood-focused Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs are such a frequent occurrence in the 2019 Watchmen world that cities have early-warning air raid sirens to warn about them. Here's the thing about squid: They're responsible for the single biggest attack on US soil in the Watchmen universe. Spoilers for the comic incoming, but come on, why are you watching the show if you haven't read the comic yet?
In the end of the comic, Adrian Veidt, the ultra-brilliant hero known as Ozymandias, stages an alien attack by teleporting a massive squid creature into downtown Manhattan and triggering a huge psychic shockwave. The plan was supposed to bring the world together around a common enemy, but the comic seemed to set up the fact that Rorschach's journals would expose the hoax for what it is. If there are still mysterious squid appearances in the show and no one is blaming Veidt, though, maybe his secret has stayed safe all these years. We'll have to wait for future episodes to know for sure.
For the record, Adrian Veidt is a very rich, smart, and blond man who would probably be in his late 60s in 2019. Might there be any rich, blond old guys with possible robot butlers in the show? Yeah, so, keep that in mind.
Thanks to Dr. Manhattan winning Vietnam and the Comedian killing Woodward and Bernstein, Nixon remained president well into the 1980s in Watchmen world, even landing his mug on Mount Rushmore, according to a quick shot during the Looking Glass interrogation scene.
In the comic, Robert Redford was potentially on track to unseat him, and according to the poster of presidents in that elementary school and the mentions of "Redford-ations," he's succeeded. Robert Redford may have said that 2018's The Old Man and the Gun would be his last movie, but let's hope Lindelof can coax him out of retirement for a little cameo later on this season.
American Hero Story: Minutemen
Who watches the Watchmen? Well, the characters in the show do, apparently. From the look of the show within the show, American Hero Story: Minutemen is a not-so-subtle riff on Ryan Murphy's American Crime Story, except in this universe, the series focuses around the first batch of masked heroes in the 1940s instead of OJ or whatever.
While we're on the subject of the Minutemen, the sheriff in that 1920s silent film bears more than a passing resemblance to early hero and Minutemen member Hooded Justice, and given the timeline and his Superman-esque origin story, that little kid might just grow up to be the guy himself. Don't expect that to be a plot point in American Hero Story, though, since Hooded Justice's true identity is still a mystery in the Watchmen universe, although fellow Minutemen member Hollis Wilson, the original, Nite Owl, tried to make a guess in his memoir, Under the Hood.
Under the Hood
Chief Crawford had a copy on his office desk. Boning up before the show premiere, perhaps? Hey, same!
Actually, a lot of the news in the show is also pretty superhero-focused, presumably for the same reason. The Watchmen equivalent of CNN is streaming some blurry footage of Dr. Manhattan playing real-life Minecraft on Mars when we pan past a TV screen in one scene, and if we assume that's recent satellite imagery, then the guy is still dicking around on the Red Planet and hasn't made good on his plan to go off to play literal god from the end of the comics. There's also a newspaper headline about Veidt finally being declared dead, leading us to the conclusion that the guy has been mysteriously missing for at least a while now.
But he isn't dead, is he?
The Watchmaker's Son
There's a certain aging man in a castle somewhere, getting weird thigh massages and writing a play. His play, which he tells his butler-slash-actor-slash-confused horseshoe holder, is a "tragedy" called The Watchmaker's Son. If this guy is, in fact, Veidt, there's only one person who the play could be about: Big Blue himself.
Jon Osterman, the normal-skinned guy who would become the blue raspberry-skinned Dr. Manhattan, was just a normal, mild-mannered nuclear physicist and son of, yes, a watchmaker. Using his familial watch skills, Osterman fixes the broken watch of a woman he's seeing, but accidentally leaves it inside the experimental intrinsic field generator test chamber. When he goes back into the chamber to get it, the doors close and lock for a test, and Osterman is completely vaporized—until he somehow manages to rebuild his physical form, atom by atom, minus the hair and plus a very specific blue glow.
The play is presumably about Osterman, which means we know how that the pocket watch prop that the supposed Veidt gives to his butler will be used. And while we're on the subject of the pocket watch...
A Few Minutes to Midnight
That one was an obvious nod to the Doomsday Clock, right? The eggs and the clock were the most blatant references to the original comics, at least until the final shot and...
The Very Well-Placed Blood Drip
We knew it was coming as soon as the slow zoom start pushing in on the badge. It may not be subtle, but the message is clear—Watchmen is back, everybody. And it looks like it's going to be good.