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Watchmen Squid Explained by Showrunner Damon Lindelof

Spoilers for Watchmen Season 1, Episode 5 follow below. If you haven’t watched the episode yet, turn back now! 

Ever since HBO’s Watchmen began, fans of the graphic novel have been waiting to see if the show would address the whole squid thing. While Damon Lindelof’s excellent series is set years after the events of the graphic novel Watchmen, those events did still happen in the world of these characters, meaning on November 2, 1985, a giant squid plopped down in the middle of New York and killed a whole lotta people.

Those who’ve only seen the Watchmen movie may have been confused (in Zack Snyder’s film there is no squid) as Episode 5 of the show flashed back to November 2, 1985 and showed the squid incident from the point of view of a young Wade Tillman aka Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson). And in the present day storyline, Senator Keene (James Wolk) revealed to Wade that the squid was not a transdimensional being, as the public believes, but was instead a creation of Ozymandias’ (Jeremy Irons) intended to prevent the world from nuclear holocaust. And it did! The plopping down of that “extraterrestrial being” halted the U.S. and Russia from pointing nukes at one another and united the world in a singular purpose. But a lot of people died in the process.

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Image via DC Comics

Collider’s own Steve Weintraub spoke with Lindelof about his decision to include the squid, and the showrunner revealed that from the early stages of developing the show he always intended to bring the iconic moment to the screen:

“Super duper exciting, incredibly daunting. From the jump, before we even did the pilot, I said to everybody on the crew ‘Just so you guys know, we’re doing the squid. We’re going to do November 2, 1985, so just start wrapping your brains around that.’ Eric, our VFX supervisor, and Matt, when we were talking about them coming aboard the show I said, ‘Just so you know we’re doing the squid’ and they said ‘Yes!’ They were so excited. We knew that we were going to do it, we knew that it would happen in the range of Episode 5 or 6, so that they’d have some time to plot it out. We knew that we wanted there to be some sort of fanfare to the reveal. And Steph Green, who directed the episode, she got the script and I think she was very excited to be the one to turn over that particular card, and she directed it masterfully.”

Lindelof says the next step, then, was rooting this event in some kind of emotional truth. Which is how he and his team of writers hit upon the idea of PTSD:

“Obviously, there’s a silliness to saying a giant transdimensional cephelopod with one eye basically drops into the middle of Manhattan and the resulting psychic shock wave kills 3 million people. That sounds completely and totally absurd, but that’s the true genius of Veidt’s plan, that it had to sound absurd to be believable. But when you want to really ground the absurdity in to something that’s tangible and people will feel, I think the idea of PTSD — no pun intended, but some kind of post-traumatic squid disorder — the idea that the squid was literally genetically engineered to cause people emotional trauma so that many years after this event, they would still fear it. We needed to palpably relate that to the audience.”

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Image via HBO

Once that was decided, they needed to find a character to directly relate to the Great Squid Incident. Enter: The incomparable Tim Blake Nelson:

“So the question was, which character on the show is still emotionally feeling the terror of what happened in 1985? And Tim Blake Nelson felt like he was the perfect conduit to demonstrate that. So that idea with someone who feels like they need to be carrying around a security blanket at all times for fear that another squid attack is going to happen and that security blanket is sort of a version of wrapping your head in tin foil, and why not make that idea literal? Why not wrap your head in this fabric called reflectatine, which would insulate you from any future transdimensional psychic attacks? And that became his mask.”

The episode ends on a cliffhanger—both with Wade hanging on to his security system that would alert him to any additional extra-dimensional attacks, and with the Seventh Kalvary barging into Wade’s house, locked and loaded. We don’t know how this will all play out from here, but the execution of this squid plot point and Tim Blake Nelson’s performance make Episode 5, for my money, the best episode of the series yet. And that’s saying something, because Watchmen has quickly become the best show currently running on television.

Look for more spoiler conversation from our interview with Lindelof on Collider in the days to come, and if you missed what the showrunner told us about Adrian Veidt and his situation, click here.

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