TV Review – Watchmen Season One, Episode Five

Watchmen (HBO)
Season One, Episode Two – “Little Fear of Lightning”
Written by Damon Lindeloff & Carly Wray
Directed by Steph Green

Trauma is an element ever-present in Moore & Gibbons’ graphic novel, and it continues to be a significant component of the television series. The trauma in focus here is Wade Tillman’s, the Tulsa police officer known as Looking Glass. It’s revealed in the cold open that Tillman was Jehovah’s Witness who traveled to Hoboken, New Jersey in 1985 as part of his mission work. This puts him front & center for Adrian Veidt’s massacre of Manhattan when he teleports in his hoax intended to unite the world. From Tillman’s perspective, he’s just been duped by a local into stripping down in a carnival funhouse, and he emerges into a world where everyone around him is dead, their brains having leaked out of their ears.

In the time that passes, Tillman has lost his faith in religion but adopted a new one in apocalyptic survivalism. At work, he maintains a cold front, but at home, he runs very regular drills to his bomb shelter. While those of us who read the Watchmen comic know about Veidt’s hoax, the general public is still unaware. To the everyday person, Earth was attacked by a multi-dimensional creature that unleashed a fatal psychic shock wave. The PTSD, those in the wake, felt leaves them with constant nightmares while America and the Soviets united in peace. It’s made very clear that its marginalized people that are ignored as the world worked to recover. It was easier to ignore those harmed then deal with the large proportion of the population in pain.

One of the problems Tillman has is that he refuses to really delve into his pain and begin the process of working through it. Instead, he puts forward the image of a person who has healed a tremendous deal and leads a recovery group in the basement of a church. Just like his Looking Glass persona, Tillman reflects back what you want to see, not what is actually true. He has lined his hat with Reflectatine, a fabric developed when it turned out that mirrors protected some people from the psychic blast in 1985. Tillman runs the drill routine on his security system so often that the customer service rep isn’t surprised it has broken down.

Wade lives in opposition to Angela. As she is reconnecting with her estranged family legacy, Tillman lives in isolation, only seeing his ex-wife when he needs her to analyze pills found on Will. But Tillman’s time with his support group reveals things about Angela’s predicament. One man talks about the concept of “genetic trauma” as he was born after his mother was hit by the psychic blast. Transgenerational trauma is a concept that has come out of the study of holocaust survivors & their descendants as well as the descendants of slaves. Angela is the granddaughter of a survivor of The Tulsa Massacre, and it has effects on her today.

The significant moment of this episode involves Wade being shown the truth behind what happened in 1985, a piece of video proof that this was not a random attack from beings in another universe. In Veidt’s own words, he hears what happened and how people like himself are forgotten collateral damage. It made me think about the way technocrats often see the most efficient solution as the best solution, regardless of the harm wrought on innocent bystanders. To people like Veidt, progress is littered with the corpses of the inconsequential, as we literally see in this episode twice. How Wade is affected is left ambiguous as he abandons the Reflectatine hat but still takes in the alarm system replacement when it arrives. Has this revelation erased his trauma or has the harm simply adapted to take in the new information, still festering within him.

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