WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead for HBO's Watchmen.
HBO's Watchmen heavily focuses on squids, with giant peering eyes and showers of tiny creatures making the alternate world feel incredibly alien to our own. Damon Lindelof's new series is a sequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's graphic novel, and it's not holding back on one of the weirdest aspects.
Ostensibly, what makes Watchmen's reality unique is the presence of superheroes. As established in the 1986/7 comic, in the 1930s masked vigilantes became prominent, then in 1959 a genuinely superpowered being, Dr. Manhattan, emerged. The net result was that in the then-modern day, the Cold War was at fever pitch and at risk of boiling over. But things get much more intense, and by the time that i picks up in 2019, the world is an even more divided place.
This can be seen from the masked cops in Tulsa to reports of Dr. Manhattan on Mars, but perhaps the most aggressively weird aspect of Watchmen's premiere is the recurring squids - in video, posters and falling from the sky. Here's why there's so much squid in Watchmen, and what it means for the story.
The Giant Squid In The Watchmen Comic
The giant squid is at the very center of Watchmen. Self-proclaimed "smartest man in the world" Adrien Veidt aka Ozymandias plans to end the Cold War by scaring the US and the Soviets into peace, uniting against a greater threat. That threat is a fabricated alien invasion: using technology derived from Dr. Manhattan, he teleports a giant squid into the center of New York which - due to limits in the transportation - explodes on impact.
Although unseen until the final chapter, Veidt's squid is powering Watchmen's story from the beginning. Ozymandias kills the Comedian because he discovered the plot, and the struggles with Manhattan tech is reiterated multiple times. At the end of the book, the plan appears to have worked - Nixon declares peace, the heroes accept that the truth would be more destructive than the lie - and the squid is poised to become a uniting point for humanity. However, the final pages tease that Rorschach's journal charting the conspiracy could bust the story wide open.
For a graphic novel, the idea of the squid is pretty genius. It taps into the innate surrealism of the comic medium - indeed, the squid is designed by kidnapped comic artists, a subplot lightly teased throughout the run - and highlights how different geopolitical relationships would be under such powers and threats.
In Zack Snyder's 2009 film version of Watchmen, he changed Ozymandias' plot to be psionic bombs targeted at multiple world cities with the trace signature of Dr. Manhattan, framing the superman as now a vengeful God. Despite different imagery and implications, though, the net impact was the same. Just as the squid was perfect for the comic medium, this controversial change was ultimately a smart choice. It took an intrinsically comic book idea and one that requires careful setup and replaced it with a tighter story for a single-serving narrative.
The Squid Showers In HBO's Watchmen Show
The squid's legacy looms large in HBO's Watchmen. Early on, an "Anatomy of a Squid" poster can be seen in a classroom, and later Angela is caught in a "squid shower", where tiny versions of the alien rain down alongside some unnatural slime. Finally, in the interrogation chamber, what appears to be an image of the giant squid's eye - recognizable immediately to any comic book reader - can be seen on the screen.
While the poster and video make direct sense following on from the graphic novel, the showers add something of a wrinkle. There's presently no clue as to what's causing them: it could be Ozymandias (who was recently reported dead but is very much still around in the form of Jeremy Irons) attempting to further keep the peace he's orchestrated in check, or some outside force using the idea of aliens to advance their own designs.
What The Squids Mean For Watchmen's Future
Regardless, it would appear that in the 2019 of Watchmen's world, the squids have been accepted. The showers aren't some natural disaster, but a normal part of life everybody knows instinctively how to cope with. As an extension, then, the suggestion is that Ozymandias' plot succeeded and that most take an extra-dimensional presence as fact.
Of course, not everybody believes that. The Seventh Cavalry quote "all the whores and politicians will look up and shout 'Save us,' and I’ll look down and whisper 'No,'" from the comic, suggesting that Rorschach's journal was published and thus the implication of Veidt's guilt known. As it was by right-wing rag New Frontiersman, it's possible it's an out-there conspiracy. Further, Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson) asks during the interrogation about the belief that squid showers are orchestrated by the US government. President Robert Redford, a left-leaning figure, strikes as a divisive leader, so it's again unclear if this is an anti-establishment rumor or hint at something more nefarious.
The real truth of the squids' origin and current presence remains unknown to the many - and will surely be a catalyst for a breakdown of the world of Watchmen.