“Some Enchanted Evening”: A Deep Dive into the Aquatic Themes of Watchmen Episode 5
Let's.... Wade... in shall we?
The fifth episode of Watchmen debuted last night and finally provided us with a shot of the infamous squid drop that ended the comics and shaped the world of the show. It’s the first time a scene from the original comic has been used in the series so far (other than Veidt’s theatrical production of the origin story of Dr. Manhattan) and the long-lasting damage of those giant tentacles ripple throughout the episode. So let’s do another deep dive (aquatic pun very much intended) into the episode and explore every underwater reference and oceanic theme we can find!
Firstly, the title “Little Fear of Lightning” comes from Jules Verne’s quintessential science fiction novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The full quote is “If there were no thunder, men would have little fear of lightning.” And what is 20,000 Leagues famous for? Well the giant squid that Captain Nemo and his team have to fight of course!
But aside from that elephant in the room (or should I say, squid in the skyscraper), the specifically Verne-related shout outs continue with Looking Glass’s support group calling themselves “Friends of Nemo” and Adrian Veidt’s homemade space suit looking almost exactly like an antique diving suit (specifically, the kind used in Verne’s novel.)
“Little Fear of Lightning” reveals the origin of Tulsa detective Looking Glass aka Wade Tillman. He was a teenage missionary in Hoboken, New Jersey on 11/2/1985 – the night of the squid drop, and one of the few to survive the psychic blast. The event left him deeply traumatized (naturally) and suffering the longterm effects of PTSD. The water themes are ever-present throughout Wade’s story. Firstly, he is named WADE. And he can not help constantly WADING into situations that leave him in over his head. The episode opens with him being lured into a funhouse mirror maze by a girl who then strips him naked and runs off with his clothing. Leaving him stark naked and drowning in shame when the squid hits.
The scene ends with Frank Sinatra (King of New Jersey) singing a cover of “Some Enchanted Evening” from Roger and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. And South Pacific is Roger and Hammerstein’s musical about sailors stationed on an island in the south pacific ocean during World War II. Also, their most explicit musical about racism! The song is then reprised at the end of the episode, this time a cover sung by the late fifties quartet The Candells. Why this cover? Well, several members of The Candells would go on to be major players in the surf rock movement of the sixties and seventies! Lindelof and his team are not messing around y’all!
But back to the sea! Most of the important women in Wade’s life fit the definition of a “siren.” Like the beautiful yet deadly mermaids that lure sailors into danger and death, Wade is most attracted to women that he knows will end up “kicking him in the balls.” The girl from his youth was only the first.
In the present time, we see him being seduced by the radiologist Renee and lured with literal bait (in this case, lettuce she rigged to fall off of a truck) into the Seventh Cavalry’s lair. Even Angela Abar is a bit of a siren because she leads him down a path that traps him into working with the FBI. The only woman who we don’t see lead him into danger is his ex-wife, and even she gave him a good “kick in the balls” emotionally when she left him. And ultimately, Wade himself becomes a siren. He lures Angela into a confession and down her own rabbit hole when she swallows the dangerous “nostalgia” memory pills, leaving her to drown in her grandfather’s memories.
Finally, there’s his obsession with mirrors and reflective surfaces. Surrounded by funhouse mirrors on 11/2, his day job as an adult is to observe focus groups through a one-way mirror. And when he’s on duty as a detective – he calls himself Looking Glass and wraps his head in the ultra-shiny (and supposedly protective) “reflectatine.” Now there are the obvious allusions to Alice Through the Looking Glass, and the ways in which poor Wade is being constantly pulled into upside-down mirror worlds, and his need to constantly be reflective as a shield against others. (This serves to block others from perceiving his true feelings but also to keep him from feeling himself.)
Even the portals being test by the Seventh Cavalry act as mirror-like gateways to unknown truths. But how does this connect to water? Well what is water, or the ocean, if not a reflective surface that hides dangerous secrets underneath in its depths? The ocean serves as a backward mirror world to the land. Poor Wade is now lost in this mirror world/dark sea and the sharks of the Seventh Cavalry are closing in because they smell blood in the water.
Spot any other aquatic elements in this episode? Let us know in the comments!
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