Watchmen episode 5 review: "An essential companion piece to the source material"

GamesRadar+ Verdict

A unique epilogue to Watchmen and a simmering slow-burner all wrapped in to one, Looking Glass’ story helped drive the core mystery forward but still left us wanting more definitive conclusions.

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It finally happened. This week in Watchmen, we got answers. Almost. We nearly know where Ozymandias is and we know who is probably behind the Seventh Kavalry. At the very least, we've finally found out why Looking Glass chooses to be a walking mirror. Crucially, the show bravely attempts to tie itself to the graphic novel for the first time, and is mostly successful.

We begin not in 2019, but in New Jersey, 1985. Wade Tillman (AKA Looking Glass) is a nervous, devout teenager led astray by one of the “sinners” he is hoping to convert on a frosty night in Hoboken. But, teenagers being teenagers, one thing leads to another and Wade is stripped naked by the girl before she runs away with his clothes as a prank. The joke’s on her: she succumbs to an alien squid’s psychic blast while he cowers in a shattering hall of mirrors.

Those who have read the comics will recognise the monstrous calamari. The opening scene runs concurrent with Alan Moore's source material, and offers us a closer look at the tragedy now called "11/2" (a somewhat iffy recycling of "9/11"). 

It's a fascinating, bold, and creative story choice. Watchmen, the TV series, has so far only alluded to Ozymandias’ squid ruse that killed three million people. Here, we finally see the greater impact of the villain's master plan. Seeing blood filling the eyes of the girl who ‘seduced’ Wade is more upsetting than any comic panel could be. What's more, the scene helps establish the new characters as part of this huge universe. As a result, this show has quickly become an essential companion piece to the comics. If Watchmen does nothing else, it can be proud of this scene – and that’s five-for-five for exceptional openings now. Damon Lindelof knows how to get our attention.

What follows is a day-in-the-life episode revolving around the masked Looking Glass. This being the third time we’ve followed a separate character closely (Laurie Blake in episode 3 and Lady Trieu last week), there’s a slight feeling of Groundhog Day but, this time, we inch somewhat closer to the truth.

At his Extra-Dimensional trauma group, Wade befriends Renee, a woman who also suffers from squid-onset PTSD. Their shared stories offer a glimpse at the personal tragedies wrought by Ozzy in the '80s. However, there's more at play, and it’s her deliberate leading on Wade that’s more immediately intriguing.

Renee brings Wade to the Kavalry's headquarters, revealed to be an old TV production warehouse, complete with various sets from which to shoot their videos. Not only are they tampering with a CX-924 Teleportation device, but it’s revealed that they’re also seemingly led by Senator Joe Keene (James Wolk).

Wolk’s slimy presence has punctuated the opening few episodes, but it’s here where the actor finally gets a moment to shine, delivering each line with a knowing sense of being a puppetmaster. Of course, this being Watchmen, nothing is quite that clear-cut. Not even Keene knows who killed Judd, though the senator hints the Chief may have had a role in the larger political dynamic in Tulsa. The Seventh Kavalry’s experiments with inter-dimensional travel are also kept under wraps. Just when you think Watchmen has given you everything you need to know, it turns in another direction entirely. It’d be hair-pullingly frustrating if the story wasn’t so masterfully-woven.

Wade also finds out the truth about the squid from 1985 via an old Ozymandias recording. The blonde wig may be wholly unconvincing on Jeremy Irons, but his physical transformation into a cocky, younger version of Veidt should be commended and was a genuinely fun surprise moment.

Ironically, Veidt, himself also finds what he’s been looking for as he manages to head through a portal into space. The past few weeks’ interludes are finally coming together just as steadily as his master plan. Unfortunately for Veidt, once he (and us) gets an answer, he's pulled back down to Earth (possibly one of Doctor Manhattan’s making). Watchmen has teased and teased, and isn’t straying from that path just yet. The slow crawl to answers continues unabated. Week-to-week viewers may be cursing their luck – this is prime binge material.

That languid pacing is definitely magnified this week more than at any other time during the series so far. As welcome as it is to spend some downtime with Wade as he tests his Extra-Dimensional Security system and hosts grief counselling, there are only so many hours left to wrap things up.

The mundane stuff, no matter how much we're invested in Wade (and it looks like we won't be seeing him again, judging by the Kavalry storming his house at the end), is ultimately superfluous as the show’s own ticking clock gets louder. The decision to completely exclude Lady Trieu, Will Reeves and Lube Man (!!!) from the episode is slightly head-scratching, especially when there are only four episodes of the season (and perhaps the entire show) remaining.

At least the final few minutes set up next week nicely. Wade betrays Angela, who quickly downs her grandfather’s ‘memory pills’. It's a brief, but important episode for Angela as we await to see how she deals with being arrested by Agent Blake. As for Blake’s role in all this? She’ll keep us guessing ‘til the very end.

Like the cabbage in the truck, there are just enough clues to keep us going. With both Veidt and Angela’s stories picking up pace once more, hope still remains that the litany of grand conspiracies that have tangled and weaved their way through the show’s run will finally be uncovered.

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Bradley Russell

I'm the Senior Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, focusing on news, features, and interviews with some of the biggest names in film and TV. On-site, you'll find me marveling at Marvel and providing analysis and room temperature takes on the newest films, Star Wars and, of course, anime. Outside of GR, I love getting lost in a good 100-hour JRPG, Warzone, and kicking back on the (virtual) field with Football Manager. My work has also been featured in OPM, FourFourTwo, and Game Revolution.