Spoilers ahead for Watchmen (book, movie, and series premiere).
At one point in the series premiere of HBO’s Watchmen, Detective Angela Abar (Regina King) and her son Topher (Dylan Schombing) are driving home when it starts raining tiny squids. If you’ve never read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel or have only seen Zack Snyder’s 2009 movie, this may have been a bit confusing, so allow me to explain.
In the graphic novel, the world is on the brink of nuclear war. Former superhero turned industrialist Adrien Viedt brings together a bunch of artists and scientists to fake an alien invasion. Viedt has all of his collaborators killed so they can’t tell the truth because the alien invasion is meant to hit pause on nuclear annihilation. Viedt’s calculus is that if he can cause a minor tragedy—teleporting a giant alien into the heart of Times Square—it will kill millions but ultimately save billions. Humanity will rally against this alien force and stop turning their weapons on each other. The design of the alien is a giant squid.
Zack Snyder decided to cut the squid from the movie because to set up and explain the creature, you’d have to take time away from the main characters. Here’s what Snyder told Syfy Wire:
“When I originally got the script, the squid was gone from the [end],” Snyder said, adding: “I was like, ‘OK, well, we should try to put the squid back in the movie. We should see if that’s a thing that could work.’ And, really, I think the reason why we in the end decided that it was probably best not to was that it just ended up adding another … 15 pages to the script. You know, just to kind of make that make sense. Because you couldn’t just cut to it like you do in the graphic novel.”
“I knew that … if I spent that time with the squid, that’s just time … that I wouldn’t have for … Manhattan or Rorschach or … the Comedian’s funeral,” Snyder said. “Because … those are my favorite parts of the book, you know?” He added: “There’s something elegant about [the end we chose]. If you’re going to stay with the characters and the [idea of creating an] ‘Other’ to hate, … there’s something elegant about that Other being God. To me, anyway.”
The ending that Snyder chose is that New York City is still attacked, but the attack is pinned on Dr. Manhattan. Dr. Manhattan, seeing the cold logic of Veidt’s plan, agrees to be the fall guy. He leaves to go live in another universe.
The HBO series follows the events of the comics, not the movie, so the squid attack happened. What’s clever about the squid rain is that it’s not just a callback to the comics, but it’s an interesting question about whether or not Veidt planned thirty years in advance. Yes, this world appears to be pulled back from the brink of nuclear war, but is the squid rain a reminder of what will happen if the world doesn’t keep its nukes trained on an alien other? Or is it an unintended consequence of Veidt’s actions, a way to show a ripple effect from one act of violence that continues to reverberate decades later? Given the show’s apparent theme, I’m inclined to believe it’s the latter, but will just have to keep watching to find out.
Watchmen airs Sunday nights on HBO. If you have other questions about the series premiere, “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice”, click here.