Watchmen has been, by turns, inscrutable, amazing, confusing, hilarious, and some of the best TV of 2019. But Episode 5, "Little Fear of Lightning," was pure whiplash, as the truth behind Looking Glass' mask on Watchmen was revealed. The series finally took on the comics' infamous shock ending, as it delved into the events of 11/2.
Warning: I cannot emphasize enough that you should stop reading right here if you have not seen Watchmen Episode 5. Spoilers (and then some) follow.
The Watchmen comic takes a sudden horrific turn near the end, when an "alien monster" falls from the sky onto New York City, letting off a psychic pulse that kills millions. The catastrophic body count initially shocks the story's superheroes, but that soon becomes relegated to images on televisions, as they learn it's not an alien at all. It was all a hoax perpetrated by Adrian Veidt, to bring about world peace.
It was easy for these masked vigilantes to agree to keep quiet about the truth of the giant squid, forget the dead, and move on.
For Looking Glass, the terror never left.
Wade Tillman was a teenager in 1985, part of an evangelical school group from Tulsa on a mission trip. They were in Hoboken, NJ, on 11/2, trying to convert "sinners" ahead of the end of the world.
Wade's first targets, a bunch of street punks, were ready to beat him up, but a girl pulled him away, protecting him. Inside the mirrored funhouse, she teased and flirted. If this was the end of the world, they should do it, right now, and not die virgins. Before he knew it, Wade was stripped naked.
And then she yelled, "F*ck you, Bible Boy!" and ran off with his clothes. Wade was trapped, embarrassed, ashamed, unsure what to do next.
Then it happened. The sound came first, and then the explosion, the psychic pulse shockwave, blasting through everything, burying Wade in shards of glass.
But the mirrors saved his life. Stumbling out of the funhouse, he found the girl, her eyes wide open, screaming into nothing forever, one of a pile of thousands of dead bodies. Those few still alive rocked back and forth, driven mad by the blast.
But Tillman's choice of "Looking Glass" doesn't only refer to the mirrors that saved his life. Salesman claim wearing mirrored fabric, sold as "reflectatine," will protect the mind against the next "big one." Wade wears it as a face mask and lines all his trucker hats with it too. His "superhero" getup is just an excuse to wrap his face in the moral equivalent of tin foil wherever he goes.
Laurie Blake was one of those superheroes who knows the truth behind 11/2. It's how she recognizes what Wade is doing, and why she's none too kind about it. She knows there was no alien; the squid was a hoax. That bunker Wade has, the alarms, and those rolls and rolls of reflectatine are just snake oil.
But that doesn't make watching Wade learn the truth behind 11/2 ay less hard. The 7th Kalvary might think kidnapping him to show him the truth is kind. But all it does is compound the trauma. This is a man who spent his whole life living in fear. He is the face of the victims of Veidt's alien hoax to "save the world." He's been a rube, a fool, and now he knows it.