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Every Easter egg and reference in Episode 1 of HBO's Watchmen
HBO’s Watchmen is not a direct adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel, but it is, obviously, very much beholden to it. Set in 2019, three decades after the events of the original comic, Watchmen tells a new story in the same world. But there are lots and lots of references to the comic, both overtly in terms of the plot and through some clever easter eggs and allusions. Getting all those easter eggs and references in there was a conscious effort on showrunner Damon Lindelof’s part, with loads of help from pretty much the whole cast and crew.
“Everybody was assigned with the task of looking for easter eggs, to look for opportunities,” Nicole Kassell, who directed the first two episodes of the series, explained to SYFY WIRE. “And, if we found a good one, we would pitch it to Damon, and see if he liked it or not.”
Some of the easter eggs — like a drop of blood staining a policeman’s shield, à la the Comedian’s badge — are pretty obvious, while others are quite subtle. Kassell says that in one scene in a later episode, the color of flowers Regina King’s character holds are a reference to a bouquet in the book. Several shots, while maybe not outright easter eggs, were intentionally framed in ways to evoke the original comic’s aesthetic, a nod to co-creator Dave Gibbons' art.
“There are literal frames where I would set the camera and the set dresser would run up with a picture from the book and say 'Is that the shot?' And I would go, ‘Yeah,’” Kassell says.
So, finding every single easter egg in Watchmen is going to be a tricky task — what counts as an easter egg, exactly? That said, here’s every easter egg or otherwise interesting bit of trivia that we caught in the first episode that seemed worth pointing out. This list will be updated when, inevitably, other fans spot additional easter eggs.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for the first episode of Watchmen below**
BASS REEVES LOOKS LIKE HOODED JUSTICE
In the opening scene, set in a movie theater right as the violence of the Tulsa Race Riot breaks out, a young boy is watching a silent film about Bass Reeves, the first black marshal west of the Mississippi River. Reeves was a real person, but in the movie, with a black hood and whirling around a rope tied into a lasso, he looks a little like Hooded Justice, one of the original Minutemen from the comics.
THE HEAD WOUND
After he wakes up following the car crash, the young boy has a bloody head wound, which just happens to be in roughly the same place as the iconic drop of blood on the Comedian's smiley-face badge. (h/t Insider)
IT’S SUMMER AND WE’RE RUNNING OUT OF ICE
The title of the episode is a lyric from the song “Pore Jud Is Daid,” from the musical Oklahoma!, which just happens to be the state where Watchmen takes place. The musical makes a few other appearances in the episode, as we hear the song during the end credits, and Chief Judd Crawford watches a staging of the play that they refer to as “Black Oklahoma.” Given the TV series’ focus on race and appropriation, it’s a fitting, somewhat meta easter egg.
The transition from 1921 to 2019 is the first of many clever or interesting transitions between scenes that Kassell told SYFY WIRE were intentional. “That book is so brilliant for the jump cuts and match frames,” she said.
The car the 7th Kavalry member is driving has a prominent battery gauge, implying that electric cars are standard in Watchmen’s version of 2019, likely a result of Adrien Veidt and Doctor Manhattan’s technological advances. Elon Musk, eat your heart out.
The Rorschach-inspired masks the 7th Kavalry members wear are likely too integral to the main plot to be called easter eggs, but it’s worth noting that the “ink blotches” on their masks do not change shape the way the original Rorschach's did, having been made from a special fabric.
TICK TOCK SOUND
After the 7th Kavalry member shoots Officer Sutton, the clicking sound of his emergency lights flashing sounds like the sound of a clock ticking, which, given Watchmen’s use of clocks as a motif, is likely intentional.
DOCTOR MANHATTAN IS STILL ON MARS
When Chief Crawford visits Sutton’s wife to inform her about the shooting, we see a blurry glimpse of Doctor Manhattan destroying a castle he built on Mars, having apparently stayed there ever since the events of the graphic novel. Apparently, there’s a 24/7 stream of his Martian activities.
Also, the castle Manhattan is demolishing looks kind of similar to the one that Jeremy Irons' character lives in, as seen later in the episode. Hmmm ... (h/t Insider)
When giving a demonstration about baking, Angela Abar cracks eggs in the shape of a smiley face, another of the original comic’s iconic motifs. There's even a little blood in the yolk in the right place.
VIETNAM IS A STATE
Angela grew up in Vietnam, which the teacher notes is a U.S. state, as was the case in the comic too. Following Doctor Manhattan winning the war for the U.S., Vietnam was made the 51st state. If you look throughout the episode, you’ll note that the American flags are different, since there’s gotta be room for an extra star in this reality.
Inside the classroom, we get quick glimpses of two posters. The first teaches students about the “anatomy of a squid,” implying that the supposed extra-dimensional squid monster that attacked New York City in the ‘80s is part of the school curriculum, which makes sense. There’s also a poster about four important U.S. presidents: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Richard Nixon (who in Watchmen served for five terms), and actor Robert Redford, who succeeded Nixon in office and has served many progressive terms. More on all that in a second.
As Angela and Topher drive home from school, alarms blare and suddenly thousands and thousands of tiny little squid rain from the sky. Angela is pretty nonchalant about the incident, implying that it’s a regular occurrence. But, given that the squid that destroyed New York was a hoax created by Ozymandias to unite society against a common enemy, it’s unclear who is responsible for the squid rains — presumably some person or agency committed to continuing the ruse.
Angela learns about the 7th Kavalry shooter when she gets a page, because despite many fantastical inventions, neither cell phones nor the internet were invented in the world of the Watchmen TV show. Also, the alert “Little Big Horn” is a reference to General Custer’s last stand, as the masked white supremacist terrorist group named themselves after the 7th Cavalry Regiment he led into battle against Native Americans.
AMERICAN HERO STORY
In the real world, we have American Crime Story, which dramatizes events like the O.J. Simpson trial or the assassination of Gianni Versace. In Watchmen, there’s apparently American Hero Story, and the upcoming season or special about the Minutemen is looking like it’s going to be a big deal. It appears that Hooded Justice is being framed as the most important Minuteman, which is interesting. In the comics, it always seemed like Captain Metropolis, Nite Owl, and Silk Spectre were the more central figures.
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT SIGN
When Angela heads into Greenwood, she walks by a man holding up a sign that says “The future is bright,” an optimistic counterpart to the sign Rorschach carried in the original comic when he wasn’t in costume, which read “The end is nigh.” Kassell told SYFY WIRE that the easter egg goes even deeper, too. “He's got red hair. That's definitely an homage to Rorschach carrying his picket,” she said.
When Angela enters her bakery (which is called “Milk and Hanoi Bakery” and has the cringeworthy motto “Let Saigons be Saigons"), we see that she’s being observed by a mysterious old man in a wheelchair. He’s reading the newspaper, and there are three notable headlines on the front page.
“KKK VANDALISM FORCES STATUE OF LIBERTY CLOSURE”
The text of the accompanying article appears to be unrelated to the headline, since the newspaper is just a prop, but the headline reveals that despite Redford’s progressive presidency, there’s still quite a lot of racism in Watchmen’s America, to the point where the Ku Klux Klan got the Statue of Liberty shut down.
VEIDT OFFICIALLY DECLARED DEAD
Adrian Veidt, the genius businessman and one-time costumed hero (who, unbeknownst to the public, murdered 3 million New Yorkers in order to unite humanity), has officially been declared dead, which is curious. The text of the accompanying article reveals that he has been “formally declared ‘presumed deceased,’” so it’s unclear why his survival is a mystery, or for how long that’s been the case. It does not appear as though the general public knows the truth of his role in the squid attack, so there’s no reason to think that he would be a villain in the public eye.
BOISE SQUID SHOWER DESTROYS HOMELESS CAMP, KILLS TWO
The squid rains are apparently not just limited to Tulsa.
ANGELA’S PASSCODE IS “1985”
When Angela goes into her secret lair inside the bakery, she punches in the numbers “1, 9, 8,” and “5” to open the lock — presumably a nod to the year that the events of the original Watchmen took place.
REDFORD WILL NOT SEEK ANOTHER TERM
When Angela, uh, assaults and kidnaps a suspected 7th Kavalry member, there’s a quick shot of a newspaper with a headline declaring that Robert Redford will not seek another term. A panel from the graphic novel shows another newspaper headline speculating that “RR” will run in the 1988 election. While in real life, another “RR,” Ronald Regan, eventually became president, another, more liberal alliteratively named actor ascended to the office in Watchmen’s reality. If he was elected in ‘88, Redford will already have served eight terms at this point.
“... AND WE’LL WHISPER ‘NO’”
There’s a riff on a famous Watchmen quote in the 7th Kavalry’s manifesto video the Tulsa police watch. “All the whores and race-traitors will shout ‘Save us,’ and we’ll whisper ‘No,’” one of the masked white supremacists says, echoing Rorschach’s “All the whores and politicians will look up and shout ‘Save us’” line.
Rorschach wrote the line in his journal, which he gave to the conservative New Frontiersman before heading off to his death at the end of the graphic novel. The comic ended in a cliffhanger, but the show implies the Frontiersman did indeed publish its contents, which is how the 7th Kavalry learned the quote and were so inspired by Rorschach.
“In the world of Watchmen, the actual Rorschach disappeared. Nobody knows that Doctor Manhattan blew him up at Karnak, and all they have to go on is this journal which may or may not have been published by sort of a fringey publication in a pre-internet world,” Damon Lindelof explained in an interview with SYFY WIRE. Rorschach might not have been a white supremacist himself, but he’s not around to object to what the 7th Kavalry is doing in his image.
“QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS CUSTODES”
At the end of the meeting, Chief Crawford recites the Tulsa Police’s motto, which is Latin for “Who Watches the Watchmen” — the phrase that inspired the name of the whole series in the first place.
Angela, now in costume as Sister Night, is drinking out of a coffee mug shaped like an owl when she’s waiting for Chief Crawford in his office. The mug, which Kassell tells SYFY WIRE was “not scripted,” is a little easter egg referencing Nite Owl, the hero(s) from the original graphic novel.
UNDER THE HOOD
Also in Crawford’s office is a copy of Under the Hood, the tell-all book written by Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl who fought crime with the Minutemen.
NIXON ON MOUNT RUSHMORE
When Looking Glass is interrogating the 7th Kavalry suspect, one of the images he flashes on screen reveals that Richard Nixon’s face has been added to Mount Rushmore.
Looking Glass also flashes an image of the New York City skyline, and the Twin Towers are still standing. It does mark a dark sort of sense that 9/11 wouldn’t have happened in the Watchmen universe, especially after the squid attack.
BLOOD COMING OUT FROM UNDER THE DOOR
When Sister Night assaults the 7th Kavalry suspect, we don’t see any of the violence directly, but we do see a puddle of blood spill out from under the door. A similar thing happens in the graphic novel, when Rorschach, before escaping from prison, excuses himself to go to the bathroom, where he murders the diminutive gangster Big Figure.
CLOCK PARTS AND CANCER
The exact details of the 7th Kavalry’s plan are unclear, but it involves them harvesting parts from watches, another allusion to the comic’s clock motif and Doctor Manhattan’s backstory as the son of a watchmaker. Later, we hear Angela and Chief Crawford talking about how the watch parts were from the old, now-illegal style of watches, with synthetic lithium that’s said to cause cancer. Doctor Manhattan and Adrian Veidt's big technological breakthrough involved synthesizing lithium, though it appears that the misconception that Doctor Manhattan gives people cancer has led to the batteries being outlawed.
There’s a vintage poster for Dollar Bill, the Minutemen-era hero who fought crime on behalf of a bank chain called National Bank. It’s worth noting that the poster is, well, super racist, which probably explains why the white supremacists in the 7th Kavalry have it on their wall.
THE OWLSHIP (COMPLETE WITH FLAMETHROWER)
The Tulsa Police have an aircraft that appears to be modeled after the second Nite Owl’s Owlship. How they obtained the vehicle is a mystery, as are Nite Owl’s whereabouts in 2019. The police’s Owlship takes out a plane with a flamethrower, the original Owlship’s signature weapon (thankfully, “Hallelujah” isn’t playing this time).
The masked detective who pilots the Owlship is codenamed Pirate Jenny, a likely reference to both the pirate comic seen in the original Watchmen graphic novel and "Pirate Jenny," a song from The Threepenny Opera, which Alan Moore cited as an inspiration for Tales From the Black Freighter. (h/t Thrillist)
RIDING A PALE HORSE
After another artful transition, the episode then turns to Jeremy Irons' character. HBO and the people involved in making and promoting Watchmen have all but confirmed that Irons is playing Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, though that’s technically not official.
In any case, when “The Lord of the Manor” rides up to his castle, he’s seated on a pale horse. In the graphic novel, a band named Pale Horse was playing at Madison Square Garden the night that Veidt’s squid attacked and killed 3 million people. In the incredibly likely event that this is indeed Ozymandias, the pale horse seems like a reference to his horrible past.
There’s a glass contraption on the Lord of the Manor desk that resembles a bottle of Nostalgia, a perfume that Veidt Enterprises made. Laurie Juspeczyk, the second Silk Spectre, famously threw a bottle of Nostalgia at Doctor Manhattan’s giant palace on Mars, causing it the crumble into dust.
OZYMANDIAS’ COLORFUL CAKE
The cake the Lord of the Manor has a bite of is frosted in the same color scheme as Ozymandias’ old superhero costume. Like, it’s Adrian Veidt.
THE WATCHMAKER’S SON
The name of the play that the Lord of the Manor has written for his two servants is titled “The Watchmaker’s Son,” meaning it is likely about Jon Osterman, who was a simple watchmaker’s son before a freak accident transformed him into the nigh-omnipotent Doctor Manhattan.
AMERICAN HERO STORY COMMERCIAL
A commercial for the upcoming American Hero Story shows a quick, animated glimpse at all the original Minutemen: Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Captain Metropolis, Hooded Justice, Mothman, Dollar Bill, Silhouette, and the Comedian.
SENATOR JOE KEENE
When Chief Crawford takes his last ride, a voice on the radio mentions Senator Joe Keene, an as-yet-unseen character who will be played by actor James Wolk. Presumably, Joe Keene is the son of Senator John David Keene, the politician behind the Keene Act which outlawed costumed crimefighters in 1977.
THE POLICE SHIELD WITH BLOOD ON IT
The last show of the episode is about as un-subtle an easter egg as you could imagine, but it’s a good one. Chief Crawford has been murdered, and a drop of his blood drips onto his police shield in almost the exact same shape and placement as the drop of blood that Rorschach discovered on the Comedian’s smiley-face button after his murder.
Did you spot any easter eggs that we missed? You probably did, because there are so many easter eggs in this show. Politely let us know in the comments!