After last week's incredible, episode-long flashback to the Minutemen era, the seventh episode of HBO's Watchmen returns to the present, plus some intriguing scenes of Angela Abar's childhood in Vietnam, America's 51st state. As you might imagine, there are plenty of easter eggs and comic book references in the hour (not to mention another jaw-dropping reveal at the episode's end).
This late in the series, it's harder and harder to tell what counts as an easter egg and what's just the core plot of the show or comic, but here's our stab at picking out the qualifying easter eggs and references. We'll update this story with any we missed.
DOCTOR MANHATTAN'S BACKSTORY
The trailer for Manhattan: An American Life recaps Doctor Manhattan's origin story and his impact on Watchmen's world, but it's too essential to both the graphic novel and the TV show's plot to really count as an easter egg. Still, pretty neat.
The comic didn't go into a ton of detail, but one of the big ways that Doctor Manhattan changed the world was that he was able to synthesize lithium, which helped jump-start the electric car industry with Adrian Veidt's help. The trailer for Manhattan: An American Life shows an advertisement for some products made with Doctor Manhattan's lithium. Supplementary materials for HBO's show reveal that, after Veidt tricked the world into thinking that Doctor Manhattan's powers caused cancer, there was a panicked recall of all the synthesized lithium, which cratered the technology industry for several decades.
As young Angela Abar browses the VHS tapes at a Saigon video rental store, there are a bunch of easter eggs. We'll attempt to break down what they all were.
TRUNKY/TUSKY THE BRAVE ELEPHANT
There are two similar-looking animated tapes about a brave elephant, but one is named "Trunky" while the other is named "Tusky." There's a character in the Roald Dahl book The Enormous Crocodile named Trunky the Elephant, but it's unclear if there's any connection to Watchmen's two movies.
MONSTERS FROM OUTTA SPACE
Part of Veidt's plan in the graphic novel involved playing lots of alien invasion sci-fi movies in the theaters his business owned to subconsciously prime the public into believing in alien attacks. The title of this one is a direct quote from the book. When Doctor Manhattan teleports to a TV studio for an interview in the third issue, a startled receptionist says, "They're not paying me enough to handle monsters from outta space!"
Fogdancing has already made a couple of cameo appearances in the show, but Episode 7 reveals that the book, written by Max Shea, an author who had an unwitting part in Veidt's plan, was also adapted into a movie.
In the comics, there are subtle references to Silk Swingers of Suburbia, a B movie about the original Silk Spectre, Sally Jupiter. The VHS tape here lacks the subtitle, but it's presumably connected.
Clearly, this blacksploitation movie inspires Angela's crime-fighting identity, but there's an extra easter egg here. The tagline for the movie is "The Nun With the Motherf%&$ng Gun," which is the name of a track on Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' Watchmen soundtrack.
"AN ALMOST RELIGIOUS AWE"
The title of the episode comes from Doctor Manhattan's captions when he is remembering his involvement in the Vietnam War in the comic's fourth issue. After getting the Viet Cong to surrender after being there for just two months, Doctor Manhattan recalls that they "ask to surrender personally to me, their terror of me balanced by an almost religious awe." This balance of terror and revelation seems to largely still be the case in Vietnam during Angela's childhood.
DOCTOR MANHATTAN PUPPET
In Issue #9, Laurie asks Doctor Manhattan is he's just a "puppet following a script," prompting him to reply, "We're all puppets, Laurie. I'm just a puppet who can see the strings." The Doctor Manhattan marionette here makes that literal.
"TWO GENERATIONS OF HEROES, MYSELF AND MY FOLKS INCLUDED"
Laurie's reference to "two generations of heroes" is a quick nod to the fact that Hooded Justice was the inspiration for the Minutemen (including her mom, Silk Spectre I) and, by extension, herself as Silk Spectre II.
Lady Trieu's daughter Bian is putting Angela through a test that can't help but bring to mind the Rorschach tests that the hero of the same name underwent while undergoing psychiatric evaluations in the graphic novel.
EXECUTIONS IN THE STREETS OF VIETNAM
It's grim, but the way the Saigon police take the man responsible for the bombing that killed Angela's parents to a back alley and presumable execute him brings to mind the Execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém. Lém, a member of the Viet Cong, was shot in the head at point-blank range by the chief of the Republic of Vietnam National Police. The execution was caught on film, and became a symbol of the anti-war movement.
The illustration of the squid present at Veidt's trial is the same illustration that Hira Manish, an Indian surrealist painter, first drew when she unwittingly designed the squid as part of Veidt's plan. Manish, like Max Shea, was killed when Veidt blew up the boat that all his co-conspirators were on to prevent the truth behind the squid from ever getting out.
The butterfly that briefly lands on the statue of Veidt in Lady Trieu's vivarium is a reference to Veidt's own vivarium in his Antarctic lair. Prior to unleashing the squid, Veidt killed his assistants with poison in the vivarium, and a butterfly landed on one of his victims' faces.
"... GAZE UPON OUR MIGHTY WORK, AND WITH THAT DESPAIR …"
During her speech ahead of the launch of the Millennium Clock, Lady Trieu quotes an altered version of a line from the Percy Bysshe Shelley poem that gave Ozymandias his name: "Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
While looking for her grandfather, Angela discovers that she's actually connected to an elephant. Elephants never forget, I guess? I dunno, man. This was weird even for Watchmen.
"LOTS OF OPPORTUNITY IN A BRAND-NEW STATE"
Angela's grandmother June mentions that her parents settled down in Vietnam after the war because there's "Lots of opportunity in a brand-new state." The HBO Watchmen series has already had a ton of references to the classic musical Oklahoma!, which is set just as Oklahoma is about to receive statehood and opportunities abound. In Watchmen's universe, Vietnam is the new Oklahoma, which makes for a nice symbolic connection.
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
When Angela comes home to, uh, "wake up" Cal, he had fallen asleep reading Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. The book and the title are both a reference to Cal's imminent death(?) and the gradual rise of a fascist dictatorship. Hemingway's book was about the Spanish Civil War, while the grand evil scheme in Watchmen appears to be white supremacists attempting to become godlike supermen.
"LIFE ON MARS?"
After the reveal that, holy crap, Cal Abar has been Doctor Manhattan this whole time, an eerie instrumental cover of David Bowie's "Life on Mars?" plays — a cheeky nod to the Red Planet, where everyone thought Doctor Manhattan was while in reality he was living in Tulsa, Oklahoma.