HBO's Watchmen has no shortage of powerful moments and stories as it slowly unfolds the mystery surrounding the murder of Tulsa police chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson). The series even opened on a powerful note with the portrayal of the 1922 Tulsa Race Massacre, an event that exists both in our real world and in the series' alternative timeline. In the series' most recent episode, last Sunday's "Little Fear of Lightning" stepped back a bit to tell the origin story of one of the detectives seeking the truth about Crawford's death, Looking Glass/Wade Tillman. In the process, the show revealed the world-changing Dimensional Incursion Event -- aka, the arrival of the giant trans dimensional squid that killed millions in the original Watchmen comics -- as well as how event impacted Looking Glass. According to the actor who plays Looking Glass, Tim Blake Nelson it's trauma that the character never recovered from.
In the episode, viewers are introduced to a young Wade Tillman on November 2, 1985. Wade has come to Hoboken, New Jersey with his religious group to witness to "sinners' at a carnival. He's lured into a hall of mirrors by a girl in the Knot Top gang under the pretense of sex though she instead steals his clothes and runs off, humiliating him. As she flees, though, the area is hit with a massive psychic blast. Wade wakes up some time later and finds nearly everyone has died as a result of the blast which was caused by the arrival of that giant squid.
Speaking with The Washington Post about the episode, Nelson said that for Wade, the meaningful relationships in the character's life are completely entwined with the trauma experienced on that fateful day.
"He'll forever associate meaningful relationships -- and the trust that goes along with meaningful relationships, not to mention his sexual impulses -- with catastrophe," Nelson said. "And he spent his life, now, getting over that. So to me, he gets into law enforcement as a way not only to promote justice, but also as a way to hide inside of a structure, a code, and, eventually, a mask."
That mask that Wade wears in turn becomes something of a visible hallmark of the terror of the defining event not only for the character, but for the world of Watchmen as well. Showrunner Damon Lindelof explained when breaking down the show's portrayal of the giant squid attack that Nelson actually helped determine that it would be Wade who was most impacted by the terror of that day.
"So the question was, which character on the show is still emotionally feeling the terror of what happened in 1985?" Lindelof said. "And Tim Blake Nelson felt like he was the perfect conduit to demonstrate that. So that idea with someone who feels like they need to be carrying around a security blanket at all times for fear that another squid attack is going to happen, and that security blanket is sort of a version of wrapping your head in tin foil, and why not make that idea literal? Why not wrap your head in this fabric called reflectatine, which would insulate you from any future trans dimensional psychic attacks? And that became his mask."
Watchmen airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.