Warning: Light Watchmen spoilers ahead (for both the HBO series and original graphic novel).
The Watchmen premiere, “It's Summer and We're Running Out of Ice,” is a tight hour of television. Every moment seems hand-picked to introduce viewers to the fascinating, gruesome version of America that heroine Angela Abar (Regina King) is fighting her way through. Then you get to the absolute weirdest scene in the entire episode and find Jeremy Irons riding a horse and suffering through an “anniversary” cake with his employees. It is an unabashedly strange interlude.
At least one teeny, tiny clue pulls Jeremy Irons’ character into the Watchmen universe established in the rest of the premiere. You simply have to keep your eyes peeled to find it.
On a show as painstakingly put together as Watchmen, it’s always a good idea to read everything tossed onto your screen, whether that be via background news bulletin or bus ad. In “Running Out of Ice’s” case, the most important hidden detail comes in the form of a newspaper headline. As Angela is rushing to her bakery that doubles as her masked vigilante headquarters, we see Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.) reading the Tulsa Sun newspaper for just a second. The top headline announces, “Veidt Officially Declared Dead,” in giant letters.
It’s an easy tidbit of information to ignore, particularly for viewers who never read the 1980s graphic novel Watchmen is based on. It’s not like anyone says “Veidt” out loud during the premiere. However we do actually meet Veidt over “Ice’s” runtime. Because Irons' character is the Veidt the newspaper is talking about. Although HBO credits Irons as “Blonde Man” in the “Ice” listings, IMDb and every Watchmen cast announcement has blown that big secret — Jeremy Irons is playing Adrian Viedt.
In the Watchmen comics, which are set in an alternate version of 1980s America, Veidt’s superhero alter-ego is Ozymandias, the smartest man on Earth. In a wildly elaborate scheme to save the world, Veidt unleashes what appears to be a gargantuan, psychically destructive alien squid into the middle of New York City. The squid appears to enter our dimension on its own accord when, in reality, Veidt secretly created it. The alleged intergalactic being kills millions. However, it also terrifies the American and Russian government so much that the catastrophe pulls both nations from the brink of Armageddon-causing nuclear warfare. When interdimmensional squid terrorism is the greatest threat in the world, political squabbles between mere humans lose their importance quickly. In a matter of months, world peace has been achieved.
This is the supervillain Jeremy Irons is playing, albeit about 30 years older. As Watchmen’s premiere makes clear, the HBO adaptation takes place sometime around the present day, rather than the late 80s.
The question is: How could Veidt be both declared dead and traipsing around a manor with his obsessive servants? For now, the newspaper in question doesn’t answer that mystery. Instead, it tells us Veidt in this version of Watchmen parlayed his '80s costumed vigilantism into a follow-up career as a “political kingmaker” and industrialist with a corporate empire. Then, for unknown reasons, police were recently forced to name Veidt “presumed dead.”
It appears Veidt faked his own death or disappearance to hide out in the countryside. Although it seems like the ex-caped crusader is in England, we shouldn’t make assumptions. This is a man who once created a giant murderous squid. Anything could be happening.
The facts we do have are simple. Veidt is working on a play (you can see a page of it as he taps on a typewriter); he has at minimum two servants — those loyal-but-dumb individuals are named Mr. Phillips (Sleepyhollow’s Tom Mison) and Ms. Crookshanks (Christie Amery) — and no one else knows where Veidt is. Considering the secrecy around Veidt’s living situation, it’s fair to assume he is cooking up a new squid-level plot, and Watchmen season 1 will unveil it over its eight-episode run. It is even possible Veidt is behind the current mini-squid-falling-out-of-the-sky epidemic we see early in “Ice” and vanished to clear himself of suspicion.
As long as no gigantic faux celestial sea creatures wreck the Times Square Olive Garden, everything should be fine.