Damon Lindelof's brilliant sequel/remix of Watchmen for HBO came to an end last night with a series of revelations that felt both "inevitable and surprising," and concluded in a way that was perfect for both a season finale or a series finale (which it may well have been). [WATCH OUT: SPOILERS AHEAD!]
We learned that Lady Trieu's mother Bien used to work for Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, and impregnated herself with his sperm back in 1985, right before Viedt dropped the squid on Manhattan. After Veidt was transported to Europa, he left the message with the dead bodies for Trieu to find him; his "imprisonment" there and the whole trial was a game he made the clones play with him to keep him sharp while he waited to face off against a truly worthy adversary. Veidt was delivered back to Earth in Trieu's probe, encased in the gold statue we've seen throughout the season. Trieu finally lets him out just in time to watch her plan unfold.
And oh, what a plan it was: she wanted to one-up her father's attempts to "fix the world" by stealing Dr. Manhattan's abilities for herself. She allowed the Seventh Kavalry to try to do the same as a way to mask what she was doing (R.I.P. Seventh Kavalry) from Dr. Manhattan, a plan that clearly didn't work, since he had already talked to Will Reeves, a.k.a. Hooded Justice, about what would happen 30 years earlier. Manhattan was able to teleport Veidt, Laurie Blake and Wade Tillman, a.k.a. Looking Glass/"Mirror Guy," to Antarctica, where Veidt was able to turn Chekov's Squids into a "Gatling gun from the heavens," destroying Lady Trieu's machinery (and likely killing lots of people in the process). Angela Abar loses her husband tragically, as he predicted, but reunites with her children and grandfather—and the show ends intimating that she has inherited Dr. Manhattan's abilities thanks to a very meaningful egg.
PHEW. Lindelof achieved what he set out to do: set a story in the Watchmen universe as created by Alan Moore, but boldly push the material to reflect the issues of the present day, with daring, exciting risks in storytelling. The excellent ending echoed that of the graphic novel in fascinating ways, culminating in that deus ex squid before leaving us on the beautiful image of Angela's foot about to touch the water. We caught up with Tim Blake Nelson, a.k.a. Mirror Guy himself, to talk about the finale, the show's perspective on what wearing a mask does to people, what it was like wearing a mask, and whether he'd be up for a sequel.
I just wanted to start off asking you about what your thoughts are on the finale and the end of the show. Good narrative to me has three essential qualities to it, once you've finished it. I think it has to have been coherent, surprising, and inevitable. And those last two, trying to get those right, trying to get to something that surprises but also feels like it has to have developed in the way that it did, is almost an oxymoronic feat. And I think that Damon Lindelof achieved that gorgeously in the nine episodes of Watchmen.
When Damon first pitched or presented the show to you, was this the complete story you were given? None of us was given the complete story. In fact, we were only meted out information on an episode-by-episode basis. I liken the way Damon writes to one of those cartoon characters, where he's on the top of the steam engine laying track as the train is moving. And that's a very exciting way to work if you're involved with somebody who's as smart and shrewd as Damon. And so even while I was learning about my character's evolution, as were we all as the story went along, it never felt at odds with any choices I'd made before having read each new episode. It always would vindicate choices rather than contradict them, and I give Damon and his writers all the credit for that. They were so unbelievably careful and responsible and sensitive in terms of what they were up to. It was so extreme that I was operating based on what I'd been told was a completely different backstory for Wade than the one that ended up materializing when I read episode five.
Can you speak to that original backstory at all? Well, I'd rather not say what that original storyline was. If Damon wants to reveal that to people, that's up to him. But I'll say that while the original one was probably more provocative, the one that materialized in the season was great for the character of Wade and wonderful for the storyline of that season as a whole, and so they made the right choice. But what astonished me was that even though it was something completely different, nothing that I had shot before felt like it suddenly wouldn't cohere with what was to come.
Wade was one of several characters on the show who wore a mask. By the finale, the show posits that masks are a way for people to avoid dealing with pain. That masks and secret identities hinder healing rather than help it. What was your take on Wade's need to cover his identity? I can say that the mask always felt like armature to me, and in a way that was incredibly helpful in terms of building a character who was so taciturn and restrained. There was an innate sadness I felt in playing the character in almost every scene. And that was largely intuitive, almost as if I really did know what was to come in terms of episode five, even though I didn't.
And so yes, I think that the exploration of that phenomenon of wearing a mask to cover pain is a really important discovery that the characters and also the audience make over the season. The show is also very much about vigilanteism. I think that vigilanteism is its own version of revenge, a sort of subset of revenge, is also something oriented toward pain management. Because one seeks revenge to balance a scale, even though it might not actually do that. It's certainly what compels people to seek revenge, and that's its own version of pain management.
What was the mask made out of that you wore on the show, and was it comfortable wearing it? Are you talking about the mask in the vernacular of the show or actually the physical one that I would wear to shoot?
I meant the latter, but you can give both. On the show it's meant to be a substance called "reflectatine," which in the science of the show not only is highly reflective, but it also protects from a psychic blast. And so that's why he wears it, even inside of his hat. In the show, I wore three different types of masks. One was reflective sequin, so it was highly pliable and also reflective, and that's for when I was deep in the background of a shot, so for wide shots. Then I wore either a green mask, just a green fabric mask with the mouth and eye holes cut out, or I wore what's called a fractal mask, which had geometric shapes on it, also with the eyes and mouth cut out. And then I also wore a crown with a GoPro on the front and on the back. And then they would take the images from the GoPros and paint them digitally on to either the green or the fractal mask to get the effect of the reflections.
Was it difficult to speak under the mask? Before they cut out the mouth hole—which was requested by sound, not by me—it was a bit difficult. But it wasn't something I was going to complain about because they needed to do what they needed to do. It was more difficult before they cut the eye holes out and I couldn't really see. And that was tough because you want to work well with your scene partners and if my vision was at all blocked, it was just harder to do that. But eventually they figured it out, they added a step to deal with the mouth and eye holes, and that suddenly made it a lot easier.
And wearing the crown with the camera was really interesting. I try to look at stuff like that as an opportunity rather than a a debilitating challenge. And what it did furnish was the feeling of being part of the filming of the show, and that brought with it a sense of power. And I think that was really good for playing the character of Wade, because when he puts the mask on, its opacity gives him power because nobody can tell what he's thinking, and so I liked that. And I also found that wearing the mask, whereas I had expected it would make me feel like I needed to do more with my voice and body, actually had the opposite effect. I suddenly felt like I had to do less simply because it gave him more status because he was excludable. When somebody is inscrutable it keeps you off balance, and I found that the character was having that effect, and it was great to learn all of that about the act of wearing a mask.
As you mentioned before, especially with the final two episodes, there's a feeling of this culmination, this inevitability of all these different stories strands coming together. In the finale, things are happening very quickly and there's a lot of information for the characters to absorb very fast, and that seems especially true for Wade, who seemed almost dumbstruck at times by the amount of things that were happening around him, that he ended up in Antarctica. How do you think Wade was feeling in those final scenes? He's finding out a great deal. He's also been teleported, and he's without his mask. So there's a kind of emasculation that occurs and that he has to overcome, if such a thing is possible. And I think by the end he does, but he's weakened both physically and in terms of an information deficit. He's suddenly transported to Antarctica and he's exposed to the inner workings of this enormous hoax, this vast conspiracy that has impacted his life more profoundly than anything. It's destroyed his ability to relate to women, it's caused him to be a loner, and it drove him into police work as his only refuge. And inside of that police work, he opts for the mask that hides more of him than anyone else's mask does. So he's at a real loss...plus it's fucking cold. [Laughs]
The last thing I wanted to ask is whether there's been any further discussion of a season two, and if that's something you're interested in. Do you feel like there's still more to explore with Wade? I certainly would be interested in doing another season. I think that Damon proved himself capable of something that's almost impossible, which is to take such venerated source material and dare not just to recapitulate it in another medium, but to imagine its future in a way that echoes in our culture right now. And because he pulled that off, I have no doubt that he'd be able to move it forward. But ultimately, that's up to Damon and whether that's where he wants to allocate his energies, I would go anywhere with and for Damon Lindelof. So in terms of my future with the show, if that's what Damon wants, I'll be there.