From the start, HBO’s remixed version of Watchmen presented viewers with a world that was both dense in references and sprawling in scope. Still, only so much story and information can fit into nine hours of TV. That’s where “Peteypedia” comes to the rescue: After each episode of Watchmen, HBO uploaded a few documents to the website under the pretense that they contained research compiled by FBI Agent Dale Petey (Dustin Ingram), a minor character who works with Laurie Blake. Each set of documents adds background detail about the world of the show, and gives Watchmen’s writers a chance to lay out more lore for fans who might be interested.
“We knew that we have constructed a rather huge iceberg, but we were only ever going to play on the top of it, in terms of what’s onscreen,” Jeff Jensen, the Watchmen writer who oversaw Peteypedia, told Vulture. “There was a lot below it that we wanted the viewers to know that we had worked out.”
Now that Watchmen has ended, Vulture caught up with Jensen on how Peteypedia came together, the thinking behind the key backstory they explained offscreen, the mental state of Agent Petey himself, and, of course, the secret identity of everyone’s favorite slippery vigilante, Lube Man.
Inspired by Watchmen’s ‘back matter’
“We wanted to do our equivalent of additional materials — the kinds of things that you find in the original comic that comes at the end of every issue,” Jensen said. In that comic, readers got excerpts from Hollis Mason’s memoir Under the Hood; newspaper interviews with Adrian Veidt; and far-right tirades from the New Frontiersman. The Watchmen writers wanted to get similar extra material out to viewers, but they debated whether the best way to do it would be through post-credit sequences, posting updates on Twitter, or some other format. “As we got to the end of the show, we ultimately [decided] that the internet would be the best place for this stuff to live,” Jensen said. “It just became a question of what pieces that we wanted to do. It was in that consideration that the idea of having a folder on the computer desktop of Agent Petey, something that he would call Peteypedia, was born.”
The Watchmen team came up with the idea for Peteypedia while they were working with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on their packaging for the soundtrack, which you can buy in vinyl form with additional materials and backstory about the series (one installment, for instance, is packaged like the soundtrack for the American Hero Story TV show). HBO’s marketing team suggested that they do something similar with the materials they wanted to put online. “This kind of thing could easily have become marketing fluff,” Jensen said. “But there was a commitment, all around, that this is a supplement. If you are interested or curious, this stuff is here for you to read and investigate. It is part of our world. It is canon.”
With Peteypedia idea taking shape after the show filmed, Jensen worked through the summer of 2019 to convert ideas from the writers’ room, “pages of our series bible that I inevitably would be asked to write,” and other backstory pitches into distinct cultural objects.
Laurie Blake’s untold story
One of the first major characters from the original comic to make her presence known in HBO’s Watchmen, Laurie Blake (formerly Juspeczyk, a.k.a. Silk Spectre) took a long road to her job on the FBI’s vigilante task force in the series. The show suggests that she took a plea deal after being arrested alongside Dan Dreiberg (a.k.a. Nite Owl) in the 1990s, but Peteypedia gives you the whole story, including the fact that she and Dan prevented the Oklahoma City bombing, but got arrested and prosecuted in its aftermath. Laurie pleaded out and joined the vigilante task force, but Dreiberg stayed in jail.
“It explains a lot of things, like the line in episode three when she says, ‘Fucking Oklahoma,’” Jensen said, acknowledging that they couldn’t fit her backstory into the show. “We realized there was no room or relevancy to make that part of the main story. When we drew up our list of what to do with additional materials, number one on the list was always, How did Laurie become an agent for the FBI?”
The mystery of Lady Trieu
Lady Trieu (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese trillionaire genius who turns out to be Adrian Veidt’s daughter, was “always supposed to be something of a mystery in the show itself,” according to Jensen. To that end, the main information we get about Trieu in Peteypedia comes in the form of a “Fact or Fiction” newspaper clipping from a gossipy Tulsa reporter, who includes details like the fact that her mother Bian wrote a memoir about raising a genius that’s been translated as Pachyderm Mom. “We just thought that was a fun way to get a lot of lore, some of which may or may not be true” Jensen explained, adding that he’s interested in the way her presence in the story opens up questions about American imperialism. “She might come off as a Bond villain, but she becomes a doorway to another part of this world that maybe future Watchmen storytelling can explore more deeply,” Jensen said. “If Watchmen is ultimately about America, this season was to some degree a burrow into some of the foundational sins of America on the domestic side. What is America’s relationship to the rest of the world?”
The Fogdancing extended universe
When Jensen read the original Watchmen, he was fascinating by a little detail about the pirate comics writer Max Shea, who wrote a novel called Fogdancing that was twice adapted into films. “First of all, cool title. What is Fogdancing about? And, twice filmed, how did that happen?” he said. In the process of creating the show, the writers’ room decided that the characters needed to be reading Fogdancing: You can see it in the hands of one character selling eggs in episode four, and Veidt reads the book in his prison cell on Europa.
In writing the Veidt scene, Lindelof asked Jensen to come up with a summary of what’s important about the book. “I took some of our notes that we had in the room and came up with this plot summary of Fogdancing,” Jensen said. “Damon was like, That’s not what you’re supposed to do, I just wanted a paragraph.” So, when it came time to put together additional materials, Jensen knew he wanted to include that plot summary, which involves the trauma of an American supersoldier. “Fogdancing exists in the additional materials as the result of my personal obsession with Fogdancing arcana and the thing that I wrote, and to honor the spirit of a lot of what we talked about in the room about the book being in some way pertinent to superhero culture in the Watchmen-verse.”
A blueprint for the Doctor Manhattan dildo
HBO’s version of Watchmen’s best visual joke is the giant blue dildo, with detachable ball batteries, that Laurie Blake keeps in a suitcase to illustrate lingering attachment to Doctor Manhattan. The actual prop was given to writer Lila Byock after filming, but you can see the in-universe specs for the device on Peteypedia. Jensen delighted in the world-building details you get from the diagram, like the fact that it was manufactured by Merlin Corp, a company owned by Dan Dreiberg, hinting about dysfunction between Dan and Laurie. To make the blueprints, he ended up working with Nine Inch Nails’ design team of John Crawford and Corey Holms, who also designed the albums. “If you were delighted or offended by the blueprints of Laurie’s blue dildo,” Jensen said. “Thank-slash-blame Nine Inch Nails.” Oh, and the fact that Excalibur sounds like “Ex-Cal-Abar” and hints at Doctor Manhattan’s secret identity? That’s intentional. “Of course!” Jensen said. “Damon is incredibly gifted with the puns, so I just lay this at his feet.”
But really, who is Lube Man?
“Lube Man sprung fully oiled from the mind of Damon Lindelof,” Jensen said. Originally, they thought a character who appeared out of nowhere and slipped into a sewer grate would be a fun side tangent, but like so many Watchmen fans, the writers did seriously debate Lube Man’s identity. “One [theory] was that he was certainly someone who was invested in the mysteries of the masked vigilante in the world,” Jensen said. “That could’ve been Petey, that could’ve been some other ideas.” By the end of the first season, once the writers had committed to the idea that Lube Man would be a loose end, Jensen admits that it “made sense to everyone” that he was probably Petey: “Ultimately, with Damon’s blessing, we seem to strongly imply that it was him.”
But is it actually Dustin Ingram, who plays Ageny Petey, in costume as Lube Man? Jensen himself isn’t sure. “I want the behind-the-scenes story of how we did that!” he said. “The execution of that scene is so good that now I totally get why people are obsessed with the mystery of Lube Man. I hope that they find it satisfying that he is actually Agent Dale Petey and that he is at large in the world, doing lube-y things.”