lingering questions

Where Is Lube Man, Watchmen?

Stop teasing us, Lube Man! Photo: HBO

Rewatch the first episode of Watchmen and you’ll get a sense of how much the series has expanded since it began. Not that “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice” wanted for scale or ambition. It opened with the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 and stretched all the way to what we now know to be the moon of Europa. But it also seemed like we might have seen the full parameters of the story: a masked heroine with ties to her city’s troubled racial history, an apocalyptic white-supremacist plot, the occasional squid storm, some guy in a castle connected to it all somehow, and so on. Were we ever so naïve?

Over eight episodes, Watchmen has revealed itself as even more complex and surprising than its ambitious first chapter suggested. Doctor Manhattan was with us the whole time! The old guy in the wheelchair was Hooded Justice years ago! Ozymandias was not only alive but … well, what exactly is he up to? That’s just one question left for this Sunday’s finale to answer. Or maybe not. Here are a few head-scratching elements that remain in play as “See How They Fly” looms.

Whither Lube Man?

In Watchmen’s fourth episode, Angela looks up to see she’s being watched by a man wearing reflective goggles and a tight, head-to-toe silver suit. She gives chase but can’t catch him, ultimately because he sprays some kind of substance all over himself and slides into a sewer. It puzzles Angela and everyone around her, including Red Scare, who dubs the elusive character “Lube Man.” (Good joke. Everybody laugh.) Then Lube Man never reappears, the question of his identity hanging over the series.

At Polygon, Austen Goslin makes the suggestion that we might have enough evidence to figure out Lube Man’s identity with the latest Peteypedia info dump. A memo from Dale Petey himself reveals that the “squid shelter” maintained by Wade Tillman (a.k.a. Looking Glass) contains a copy of the novel Fogdancing, a book we’ve seen throughout the series. Mrs. Clark can be seen reading it in the fourth episode, and it keeps Adrian Veidt company in his cell in the final moments of the seventh episode. (He likes it because it’s about loneliness.) Petey’s memo tells us a bit about the book, and himself. An early-’70s counterculture favorite written by ex-pirate comic author Max Shea (who met his death after working on Adrian Veidt’s squid hoax), Fogdancing became both a staple of college reading lists and a favorite of masked vigilantes and Doctor Manhattan, who’s apparently quoting the book when he tells Adrian “Nothing ever ends” in the final chapter of the graphic novel. (That’s a retcon almost as dramatic as what the series did with Hooded Justice.) It was also an object of obsession for a young Dale Petey, who contributed an attempt to summarize the famously opaque novel to the December 2005 issue of Nothing Ever Ends, a journal of Fogdancing studies. (We do learn the answer to a less-pressing question: Petey eventually stopped waiting for Laurie to show up at Tillman’s place.)

What does all this have to do with Lube Man? The book focuses on an ex-fogdancer, a special-forces operative charged with the dirtiest of dirty business in the Vietnam War. Or, to use Petey’s words: “Fogdancers do the ghastly wet-work that grease the wheels of the American machine and mop up proof of all the sick stuff you’re not supposed to do during combat. The canisters of toxins, the animals with weird boils, all the charred bodies who can still breathe and talk.” And here’s how Petey describes their uniforms: “See him now in your mind’s eye, moving through boiling clouds of Sunset Haze, wearing his gas mask and skin-tight silver suit shimmering with SPF-666, looking slick and doing what must be done.” That sounds familiar, right?

Goslin makes the logical leap that Lube Man might be Petey, who still sounds a bit fixated on the Fogdancing world. Others have done the same, even earlier. After Lube Man’s puzzling appearance, a Men’s Health piece noted “Lube Man’s physique closely resembles another character, Agent Petey. In no small act of potential foreshadowing, Petey even dons a mask on his way out to Tulsa,” and continued to note Petey had good reason to spy on Angela thanks to Laurie’s suspicions. The one problem with this theory: If the fogdancers were so well known, wouldn’t Angela (who grew up in Vietnam) have recognized a fogdancer uniform?

Ignoring that, here’s another possibility: Could Looking Glass also be Lube Man? He’s probably rangy enough to fit into the uniform. Which raises another question …

Whither Looking Glass?

We haven’t seen him since we saw a bunch of Seventh Kavalry members heading to attack his shelter. We did see what happened to them, so presumably he survived the encounter. Is he lying low? Or did the Kavalry want to kidnap him, not kill him, and succeed in that task? There’s no way we’ve seen the last of him, but it’s been a while at this point.

Why is Veidt imprisoned on Europa?

We know that Doctor Manhattan sent Veidt to his stately manor orbiting Jupiter, but why is Veidt confined there? That may even be the wrong question. Try this one: Is he confined there? We know Phillips and Crookshanks live to serve their Master, whether that’s Doctor Manhattan or Veidt. We also know that the Game Warden is just Phillips wearing a mask, and we saw Prosecutor Crookshanks wink at Veidt after delivering a damning argument against him in court. Is it possible that his house arrest, transgressions, (yearlong) trial, and imprisonment are all of his invention? He looks at the horseshoe Phillips brings him in the first episode with disgust, but is delighted to receive it in the seventh episode. Also in the first episode, Veidt tells Phillips and Crookshanks they’ll be playing roles in a play he’s written, The Watchmaker’s Son, a “tragedy in five acts.” He was presumably referring to the stage play we see in the next episode, a fiery Doctor Manhattan origin story. But what if the entirety of Watchmen’s Europa sequences have been part of The Watchmaker’s Son? And if we’re now witnessing the fifth and final act, what kind of tragedy awaits us?

Who is Lady Trieu’s father, when is he arriving, and from where?

All of the recent Lady Trieu developments have been huge curveballs. Bian, her presumed daughter, is actually her mother. She knew Cal is Doctor Manhattan in disguise. She’s been onto the Seventh Kavalry’s scheme to kidnap and become Doctor Manhattan for a while. She has an elephant that aids Angela’s recovery from her Nostalgia-induced coma. True, we knew she was a secretive, megarich super-genius with seemingly unlimited resources, but even those facts didn’t suggest this weirdness. In revealing some of this to Angela, Trieu also reveals that her father will be joining them soon.

And who’s that? Early speculation suggested the Comedian, who served in Vietnam, where we know he committed atrocities and fathered at least one child who died in the womb. (The Comedian’s pregnant lover scarred his face shortly before he killed her.) This would make her Laurie’s half-sister. We also know that she keeps a statue of Veidt around out of reverence for an elder, which seems like a clue. At PopSugar, Priscila Santa Rosa convincingly runs with this possibility, pointing to Europa for further evidence and noting that Veidt’s never-completed corpse message, “SAVE ME D___” could fill in the blank with “daughter.”

Finally, we still don’t know what fell from the sky onto the Clarks’ farm that Lady Trieu went to such great lengths to acquire. Could it have come from Europa?

Where are Will and Angela and Cal’s children?

That’s easy! They’re at the Dreamland Theater in Tulsa’s rebuilt Greenwood District. (Assuming Cal/Doctor Manhattan wasn’t lying, which seems unlike him.) But this is a good place to note that (a) we saw the previously wheelchair-confined Will walking around Lady Trieu’s place — what’s up with that? — and (b) the series opened at the Dreamland Theater in 1921, where young Will watched the silent adventures of the African-American marshal Bass Reeves, images that planted the idea of becoming a masked vigilante years later and inspired a whole movement of others to do the same. The story began here. It would make sense for it to end here as well.

Will we ever see Nite Owl?

Probably not, but we know he’s around and in prison where, unlike now-FBI agent Laurie Blake, Dan Dreiberg has refused to cooperate with the authorities. (His tech, however, lives on via the Owlship we saw in the first episode.) Chances are, if Nite Owl was going to play a role, he’d have shown up by now. Then again, we didn’t properly meet Doctor Manhattan until the penultimate episode, and he was hiding in plain sight the whole time. At least Laurie arranged for someone to look after Dan’s owl. (She did, right?)

What’s with all the romaine lettuce?

From the grocery owned by the racist New York Klansman Fred (Trump?) to the Seventh Kavalry, it’s apparently the lettuce of choice for white supremacists. Whether there’s any significance beyond that remains to be seen. Right now, it seems to play the same role as oranges play in The Godfather. There, they signal death is just around the corner. Here, romaine mostly seems to suggest there’s a racist nearby.

Why do the Seventh Kavalry want watch batteries?

That’s another question that’s been hanging around for a while. We still don’t know. Presumably, they need them for their teleportation device and/or their plan to turn Joe Keene into Doctor Manhattan. Chances are we’re about to find out.

Is this the end?

Creator Damon Lindelof has said that Watchmen is a self-contained limited series and has played coy about future seasons. (And, in an unusual move for the network, HBO has yet to announce a second season.) Could it be that we’re about to see a finale so apocalyptic the story has nowhere left to go? Speaking to Paste, Lindelof suggested if there is a second season, he might not be involved, saying, “These nine episodes are sort of everything that I have to say at this point about Watchmen, and then we’ll kind of go from there.” There’s a lot of wiggle room in those words, though. Or, as Max Shea once wrote in a much-read novel, “Nothing ever ends.”

Where Is Lube Man, Watchmen?