Watchmen Explained: What is the Peteypedia?

A look at the supplementary material for HBO's hit series.

Lubeman
HBO

If you’re like me, you love HBO’s Watchmen. And if you’re like me, you also panicked when the first season of the series ended and you desperately desired more. Well, fortunately for us, HBO has been releasing supplementary reading material for Watchmen under the label “Peteypedia.” This collection of documents, which are framed in-universe as memos and filed evidence from Agent Dale Petey (the twiggy, soft-looking agent played by Dustin Ingram who accompanies Laurie Blake on her trip to Tulsa) serves as a rough analogue to the various in-universe documents from the comic, like the Rorschach psychological file and the excerpts from Hollis Mason’s autobiography.

Much like the documents from the comic, the Petepedia files can be frustratingly obfuscating in their admirable attempts to stay diegetic, so we’ve summarized their contents here. Warning: Spoilers follow.

ENTRY 1:

Peteypedia begins with a memo from the director of the Anti-Vigilante Task Force, the federal agency from which both Blake and Petey take orders. The memo introduces the concept of Peteypedia as documents from the AVTF’s private database and provides a ton of context for how the world has changed since the events of the comic book. Most relevant here is the removal of computers from society (because of the Dr. Manhattan cancer scare) and their recent re-introduction, along with various other technologies. This is also a handy way of establishing a real-life baby boomer/millennial attitude toward technology that makes sense in the world of Watchmen, and thus Agent Petey himself. He’s a glorified IT guy who probably got his job through his daddy’s business connections with nothing better to do all day than write these Peteypedia memos, starting with an extensive exposition on “Rorschach’s Journal” and the societal developments surrounding its publication at the end of the comic.

Petey’s own 6-page memo describes the journal and conspiracy theories published by The New Frontiersman, the ultra-nationalist and racist right-wing paper that Rorschach subscribed to as his only form of news. Technically, these conspiracy theories are correct. Veidt was indeed responsible for the events of 11/2 and a vast conspiracy to create a liberal government disinterested in nuclear war… Except, in a twist of dramatic irony, nobody believes it, because The New Frontiersman is a notoriously unreliable source of information. Ultimately, those who believed in and attached themselves to the ideas in Rorschach’s journal were the racist, conspiracy-theorist demographic catered to by The New Frontiersman, and that’s how we got the Seventh Kavalry as presented in the show. The memo implies that the Seventh Kavalry is just one among many groups of similar domestic terrorists.

However, most of these six pages of historical context are entirely to fill in the avid Watchmen fan on what’s been happening since 1985, and the point Petey is trying to make in-universe — that conspiracy theorists and Rorschach fans would take ending the investigation into Veidt’s death the wrong way — could easily have been fit in a page or less. But maybe this explains why the director of the Anti-Vigilante Task Force is already so annoyed with Agent Petey as of their first appearance together in the series in episode 3.

Entry 1 of Peteypedia is rounded out with an academic-style advertisement for free screenings of Trust In The Law! by the Greenwood Center for Cultural Heritage (the film a young Will Reeves is watching in episode 1), and an obituary of Veidt which details his disappearance, the acquisition of his company by Lady Trieu, and the fact that Ezra Klein is the White House press secretary. It’s worth noting that Bass Reeves, the main character of the fictional film, was a real person. It’s just the movie about him that’s fake.

ENTRY 2:

The second entry in Agent Petey’s database starts with a newspaper clipping about the death of Chief Crawford, which provides a bit of backstory on good ol’ Judd. His family’s law-enforcement background and his personal connections to Senator Keene are detailed, as well as his exploits as interim police chief after the White Night.

Agent Petey’s own contributions to entry 2 seem kind of frivolous in comparison, as he waxes eloquent about the release of American Hero Story: Minutemen and complains about the historical inaccuracy of the first season, as well as an upcoming pro-Rorschach album release by a band called Sons of Pale Horse. These pop-culture musings are put forth to the Task Force with concern that they may embolden wannabe vigilantes, but it’s pretty clear that Petey is just a big superhero nerd who has nothing to do at his day job. Who considers a subpoena as a method to get his hands on preview screeners?

The last document included is a legal summary of the appeal decision for reparations, in which the writer describes, in no uncertain terms, both the injustice suffered by the victims of the Greenwood Massacre and mass racial violence like it, and the injustice they suffered at the hands of law enforcement and courts who refused to protect them. It’s a simple point buried deeply in legalese, but the court’s ultimate decision is to move forward with an appeal on the issue. The document is dated 2004, which means it’s several years old as of the beginning of the series.

ENTRY 3:

Agent Petey’s memo here serves mostly to deepen his own character outside the borders of the show. It’s literally a review of the first two episodes of American Hero Story that he subpoenaed to get his hands on. Petey is extremely concerned with historical accuracy in depiction of masked heroes. His criticisms read with a particular sort of liberal arts confidence. It’s almost like reading my own papers from college.

The second part of this entry is possibly my favorite text in the entire Peteypedia; an excerpt from The New Frontiersman! In this rambling, raving rant, editor Hector Godfrey complains about President Robert Redford’s Supreme Court nominee, who, from description, appears to be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He provides a handy recap of how the reparations suit proceeded from the legal document presented in entry 2: Conservatives agreed to a limited reparations program, the one referred to by the white folks in the series as “Redfordations,” which limits benefits to victims and direct descendants of victims of 50 specific instances of particularly violent racial injustice, including the Greenwood Massacre. Godfrey concludes the piece by suggesting white people move to Mars to join Dr. Manhattan, whom he views as basically God.

The last document is a typewritten letter from Senator Keene to Chief Crawford, which was evidently included in the mail with the painting referred to by the title of Episode 2, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horseship.” It’s a really unique text that takes on a double-meaning after you learn that Crawford and Keene were both leaders within the Seventh Kavalry and Cyclops; Keene has a fascination with the ages-old Western romantic concept of Manifest Destiny, which was, in its time, used as justification for whites to seize land from Native Americans. He refers to a vague “responsibility” inherited by Crawford, which at first glance appears to be the position of police chief but is in fact his position in the Kavalry. Last, but certainly not least, Keene signs off with a stamp of the Cyclops logo!

ENTRY 4:

There’s no memo from Agent Petey this week. Instead, we’re treated to an interrogation of Agent Laurie Blake from 1995, back when she was still going by her mother’s name Juspeczyk but after she had already taken on the “Comedienne” persona. This transcript establishes how Laurie worked with and then fell out with Daniel Dreiberg, aka Nite Owl II and her boyfriend and partner in vigilantism as of the end of the graphic novel. Agent Juspeczyk reveals that, like Bruce Wayne, Dreiberg’s financing mostly came from his company, MerlinCorp., where he patented and capitalized on many of his inventions that he used in his crimefighting (the Owlship, in particular). In doing so, Laurie also reveals where that enormous Dr. Manhattan dildo that she keeps came from.

Also included is a blueprint of said dildo.

ENTRY 5:

Petey’s back with more complaints about pop cultural inaccuracies, and once again this memo mostly serves to characterize him as the superhero nerd he is. But the agent’s musings on the events upon which this week’s in-universe episode of American Hero Story serve as an excellent recap of the comic book and reframes them as historical events in a modern context, demonstrating that the prevailing cultural attitudes and norms of the Watchmen universe are indeed similar to ours. Additionally, Petey’s extensive ramblings on the show help us understand more of it outside of the few clips we are given; American Hero Story’s focus on Hooded Justice becomes more and more evident as the foreshadowing it is.

Also included in entry 5 are a pharmaceutical ad for Nostalgia, which includes extensive health-and-safety information about the drug (with some hilariously severe side effects, ranging from nausea and chills to complete auto-immune collapse), and a pamphlet on extra-dimensional anxiety, a form of alien-induced mental health disorder that has cropped up since 11/2. This is what Detective Wade Tillman, aka Looking Glass, leads a group therapy session of in episode 5, and according to the pamphlet, he suffers from every single one of the symptoms.

ENTRY 6:

Throughout Peteypedia, Agent Petey has been passive-aggressively calling out Agent Blake for not reading his memos. Entry 6 reveals that she does, in fact, read them; she just thinks they’re dumb. Incidentally, Laurie’s own memo is pretty succinct, setting up her actions in the next episode. She also assigns Petey to get his hands on the will of Nelson Gardner, aka Captain Metropolis, which he has done as of his own memo. Petey’s memo, in turn, explores the backstory of Captain Metropolis and fills in the details about his death and will. Gardner willed his entire estate to Will Reeves after his death in a car accident on the way home from protesting the repeal of the 22nd Amendment (presidential term limits, repealed in the Watchmen universe by Nixon). Petey muses a bit on the discovery that Will Reeves was Hooded Justice, and how it flips the script on the origin of masked vigilantism in the world of Watchmen.

Peteypedia part 6 is rounded out with a clipping of a gossip column centered on Lady Trieu, which provides extensive backstory for her, from her mother’s tiger parenting to the fact that she chose her own name and speculation on her parentage, as foreshadowing for later in the series. The column also addresses her obsession with Dr. Manhattan, further foreshadowing Trieu’s ultimate ambition.

ENTRY 7:

Petey investigates Angela Abar’s backstory and her persona as Sister Night in his memo this week. This investigation offers an extensive dive into the pop culture of 51st state Vietnam, which played host to a lot of African-American immigrants seeking to escape institutional racism under President Nixon. This led to blaxploitation superhero films. Hilariously, one of these films is Batman. Sister Night, the film that a young Angela wants to watch so much, is another, and it evidently has the Watchmen universe’s equivalent of the Shaft theme song. The song’s lyrics, along with some of Sister Night’s one-liners that Petey also includes in this memo, make me really, really want a real Sister Night movie.

Also included in entry 7 is a medical chart for Calvin Jelani, Angela’s husband. It details the “accident” that the couple manufacture to explain away his lack of memories as Dr. Manhattan and reintroduce him into polite society. Notably, the amnesiac Cal maintains Manhattan’s trademark polite demeanor, which the physician inspecting him finds unusual for a fugue patient, and seems captivated by a Dr. Manhattan bobblehead.

ENTRY 8:

Agent Petey’s eighth memo takes place after the finale and as such hints at some of the events that hadn’t yet aired as of its release. Particularly notable is the phrase “hail of destruction.” But Petey once again goes off the rails here, abruptly diverging into a description and analysis of “Fogdancing,” an in-universe novel about PTSD and the Vietnam War. In the Watchmen universe, Shutter Island and Jacob’s Ladder were both influenced by “Fogdancing.”

Included with the memo is a clipping of an essay written by Petey himself in his teenage days, summarizing the novel. According to Petey, the eponymous Fogdancers were basically the war crime cleanup crew of Watchmen’s Vietnam War, “cleaning up” survivors and removing evidence of chemical weapons after the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan swept through. They are described in a very peculiar, specific, perhaps familiar way:

“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, in secret, to keep you and me and all of us free.”

This sounds suspiciously like a mysterious individual whom we glimpsed earlier on in the series… Petey’s memo concludes with some self-reflection on his attitude throughout these memos and a resolution to be better.

ENTRY 9:

One final document rounds out Peteypedia: a notice from the deputy director of the Anti-Vigilante Task Force to the rest of the team that Petey’s been fired. Deputy Director Farragut makes note of what we’ve all been thinking this whole time, that Petey’s memos seem awfully long-winded and irrelevant to workplace correspondence.

Farragut also puts out the word that members of the Task Force are free to take Petey’s stuff, which includes, among various pop culture memorabilia, “a jug of what appears to be some kind of canola oil.” Petey has evidently gone missing after refusing to obey orders to suspend the investigation in Tulsa. One wonders where he might have gone; after all, Petey was one of two loose ends that the show never resolves. Perhaps these two slippery loose ends fit together somehow?

It’s Lube Man. He’s Lube Man.

All I do all day is think about cartoons.