How 'Watchmen' Transformed Looking Glass Into Rorschach's Mirror Image
When I watched this week’s Watchmen episode, “Little Fear of Lightning,” I slowly realized I was going to have a more difficult time analyzing the deeper messages of the episode than usual. Not because the episode was bad. Indeed, it was a fantastic character study of Looking Glass while providing us necessary information as well as the action that tips the story’s chaos from “quietly simmering” to “about to break loose.” What gave me trouble was that I could feel this episode was trying to give us a lot of philosophical material via the character of Looking Glass – and allow us to take a deeper look at the comic book character of Rorschach through Looking Glass’ life and actions.
Sure, you can watch this series clean, without having read the graphic novel, and come to some conclusions with merit. But I do feel strongly that if there was any time to have read the source material, it’s when watching this episode. There is so much that ties Looking Glass to Rorschach, and by knowing about Rorschach’s life and ultimate demise, we might be able to glean what could happen to Looking Glass in the next episode. We might also be able to suss out why Looking Glass’ fate could be different, despite how the ending of this episode made things appear.
Looking Glass as Rorschach’s foil
If you are very well versed in Watchmen lore, then you already know that Looking Glass is this series’ version of Rorschach. As a quick summary for those who are new to Watchmen: Rorschach was a superhero, a Batman-type who usually worked alone, acted as a vigilante detective, and sought justice with a strict moral code. What makes him different from Batman, however, is that he was poor and grew up in a neglectful household with a mother who worked as a prostitute. From his childhood, he developed a severe virgin-whore complex when it came to viewing women.
That part of his character has been up for debate when it comes to critiquing Watchmen and Alan Moore’s often sexist view of womanhood. After all, the first Silk Spectre, Laurie Blake’s mother, was nearly raped by Laurie’s father, the Comedian, years before their consensual relationship led to her birth. The graphic novel attempts to make the incident seem morally murky by alluding to Silk Spectre’s overt sexuality as triggering The Comedian’s lust. That’s not fair at all, and the whole “Was she asking for it?” angle reads especially terrible in light of the #MeToo Era. Of course, to be fair to the graphic novel, it doesn’t go as far as to say that The Comedian or Rorschach should be thought of as pillars of the moral masculine ideal. It’s not excusing them. But at the same time, the text does allude to the idea that we, the reader, should cut them some slack for a variety of reasons. For The Comedian, we’re informed of how he’s a sad, impulsive man who is also a product of the toxic patriarchal times he lived in. For Rorschach, we’re told about his sad, lonely childhood where he witnessed john after john meet up with his mom in their home.
However, while Rorschach is given excuses for his poor view of women, Looking Glass’ characterization doesn’t revolve around why we should feel sorry for him. I’d go so far as to say that Looking Glass could be thought of as a 21st century version of Rorschach’s character. This is how Rorschach would have been written if he existed in our time or if he existed in the mind of a writer who didn’t lean on female trauma, a trope Moore engaged in not only in Watchmen but in two of his other most popular works, V for Vendetta and The Killing Joke.
While Looking Glass has some of the same character motifs as Rorschach—utilizing an identity that serves to reflect people’s emotions back to them, wearing a face-covering mask (and pulling that mask halfway up to eat a can of beans)—Looking Glass’ internal world is different than Rorschach’s. He reflects Rorschach’s mental snags through a different prism. For instance, Looking Glass also has trouble with the sexual side of himself, but instead of it being from a broken childhood, it’s from his indoctrination into religion. He struggles with the virgin/whore mentality, but instead of it being pushed off onto women, he turns that hatred toward himself. As you might recall, when we saw the flashback of when he survived the squid attack in 1985, he didn’t call the Knot Top girl who led him on a demon fit for hell; instead he lashed out at his own reflection, angry that he let himself believe that he was desirable. Similarly when he finds out Renee, someone he thought he would be able to forge a relationship with, is actually a Kavalry member, he blames himself, not her. We also see how he seemingly blames himself partially for why his first marriage ended. With Looking Glass, the onus is always on him, even when it’s not fair, a stark turnaround from how Rorschach viewed women.
Another difference between the two characters regarding their opinions on sexuality is when Looking Glass watched that episode of the Minutemen series, which featured graphic sex between Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis. It is difficult to tell what emotion Looking Glass has because the mask is covering up the top portion of his face. However, whereas we can be sure that Rorschach would have looked at the scene in disgust, it appears as if Looking Glass was looking at the scene with awe and surprise. While Rorschach seemed to hate the idea of sex, Looking Glass is more perplexed by it, even curious about it.
Additionally, Looking Glass might have a strong moral compass, but that moral compass isn’t because he believes himself to be morally righteous like Rorschach did. Instead, he seems to want to try to make the world better in order to prove to himself that he is capable of greatness and perhaps even love. He wants to see a version of himself he doesn’t see in his own mind; a version of himself who is without fear and is fully knowledgeable and capable in every situation. This is one reason why he holds those squid anxiety group meetings. While I’m sure the fear people would have in this alternate reality would be very real (I know I’d be afraid), Looking Glass wants to be beyond the fear. He doesn’t just want to accept it—he wants to neutralize it. That’s why he claims to the group that he’s out of the tunnel of despair, even though he wraps his hats in Reflectatine to keep out psychic attacks and buys products to safeguard his bunker. He desperately wants to be in control. Similarly, Rorschach wanted to be in control of his life and environment by exacting his intense moral code. But whereas Rorschach seemed to have deluded himself to thinking he actually was healed, Looking Glass knows in his heart of hearts that he is far from better.
Looking Glass’ morality revealed
The biggest difference between the two characters comes down to the decision Kavalry leader Senator Keene gave Looking Glass. If Rorschach was presented with the opportunity to learn the truth about the squid attack, would he do it if it meant ratting out one of his own superheroes? I don’t think he would. If anything, I think he’d try to steal the CD and make his way out of the Kalvary base in an attempt to link up with his fellow crime-fighters. He’d want the truth to get out there to the masses.
But Looking Glass doesn’t do that, even though he clearly considers Angela a friend. Instead, he opens Pandora’s box and watches the video for the knowledge in exchange for turning Angela over to Laurie and the FBI. He might respect Angela, but he loves the idea of being free from his mental torment even more. He chooses himself over Angela, whereas Rorschach might have chosen “the common good” over everything else, including his own safety. We already have proof he would have; just look at how he sacrificed himself in the comic when it came down to the only options he was presented with after learning of Veidt’s squid attack. Either he could keep the ruse up and not tell anyone what he knew, or he could attempt to tell and get killed by Doctor Manhattan. He chose the latter.
What’s especially interesting is how both men are presented with the gift of truth, and how both men suffer at the cost of knowing that truth. But again, they are suffering in ways that are mirror opposites. As mentioned already, Rorschach died in order to live by his moral code. However, Looking Glass’ life is endangered because he failed to live by his moral code. He ratted out Angela and now not only does he have to live with the guilt, but he also might become the Kavalry’s next victim in order to keep him quiet. Rorschach’s death could be seen as a man living and dying by his principles; Looking Glass’ possible death could be seen as a punishment for betraying his.
If we wanted to take a more racial angle at Looking Glass’ betrayal (and Watchmen constantly invites this kind of reading), perhaps it could be viewed as a symbolic example of how whiteness as a social construct has been able to serve its own self-interests, regardless of what that would mean for others. If we look at the link between the Kavalry, Keene, and even Veidt and President Redford as part of the white supremacy, then Looking Glass just helped prop up that social construct, despite the fact that he might be what some would deem as being one of the white guys that “get it.” He works well with Angela, hates the Kalvary, and seems to hold no ill will towards the rest of his diverse police crew. But despite all of that, he made the mistake of acting in his own self-interest, which also served the self-interests of entities that support the idea of whiteness being synonymous with superiority. He sold out a Black woman to the people who want to see her dead. A bitter analogy of America in a nutshell.
Looking Glass’ potential light at the end of the tunnel
We don’t know if Looking Glass will actually die in the next episode, even though we know that the Kavalry don’t really mess around when they’re after someone. But there could be a possibility that he still has a chance to redeem himself.
Perhaps one path to Looking Glass getting back on the proper path is if he actually learns to forgive himself for being a flawed human being. His humanness got in the way of his attempts at godliness and led him towards sacrificing Angela for mental freedom. But I would assume he’s only created even more of a mental prison for himself. If he can pull himself together, perhaps he can help Angela get out of police custody and help her save the day, whatever that means.
At least, I hope he can. I really like the character of Looking Glass in the same way I liked Rorschach when I first read Watchmen. Despite the flaws and the critiques, Rorschach represents a character who does know who he is, even if that self-knowledge is a bit warped. Looking Glass, however, doesn’t yet know who he is, therefore he can’t live in his truth and is able to be swayed the way he was by Keene. I hope Looking Glass can come to terms with himself soon and start living fully as his own person. This is the only way he’ll be able to redeem himself in his own eyes and have a chance at repairing his relationship with Angela.
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