Watchmen: A God Walks into Abar

Posted on December 09, 2019

Due to some holiday socializing, we only had time to dive into some random thoughts on this, the most jaw-dropping episode of Watchmen yet. Don’t worry, we made sure to make them meaty random thoughts.

We can’t imagine there’s a television creator with a greater understanding of the distinct pleasure that occurs for a viewer when all their questions are answered in a manner that makes sense, doesn’t bullshit them and doesn’t pander to them. Damon Lindelof learned this (the hard way, you might say) with the finale of Lost. In fact, we think it’s no coincidence that an episode like this one was written by Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen. Lindelof made his name on Lost and Jensen became famous for his meticulously researched and argued recaps and theories about the show. Between them, they may actually have the greatest combined understanding of both the joy of an engaged audience following a serialized mystery and also the near-necessity to stimulate that audience’s pleasure centers with answers that provide a satisfactory level of closure for them. And if you’re not prepared to do the latter – which is an entirely valid creative choice and one Lindelof further argued for with The Leftovers – you need to have very good reasons for doing so. Considering the depth of material and explanation surrounding the original Watchmen graphic novel, it’s to Lindelof’s credit they seems to have understood that the mystery-box formula is a fine way to set up and serialize a storyline, but it’s not really what Watchmen is all about.

As in the original story, mysteries abounded throughout the tale, but when it came time for a third act confrontation and climax, every blank was filled in. With this episode, not only do nearly all of the blanks get filled in, but decades of narrative unfold, from Jon Osterman’s wartime sex education (continuing Alan Moore’s idea in the original work that a great deal of masked heroes have sexual issues, fetishes or compulsions at the heart of their stories) to his 2009 introduction to Angela (and later deadly important time-skipping conversation with her grandfather that tends to answer the most questions at once), to his fateful (for both of them) final conversation with Adrian, all the way up to his final (?) fate in 2019. Where is Adrian and why is he there? What’s the deal with those nutty clones and why do they all look like the same two people? Why do they all live in a castle? What’s the connection between Will and Judd Crawford? How did Will find Angela? Why was Laurie and later Lady Trieu so interested in Cal? Why is this all going down in Tulsa? Where are the raining squid coming from? What happened to the guy who shot Angela on White Night? All answered in the space of an hour. It was dizzying.

Also dizzying: the shift into full-on superherodom. Watchmen has managed to depict some of the most brutal and talked-about depictions of America’s history of racial violence in years, not to mention an impressively engaging and thoughtful depiction of black romance (in this episode especially) so you might be forgiven if you felt a little whiplash watching the naked blue guy literally flying around and walking through walls in the second half of this episode. And we think it’s clear by now that the one lynchpin to all of this is Regina King’s performance as Angela, which is both kickass (there more motherfuckers-per-hour than all the Marvel movies combined), but also deeply vulnerable and charmingly romantic. The introductory scene with Jon might have come off incredibly creepy or flakey, but she anchored it with a lovely performance that allowed us to see both why she would let this strange man talk to her this way (a yawning loneliness, rootlessness, and need to connect) and why she might wind up being charmed by his strangeness. Similarly, she managed to make the morgue scene seem weirdly tender – especially when she unveiled Cal’s body and shyly said, “I could get used to this one…”

Of course, Jon’s “appropriation” (as Adrian not inaccurately designated it) constitutes the second time Watchmen the HBO series took a white superhero from Watchmen the graphic novel’s all-white hero cast and pointedly turned them black. In Jon/Cal’s case, they took the metaphor of Will Reeves fooling people into thinking he was white to become Hooded Justice and made it literal by having Dr. Manhattan fool the world into thinking he was a black man in order to become human again. If there’s one aspect of the story that remains frustratingly unexplored, it’s Angela’s feelings about her husband’s racial history, for lack of a better term. We do, however, think all of the setup surrounding Angela’s own history with race (cut off from any biological family members or knowledge of family history, raised in an Asian culture, mother to three white children) might explain her acceptance of the situation.

Which reminds us: Hey, remember how people in the first few episodes  – people like CAL AND ANGELA AND WILL – kept talking about how Dr. Manhattan can’t make himself look like a regular human and that all turned out to be major foreshadowing and stuff? You think that whole bizarre conversation with Angela and Jon on VVN Night about how he could make an organic material that someone could ingest and then have his powers might actually pay off some time in the near future? We’re just asking. And why did he tell Angela that it would be important later that she saw him walking on the pool’s surface? We’re – again – just asking.

And finally, there’s Adrian Veidt, suffering the absolute worst possible fate for a super-genius mastermind, to be ignored and irrelevant; his triumphs unrecorded and all for naught, stuck in a hell of his own asking. To be honest, we do tend to find the reveal here to be the only slightly disappointing one. So much of what seemed mysterious about the setup of this entire story comes down to Dr. Manhattan either misunderstanding the effect he was having on people or the effect he was having on time. His lack of humanity meant that he never considered the damage his time-jumping conversation might have and that constitutes a major thematic point for both this series and the original one: Dr. Manhattan is a god and he’s too dangerous to live among humans. But with Adrian, who wanted to live in glory, Jon badly misjudged the situation somehow, exiling him to a hell that was only likely to make him crazier and more resentful than ever. It makes for a decent setup to whatever part Adrian’s going to play in the final showdown, but it’s a weird way to explain all of the goofiness of Adrian’s storyline. Then again, we were pretty sure from the start that we weren’t going to love how his weird story and the main one linked up. With the revelation that even the horseshoe had deeper meaning, it looks like we’re going to find out very soon how it all plays out.

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