With only two episodes remaining in the first season of HBO’s Watchmen, the vast and insidious conspiracy at play in Tulsa is finally being revealed—and Doctor Manhattan is caught in the middle.
After turning back the clock over 50 years in Episode 6 to show the thrilling and devastating origin story of Hooded Justice, we return to the present in “An Almost Religious Awe,” where the battle lines in Tulsa have been drawn. The Seventh Kavalry (the modern-day Cyclops terrorist cult) is attempting to restore the balance of a white America that they believe has swung too far away from the principles in which it was founded; Lady Trieu is using her wealth to try and stop the Kavalry and “save humanity,” while Will Reeves continues his personal Eighty Years’ War against the racist terrorists who razed his home as a child; and as Angela Abar’s past becomes even more mystifying, her relationship to Doctor Manhattan comes to light.
There’s a lot to cover in this episode, so let’s dive right into our key characters of the week and a look back at the graphic novel.
After overdosing on Nostalgia pills, Angela enters a recovery program at the Trieu facility, where she cycles in and out of a mixture of her memories and her grandfather’s. She undergoes a treatment that flushes the Nostalgia from her cortex using cerebrospinal fluid provided from a “natural host”; in other words, Angela is hooked up to her grandfather (whom she’s not allowed to see during the process) so the drug can be removed from her brain.
While this is happening, we learn through a series of flashbacks that Angela—like her grandfather—experienced tragedy as a child that spurred her into a lifelong search for justice.
The episode begins in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1987, on V.V.N. Day, a national holiday that celebrates the day Doctor Manhattan won the Vietnam War for America. There, 11-year-old Angela is attempting to buy a VHS tape of a superhero flick called Sister Night (the Nun with a Motherf*&*ing Gun!). She’s alone in the video store, but she soon runs out to find her parents and ask their permission to watch the movie—a request she’s evidently made several times before. Like every other time she’s asked, Angela’s parents tell her no. Her father—who grew up watching his dad put on the Hooded Justice costume every night to fight criminals—says that people who wear masks are dangerous and should be feared. “It’s only pretend until it’s real,” Marcus Abar tells his daughter. “And when you’re a little older, you’ll be able to tell the difference.”
As Angela goes to return the video, she notices a puppeteer at the street festival hand a backpack off to a man on a bike. Moments later, the biker dives into a truck, screaming “death to the invaders,” before triggering a bomb that instantly kills her parents and knocks her off her feet.
Later in the episode, another flashback shows the day Angela first meets her grandmother, June Abar. Angela is living in an orphanage at the time, and June—the wife of Will Reeves—has tracked her down after discovering that Marcus and his wife were killed in Saigon. They go out for a burger, where June explains parts of their family history to Angela, all while deflecting questions about Angela’s grandfather. Then, just as they’re getting into a cab to the airport to go to Tulsa, June suffers a fatal heart attack. After a handful of hours of false hope, Angela is left alone in Vietnam all over again.
Back in the present, we discover that the “natural host” Angela is connected to in the Trieu facility is not her grandfather, but rather a, er, live elephant (let’s just slide right past that and assume we’ll learn what the hell that was about eventually). She attempts to escape the facility, but stumbles into a room where she can listen to all of the messages and prayers sent to Doctor Manhattan via Manhattan booths from around the world. Lady Trieu finds her there and explains that the prayers are going unanswered because “Doctor Manhattan isn’t listening.” He’s apparently “right here in Tulsa, pretending to be human.”
Angela seems unfazed by the revelation, and instead asks Lady Trieu how she knows Angela’s grandfather. “Your grandfather came to me because he needed someone with my resources to help him stop the Seventh Kavalry,” Lady Trieu tells her.
“Stop them from doing … what?” Angela asks.
“In less than an hour, they’re going to capture Doctor Manhattan, then they’re going to destroy him. And then, they’re going to become him,” Trieu explains. “Can you imagine that kind of power in the hands of white supremacists? I’m sorry, Angela, I know you asked me not to say it, but I am saving fucking humanity.”
Angela returns home, much to her husband Cal’s surprise, and immediately starts searching for a hammer in the kitchen. She tells Cal how much she loves him, reveals the weapon in her hand, and says, “Time to come out of the tunnel.” Cal seems clueless as to what she’s talking about and asks whether that’s due to the supposed amnesia he suffered from his accident in Vietnam.
“There was no accident,” Angela replies. “It was a lie—a lie so that we could be together, at least for a while. If it’s any consolation, it was your idea.”
“Honey, I don’t know what they did to you,” Cal responds, clearly shaken by the news (and the hammer in her hands). “But I think the drug you took is messing you up. You’re not yourself.”
“No, Jon,” Angela says, addressing him by Doctor Manhattan’s real name. “You’re not yourself.”
She apologizes just before bashing his head in. Then she reaches into his skull and pulls out a device that resembles the hydrogen atom symbol Doctor Manhattan etched into his forehead. A glowing blue light slowly starts to reflect onto her face, and in the episode’s closing moments, Angela says, “Hey baby. We’re in fucking trouble.”
One of the biggest questions throughout this season has been how the blue god was going to be integrated into the story. Now we know he was in Tulsa all along, reading books, having sex with Angela, and hanging out at home with the kids. Doctor Manhattan disguised himself as Cal Abar; Angela knew it, Will seems to have known it, and somehow the Seventh Kavalry discovered that too. The Kavalry’s plan, as revealed by Lady Trieu—and also alluded to by Senator Keene to Agent Blake, who was captured by Chief Crawford’s wife and is being held by the Kavalry—is to capture Doctor Manhattan and take his place as the most powerful being in the universe.
Some time after V.V.N. Day, Angela must have met Doctor Manhattan and fallen in love; then together, they decided to conceal his identity. It’s unclear how much Angela knows about the Seventh Kavalry’s plan—or any of the other goings-on in Tulsa—but she now has Doctor Manhattan at her side, ready to take them on.
Another major reveal in this episode came in a separate conversation between Lady Trieu and Angela. Angela asks whose Nostalgia-fueled memories are being fed to Trieu’s daughter, Bian. “Bian’s not my daughter; she’s my mother,” Lady Trieu says matter-of-factly. “Before she died, I harvested her memories and then I cloned her. Of course she wouldn’t be my mother unless she had my mother’s experiences, so over time I’ve been reintegrating her memories while she sleeps via IV drip.”
“You’re a fucking crazy person,” Angela says in disbelief.
“I’m on the verge of completing my life’s work,” Trieu says. “Is it wrong to want my parents with me when I do?”
“Your dad’s here too?” Angela asks.
“He will be.”
Trieu has already shown in past episodes that she can genetically engineer babies, but the possibility of combining that process with her Nostalgia drug had yet to be explored. Her father may be in the process of being cloned now too, but given the fact that we first saw Bian picking up a newspaper as early as the second episode, chances are that we would’ve met him by now. (Since Watchmen has already done this several times over, maybe we already have and we just don’t know it yet.)
Lady Trieu has yet to reveal her plans for the Millennium Clock, which is nearly ready to be activated, but during her speech at the clock’s groundbreaking years earlier, she shared some clues. There, she mentioned her long list of accomplishments, as well as her one major failure: Nostalgia. She says she originally intended for people to use the drug to learn from the mistakes of the past and to better themselves, but instead they used it to relive their most painful experiences. They did this, she believes, “because they were afraid that once unburdened by the trauma of the past, they would have no excuse not to move gloriously into the future.”
Perhaps the Millennium Clock is set to correct that failure, and this time, she will succeed in leading humanity into a new future.
The show’s weekly check-in on the wild world of Adrian Veidt returns after a one-episode hiatus—and it’s one of the most revealing (and weirdest) yet.
We pick up at the 365th day of the trial of The People vs. Adrian Veidt, just as prosecutor Crookshanks is about to deliver her closing argument. A full year has passed since Adrian got kicked in the face by the Game Warden. I once thought that Mr. Phillips and Ms. Crookshanks brought Adrian a cake each episode because my guy has a killer sweet tooth—but it’s made clear in this episode that a year lapses between each time we see him; the cakes are timestamps, a marker for each year he’s spent imprisoned. “Four years since I was sent here,” Adrian declares in the fourth episode. “In the beginning, I thought it was a paradise. But it’s not. It’s a prison.” In the season premiere, we meet Adrian as he enjoys his idyllic lifestyle, riding horses, writing plays, all while living with his servants in a beautiful castle. By the fourth episode, Adrian is slaughtering dozens of his clone servants and launching them into space so that he can signal for help, which he does successfully the following episode.
At the trial, Adrian is answering not only for his crime in the present—his attempts to escape paradise—but for those of his past as Ozymandias; he even sits in the Honorable Game Warden’s court of law wearing the purple-and-gold costume. Prosecutor Crookshanks (who, I must say, is as inspired of a TV lawyer as I’ve ever seen) makes a strong case against her master: “Even from the time before he came to us, he freely admits that he not only took the lives of fellow costumed adventurers, but those of 3 million innocent people.” In the comics, Adrian plans for his genocidal 11/2 event by eliminating potential threats to his plot: He kills the Comedian, frames Rorschach for a separate murder, and levies accusations against Doctor Manhattan until the blue god eventually goes into a self-imposed exile on Mars.
Crookshanks reminds the jury (which, naturally, is composed of other clone servants) that the one rule of their paradise is simple: “Thou shalt not leave.” And when Adrian (who, naturally, is representing himself at the trial) is called upon for his closing argument, he breaks his yearlong silence with nothing more than a fart.
In his verdict, the Game Warden tells the audience that the foundation of every fair trial is that the jury comprises a group of the defendant’s peers. So he brings in a group of pigs (like, actual pigs).
One lucky pig is chosen to squeal the guilty verdict, and Adrian—in a rare moment where his unwavering demeanor breaks down—is left in tears, as the courtroom fills with chants of “guilty.”
If we are to assume that Adrian’s annual check-ins are, in fact, a year apart each episode, and the scenes we’ve witnessed began when he disappeared in 2012, then Adrian has nearly caught up to the rest of the show’s timeline. Adrian’s captor (unless his exile was self-imposed) has yet to reveal his or herself, but whomever Adrian was attempting to send a message to in Episode 5 better come to his rescue soon.
Before all the madness in Episode 7 takes place, it opens with a clip from a documentary on the life and disappearance of Doctor Manhattan. The video explains how a man named Jon Osterman stepped into an intrinsic field chamber one day and emerged as “an immortal god, impervious to the passage of time”—a story we were told in Adrian’s play, The Watchmaker’s Son. It also highlights Osterman’s role in the Vietnam War. “Was he the liberating hero who single-handedly ended the war and delivered his country its 51st state? Or was he the cold, blue conqueror who decimated an entire way of life?”
In Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s original story, Doctor Manhattan was born and immediately put to work by President Nixon and the American government. He served as the country’s nuclear deterrent, as well as its greatest weapon. He’s capable of making copies of himself, being in several places simultaneously, enlarging his body to be a hundred feet tall, teleporting, seeing into the past and future, and probably anything else you could think of; in short, he’s an all-powerful, omniscient blue entity.
Over time, Doctor Manhattan begins losing touch with humanity. Its significance wanes in favor of his ever-expanding knowledge of the universe. First, Doctor Manhattan was in love with Janey Slater—the woman he was with when he was still Jon Osterman—then he left her for a young Laurie Blake, who eventually left Doctor Manhattan not long before his self-imposed exile to Mars in 1985.
Manhattan returns to Earth on 11/2, as Laurie tries to convince him to save the world. Near the end of the graphic novel, Adrian fears that the blue god will thwart his genocidal plan to transform the world into a new utopia, so he attempts to do the impossible: kill Doctor Manhattan. He succeeds, to an extent. Adrian uses tachyons to successfully limit Doctor Manhattan’s ability to see into the future, and traps him into the same kind of intrinsic field that killed Jon Osterman. Adrian obliterates him, but moments later, Doctor Manhattan returns:
Adrian proceeds to turn on his wall of TVs to show Manhattan, Rorschach, Nite Owl, and Silk Spectre (Laurie) that his plan succeeded: News outlets around the world report that countries are ending international conflicts to turn their focus toward the alien squid that killed 3 million people in New York. The group decides to keep quiet about the source of attack, since millions would have died in vain otherwise—except for Rorschach, whom Doctor Manhattan kills in order to maintain the secret. Doctor Manhattan then finds Adrian for a chat, before leaving Earth for another galaxy.
Some time after 1985, and the final pages of Moore’s story, Doctor Manhattan met Angela Abar, and decided that the only way for them to be together was for him to become human again. After spending years in exile, and even more years dressing up as Cal, the blue god has returned, and it seems like he’s arrived just in time for the world’s next Armageddon.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.