clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Biggest Unanswered Questions Left at the End of ‘Watchmen’

Damon Lindelof hasn’t a promised a second season, but if there is one, there’s still plenty left to cover

HBO/Ringer illustration

In the final panel of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s original Watchmen, the bumbling New Frontiersman editorial assistant Seymour David lowers his hand into a stack of papers that holds Rorschach’s journal. The tattered diary contains a full account of the truth behind the 11/2 attack on New York that, if published, could shatter the utopia that Adrian Veidt killed 3 million people to create. More than 30 years later, in the final frame of HBO’s Watchmen season finale, Angela Abar lowers her foot over the surface of her pool, leaving viewers to wonder whether she has just become the new Doctor Manhattan.

As I wrote in my recap of the ninth and final episode, “See How They Fly,” on Sunday, the ending doubled as an homage to the graphic novel and as a stylistic trademark of showrunner Damon Lindelof, a guy with an affinity for open-ended conclusions. The fate of Angela’s foot was far from the only lingering question as the credits began to roll.

One of the biggest loose ends was tied off on HBO’s tie-in website Peteypedia after the episode, as the identity of the mysterious vigilante Lube Man was revealed to be none other than Agent Dale Petey himself. The superhero-loving FBI agent appeared in costume for all of one minute of screen time, before he doused himself in canola oil and slid into the hearts of viewers everywhere, never to be seen again. The FBI memo reveals that Petey was sacked, but also implies that the Lube Man lives on.

With one great mystery unmasked off-screen, plenty of questions remain—but there’s no guarantee that a second season of Watchmen is on the way. Lindelof publicly expressed doubts in returning for more before the season premiered, and two months later, his stance seems to be just as uncertain. The story was wrapped up in one season (albeit a little hurriedly in the end), and there’s no telling whether he or someone else will take Watchmen forward. While we wait, let’s consider some of the big questions left over after the season finale and where the series could go from here.

Lingering Questions

Where is Dan Dreiberg?

All images via HBO

In Episode 3, Laurie Blake tells a long joke about three former vigilantes from Watchmen—“owl guy,” “smartypants,” and “blue god”—meeting God at the pearly gates. In doing so, Laurie essentially provides a history of the original Watchmen story, while shedding rare light upon the forgotten Dan Dreiberg.

Dreiberg, Nite Owl II, is pretty much a Kirkland-brand Batman, with all the wealth and gadgets but none of the swagger or physique. He’s Laurie’s rebound guy after she leaves Doctor Manhattan in the comics, and he’s also the only one to not appear in HBO’s Watchmen series. We did, however, learn in the third episode that Dan has been in prison, as Senator Keene alluded to the fact that if he were elected president, he’d have the power to set him free.

A Peteypedia post provides further context: A transcript from an FBI interrogation with Laurie in 1995 reveals how Dan got locked up. Keeping with the Watchmen theme of revising real historical events, the interrogation finds Laurie—who had stepped out of vigilante retirement along with Dreiberg in the guise of “The Comedienne”—answering for the murder of the Timothy McVeigh. (As it turns out, she and Dan prevented the Oklahoma City bombing from ever happening.) Dan went to prison, and Laurie flexed her knowledge of the truth behind 11/2 before accepting a plea deal that required her to become a special agent for the Anti-Vigilante Task Force.

Dreiberg’s technology—the owl-shaped ships and the fancy goggles the police use—found a second life in the Watchmen series, but the Nite Owl himself did not. While we have a sense of where he is and how he got there, we know nothing else about what’s happened to one of the main characters of the graphic novel, and Watchmen fans who are unfamiliar with the comics or the movie hardly know anything about him. If the series lives on, Dan may finally get a chance to shine again, but for now, it looks like he’ll have to just keep on waiting.

What happened to Will Reeves after the 1940s and ’50s?

Despite all we learned about Will during the phenomenal sixth episode, “This Extraordinary Being,” there’s still so much we don’t know about the man formerly known as Hooded Justice. Why, for example, in the second episode, can he reach his hand into a boiling pot of water to grab an egg and retract it completely unscathed? And how did he even break free of his handcuffs to purchase the eggs in the first place? But perhaps most importantly, what was he doing in the years after he retired from the NYPD, when he “fell off the grid” sometime in the 1950s?

Everything between that Nostalgia-fueled moment and the conversation Will has with Doctor Manhattan in 2009 remains unknown. We know that he eventually turns to the trillionaire Lady Trieu for help in his fight against Cyclops, but what did he end up using the mesmerism technology for? And what else happened to him?

There’s still plenty we could learn about the world’s first superhero, and I for one would love to see Jovan Adepo reprise his role as the young Will Reeves after his performance in the sixth episode. Maybe he can even reunite with his The Leftovers mom, Regina King, if she steps into her role as the next Doctor Manhattan.

What will happen to Bian?

Near the end of the season finale, after Angela and Will finally speak again in the Dreamland Theatre, Angela and her family walk through the remnants of Lady Trieu’s Millennium Clock and the frozen squidfall. Lady Trieu is dead, crushed somewhere beneath her life’s work, but her daughter—who was a clone of her mother all along—is still alive. Bian reappears only for a brief moment, as she stares into the distance from the backseat of a patrol car, traumatized by the death of her mother-daughter, about to be hauled off to the Tulsa Police precinct by Pirate Jenny and Red Scare (name a more iconic duo, I dare you).

Bian is likely both young and clever enough to make it out of police custody all right, but will she choose to finish what Lady Trieu started and fire up another Millennium Clock to try to steal Angela’s potentially newfound abilities? Or could she just clone Trieu and start the whole cycle over again?

In a recent Entertainment Weekly interview with Lindelof, one of the questions addressed what else the writers would’ve liked to explore in the show if they’d had the time: “I wish we had done a deeper dive on Lady Trieu [Hong Chau], that we had gone back into her past and showed her childhood because we talked a lot about that.” The writing team opted to instead focus in on Angela, Manhattan, and Will, and so Trieu’s past was largely reduced to her scene with Adrian in 2008, a recording of one of her speeches, and the information that can be gleaned from Peteypedia.

If Bian were to reemerge in a second season, she would be the perfect vehicle to explore more of Lady Trieu’s past. Even more, we could see what the original Bian experienced in Vietnam and how she wound up in Adrian’s employ in Antarctica. We already know that her village was burned based on the “nightmare” (that was actually a drug-induced memory) she described to Lady Trieu in the fourth episode, so the show could take us back to the Vietnam War to show the destruction caused by Doctor Manhattan and Laurie’s father, the Comedian, first-hand.

Then again, if Bian doesn’t share any of the same sinister tendencies as her daughter, maybe she’ll peacefully return to her work on that dissertation.

How will the truth behind Adrian Veidt’s crimes affect the world?

After the truth behind 11/2 was kept secret for 34 years, Adrian will finally answer for his crimes—on Earth this time. Laurie and Wade “Mirror Guy” Tillman have evidence of Adrian’s recorded address to President Redford and are about to take Veidt back to Washington, D.C., in what would be the greatest trial in human history: one that would even implicate the commander in chief himself.

The current situation thus presents the very same question that readers were left with at the end of the original Watchmen: How will the world respond to the truth?

In the aftermath of 11/2, in the graphic novel, Laurie, Dan, and Doctor Manhattan concede that Adrian has placed them in a moral checkmate; if they were to reveal that the psychic squid that landed in New York was a man-made creation and not an extradimensional threat that the world’s countries ceased their imminent nuclear warfare for, then 3 million people would have died for nothing. Rorschach, steadfast as always, objects and declares that he would “never compromise,” “not even in the face of Armageddon.” He fails to tell the world himself, as Doctor Manhattan kills him outside of Karnak to maintain the lie, but by then, that journal he kept throughout the course of the story was already on its way to the New Frontiersman to be published to the world.

As we learned in the HBO series, it turns out that Rorschach’s journal wasn’t convincing enough to do any real harm. But even so, Adrian’s schemes to create a worldwide utopia only delayed the nuclear Doomsday Clock, rather than stopping it, an oversight that Lady Trieu sought to correct after absorbing Doctor Manhattan’s powers. Now, with Veidt’s video confession on hand, Adrian may finally receive the justice that Rorscach died fighting for.

A second season could explore a potential trial of Adrian Veidt, and perhaps more interestingly, new characters in a world that knows that the American government has been sheltering the hoax all along. All the people who have lived with extra-dimensional anxiety since 1985, like Wade, as well as all those who were born after and had that trauma passed down to them, would have to reckon with the fact that they have been living in fear of a threat that never even existed.

For Adrian’s part, if he were to face another trial, at least this time around his verdict wouldn’t be decided by a jury of squealing pigs.

So … is Angela the new Doctor Manhattan?

I’ve already referred to this question along the way, and it is, of course, the biggest one of them all. Though we don’t know exactly what happens the moment Angela’s foot hits the surface of her pool, it’s probably fair to assume that she won’t simply fall through, and Lindelof himself has suggested as much in several interviews.

“We’re not trying to be cutesy about it,” Lindelof told EW. “It just felt the ending that we went with was meant to be more cinematic than ambiguous. It doesn’t feel ambiguous to me, but I’m the least qualified human on the planet to talk about ending ambiguity.” To Rolling Stone, he added even more: “I intended it to be just as much of an ending as the original Watchmen is. There is certainly a story to be told about whether or not Seymour publishes Rorschach’s journal and undoes everything that Veidt just intended to do. But that’s not a story that I think would be particularly interesting.”

So perhaps the real question is not whether she’ll become the next Doctor Manhattan, but what will she do with her newfound abilities?

A theme that carries through the course of the season finale is power, and what one chooses to do with it. The Seventh Kavalry wanted to steal Doctor Manhattan’s abilities to continue the work that Cyclops started decades earlier, to “restore balance” in a white America after years of liberal leadership under President Redford. Lady Trieu wanted to use the power to “fix the world” and make all the changes that Doctor Manhattan neglected. They both failed in their pursuits, and in the end, Doctor Manhattan chose his successor on his own terms.

Just before Angela discovers the unbroken egg left in the carton, Will Reeves echoes Trieu’s sentiments on Jon’s passivity. “He was a good man. I’m sorry he’s gone,” he tells Angela. “But, considering what he could do, he could’ve done more.” Assuming she sticks the landing, Angela will have the agency to change the world in her image. Like Trieu fantasized, Angela could disappear all the nukes in the world, clean its air, and end starvation; fix all the problems of the world Jon didn’t find worth saving. Or she could do nothing at all, just as Jon chose to, and live out her days with her grandfather and children, rebuilding the family she always wanted.

Watchmen had an incredibly strong first season of television, but Lindelof and Co. told the story of Angela Abar and Will Reeves that they wanted to, and for that reason, maybe the series has already found its fitting conclusion. Perhaps what happens after the credits is a mystery better left unsolved.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.