clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What Was Doctor Manhattan Doing During His Time Away From Earth on ‘Watchmen’?

The blue god is back and living many timelines at once in Episode 8, “A God Walks Into Abar”

HBO/Ringer illustration

For much of the first seven episodes of HBO’s Watchmen, Doctor Manhattan is merely a historical figure in the show’s universe, his influence looming over the world from afar. Videos of the blue god on Mars are recycled on the news, prayer booths erected in his honor are located across the globe, and his immense power—once used to win the Vietnam War for America—might as well be the stuff of legend over 30 years after his disappearance.

But after a few whacks to the dome of Cal Abar in the seventh episode’s closing moments, Doctor Manhattan has arrived in all his blue glory, and he has a lot to say.

Ahead of the season finale, all the major players have been established. In the eighth episode, “A God Walks Into Abar,” Doctor Manhattan essentially lays out the timeline for the entire series, while filling in the gaps and nearly all the missing context along the way. He reveals how he wound up in Angela’s life, and even shows us exactly where Adrian has been this whole time. With two massive story lines finally elucidated, we’ll break down what’s happening in each one before revisiting the chapter in the graphic novel that likely served as this episode’s inspiration.

What’s Happening?

The Tunnel of Love
HBO

In the episode’s opening moments, a god, well, walks into a bar. Doctor Manhattan sits down across from Angela Abar with two beers in hand. The bar is in Saigon, Vietnam, and they’re meeting on V.V.N. Day in 2009, exactly 22 years after Angela’s parents were killed by a suicide bomber.

In this timeline, we last saw Angela as an orphaned little girl on the day she met her grandmother, June. The two nearly went back to Tulsa before June’s fatal heart attack. Since then, Angela has grown up to do exactly what she promised her grandmother years earlier: She became a police officer. As for Doctor Manhattan, he hasn’t been on Earth since 1985, and since then he’s been creating life on one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa.

But here in this bar, Jon has returned to Earth to ask Angela to dinner. Naturally, Angela doesn’t believe that Jon is the god he claims to be, so he convinces her in the only way he knows how: by narrating exactly where he’s been (and when) and where he’ll be (and when), all along the road of their supposed 10-year relationship—save for a passage of time he can’t foresee—until it meets a tragic end. “The way I experience time is unique, and for you, particularly infuriating,” Doctor Manhattan explains to Angela. “That said, I am simultaneously in this bar, having a conversation with you, and on Europa, creating life.”

Two weeks into the future, Jon explains, Angela will come up with the idea that allows him to look like a human. And so she does: While together in a morgue, Angela shows Doctor Manhattan several male corpses, all with no next of kin, and whose identities are now free for the taking. After revealing three unfavorable options, she pulls out the corpse of a black man from Philadelphia: Calvin Jelani. In a quick blue flash, Jon assumes Cal’s body and identity:

HBO

In the bar, Jon explains to Angela that in six months they will have a big fight, and they do: While they’re having sex, Jon does that infuriating thing he tends to do and announces events happening in the past and future, including the fight that they’re minutes away from having. With the moment ruined, Angela tells him to leave, and Jon teleports to Adrian Veidt’s Karnak facility in Antarctica—butt-naked of course—in search of a solution that can satisfy Angela.

As Jon casually strolls in unannounced, he finds the World’s Smartest Man sitting alone watching the news on his wall of TVs, looking as disheveled and broken as a New York Knicks fan. Adrian and Jon haven’t seen each other in exactly 24 years, 41 days, and 13 hours, by Jon’s count. Their last meeting came the day Adrian killed 3 million New Yorkers with a giant squid and attempted to kill Doctor Manhattan in the very building they’re now back together in.

After relocating to a room full of tanks of baby squids, Adrian proceeds to set up a squidfall in Madagascar while Jon tells him about Angela and the issue he already knows Adrian can solve. Jon is seeking a way to lose his omnipotence and become mortal again; Adrian says that 30 years ago, he made a device that would essentially short-circuit Jon’s memory and prevent him from remembering how to use his powers.

Adrian’s plan on 11/2, as I mentioned in last week’s recap, was to kill Doctor Manhattan and stop him from interfering with his attempt to create a global utopia. But as it turns out, that plan—which was to lure Jon into an intrinsic field subtractor and annihilate him—was merely Plan B, while Plan A was to use the aforementioned device to give Jon amnesia. The device, last seen covered in Cal’s blood at the conclusion of Episode 7, is irradiated with tachyon particles and, once lodged into Jon’s brain, would hinder him from using his abilities. “The effects should be immediate,” Adrian tells him. “You’ll forget who you are, what you can do, and everything that’s ever happened to you.”

In exchange for the device, Adrian brings up an issue of his own. “I saved the world from nuclear Armageddon, Jon. Aside from you and a select few, nobody knows. My plans for a great future, ignored,” Adrian says, as his voice begins to break. “I once asked you, Jon, whether it was all worth it in the end. You avoided answering by saying, ‘Nothing ever ends.’ Tell me now, Jon, will I live to see my utopia?”

“Yes,” Jon responds. “But not here.” Adrian, the narcissistic egomaniac that he is, has lived all these years in agony, craving recognition as humanity’s greatest savior. Even worse, his vision of a utopian future has gone unrealized, and all he can do now is continue fabricating alien incursions by raining squids upon the world in hopes of maintaining the peace and the lies it’s built upon. And so Jon tells him of Europa, of the new life-form he created that lives to serve on an idyllic landscape devoid of conflict: a paradise. Adrian, with tears in his eyes, agrees to go, and Jon teleports him away, leaving to find Will Reeves for a final chat before he returns to Angela to wipe his memory.

Back in 2019, we pick up the story right as Angela is fishing the device—“The Tunnel of Love” as they’ve dubbed it—out of Cal’s skull, restoring all his abilities. After wandering around a bit to recalibrate his perception of time, Jon teleports himself out to the pool. Next, he teleports their children to the Dreamland Theatre to be with Angela’s grandfather—the very same theater Will and his mother were in on the day of the Tulsa Massacre nearly a century earlier—before telling Angela that Will is already anticipating their arrival based on directions he provided him in a conversation they had back in 2009.

In that conversation, moments after Jon zaps Adrian to Europa, Jon forms an alliance with Will Reeves, knowing that doing so will improve his and Angela’s chances at the end of their proverbial tunnel 10 years into the future. It’s also, crucially, when Angela—who’s asking Will questions through Doctor Manhattan from the future—accidentally informs her grandfather of Judd Crawford’s ties to the Cyclops white supremacist organization and the Klan robes in his closet. Not considering the fact that she’s 10 years ahead of her grandfather, or the potential ramifications of speaking to him in the past (I guess Back to the Future never existed in this twisted version of 1985), Angela sets off the events of the entire series, all predetermined by this singular moment. “Did I start all this?” Angela frantically asks Jon. “Did I send my grandfather here—is this my fault?”

After working up an appetite by solving the chicken-or-egg paradox (“the answer appears to be both at exactly the same time”), Doctor Manhattan teleports himself to the kitchen to whip up some waffles (a truly iconic decision given the dire circumstances). He casually reveals that the Seventh Kavalry had already arrived outside and that, within minutes, they would succeed in involuntarily teleporting him away. Angela runs out and kills a bunch of Kavalry members, and Doctor Manhattan explodes the heads of several more, but the Kavalry still manage to hit him with a tachyonic cannon, teleporting the blue god to his imminent destruction.

Doctor Manhattan is likely not dead yet, as the Kavalry still need to complete the pivotal step of their plan in harnessing his powers—a step they seemed to be gearing up for in the abandoned warehouse Senator Keene was in last week. If they succeed, Jon’s ex, Agent Laurie Blake, will be strapped in with a front-row seat for the show.

As for Angela, she’s still not quite on her own, as Will awaits with her kids at the Dreamland Theatre, Lady Trieu is well aware of the Kavalry’s plans and is gearing up the mysterious Millennium Clock, Looking Glass is still alive and missing, and Lube Man—whoever the hell that slippery weirdo may be—is somewhere out there, ready to slide in to the rescue. (OK, well maybe not that last bit.)

Adrian Veidt’s Paradise
HBO

After being the strangest subplot in the series through the show’s first seven episodes (which says a lot), Adrian’s current predicament is finally revealed in full.

At the bar, still months before Adrian is sent to Europa by Doctor Manhattan, Jon informs Angela of the new world that he’s crafted using characters and a location from his childhood as inspiration.

In 1936, Jon and his father—who is of Jewish ancestry—are fleeing Germany for America ahead of World War II, but not before stopping in England to seek refuge at the manor of a benevolent couple. The lord and lady have converted their home into a sanctuary of sorts, as they provide safe passage for refugees like the Ostermans. And before young Jon leaves, the kind lord and lady—whom we recognize to be Mr. Phillips and Ms. Crookshanks—give him a bible and make him promise that he will go to America and create something beautiful one day. “Seven decades later and 390 million miles away, I fulfill my promise: I’m creating something beautiful,” Jon tells Angela back at the bar in 2009. “Within the pocket of atmosphere I synthesized, and before the very structures they lived and died in decades earlier, I made Adam and Eve—not in my own image, but in theirs.”

HBO

All this time, the clone servants that Adrian has been slaughtering, as well as the castle he’s been living in, were all products of Doctor Manhattan’s creation, and past, in his personal Garden of Eden on Europa. The human fetuses that Adrian was fishing for in the fourth episode, as well as the fully formed humans he breaks apart to fashion a message in space in the fifth episode, are copies of the lord and lady that provided a safe haven for Jon all those years ago. The Game Warden is the Adam in Jon’s creation story, and the reason that they’ve all been trying to prevent Adrian’s escape is the fact that they still feel abandoned by their absent blue god, and now his replacement is attempting to desert them too.

After the eighth episode’s credits, we see a bizarre sequence in which Adrian—fresh off receiving a guilty verdict delivered by a literal pig—is tied up to a tree getting tomatoes crushed into his face by his servants. One by one, copies of Mr. Phillips and Ms. Crookshanks approach Adrian asking him, “Will you stay, master?” He then replies “No,” and then receives a swift tomato to the face (a weird punishment, but we should expect no less by now). Later, Adrian is sitting in his cell reading Fogdancing when the Game Warden brings in yet another cake, marking the seventh year of Adrian’s arrival on Europa. Lodged inside the cake he finds a horseshoe, courtesy of his enduringly loyal servants, and he begins digging his way to freedom.

Adrian may be on his way out of that cell, but even after achieving that, he still needs to find a way off Europa and back to Earth. His only hope appears to be whoever picked up his message—“SAVE ME D-”—on the satellite orbiting Jupiter. The most likely candidate is Lady Trieu, given that she’s invested in space exploration and has sent at least 50 Voyager-class probes into the galaxy. Also factoring into the theory is the increasing likelihood that Adrian is, in fact, Trieu’s father. After all, she clearly has taken great interest in Veidt—between her golden statue of him and the purchase of his company—as well as her curious word choice when she told Laurie Blake and Angela that “so much of [her] success grew from the seed of his inspiration.” Could the object that fell from the sky onto Lady Trieu’s newly purchased property in Episode 4 be a vehicle containing Adrian finally returning to Earth?

With only one episode remaining in the season, there isn’t much time for Watchmen to introduce Lady Trieu’s father if he’s a character we don’t already know (remember: in Episode 7, Trieu told Angela that her dad wasn’t in Tulsa yet, but “he will be”), and just like we saw with Will Reeves in the series’ first two episodes, the answers to our biggest questions may have been in front of us all along.

Comic Corner

Watchmaker
HBO

In “Watchmaker,” the fourth chapter of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen, Doctor Manhattan has just arrived on Mars, after teleporting away from Earth because he had grown weary of humanity.

DC Comics

Throughout the course of the chapter, Doctor Manhattan narrates events spanning four decades as he experiences them happen simultaneously. Jon highlights the most important moments of his life: his father throwing away the parts of a watch Jon was crafting in the mid-’40s as he declared that his son would never be a watchmaker like him, the accident at the Gila Flats test base that transformed him into Doctor Manhattan in the late ’50s, the conversation he had with President Nixon in the early ’70s in which the president asked him to intervene in the Vietnam War. He also narrates the moments he met and fell in love with his two exes, Janey Slater and Laurie Blake, as well as when they both walked out on him. Janey left largely because Jon had grown more interested in the younger Laurie, but in both relationships, Jon’s partners couldn’t stand his ability of foresight and his constant dictations of future events happening before they’d unfold. In short: They couldn’t handle living with an omniscient god.

The eighth episode thus serves as a living extension to that chapter in Watchmen. From the moment Doctor Manhattan, as Jon Osterman, sits down with Angela in a bar, to the night of his eventual doom in Cal’s body in Tulsa 10 years later, Doctor Manhattan narrates the episode by jumping between various timelines while they’re all happening simultaneously.

And Angela runs into the same issue that both Janey and Laurie did; she couldn’t stand living with the blue guy telling her exactly what inevitable event was about to happen. So, after his first two failed relationships, Doctor Manhattan took drastic actions to become human and give up his powers.

The major innovation that the show brings to Doctor Manhattan is that conversation that he facilitates between Will Reeves—living in his present of 2009—and Angela, living in her present of 2019. The chicken-or-egg paradox, as Doctor Manhattan observes, plays out in real time, and Angela is left wondering whether it was actually she who planted the idea in her grandfather’s head to kill Judd Crawford all along, which set forth her investigation into his death and her dive into the the Cyclops conspiracy.

At the end of “Watchmaker,” Doctor Manhattan is essentially considering this same paradox. Still on Mars, he contemplates how much he’s changed society, and whether or not he’s the one responsible for his actions, or whether it’s his father for deciding his career path in the beginning, or if it’s the man who broke the watch that he ended up returning for in the Gila Flats test chamber the day he gained his abilities; he wonders who makes the world what it is. “Perhaps the world is not made,” he concludes. “Perhaps nothing is made. Perhaps it simply is, has been, will always be there … a clock without a craftsman.”

Jon always knew that his time with Angela would lead to his eventual capture; to a certain degree she did too. Yet they both entered “The Tunnel of Love” knowing that tragedy awaited anyway. And now, with a god in their captivity, the Seventh Kavalry is equipped to make the world into whatever it chooses.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.