With HBO’s Watchmen, showrunner Damon Lindelof delivers an ambitious continuation of Alan Moore’s groundbreaking graphic novel. So far, we’ve seen a retelling of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, which the series used as a launching point to jump into 2019, where the white supremacist Seventh Kavalry spreads terror, and generational trauma unfolds on multiple fronts. The series’ plentiful comic-book references include squid rain and blue penises, and weekly questions still unfold. It’s time to break it all down.
Not long ago, in the third Watchmen episode, Jeremy Irons’ character confirmed that everyone’s suspicions were correct, and yes, he was Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. “Ozymandias.” This was a poorly kept secret, and purposefully so. HBO had a ball with the teasing lead-up, so that reveal was anticlimactic but, thankfully, also buried in an otherwise eventful episode full of comic-book callbacks. Well, the rest of the series has been so meticulously crafted that Lindelof managed to throw fans off the scent of an honest-to-god-shocking reveal in the seventh installment, “An Almost Religious Awe.”
In retrospect, the signs were probably there (like Laurie telling Angela how “hot” her husband is), but this reveal took place following another peek at the literary fixation of Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s character, Cal Abar (he’s seen reading For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, in which guerrilla fighters hide in the mountains). Here, “Cal” is the one who’s been in hiding, although he doesn’t realize it due to amnesia from an “accident” that never actually happened. It’s worth mentioning how, before this series debuted, Abdul-Mateen suggested to us (when Cal appeared to be a minor player) that a shift would happen in Cal’s thinking. Yet I never, ever would have suspected that Cal’s true identity is, uh, Doctor Manhattan.
Doctor F*cking Manhattan!
The execution of this reveal was brutally efficient. Angela, fresh from her treatment and get-real talk with Lady Trieu, told a very confused Cal that his name was Jon. “You’re not yourself,” she insisted before busting his head with a hammer and digging out a shiny disc. Then came the reflection of a telltale blue glow.
Yes, Jon Osterman, the son of a clockmaker who became impervious to time, and who accidentally became a radioactive blue god, has been hiding out inside of Cal. This development is nothing short of masterful after James Wolk’s senator cried white-supremacist tears during an earlier scene. Lindelof had already justified his continuation of Moore’s graphic novel — a move initially met with skepticism, since few people thought Watchmen needed to be revisited — by recontextualizing the entire story with last week’s radical Hooded Justice reveal. Now Doctor Manhattan has been revealed to be hiding in the body of a Black man as well. Moore’s novel was ahead of its time with his 1980s thoughts on superheroes, but his work has now arguably been transcended.
What I mean is this: Lindelof has been resurfacing an era of Black history — the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre (HBO and The Atlantic have now published a collaborative comic) — for the masses. The show is writing Black characters into history, whereas U.S. history has traditionally written them out of the books. That’s why few people knew about the 1921 horror until a few years ago, and now, it shall never be forgotten.
With that curveball duly executed, we’ve got some questions to consider.
What’s Up With The Enormous Elephant? Throughout the season, we’ve seen that Lady Trieu (not a character from the Watchmen graphic novel) very much enjoys elephant-themed decor, including an hourglass and a tea set. In Vietnamese history, in fact, the legendary Lady Trieu is said to have ridden into battle atop an elephant. Yet there are also elephant references in the graphic novel, including an pachyderm-shaped blimp to advertise the Gunga Diner, where Laurie and Nite Owl II enjoyed lunch together. Oh, and real-life elephants also have ridiculously long-term memory on their side, which sort-of explains why Lady Trieu’s treatment to reverse the Nostalgia pills’ effects somehow involves connecting Angela to an elephant. I guess? Also, Lindelof might have found a way to work in race-based commentary here, since Rudyard Kipling’s “Gunga Din” poem has been criticized for being rife with imperial racism.
Why Did Lady Trieu Drop That Car From The Sky? Since Cal is Doctor Manhattan and, according to Angela, hasn’t been aware of this fact for awhile, one might wonder who heard Laurie Blake’s calls a few episodes ago and sent her a message in return. Well, it seems as though Lady Trieu’s the responsible party. This week, she told Angela that she operated many “Manhattan booths,” but he wasn’t listening, obviously. Trieu says that Will informed her of the blue guy’s whereabouts, although this doesn’t make sense yet. However, we can gather that Trieu is probably telling the truth with her claim that she wants to save humanity. She might be just as meglomaniacal as Ozymandias, but she does want to halt the Seventh Kavalry’s plan to gain Doctor Manhattan’s power, which she doesn’t want “in the hands of white supremacists.” But yeah, she probably dropped that car, and it’s unclear why, other than maybe to give Laurie a little thrill.
Is Senator Joe Really Planning To Become Doctor Manhattan? Laurie made the mistake of not arriving with backup when making the Hooded Justice disclosure to Judd’s wife, Jane. Still, the former Silk Spectre II came in hot with her commentary about how, in the U.S., white guys in masks can be heroes, but masked Black men are considered “scary.” Soon enough, Laurie found herself in a basement with Senator Joe, who confirmed that the Seventh Kavalry is a new incarnation of Cyclops. Given the behavior of Jane, we also can gather that Judd (as the Tulsa Police chief) was indeed Kavalry, and Joe likely organized the White Night to put cops in masks, so “no one can tell the good guys from the bad guys.” Yet the plan expanded, and we listened to Joe whine about how hard it is to be a white guy in America, so “I might try being a blue one.” Given that Lady Trieu tells Angela that the Kavalry plans to “destroy” and “become” Doctor Manhattan, I can only wonder how Joe plans to pull this off.
What Of Adrian Veidt’s Flatulence? Work with me here because this one’s a puzzler. A few weeks ago, we saw that Ozymandias’ prison appeared to be on one of Jupiter’s moons, and Lindelof has since confirmed that he’s on Europa. In this episode, we see the Game Warden presiding over Veidt’s trial for his various crimes against humanity, including killing 3 million innocents, for which he’s shown no remorse, and most importantly, he stands accused of attempting to escape. Well, in his defense, he only farts. God only knows how long (at least a few months) that I’ve wanted to watch Jeremy Irons make a fart-face. I’m also on the verge of suggesting that the squealing pigs inside the courtroom might call up the graphic novel’s Bay of Pigs-invasion reference, but that’s probably too much of a reach. The better question here is how flatulence — or almost anything else we’ve seen go down on Europa in this series — is possible on a moon that has practically no atmosphere. I can only conclude that the entity that’s imprisoning Veidt (probably Doctor Manhattan) is able to fashion an atmosphere to suit any purpose.
Hey, Why Was Doctor Manhattan Wearing Underwear In Vietnam? There’s an easy answer here, but I’m searching for more. Jon Osterman is notorious for having progressively shed his clothing as a sign of his waning connection to humanity and its conventions. He did, however, wear at least some clothing while completing missions on behalf of the U.S. government, which explains the black briefs that the immortal one wore while striding through a field in Vietnam, presumably during the Wrath of God operation. As with the graphic novel, Jon wore a black swimsuit in the early 1970s before fully giving up on clothes in the 1980s. Since HBO’s continuation has made some tweaks to the source material, they very well could have made him go nude here, since they’ve already done full-frontal-blue-guy earlier this season. However, I want the real answer to be this: after Jon assumed giant form, a giant blue penis might have been too graphic, even for HBO. That small mercy might be our last one, since we’re apparently only a few hours away from the Millennium Clock’s activation.
HBO’s ‘Watchmen’ airs on Sunday nights at 9pm EST.