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Life on Earth gets a lot weirder, but Watchmen continues to captivate

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Remember all the way back to last week, when Watchmen outdid itself in the exploration of inherited trauma? The answers to certain questions helped us all feel we understood the direction of the show a little bit better. Well, “An Almost Religious Awe” arrives and proves we knew nothing. Doctor Manhattan makes a skull-cracking reveal, Veidt might be living in a statue, we finally learn Angela’s backstory, and there are only four hours left until the Millennium Clock strikes. Let’s not waste any more time.

In the same way that William Reeves’ (Louis Gossett Jr.) life imitated Superman’s journey, Angela Abar’s (Regina King) life looks remarkably similar to that other DC icon, Batman. Bruce Wayne, of course, saw his parents murdered in an alley. The play or movie—depending on which Batman adaptation you’re watching—titled The Mask of Zorro impacted the costume Bruce would later put on to fight crime. Angela’s parents never saw the film Sister Night that would inspire her uniform; they were killed in a terrorist attack in Vietnam. Like Bruce, Angela learned to bury her pain.

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Luckily, Grandma June found a young Angela (Faithe Herman) in Vietnam not long after. She whisked her away from the Miss Hannigan villain running the orphanage, to the Burgers and Borscht fast-food chain for a Russian style lunch. Grandma June curses and listens like a pro. She supports her granddaughter’s choice to become a police officer, even if just holding the badge brings up painful memories of William and her son leaving forever. The cycle of generational trauma continues. But then, in a story darker than Bruce Wayne’s, Angela’s rescuer dies of a heart attack before they even leave the country.

While recuperating from the Nostalgia overdose, Angela’s mind keeps flashing back and forth between William’s memories and her own. Lady Trieu (Hong Chau) warns Angela that if she sees William, she won’t be able to tell where she stops and he begins. A side effect of taking all of William’s Nostalgia at once is that Angela’s emotions begin to control her. She cries and shakes behind Trieu’s lock and key. But keeping Angela in one place proves impossible. She eventually breaks into William’s room. Instead of Will, she discovers an elephant. Supposedly, an elephant never forgets—perhaps that’s why they’re able to remove the memory-inducing drugs from Angela’s system? According to Trieu, Angela’s been under for a couple of days. It makes you wonder what else Trieu did to Angela in that time. Also, Will spoke a lot about making great sacrifices in episode four. At the time, I thought Angela uncovering his memories concerned him most. Now I’m wondering what other obligations to the final plan William’s made.

Jeremy Irons (left) , Tom Mison (center), Sara Vickers (right)
Photo: Colin Hutton (HBO)
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Laurie (Jean Smart) confronts Mrs. Crawford about her husband’s potential involvement with the Seventh Kavalry. In her advanced years, Laurie’s cockiness has grown into a shield. She casually set up shop in Judd’s office before the squad laid him to rest. She snuck a gun into his funeral. Laurie even managed to leave the FBI in Washington, D.C. so she could investigate the murder of a police chief practically by herself. To be fair, the former masked vigilante’s skills measured up; or, they did until that damn trap door. I know Laurie thought she was in her bag during that interrogation, but as soon as anyone pulls out a device and starts clicking in your general direction, that’s a sign to move. I expected more from Silk Spectre and The Comedian’s kid. Though, she did just leave Petey (Dustin Ingram) with a bunch of dead bodies without bothering to call in the crime.

Crawford takes Laurie to meet Keene at the Seventh Kavalry HQ in an abandoned J.C. Penney. The portal that terrified Looking Glass in episode five now terrifies me. The plan Lindelof’s been building to has burst wide open, and it’s scarier than anything I could imagine. The white supremacists want to turn one of their own into a god, and then place that god in the office of the president. Remember, the eight-year term limit no longer applies since Nixon won Vietnam and had the rules changed. For nearly thirty years, Robert Redford sat in the big chair. A terrorist organization could easily push the country into a monarchy, and away from democracy.

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Now we get to the largest reveal of the night. Doctor Manhattan has lived undercover as Cal for nearly a decade. In the Watchmen comic series, it’s hinted that certain segments of the Vietnamese population viewed Manhattan as a god after the war. Some soldiers surrendered directly to him. It’s another moment in the Watchmen television series that seems obvious only after it’s revealed. Of course, power-hungry men would hear the story of Jon Osterman and seek to repeat his accident on themselves. Failing means sacrificing the most precious possession, life. Winning holds the same consequence.

Tom Mison
Photo: Colin Hutton (HBO)
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A very brief history of Jon for those of you who don’t know. All the way back in episode two, Veidt gave us a flawed, but a mostly accurate play about how Jon transformed into Doctor Manhattan. But having it all can’t fill the void an emotionally abusive parent leaves in a child’s heart. Jon’s father gave up watchmaking when Albert Einstein revealed time was irrelevant, and after he saw the atom bomb fall. Later, his son would become a walking atom bomb capable of seeing the future, but powerless to stop it. Like a genie, Manhattan may be all powerful, but he’s confined to the rules of his condition.

As Manhattan’s powers grew, the intense knowledgeable being struggled to tell the difference between a dead being and a still-living person. At any given moment, both bodies have the same number of atoms. On a universal scale, nothing changed. The last person on Earth he cared about was Laurie. She left him for Dan (owl guy currently in prison) as she sought a life different than her mother. In their final act together, the exes confronted Adrian Veidt on 11/3. They were a few minutes too late to stop the squid drop. After killing Rorschach at the deranged man’s request, Manhattan says he’ll return to Mars and create some life of his own. The man who has everything wants a settled life.

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Previously we saw Topher (Dylan Schombing) building the same castle Manhattan constructed on Mars. Did Manhattan created life after all? Also, the only video evidence of Manhattan on Mars appears to be from his ’85 visit to the planet. Based on this episode’s opening scene, Angela’s about ten years old in 1985. The video that plays in the story speaks of the cancer scare and the Blue Wave, which saw people all over the world turn away from technology after Veidt constructed a rumor that the advances in technology created by Manhattan had killed many of his former co-workers. When did Angela and Manhattan meet? Did he ever go back to Mars, or had he purposely set up a misdirect?

Clues of Manhattan’s secret identity have been scattered throughout the series so far. I also have a strong desire to go back and scrutinize every interaction between Laurie and Angela. Angela must know about Manhattan and Laurie’s fifteen-year relationship. The shade she threw Laurie takes on a much richer meaning. The fact that they’re so similar should have been a clue. I watched this episode with a group of friends. As the mystery unraveled, someone shouted, “Look at Cal’s chiseled jawline! Obviously, he’s Manhattan.” If we look to the DC canon of heroes for similarities, Manhattan feels a lot like Martian Manhunter. J’onn J’onzz fled Mars from persecution. In some versions of his story, J’onn chooses to live as a Black man in America. He’s highly intelligent, measured in his speech, and often seen as a peacekeeper amongst the superheroes. This America needs a peacekeeper.

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David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” plays as Angela informs Jon that they’re in trouble. The song critiques art as a form of escape. A girl wants to go to the movies. Her parents tell her, no, but she goes anyway. But when the credits roll, she’s disappointed because the reflection was something she’s already experienced in her waking life. I’ll be interested to see how Manhattan returns to his waking life, after these years of carefree entertainment.

Stray observations

  • My heart, Cal, reads Earnest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Oh my god, he cannot die.
  • One of the most obvious questions this week is who is Trieu’s dad. We know she cloned her mother, but she said her father would be here. Veidt used to have an army of brainwashed Vietnamese servants working for him. Given his disregard for human life, maybe he procreated during that time and abandoned his child? But Trieu also said that her mother asked her never to leave Vietnam. If The Comedian were her father, she’d be Laurie’s half sister. But he’s dead, so how would he be at the launch of the clock? This is a head scratcher.
  • Here’s the big prediction: Veidt’s in the statue, not on a moon of Jupiter. The cut from the absurd courtroom scene, to the pained and old statue of Veidt, would suggest these places are the same. The oldest we’ve seen Veidt comes from the 1988 video he sent to future president Robert Redford. How would anyone know what he looks like now?
  • Also, for the first time, Veidt feels remorse. Don’t Mr. Phillips (Tom Mison) and Mrs. Crookshanks (Sara Vickers) share a striking resemblance? I wonder if this is a da Vinci thing where he’s been forced to imagine his masculine and feminine self, the part he loves and the part he hates, at war with himself in an endless loop. Crookshanks’ wink, the adorable pigs, none of it feels real.
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About the author

Joelle Monique

A contributor for Playboy and Hollywood Reporter Joelle writes about film, television, and comic books. A speaker, host, and avid podcaster her reviews have been featured on NPR, BBC1, and ET.