We Need to Talk About Last Night’s ‘Watchmen’

Normally, we here at WIRED wait until a show’s season is over to really pick it apart, but last night’s Watchmen was such a doozy we couldn’t wait. The flashbacks! Angela’s treatment at Lady Trieu’s facility! The big reveal at the end! Unable to sit on our hands any longer, WIRED writers and editors Jason Parham, Adam Rogers, and Angela Watercutter put their heads together to hash out what they all just saw. Read on for all of our best guesses at what’s really going on with Watchmen. Also, there will be spoilers, so consider yourself warned.

Angela Watercutter, Senior Editor: I’ll start. So, I definitely want to get into the flashbacks to Angela Abar’s (Regina King) youth in Vietnam and her time being treated by Lady Trieu for her Nostalgia overdose, but let’s get to the point: that final scene … uh, what happened?

So, I get that her husband Cal was some kind of robot, and helping Angela hide her true identity (I think), but I was not expecting her to whack him with a hammer and dig inside his brain. So, I guess the first question is obvious: What is that thing she pulled out of Cal’s head? Presumably, it has something to do with Dr. Manhattan—or it just is Dr. Manhattan—but, WTF? I guess he’s definitely not, as Trieu said, on Mars. Not to be daft, but did anyone see this coming?

Adam Rogers, Senior Correspondent: I saw two things coming, and neither did. First, I assumed that the show would withhold Dr. Manhattan altogether, since my understanding of the end of the comic book Watchmen was that Doc left our galaxy or our universe altogether, with the intention of making his own humans to be goddish toward. Maybe it’s his universe in which this show takes place! And ambiguous and withholdy endings are the metier of this show’s makers. Having God not show up would lend an existential Waiting for Godot vibe to the whole deal.

The second thing I saw coming, but was still materially wrong about, was that Dr. Manhattan was already on Earth. Some of the marketing material for the show depicted Angela Abar/Sister Night illuminated with an unearthly blue glow, the color of Dr. Manhattan. I thought he was her.

So I was wrong about everything, which is typical, except for the extent to which skin color is a key to the whole show and to the secret history of superheroes. It takes real deftness and smarts to excavate that meaning from Alan Moore’s original work (even as he has disavowed any of the work that has taken up the Watchmen title and story, and in fact left comics writing altogether after a lot of shoddy treatment by the business side). I think Moore planted the seed by putting a noose around the neck of Hooded Justice, the first masked vigilante—he did once describe the Ku Klux Klan-mythologizing Birth of a Nation as the first real American superhero movie. And now, as Emily Nussbaum wrote in the New Yorker, HJ being African American is retconned canon.

I love that Sister Night constructed herself from, apparently, a blaxploitation character. I love the black/white dichotomies of her mask and her grandfather’s, now revealed to have been Hooded Justice (and a prefiguring of the black/white duality of Rorshach’s mask and his Randian outlook). I love that the origin of Hooded Justice, Will Reeves, is a mashup of Superman’s (orphaned, raised in a world he doesn’t know) and Batman’s (orphaned, inspired by an adventure movie).

But you didn’t ask any of that, Angela. Sorry. I think we’ll see in next week’s episode that her husband Cal (like Kal-El! I should’ve seen it coming) was an avatar, the secret hiding place for Dr. Manhattan on Earth. Almost as if he was … dare I say it? … I do! I do dare! … hidden.

Jason Parham, Senior Writer: As someone who knows very little about the comic, but is now deeply and unreasonably invested in the show and these characters, what I’ve come to appreciate the most about this particular iteration is how it is not a verbatim re-reading of Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original tale and instead one of the more daring TV interpretations I’ve experienced this year—shit, maybe even this decade. Creator Damon Lindelof somehow has appealed to comic nerds and new converts alike (I count myself among the latter) by fusing the old with the new. I really appreciate how the writers want this dystopia to feel unfamiliar to everyone watching.

Which brings me to your question Angela. Similar to Adam’s point, my hope was that they’d keep Dr. Manhattan at the fringes of this trippy upside down world—that he would continue to stalk the minds of Angela (Abar) and Laurie and Lady Trieu but never actually appear on the show. In the beginning, that felt like the smarter play to me, but toward the end of episode seven when Lady Trieu said it was Will who tipped her off that Dr. Manhattan was in Tulsa, I knew it had to be someone we’d already encountered; my first guess was Topher, Angela’s son. But as one Reddit user deftly pointed out, Laurie’s favorite play-thing (aka the big blue Dr. Manhattan dildo) was a subtle wink wink and probably the ultimate giveaway.

With Cal being the host for Dr. Manhattan, another main thread of the show unspools—in a society of concealed crusaders, where the line between good and evil is not always clear, even the most powerful being in the universe must wear one. That feels both ironic and kind of sad. Still, we don’t know everything—Why was Cal chosen? And what happened to him in Vietnam? (Also, what are the kids going to think when they see their dad lying on the kitchen floor with his head bashed in?) Where does Laurie fit into this Angela-Dr. Manhattan love triangle? Where is Looking Glass? And what the hell is actually going on with Adrian Veidt (I have a theory that he’s in another timeline than the one Angela inhabits)?

If anything, this episode and the last one, hint at where or what the show’s finale is barrelling toward. Lindelof has squarely placed us in the future—black people adopt white kids for goodness sakes!!!—but let’s be clear: He is singularly obsessed with the past and all that it can tell us. Maybe that’s where the Millennium Clock comes in—after all, time is the most precious currency of all. Tick tock.

Adam Rogers: It’s true, Jason, that Laurie’s love and lust for Dr. Manhattan assumes new, er, dimensions when it gets intertwined with the mythologies around sexuality and people of color—whether they’re black or blue, apparently. That most recent episode takes what the TV writer John Rogers calls the Evil Speech of Evil—the “Republic Serial Villain monologue” that even Adrian Veidt derides as Oxymandias in the original comic—and turns it into a palimpsest of white resentments and the misperception of unfairness, whether economic or romantic. In the world of Watchmen, white supremacists think it’s too hard to be a white man in America, so their leader, Senator Joe (the “McCarthy” gets left unstated), plans to fix it with a mad-science machine that can displace a quantum physics-powered space god. I’m pretty sure Doctor Doom tried this at least twice, once with the Silver Surfer (another person of color) and once with the Beyonder. But I, like Watchmen, digress.

I love your pitch that the Veidt moon prison is a different timeline than the Sister Night/Lady Trieu timeline. Maybe the moon prison is the world that Dr. Manhattan made? Or not. The show, after seven episodes, has now trained me to see clues in every shot. The halo of light over Angela’s head as she leaves Lady Trieu’s parlor? Gotta mean something. The fact that the white-supremacist mind-control plot is called Cyclops, and has a monocular logo that looks suspiciously like the single eye of the giant alien squid that Ozymandias dropped on Manhattan? Gotta mean something.

Jason Parham: LOL at “In the world of Watchmen, white supremacists think it’s too hard to be a white man in America”—that’s our world, too, Adam!

Angela Watercutter: Thank goodness I have you two, I was starting to think my obsessively thinking of every possible outcome was totally off-base. I’m definitely in the camp that really wants to know how this Angela-Laurie-Dr. Manhattan love triangle plays out. I thought I saw a hint of something play across Angela’s face when she saw Laurie’s call to Dr. Manhattan in Lady Trieu’s facility, but I couldn’t place it. After the final reveal, it all made sense. That face said, “Oh, you think he still cares about you … that’s cute.” My guess is that, despite everything, they’ll end up on the same side in whatever is about to go down, but beyond that … I got nothin’.

Jason, I definitely agree that what’s happening with Veidt is on a different timeline, or maybe even a different dimension. In a way, he’s almost taken the Dr. Manhattan-in-the-comics route of creating beings to rule over, but after last night’s trial, it doesn’t look like he exactly rules. (Also, forgive me, I read Watchmen, but it was years and years ago, my memories of who-did-what are foggy at best.) I hope, if anything, the true connection between Veidt’s story and what’s happening in Tulsa will be revealed, but then again, this is a Lindelof production—some things are misdirects, some things go nowhere, or get revealed many seasons later.

To that end, and to Adam’s point, Watchmen has definitely hit the point where everything is a clue. In that sense, it’s very very successful—it has everyone curious, and glued to the TV. (Speaking of, I now want to rewatch the whole season and look for new Angela-Laurie subtext.) It also means the finale is going to have to bring a lot of payoff. There are only two episodes left, can the show do it? I remain as hopeful as I am skeptical.

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