‘Watchmen’ episode nine: ‘See How They Fly’
A story of trauma and legacy comes to an end with a rerun
Given the way things shake out in the final moments of Watchmen, with Angela Abar eating the egg that contains her late husband’s powers, followed by the most maddeningly slow step that will either end with her foot submerged in or steadily atop the Abars’ pool — well, Ellen DeGeneres might be an unrecognized prophet.
Allow me to explain: In 2000, DeGeneres released the best stand-up special of her career, The Beginning. And in it, she talks about meeting God.
“I’ve been lucky enough I’ve met the president, and Oprah, and Madonna, and so it was a matter of time before I would meet God and I have,” DeGeneres says. “I will tell you something, this was magical for me because I was invited over to God’s house one afternoon for fondue and Chablis. She was about 47 — just beautiful, beautiful black woman. We just immediately hugged. She smelled so good. She said it was Calvin Klein’s Obsession. ”
I kid, of course. But before we consider 48-year-old Regina-King-as-Angela-as-New-Blue-God, let’s talk about how we got there, thanks to a grand scheme cooked up by none other than Dr. Manhattan (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who, remember, doesn’t experience time in a linear fashion, but all at once.
There were two concurrent threats in Watchmen. The first was the Seventh Kavalry, aka Cyclops, a cohort of resentful, racist goons first fixated on retaking the White House, and then on world domination entirely.
But it was the second threat, Lady Trieu (Hong Chau), who presented a real existential crisis. The Seventh Kavalry was, at best, a bunch of short-sighted amateurs, simpletons who relied on stolen tech to enact their plan to turn Senator Keene (James Wolk) into the new Dr. Manhattan. Their whole plan was to steal his power and appropriate it for their own diabolical uses. It’s extremely on brand for white supremacists — poaching stuff from the people they hate and then using it to create and reinforce their own power. Even the earliest Klan costumes were ripped off from the designs of black people, specifically West Indian Junkanoo attire. What a bunch of sad, pilfering, unoriginal jamokes white supremacists are. Plus, they have terrible taste in underwear. Or, as Laurie Blake called them, “panties.”
How satisfying was it then, to see that smug little bigot, Senator Keene, simply liquefy himself into a pile of radioactive goo when he thought he was going to become the next blue god? Extremely, especially since his gang of Rorschach-bedecked cowards issued a prophecy of its own earlier in the season. “Soon the accumulated black filth will be hosed away and the streets of Oklahoma will turn into extended gutters,” the Garry Owen acolytes said. They just didn’t realize they were talking about one of their own.
As for Keene’s supporters — including his father, the elder Senator Keene, present in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for what he thought would be his son’s atomic coronation? Unceremoniously zapped into nothing by a small, megalomaniacal Vietnamese woman with outsize ambitions. Fine, Dr. Manhattan. I suppose the enemy of one’s enemy can be a friend. Momentarily.
Ah, right. Let’s clear that up: Dr. Manhattan, after meeting and declaring his love to Angela in Saigon, Vietnam, in 2008ish, meets with Angela’s grandfather, Will (Louis Gossett Jr.), while he’s simultaneously talking to Angela outside their pool in Oklahoma in 2019. That’s the chicken-or-the-egg moment, the moment when Angela asks Dr. Manhattan to ask her grandfather how he knew Judd Crawford was part of Cyclops and hiding a Klan robe in his closet.
Veidt basically spent 1985-2008 hiding out in his vast Antarctic lair, brooding about how no one appreciates him for saving humanity and collecting more splooge samples than one person could ever need. He does this until his daughter, Lady Trieu, shows up asking for $42 billion so she can build the magic atomic vacuum that will suck all of Dr. Manhattan’s powers away so that she may claim them for herself, and, so she says, use them to carry out the legacy of her father: world peace, no nukes, ending poverty, and all that jazz. Of course Veidt, angry upon realizing that one of the Vietnamese refugees who cleans his office took his jizz and used it to impregnate herself, thereby creating Lady Trieu, says no.
Let us pause for a second, to appreciate the absurdity of the most learned man in the world keeping a jizz library on Antarctica hidden behind a painting of Alexander the Great that can be unlocked by cracking his password, which was “RAMSES II.” You know what? Maybe he deserved to get hacked.
The same year (2008ish), Veidt gives Dr. Manhattan his magic amnesia-inducing forehead doohickey so that the man can have a real relationship with Angela, because he’s in love. Dr. Manhattan zaps Veidt to Europa, where he remains in his Eden-cum-prison for the next eight years. Finally, Veidt’s daughter, having taken over his company and found a way to build a spaceship that will get to Jupiter and back, arrives to spring her dad from Europa. She saw caught a photograph of the message he made out of the clone corpses: “Save me, daughter.”
Again, let us pause, this time to appreciate that Trieu has been keeping her father preserved in amber — or something like it — in Oklahoma for three years, until the exact moment she was ready to say, “Look, Dad, I’m a god now.” And all the while, the clone of her mother has been doing her bidding. Look, all of us have issues, OK? But Lady Trieu has ISSUES. Is this Nixon’s fault? It’s somewhat Nixon’s fault. First Edition Bian (not her clone) seems to be holding a grudge that dates to the year 222, judging by what she utters right before she knocks herself up: “I want to ride the strong winds, crush the angry waves, slay the killer whales in the Eastern sea, chase away the Wu army, reclaim the land, remove the yoke of slavery. I will not bend my back to be a slave.” Imperialist karma is a nasty little bugger, is it not?
So we’ve got a rerun of 1985, as episode writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof have told us, anticipating criticism and then folding it into the script (too cute by half, guys). A second-generation Veidt is on a mission to remake the world and cure her daddy issues, all in one fell swoop. From the moment she coerced that infertile couple into relinquishing their land to her in exchange for their own child (which she grew in a lab), we should have known that Lady Trieu was not to be trusted.
And while Laurie (Jean Smart) and Wade Tillman (Tim Blake Nelson) are willing to give Trieu the benefit of the doubt, no one understands a power-hungry genius, like, well, another power-hungry genius.
“She is clearly a raging narcissist whose ambition knows no limits. It’s hubris. Literal hubris,” Veidt declares after the Seventh Kavalry has imprisoned Dr. Manhattan in a lithium cage but before Trieu has sucked his life away. Dr. Manhattan, in one last act of selflessness, teleports Blake, née Juspeczyk, Veidt, and Tillman to Antarctica so that they can stop this lunatic with a teleported Gatling gun barrage of frozen squid.
Say it with me: REEEEEEEE-RUUUUUUUUUUUUN.
“Anyone who seeks to attain the power of a god must be prevented at all costs from attaining it,” Veidt continues. “But believe me, that girl will not rest until she has us all prostrate before her, kissing her tiny blue feet.” As he’s talking, we hear Mozart’s “Lacrimosa,” the recurring musical refrain that’s been used to link Trieu with her father across multiple episodes.
Everything in this show seems to come back around in one giant circle (just like Dr. Manhattan’s forehead doohickey!). The pieces, as disparate and confusing as they were, do all end up fitting together, thanks to the fact that Dr. Manhattan isn’t constrained by time, space, or the laws of physics, generally. If he wasn’t dead, I’d suggest that he and Doctor Who get together and have tea sometime aboard the TARDIS. I bet they’d have loads to discuss. But aside from this multi-tentacled narrative ouroboros, we also got a heartbreaking love story — the single most affecting moment of the finale is a nude, blue, astonishingly vulnerable and childlike Dr. Manhattan explaining to his wife why he didn’t teleport her to safety with Veidt, Tillman, and Blake.
“I don’t want to be alone when I die,” he tells her.
So what’s left amid the defrosting squid and another mess in downtown Tulsa? Years of inherited trauma. At the Dreamland Theatre, where Will and the Abar children have been safely waiting for peace, we get the rest of the emotional glue holding this enterprise together, as Will and Angela are finally able to discuss the spell of Will’s Nostalgia pills.
“You can’t heal under a mask, Angela,” he tells her. “Wounds need air.”
In the words of Lord Acton, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” While the season? series? (I’m still not sure which) ends on Spooky Tooth’s “I Am The Walrus” (I am the egg man/they are the egg men/I am the walrus/goo goo g’joob), “I Cain’t Say No” from Oklahoma might have been nearly as fitting. Everything in the world of Watchmen — especially Adrian Veidt, who would know — tells us that too much power concentrated in the hands of one person, even a wounded, well-meaning person, is a terrible idea. And yet Angela slurps down that atomic egg Dr. Manhattan left her and heads for the pool anyway, with Will’s tacit encouragement. She cain’t say no.
“He was a good man,” Will says, once the two are back in the Abar house, where a pile of smashed eggs still lie congealing on the kitchen floor. “I’m sorry he’s gone. But, uh, considering what he could do, he coulda done more.”
Of course Will thinks Dr. Manhattan could have done more. Of course he thinks his granddaughter can do better. What do you expect? Superheroes are cops. Trust in the law, indeed.
I have more thoughts on how the nine or so hours of Watchmen works as a whole, but let’s digest this ending first. I’ll come back to those thoughts, along with Vol. II of The Undefeated supplement to Watchmen, later this week. Meanwhile, you can still brush up with Vol. I.
Stray, but maybe important observations:
- I don’t know that we’ll ever get a discrete answer on the identity or purpose of Lube Man, even if Watchmen returns for a second season (I don’t know the answer to that, either). But at least episode eight’s Peteypedia leaves a trail of bread crumbs pointing in Dale Petey’s direction.
- I am left wondering what would have happened if Angela had just let Cal make the waffles and she’d eaten them. Would she have assumed his powers and control over them immediately after doing so? Would she have been able to save him? Would Lady Trieu have killed them both? Would her device simply have croaked in its effort to suck up the atomic power of not one god, but two?
- Among those left alive is Bian, the clone of Lady Trieu’s mother, protected from the frozen squid fallout by one of her daughter’s phone booth contraptions. What happens to her? Does her company get seized by the government? Does Bian inherit it? And how does she feel about being put in the position of having to witness her own daughter’s death?
- I hope Wade can finally take off his own mask, now that he knows exactly how the squid falls happen, and why. I hope he’s out of the tunnel. He deserves it.