We Watch the ‘Watchmen: With Great Power Comes a Terrible Love Life
This penultimate episode of the first season of Watchmen connected a lot of dots by giving us some background on the relationship that Angela has, apparently, had with Dr. Manhattan this whole time. While it wasn’t packed with surprises for those familiar with the character as portrayed in the comic, there’s a lot of background for non-readers, so let’s get to it.
The premise of the episode is that Dr. Manhattan walks into a bar in Saigon, where Angela, as a young cadet, is drinking alone. It is the anniversary of her parents’ death, and when Dr. Manhattan correctly guesses this, she allows him to buy her a drink. In the ensuing conversation, he explains to her that he experiences time simultaneously rather than chronologically. For example: he knows it is the anniversary of Angela’s parents’ deaths because she will tell him twenty minutes in the future, and he experiences “now” and “twenty minutes from now” simultaneously.
Fans of the graphic novel Watchmen will recognize this concept from a particularly well-loved sequence in which Dr. Manhattan brings a younger Laurie to Mars, where he explains his experience of time, and his past, to her. That scene ends with Laurie asking to be returned to Earth and ending her romantic relationship with Dr. Manhattan, essentially telling him that his perspective isn’t human enough for her to relate to.
It’s a clever echo. Angela, we are to understand, is different from Laurie. She’s not like other girls. She accepts Dr. Manhattan’s claims with good humor, and lets the conversation continue. He explains that the footage of him on Mars is really a recording, and that he has actually been on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, where he has created life. He explains the process of creating the lush biosphere, and the clones, that we have already seen Adrien Veidt make such bad use of for several episodes.
The manor house, meanwhile, is an actual building teleported from Earth; it is the manor where he stayed as a young refugee, he and his Jewish father fleeing from Nazi Germany to America. While staying there, the young Jon (Dr. Manhattan’s real name) accidentally spies on a couple having sex, something he views as “overwhelmingly joyful.” He is caught, and that evening at dinner, the young couple — who turn out to be the lord and lady of the manor — pull him aside and explain that what they were doing was in the pursuit of creating life. They then give him a Bible, and tell him the story of Adam and Eve. They suggest he leaves the Bible there and returns for it as an adult, and ask him to “make it [his] purpose to create something beautiful.” So, decades later, a superpowered Jon will teleport their manor house to Europa and create life in their image.
When Angela asks him why he left Europa, Dr. Manhattan says he did it to meet her, because he loves her. Uncomfortable, she changes the subject, complimenting what she still thinks is a Dr. Manhattan costume. She then explains that it won’t work on her, because she hates Dr. Manhattan. His war crimes during the Vietnam War inspired the terrorist that killed her parents, after all. Dr. Manhattan admits to regretting his behavior during the war, and Angela changes the subject again, observing that, even if she were to let him take her on a date, Dr. Manhattan’s blue skin would stand out. He tells her that, in two weeks, she will come up with a solution to that problem.
Cut to Angela in the morgue, showing him the unclaimed bodies of dead men whose appearance and identities Dr. Manhattan can take on as camouflage. She saves the best for last, showing him the face we know as her husband, Cal’s. Once Angela expresses her preference for this look, Jon takes it on gladly.
Back at the bar, she asks how long they will be together — still playing along with what she believes to be an absurd premise. He says they will be together for ten years, and that it will end tragically. Just then, the song “Tunnel of Love” comes on the jukebox, and he tells her it is her favorite song, even though she has never heard it before this moment. He says it will be playing in six months when she asks him to leave, and we cut to that moment. We see an argument incredibly similar to one Laurie and Jon have in the graphic novel: after sex, Angela laments Jon’s emotional distance. In the ensuing conversation, Jon predicts what Angela will say, which makes her furious and leads to her eventually deciding that they can’t have a life together. We cannot emphasize just how much this scene parallels the one in the graphic novel — something that becomes very important, since this is the fulcrum from which the story diverges.
These events, after all, are twenty years after the failure of Jon and Laurie’s relationship, and he seems to think he’s learned some kind of lesson. After Angela asks him to leave, he goes to Adrien Veidt’s Antarctic fortress. This fortress is where Veidt confessed, in the events of the graphic novel, to having created the disaster that killed millions (recall if you will the psychic squid); the fallout from the revelation included Veidt’s attempted murder of Jon and Jon’s actual murder of Rorschach. Now, the palatial residence has a tomblike quality, its Egyptian decor more sepulchral than splendid, and an aged Veidt still sits at the wall of TV screens through which he used to view goings-on throughout the world. Now only about half the TVs are working, and those that are all show the same thing. This scene seems like it’s meant to bridge the gap between readers’ conception of Adrien Veidt — a calm, collected, competent villain with style and charm — and the unhinged man we’ve gotten to know these past few episodes.
Veidt surmises quickly that Jon is wearing the appearance of a normal man for the benefit of a woman. He reveals in the course of this monologue that he knows Jon has been on Europa, and when asked how, he gives us the interesting explanation, “a little elephant told me.” Getting back on topic, he concludes that Jon knows no one would really want to date a god, and that he must want to be a mortal, not just look like one. Jon confirms this and asks Veidt if he can help. Veidt, of course, can. He reveals that the intrinsic field generator he used to attempt to blow Dr. Manhattan up all those years ago was his “plan B.”
Plan A was a small device that could be implanted in his frontal cortex to erase his memory, the theory being that, if he didn’t remember he had powers, he wouldn’t use them or experience their alienating effects. In exchange for the device, Jon tells Veidt about the utopia he has built on Europa: beings that live for others rather than for themselves, and whose love was so devoted and uncomplicated that he himself left because he found it unsatisfying. He says those beings are “waiting for someone to worship” and offers to send Veidt there. Veidt asks him to do so, and he does.
Jon takes the device to Angela and offers her the chance to put it in his head, thus allowing him to live with her as a human partner. She accepts. Cut to the scene that ended last episode: Angela, just having removed the device from Cal’s bashed-in head, standing in a blue glow. Finally, we see Dr. Manhattan, his face still resembling Cal’s; he walks around in confusion, responding to conversations from different times, walking on the water of the swimming pool.
He teleports the children away, then reveals to Angela that he has sent them to Will, who has been expecting them. He explains that, before he went to her with the device that would erase his memories, he spoke with Will (who was then living alone in the mansion that his ex-boyfriend, Captain Metropolis, had kindly bequeathed to him). He told Will that Angela was his granddaughter and needed him. On learning this, in the present, Angela asks Jon to ask Will how he knew Judd Crawford was part of Cyclops. Since he experiences the conversations simultaneously, Jon is able to ask him this, and Will responds that he’s never heard of Judd Crawford; thus, Angela seems to have accidentally started this whole intrigue by planting the idea to kill Judd in Will’s head. Yikes.
After recovering from that revelation, Angela tells Jon that she woke him because the Seventh Kavalry knows who he is and are coming to capture him, replicate his powers, and then destroy him. Jon reveals that they are already outside the house and bearing a tachyon cannon that will involuntarily teleport, then destroy him. He says that this is inevitable, but Angela nonetheless suits up as Sister Night and goes to shoot up as many of the Kavalry men as possible. When she is about to be overwhelmed, Jon joins her, and the combination of her marksmanship and his head-exploding powers appear to win the day. Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly), one Kavalry man survives and shoots Jon with the cannon, at which he disappears.
Back at the bar, Angela says she won’t pursue a relationship that she knows will end in tragedy, but Dr. Manhattan counters that all relationships do. She agrees to go to dinner with him. The episode ends.
As far as setup for the season finale goes, we didn’t get much this week. The semi-mystery of Veidt’s imprisonment is solved (though all the clues were there for viewers who already knew about Dr. Manhattan), but doesn’t seem likely to pay off until next season. The mystery of Will’s sudden involvement in Angela’s life is explained as well, though his connection to Lady Trieu and her mysterious plot is not. In fact, Lady Trieu does not appear in the episode at all, and without her the mystique and urgency of the plot are somewhat lost.
It’s a good episode nonetheless, the writing tight, the characterization strong. But it’s missing something important: Laurie. Her absence is felt by readers of the comic in the scenes that echo her relationship with Jon, in the ghosts of her very different responses to the quandaries Jon also poses to Angela. As for new fans unfamiliar with the comic, we can only speculate that Laurie’s absence is experienced as a certain missing something: without Laurie as a foil, the story of Jon and Angela loses about half its significance. The writers of this show aren’t the first to forget Laurie, but then, we see how well that worked out for Jon.
Next episode is sure to be packed with excitement, and its events will certainly gain depth by this week’s examination of the characters of Jon and Angela. But boy are we missing Laurie’s sense of humor right now, and we’d better see double the wisecracks to make up for it.