Is This the End? ‘Watchmen’ Delivers an Incredibly Satisfying Finale
This week gave us the season finale — or possibly series finale, since we don’t know for sure whether a second season is planned — of Watchmen. It was action-packed, paying off a huge amount of setup, so here’s a run-down.
The episode opens on Adrien Veidt recording his video address to President Robert Redford — the video that the Seventh Cavalry later gets its hands on. It is 1985. Veidt’s Antarctic lair is staffed with Vietnamese refugees, and one of them, a cleaning lady, wheels her cart into his office, where she unlocks a secret vault hidden behind a painting of Alexander the Great. In the vault is a freezer full of test tubes — samples of Veidt’s sperm. Reciting to herself, in Vietnamese, a poem about resisting imperialist oppression, she artificially inseminates herself while still in the room, then closes the vault and wheels her cart back out.
The next scene is outside Veidt’s lair in 2008. Someone in a snowsuit knocks on the doors: when she reveals her face, we see it’s Lady Trieu. Veidt is about to shut the door on her face when she says she has figured out that he killed three million people. She calls herself “the smartest woman in the world” and says she wanted to thank him (the premise, you’ll remember, being that Adrien killed so many people in order to create the illusion of an alien threat to the world in order to avoid nuclear Armageddon).
Veidt invites her in for tea, complaining that President Redford won’t take his calls. He shows her the machine he uses to create the squidfall, and she says it’s brilliant but that it is a “rerun,” not an original idea. She suggests that she could make every nuclear weapon on the planet disappear by building a device that steals Dr. Manhattan’s powers, then using those powers to fix the world. She says he’s on a moon of Jupiter and that she has sent a probe that will capture his image in a little over five years. Then she asks Veidt to fund the device that will take Dr. Manhattan’s powers, and when he refuses, she explains that she is his daughter — the child of the sperm theft we saw last scene. Veidt does not take this well. He says her genius is “stolen,” that he won’t give her the funding because he himself gave up his inheritance as a young man to prove he could work his way up from nothing. In turn, he will give her nothing, and he adds, “I will never call you daughter.”
Now we see Veidt in the jail cell on Europa (last week’s after-credits scene showed him being imprisoned there and finding a horseshoe smuggled to him in a birthday cake). He sees a probe about to land outside, and he escapes through a tunnel he dug with the horseshoe. The game warden tries to stop him from approaching the probe, and they fight; Veidt stabs the game warden. In their conversation as the game warden dies, it is revealed that he was a clone under orders to attempt to provide a “worthy adversary” for Veidt. When this clone is dead, Veidt walks through a receiving line of the others to the probe. A recorded voice greets him and asks him to step into a preservation chamber. As he does so, we see the full message he spelled out with all the clone corpses: “SAVE ME DAUGHTER.” Then the preservation chamber sprays him with gold goo.
In present day, we see that very same goo-covered Adrien — the statue that was in Trieu’s vivarium the whole time — in a lab, being woken by Bian. As they wait for him to wake, Lady Trieu goes to Bian to tell her that Bian is actually her mother rather than her daughter, but Bian already knows this. Soon, Veidt awakes. Trieu taunts Veidt about humbling himself to call her daughter, and he tries to warn her that Dr. Manhattan is on Earth passing as a human. Trieu says she already knew this and that she brought Veidt there so he could see her achieve what she told him she would, having “started from nothing” as he demanded. They head downtown to the square with the blue phone booth. We see the large, orb-like construction from the top of the Millennium Clock hovering in the air, following Lady Trieu.
At the Kavalry/Cyclops warehouse, an old man in a wheelchair is brought inside: Laurie (who, remember, is captive at the warehouse) recognizes him as Senator Keene, Sr., the man who was responsible for banning vigilantes in the 1970s. As Kavalry/Cyclops members run around preparing their ominous machines, Laurie’s guard changes, and her new guard is Wade, who apparently has been undercover as a Kavalry member since his disappearance several episodes ago. Before the two can talk much, Dr. Manhattan (Jon) is teleported into the machine — now recognizable as a cage. We cut to Angela torturing a captured Kavalry member for information on Jon’s whereabouts, but we don’t linger there long.
Senator Keene, Jr., back at the warehouse, is ranting about his contempt for President Redford, who “took our guns” and “made us say sorry…for the color of our skin.” He describes his attempts to play both sides of a manufactured culture war by creating a demand for masked police officers. He orchestrated the White Night, the massacre in which many Tulsa police officers, including the biological parents of Angela’s children, were murdered. When Angela’s life was threatened, Jon-as-Cal panicked and his latent powers took effect, teleporting one of the killers to New Mexico. This led Keene and the Kavalry to deduce that Dr. Manhattan was hiding in Tulsa. Keene’s villain monologue ends when Angela shows up, saying that Lady Trieu knows about their plot and trying to get them to let Jon go. She explains that Trieu let them steal the batteries they needed for the cage and capture Dr. Manhattan for her. Keene and his followers are not convinced. Laurie tells Wade to shoot Keene, but Wade reasonably responds, “and then what?” Instead, they trust Angela, and let the Kavalry members flip the switch that is supposed to transfer Dr. Manhattan’s powers to Keene.
The result is a blast that briefly knocks everyone out. As Angela comes to, she sees Trieu’s people making quick work of the Kavalry, taking their guns with giant magnets. Lady Trieu greets Angela, saying she’s “sorry” Angela has to see this and that she is fulfilling a promise to Will. Meanwhile, Adrien greets Laurie as she awakes, a reunion that could have been a lot more awkward if both parties weren’t so quick with a quip. As it is, we transition easily into Trieu opening the chamber where Keene was waiting to receive his promised superpowers — and out comes the red goo that is all that’s left of him. Trieu turns to the audience of Cyclops/Kavalry members and begins reading a statement from Will about how this is justice for a legacy of white supremacy reaching back a century. Mrs. Crawford interrupts and asks Trieu to just kill them already. So she does. Just zaps them out of existence with lasers. Jon uses the momentary distraction to teleport Laurie, Wade, and Adrien to Adrien’s Antarctic lair. When Angela asks him why he didn’t also send her, Jon says he doesn’t want to die alone. They have what is clearly supposed to be a deeply touching romantic moment before Trieu’s machine does indeed kill Jon.
At Veidt’s lair, Adrien sets a squidfall for Tulsa, but this time he freezes the squid first so that, rather than being the harmless reminder they usually are, the unfortunate beasts will turn into deadly projectile weapons. Adrien says Jon is most likely dead already, but that this tactic should be effective in stopping Trieu from taking on his powers. When asked how he knows Trieu can’t be trusted with said powers, he says she’s clearly a raging narcissist, and that it takes one to know one. Well, at least he admits it.
Back in Tulsa, the squidfall begins, acting like a rain of bullets from the sky. Angela takes refuge in the nearby theatre as several of her colleagues are killed by the weaponized cephalopods. The squidfall also destroys Trieu’s ominous science orb, causing it to fall from the sky, crushing and killing her.
Inside the theatre, Angela finds Will in one of the seats and her three children asleep on the stage. Angela acknowledges to Will that Jon is dead, and he acknowledges that Jon knew he was going to die and that they formed this plan together. He gives her a message from Jon — ”you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs” — and says she’ll understand when the time is right. They discuss the Tulsa massacre — this being the same theatre Will’s mother used to play piano in — and Will’s past as Hooded Justice. Will tells Angela, “you can’t heal under a mask.” Angela invites him to stay at her house, and they head back.
To assist Laurie and Wade in returning to civilization, Adrien has fixed up the ship that once belonged to Nite Owl — A.K.A. Dan, Laurie’s husband, who has been M.I.A. all season. Laurie tells Adrien that he is coming with them, as he is finally under arrest for killing three million people all those decades ago. Adrien reminds her of the reason she agreed to keep the secret in the first place: the presumption that, if the lie of an alien threat ends, so will the global peace it engendered. Then he starts monologuing. Wade hits him in the head with a wrench, and they head out.
At Angela’s house, after putting the kids to bed, she and Will chat briefly in the kitchen. “I’m sorry he’s gone,” says Will of Dr. Manhattan, “but considering what he could do, he coulda done more.” Then Will leaves her to clean up. There is a carton of broken eggs on the floor, but when she opens it, Angela finds one egg untouched. She suddenly remembers a conversation from the first time she met Jon; we hear the audio replay as he explains that he could transfer his powers to organic matter if he wanted to, so that anyone who ate the item in question would have his powers. Angela takes off her shoes and goes outside to the pool. Then she eats the egg and lowers her foot to the water, getting ready to test whether she can walk on it. We fade to black before we ever see for certain.
It’s a worthwhile payoff for the plot threads we’ve been following this season — some of which seemed quite dubious. There’s plenty of fodder for a second season here, should HBO decide on one: the implications of Angela’s new powers, the fallout from a worldwide revelation of Veidt’s plot, and a number of smaller questions. For example, where is Dan? (We think the FBI might have him prisoner). Who was that mysterious vigilante who used lube to disappear into the gutters? (Current theories suggest it might be Petey). Now that the rich dramatic irony of songs from the musical Oklahoma! has been exhausted, what pop-cultural paratext will we dig into next? We think answers to these questions would likely make an entertaining continuation of the story.
On the other hand, if this season is to stand alone, that might be just as well. The story was, for the most part, satisfyingly wrapped up, even ending on a pseudo-cliffhanger very much in the style of the comic. Original characters Laurie, Adrien, and Jon each got some form of closure, and the show managed a particularly edifying expansion of the Watchmen universe in its reveal of a black Hooded Justice. By ending the show here, the creators would avoid the pitfalls of series continuation, most notably the temptation to escalate the story’s stakes ad absurdum. To end the show now would be to assure that most of its viewers remember it fondly.
But, let’s be real. HBO is still recovering from the end of Game of Thrones. It needs all the ratings it can get. We’re going to be seeing a second season.