One of the key hallmarks of Damon Lindelof’s breakout show LOST was the non-linear narrative featured in many of the episodes. Divided into “present-day” stories and “flashbacks,” these disparate narratives combined to tell a story that couldn’t be told without them both. In the first episode of Watchmen on HBO to feature Dr. Manhattan, the story we get is nonlinear, but it’s not flashbacks, flashforwards, or flash-sideways. Rather, we get to experience the story much in the way that Dr. Manhattan himself seems to experience time.
“A God Walks in to Abar” is the story of how handsome Cal Abar, played by Yayha Abdul-Mateen II, came to be. The episode is framed by his first meeting with Angela, played by Regina King, yet it covers the entirety of their relationship. It’s an episode of television so good you almost have to watch it again a second time, immediately after finishing it.
With this and the first hour of Crisis on Infinite Earths on the CW, Sunday was a great night for DC television. Spoilers to follow for this episode of Watchmen on HBO, because Dr. Manhattan has a story worth talking about.
Watchmen on HBO Nails Dr. Manhattan and His Character (to the Continued Frustration of Fans)
Image via HBO
This episode of television is so good, it actually has a similar power to the only superhero in this universe. Anyone watching the last eight minutes of the Dr. Manhattan episode of Watchmen on HBO in the past, right now, or in the future is all doing the same thing. They are yelling at the television telling Dr. Manhattan to just vaporize the weapon he says will ultimately kill him.
The problem with Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen is similar to the problem of Superman in his stories. He’s just too damn powerful. There is no tension, because nothing can really threaten him. Superman has his kryptonite, and Dr. Manhattan’s weakness is the fact that time is immutable. While he can do wonderous things, he cannot prevent certain tragedies from happening. Though the question we fans should ask is: Why? Is it some timey-wimey rule? Or does Dr. Manhattan merely lack the imagination (or desire) to change these events?
Dr. Manhattan is a great character, but some things about him don’t make sense. He’s an omnipotent being who can manipulate atoms and change matter. He seems utterly disinterested in humanity en masse. Yet, he can’t stop falling in love with human women. Unlike Laurie Jupiter in the comics, however, Angela Abar is a proactive partner when faced with his frustrating perception of time. Throughout the history of the Watchmen, Laurie lacks agency when Manhattan explains how he views spacetime. Angela, on the other hand, has all the agency. In a brilliant twist, she starts this whole thing off. She reveals, through Dr. Manhattan, that her future boss is a member of the organization her grandfather masked up to fight. This is all her fault. And even though he has the power to stop it, Dr. Manhattan refuses to. It’s the most true-to-the-character moment of the episode.
Watchmen on HBO Hinted at The Dr. Manhattan Reveal All Along
Image via HBO
One of the biggest criticisms of LOST, which celebrated it’s 15th anniversary this year, is that it’s clear the answers to the mysteries weren’t written along with the questions. Since Lindelof knew that his Watchmen series on HBO would be nine episodes, he was able to better plan things out. In the second episode of the series, Will Reeves (Lou Gossett Jr.) joked to his granddaughter that he “could be Dr. Manhattan.” What we didn’t know then was that this character knew she was married to the hero.
In some key art for her character in the lead-up to the series, she’s lit by a blue glow. A style choice? Sure. But also a hint that Dr. Manhattan is looking at her. Even the character’s name seems to be a reference. Manhattan adopted the identity of a man named Cal Jelani. While he kept the first name, he chose the surname Abar. There was a 1970s-era movie called Abar: The First Black Superman. So, while Angela got her masked identity, Sister Night, from a blaxploitation-era film, Dr. Manhattan took his civilian identity from one as well.
Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan
Image via HBO
Also, we finally get some answers about Adrian Veidt’s predicament. Jeremy Irons portrays the character which we learned is stuck on Europa, with clones who grow in a lake. Dr. Manhattan created this place and sent him there because he wanted to be loved. It’s ironic that he now hates it there and wants to escape. The “Save me” message he wrote in clone corpses was clearly a message to Jon. However, with only five years passing from 2009 to the “present” of Adrian’s story, it’s unlikely he will ever get back. (Though, I have a feeling the last shot of the series might be his rescue by someone else all shiny and blue.) Still, we knew Dr. Manhattan would show up in the Watchmen series on HBO. We saw him in the trailer for the series. We just don’t know if he’s going to make it out alive.
Still, it’s interesting that the people who created the “no one ever leaves” rule in Utopia, are the lake-babies themselves. It’s not even Dr. Manhattan’s rule, but rather theirs because they are still traumatized that he left them. It also paints the play that Veidt wrote about Dr. Manhattan’s creation in a much darker light. Veidt wasn’t just killing some of the clones for the performance, but also torturing the rest of them because they all miss their “father.” Yet, because of the way Dr. Manhattan created them, they can’t help but want to serve Veidt. In a rare post-credits scene, we see Veidt locked in a cell but very excited about a horseshoe baked into his anniversary cake.
Nothing Ever Ends, Or Maybe It Does?
Image via HBO
Will Watchmen on HBO kill Dr. Manhattan? I think the chances for this are pretty good. Since the original comic, Manhattan seems disinterested in living. He’s also resigned to “fate.” He could change things, probably. Yet, he doesn’t. So, if the 7th Kavalry plans to destroy him, he might do nothing to stop it. Yet, there was a key line in the conversation he had with Angela in the bar when they met. He said he “theoretically” could pass on his powers to another person. Lindelof is fascinated with what comes after death. Yet, Manhattan (or, at least, Cal) believes that there is simply nothingness.
Either he will welcome this oblivion or becomes curious that there may be something beyond our existence. Nonetheless, I suspect he will pas on his power. Angela seems like a likely choice, but also a bit too obvious. Instead, I suspect he will grant the power to his oldest child. Perhaps his last request will even be to save Adrian from Europa? (Though, now that I write it out, that seems doubtful.) Still, the man who was Jon Osterman, then Calvin Abar, and always Dr. Manhattan might possibly cease to be.
This was not the best episode of Watchmen on HBO. Objectively, it seems that the retcon of Hooded Justice’s origin wins that title. Also, Dr. Manhattan is not the best character in the series. That’s, less objectively, Laurie Blake as played by Jean Smart. Still, this was the best Dr. Manhattan story I’ve ever seen. We get a sense of what it’s like to be him, experiencing things across time. He doesn’t know everything. He just appears to.
What’s Next on the Season (Series?) Finale?
There are many reasons to eagerly await the final episode of the HBO show. Every Watchmen fan should be concerned about what happens to Dr. Manhattan. (Though, I admit, I cannot wait for him to be reunited with Laurie, because she’s going to be annoyed with him.) There are also the storylines around Lady Trieu, William Reeves, and Veidt to wrap up. Also, no matter how the series ends, it feels like there are so many more stories to be told. Both set in this world and about these specific characters. (Also, who the hell was Lube Man?) Yet, whether this is a series or season finale, there is no question that Watchmen on HBO is one of the best shows to ever appear on the channel. This series far transcended the cynical takedown of the superhero mythos that the source material was.
We don’t really need another story about how superheroes aren’t really all that super. Hell, we have The Boys for that now. Watchmen on HBO became about something else. It earned its name and deserves a hallowed place in comics fans’ hearts like the original. It tells a story that feels vital and important in today’s crazy times. There is no doubt that HBO wants more seasons of this series. Yet, without the creative team Damon Lindelof put together (or, even, with them) can they capture blue lightning in a bottle a second time?
What are you most excited about in the finale for Watchmen on HBO, Dr. Manhattan or something else? Share your thoughts, theories, and reactions in the comments below.
Featured image via HBO.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.