This review contains spoilers for Watchmen, episode 9, “See How They Fly.”
From the very beginning, Watchmen always felt like a show that was trying to subvert whatever expectations we may have had for it. At the end of the road, was it all worth it?
The show was, for the most part, able to wrap everything up in a nice little bow. First, we flashback to the events of the original series where Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons) delivers his address to President Robert Redford as we watch a woman inject herself with Adrian’s sperm. Cut to a woman walking into Ozymandias’ Karnac retreat to reveal that the woman is none other than Lady Trieu (Hong Chau), who not only calls herself the smartest woman in the world to Adrian’s face, but informs him that she’s his daughter.
In hindsight, it’s a connection that makes total sense. Trieu has revered Adrian since her debut in episode 4 and carries the same demeanor as her father. Adrian later reflects that she takes after him in several remarkable ways, most notably how they are both narcissists who believe that they’re going to save the world. The difference between the two is that while Adrian is quick to point out all of the flaws that she’s guilty of replicating, even after 30 years he’s still resistant to admit that he’s done anything wrong. Both he and Trieu view themselves as the saviors of mankind but are unwilling to realize that they’re just complete egomaniacs. It just so happens that Adrian is also a complete hypocrite.
We learn that Adrian’s time on Europa, while voluntary, has also taken place over the course of several years. Each episode, as it turns out, is a snippet of one year in the life of Adrian on Europa, symbolized by the constant birthday cakes he’s received each episode. Upon that revelation and knowing that Adrian was biding his time for years while waiting for Trieu to come and rescue him, it unfortunately did nothing to justify all of the build-up and ridiculousness of the past several episodes. It is reassuring to know that Adrian had a plan this entire time and all of the nonsense we watched wasn’t without a purpose, but the revelation comes as too little, too late.
Back on Earth, Trieu reveals that her plan is the same as the 7th Cavalry/Cyclops’ plan; she wishes to assume the power of Dr. Manhattan (Yakya Abdul-Mateen II) and save mankind. Adrian makes the obvious comment that Jon didn’t ask for his powers and anyone who wishes to become a God should send off warning signals to any sane person nearby. But Trieu’s plan works swimmingly, manipulating the Cavalry and Senator Joe Keene (James Wolk) to do the dirty work for her so that Manhattan wouldn’t be able to detect her true intentions. It recontextualizes her as the true mastermind behind everything, severely undermining the 7th Cavalry.
I actually do like making the Cavalry pawns in a much larger game — not necessarily showing how incompetent they were, but how short-sighted they were. Every member of the Cavalry/Cyclops is just your average white supremacist with no greater ambitions beyond hate. Trieu knew this and gave them everything that they needed to make them think that they were winning, only to pull the rug out from under them and casually murder them without a care in the world. For as much build-up as they deserved, their ending seems all too fitting in the Watchmen universe. Their aims were too small, so they were quickly dealt with when they had served their purpose.
Every other character received at least one moment to shine during the finale, with several characters making their triumphant reappearance after weeks of inaction. Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson) is revealed to have infiltrated the Cavalry to rescue Agent Blake (Jean Smart), only to make him face the perpetrator of his PTSD head-on and save the world. Agent Blake sees Jon for the first time in over 30 years, with a perfect reaction from Smart. She then goes on to realize that Adrian’s plan back on 11/2 was meaningless and actually arrests him — with Looking Glass and a handy wrench assisting. Even Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.) has a wonderful conversation with Angela (Regina King) about his “origin” and how all he wanted to do was protect his family.
But the most interesting implication in the finale comes from the final scene after Angela and the gang defeat Lady Trieu with frozen squids. Jon may be dead, but if the theory that he could transmit his energy into an object is true, then Jon’s powers may still be usable. Angela finds an egg similar to the one that Jon used to simulate this idea, consumes it, and the final shot of the show is an ambiguous shot of whether Angela is able to walk on water, metaphorically letting her become the new God. It’s a wonderful way to end the episode and will leave audiences discussing its meaning for weeks to come.
While my criticisms may have varied wildly over the past two months, I still had a fantastic time with Watchmen. It was certainly frustrating and took a while to really get going, but the show was able to weave a story that I thought wrapped up mostly everything. I say mostly because there are still several lingering plot threads that never got resolved and most likely never will — seeing as how Damon Lindelof intended this to be a one-season show — like the full body man who followed Angela back in episode 4 and why all of the various servants on Europa needed to be fished out of a lake in order to be born.
The biggest issue that the show faced was its pacing. While I do understand how the series tried to mimic the comic by having individual episodes focused on each character, like an episode for Agent Blake, Will Reeves, Looking Glass, and Angela/Manhattan, the overall execution of each varied by how much they were tied to the central narrative. Episode 6 still takes the mantle of strongest episode of the series because it could stand on its own as a wonderful short film independent of the main story. Contrast that with Agent Blake’s episode, which felt obligatory and was more interested in making several nods and winks to comic fans rather than meaningfully advancing the story.
Along those lines, the Europa sequences are the worst element of the show, interrupting the pace of nearly every single episode to further a story that was so far removed from the main plot that it didn’t matter. Lindelof could have given any reason to explain why Adrian wasn’t present during the events in Tulsa and it would have worked. It felt like the show was manufacturing a strange mystery because the show lacked confidence in its main plot. It was detrimental to my overall enjoyment.
Yet there were plenty of people that loved these sequences. Whenever I talked with people casually about Watchmen, they had nothing but praise for it, calling it the single best show that was airing on TV, and I can agree with that. I was excited to tune in each night to watch Watchmen and see where the show would take me. Even at its worst moments, I would never call the show bad. Familiar? Yes. Self-indulgent? At times. But bad? Not by a long shot.
However, is this a worthy sequel to Alan Moore’s original series? At times, it is. The revelation of Hooded Justice’s identity was a brilliant decision that only enhances the original series in ways I didn’t know could be done. At other times, it does feel like a retread of the original, mostly due to Lady Trieu serving as Ozymandias 2.0 thanks to the events of “See How They Fly.” While her presence made the show far more interesting, she’s too similar to Adrian to the point where even the original antagonist is calling her predictable. Her character didn’t quite hit the marks that I think Lindelof was shooting for.
Still, Watchmen was a series that easily stands as one of the best superhero shows of the past year, as well as one of the best shows that HBO has produced in a long time. There was a sense of energy and passion throughout the project that was almost palpable, between the cast and Lindelof’s devotion to the source material. Watchmen worked in a way that is increasingly rare; it kept its audience engaged and challenged them in a way few shows do. Whether or not we get a second season is irrelevant. What we have now works wonderfully, so let HBO leave it be.