[Reading Time: 6-10 min]
Spoilers for the 8th episode of HBO’s Watchmen. HUGE SPOILERS. Like, if you haven’t seen any of the show yet, this article will basically spoil the entire series. If you’ve thought about watching Watchmen, hit Favorite on this article and come back to it a week from now once you’ve caught up. I can’t even type the title of the episode without spoiling, so I am filling the remainder of this paragraph with junk text so no spoilers appear in the preview text that shows up on the homepage.
[Last chance to back out. Final spoiler warning. None of this will make sense anyway if you haven’t seen it.]
Tonight’s episode, A God Walks Into A Bar, is really something special. I tried to think of an adjective, a superlative phrase to place at the end of that sentence, but I am not entirely sure how exactly I feel about what I just saw. It was beautiful.
We’ve always seen Dr. Manhattan as basically a god. But this story has beautifully told the story of a man who self-sabotages his own relationships. A man who suffered a work accident with devastating side effects that continue to hinder and define his personal relationships.
It sounds a little bit too… humanizing, doesn’t it? But I think that’s what this story is telling us: That Jon is human. This episode is the story of the relationship between Calvin and Angela Abar, and in a deliberate attempt to demystify the deity aspect a bit, I’m just gonna call him Cal.
Cal is a guy who believes in love at first sight. One look at someone, and he accurately knows whether he’d be happy falling completely in love. He met a woman one night at a bar after a festival, and he just knew.
We never got to see the second date, but the line, “Why go to a restaurant, when I can teleport you anywhere” hints that it was undoubtedly memorable.
Six months into the relationship, it’s gotten a bit rocky at times. An accident when Cal was younger left its mark, affecting his mind and personality. Angela is understandably annoyed and frustrated at his frequent inability to relate to her. I can’t help but wonder if he’s deliberately provoking her into arguments as a form of self-sabotage; a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy where all his worrying about the potential failure of the relationship is itself what causes it to fail. Angela feels as though the two of them are just going through the motions.
He seeks the help of one of his closest friends, who suggests… an experimental medical treatment to block the parts of his mind interfering with the life he wants to live. Cal has been doubting they will remain together, but he knows that’s just his brain condition talking. He tries the treatment.
It works! Ten years of blissful marriage. We don’t see this in the episode, but we’ve seen Cal and Angela together in many of the previous episodes. They’re very happy together. They have a positive home life. They’ve adopted three children whose parents were tragically killed. Cal trusts Angela implicitly, even when her job as a police officer takes her into dangerous situations.
One day, Cal’s problems catch up with him. Stuff from his past that isn’t specifically relevant to his relationship with Angela. Like clockwork, he reverts to his previous behaviors. He’s reminded of his previous doubts about their ability to be together forever. Is the relationship going to end because he’s acting in a way that will bring about the very end he’s worried about?
It does end. Tragically. “By definition, don’t all relationships end in tragedy?” As she willingly places herself in harm’s way for him, he’s reminded of why he fell in love with her in the first place.
Those scenes weren’t just flashbacks. We’re watching the confusion Cal is experiencing immediately after being brought out of the tunnel. I believe this episode, as viewed by us, properly represents his consciousness. Of course it’s disjointed and out of order. We also see the memory blocker being inserted, immediately followed by the scene where it is removed, showing Dr. Manhattan’s experience of the ten years of marriage that he completely missed out on. He blacked it out, like he’d been dead all that time.
The sad music that began to swell toward the episode felt purposefully out of place. To us, and to Angela, we’re witnessing a grand battle against the Seventh Kavalry domestic terrorist organization. I believe the musical juxtaposition to be intentional. Cal is witnessing the end of the relationship as he stares death in the face to save the woman he loves. Sounds like a somber moment to me.
The conscious experience of Dr. Manhattan provides a unique storytelling technique. He is a walking TV trope machine, ripe for a show created by someone known for his love of flashbacks.
It feels weird that an immortal deity who can create life on other planets would fall in love, or have sex, or argue with his girlfriend. But all three happen in the original comics. And now we see that at a very young age, he was taught that sex is a joyous and wonderful act that creates life. Whatever we want Dr. Manhattan to be, Watchmen has never been interested in portraying him as someone who’s here to save the world.
It’s a bit sad that the happiest times Cal and Angela spent together is something that Cal will never be able to remember. All he sees is the first six months of them being together, and then essentially a flashforward where he sees 20 minutes of his life in 2019 with little context of what’s happened in between. “There is a period of time I cannot see. When I try to look, there is only darkness. All I know is that you are there before it begins, and you are there when it ends.”
I have no idea what is about to happen next. Especially so since I don’t watch the previews for next week’s episode. “She says over and over again that she doesn’t want a family, yet it is clear through her actions that it is all that she wants.” That line stuck out to me as both a humanizing moment for Angela and an accidental hint. Her grandfather clearly anticipated some or all of this, and Angela is going to need some “safety and stability” and “immense reassurance” after what just happened. I know I would.
— — — — — — —
Angela “We are not gonna fight.”
Cal “We are, and… you will.”
Angela “Do you wanna fight?”
Cal “No, but the fight will still happen regardless of my intent.”
Angela “Not if we don’t let it!”
Cal “You knew this about me. How I am. How I perceive things. I told you the very first night we met, knowing that it would lead to this argument.”
That sounds like a very human story if you take the time travel out of it.