watchmen see how they fly

There was just the tiniest bit of trepidation leading into the Watchmen finale. Would the show, which had so far exceeded all expectations, stick the landing? Thankfully, the answer is yes. On one hand, “See How They Fly” the season (and perhaps series?) finale of the show is almost too simple in its approach. After week after week of jaw-dropping, mind-blowing episodes that bucked typical TV tradition, the finale unfolds in a fairly straightforward manner.

It’s almost as if after weeks of impossible highs we’re not forced to come back down. But that doesn’t make the episode any less satisfying. There’s some question about whether or not the series will return for a second season at all. If it doesn’t, we can rest comfortably knowing that the show beat the odds, stuck its landing, and delivered the very best TV of the year.

A Worthy Adversary

The strange saga of Adrian Veidt has confused viewers through this entire season, but it all comes together – at last. Did you guess that Lady Trieu was secretly Adrian’s daughter? Congrats, you were correct! In the 1980s – in fact, in 1985, the day before the squid attack – Trieu’s mother Bian snuck into Adrian’s office, stole some of the sperm he’s kept on hand, and impregnated herself.

Despite being the smartest man in the world, Adrian had no knowledge of this – until 2008, when Trieu came calling on him with a grand plan. She was going to succeed where her father failed and fix the world. Her solution: kill Dr. Manhattan and absorb his powers. Yes, it’s the same exact plan that the Seventh Kavalry wants to enact in 2019, but it looks like Trieu got there first. But to make this plan happen, she would like a very hefty loan from her father. But Adrian is untouched and unmoved, and flat-out turns her down.

Of course, things change. During their meeting, Trieu just happens to mention she has a space probe set to fly by Europa at a specific time and date with the hopes of catching a glimpse of Dr. Manhattan. The moment she says this, it’s easy to figure out where this is going. That probe is the one Adrian signaled to by spelling out SAVE ME with the corpses of his many, many dead servants. And now we get the full message: SAVE ME, DAUGHTER.

And so it goes. After seven years of captivity in Europa, Adrian’s freedom is at hand when Trieu sends a ship his way. His escape is briefly hindered by the Game Warden, but Adrian is able to get the upper hand rather easily. And we learn that all of this has been more or less staged by Adrian for his own amusement. He knew he had years to kill before his rescue, and so he hoped to concoct himself a worthy adversary to pass the time. Sadly, the Game Warden wasn’t up to the task.

As it turns out, Adrian has been back on Earth for a while. In fact, he’s been right in front of our eyes – in gold. In order to help Adrian survive the trip through space, Trieu whips up a device that encases her pop in solid gold, effectively turning him into a statue – the same statue we’ve seen in Trieu’s garden several times. And now, with her big plan about to unfold, it’s time to thaw him out. Welcome back, Adrian.

Every Moment We Were Together, All At Once

Last week’s episode gave off serious “The Constant” vibes, recalling what might be Lost‘s best episode. That said, while the romance between Jon/Cal/Dr. Manhattan and Angela was handled nicely, I didn’t quite buy it the way I did the love between Lost‘s Desmond and Penny. This week underscores things just a bit better with one key scene: Dr. Manhattan is on the verge of dying, with a far-away look in his eyes. “Where are you?” Angela asks, pained. “I’m in every moment we were together, all at once,” the blue god replies, and we get silent flashes of Angela and Cal happily together. It works incredibly well. 

Manhattan finds himself imprisoned by the 7K, who have built a big, Manhattan-proof cage out of melted-down batteries. He can’t escape, and the cage is messing with his mind. And Joe Keene – who drops any pretense of pretending he’s not racist and launches into a speech about how he’s sick and tired of having to apologize for being white – is all set to absorb Manhattan’s powers and become him, all in front of an audience of 7K/Cyclops members.

But things don’t go exactly as planned. For one thing, Looking Glass has infiltrated the group, wearing a 7K mask. He and the still-captive Laurie Blake are off to the side, trying to figure out what to do. For another, Angela shows up and tries to stop everything, insisting that Lady Trieu is onto these racist goons and has a plan of her own.

But Keene doesn’t care. He steps into a chamber and prepares to become a god. And then it all goes to hell. Lady Trieu is able to teleport the entire room right to the center of the town. The exact spot of the Tulsa Massacre, where this entire season (and story) began. And since Keene is an amateur who has no idea what he’s doing, his plans to absorb Manhattan’s power don’t work out. The result: the Senator is turned into a huge puddle of bloody goo. And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

With Keene out of the way, Lady Trieu reveals she struck a deal with Will to kill the 7K, and that’s exactly what she does, evaporating them into dust. And it’s oh so satisfying. The way Trieu is handled in this episode is brilliant – Hong Chau’s performance sells her as both someone to root for and someone to be afraid of. As Adrian explains, she’s a raging narcissist – like father, like daughter. And he doesn’t buy that she wants to use Manhattan’s powers for good.

A series of whiplash-inducing moments follow. First, Manhattan is able to transport Adrian, Laurie, and Looking Glass back to Adrian’s old home in Antarctica. There, Adrian cooks up a plan to stop Trieu by freezing the baby squid rain and dropping it directly on her. And it works! Just as Trieu is activating her Millennium Clock to become the new Dr. Manhattan, down comes the ice rain, destroying the clock and causing it to drop directly onto her. But not before she’s killed Dr. Manhattan, much to Angela’s horror.

With the ice squid still smashing into things, Angela escapes into a nearby theater – the same theater we saw young Will Reeves sitting in back in the very first episode. Everything comes full circle, because the old Will is there now, and grandfather and granddaughter sit down together and have a heart-to-heart. As Will tells it, Dr. Manhattan knew he was going to die and went through with things anyway. And then comes the most important exchange of the entire season. Discussing costumed crime-fighting, Will asks Angela if she knew how he felt when he put on his mask to become Hooded Justice. She says anger, but Will corrects her. It wasn’t anger, it was fear – and pain.

“You can’t heal under a mask,” he tells her. “Wounds need air.”

The Chicken or the Egg

Watchmen still has one last trick up its sleeve, and it might be the best one yet. The battle won, the bad guys vanquished, Angela and Will retire to Angela’s home. Meanwhile, in Antarctica, Laurie has decided to do the right thing and arrest Adrian for murdering millions of people back in 1985, and Looking Glass is there to help. This is the only moment of the episode that doesn’t quite work. While Laurie and Looking Glass work well together, I don’t quite buy the way this moment unfolds, with Laurie deciding to finally, after all these years, turn Adrian in. Adrian doesn’t buy it either, but Laurie shrugs it off by saying: “People change.” It’s just a little too simple, and a little too neat.

While this moment doesn’t entirely work, what happens next does. Back at home, Angela cleans up – and finds the carton of eggs she knocked to the floor as Manhattan was floating it around in an attempt to make waffles. All the eggs are smashed – save one. A memory is triggered: Angela and Manhattan’s first encounter, and Manhattan telling her that if he transferred his particles into the egg and someone – like Angela – were to consume it, that person could then absorb Manhattan’s powers.

“It’s important for you to see me on the pool,” Manhattan told her last week. Angela steps outside into the morning air. Everything is clear. She cracks the egg and downs it like a shot. The water in her pool ripples ever so slightly as she stands at the edge, one foot hovering, ready to step. Ready to sink – or walk on water. Does she plunge into the pool – or step out like a newly formed diety? For the time being, the answer is up to you.

Watchmen’s Journal

  • Uh, excuse me, Watchmen. What the hell happened to Lube Man? This episode gives us zero Lube Man answers. But, if you pay attention to Peteypedia, the official supplementary material HBO has been releasing for the show, it’s heavily implied that the mysterious figure is FBI Agent Dale Petey.
  • Another unanswered question: what the hell was up with the elephant that Angela found two episodes ago? While I think this is a highly satisfying episode, it’s a little mind-boggling to me that they didn’t bother to address that at all. Oh well.
  • Although this episode ends with room for a second season, I’d be fine without one happening. I kind of love the idea of this being one self-contained, conclusive story.
  • …that said, when and if the show returns, I’ll be more than thrilled to watch more of it.
  • Looking Glass immediately throwing up every time he’s teleported got a laugh out of me each time.
  • I feel kind of bad for Bian. She puts the pieces together to learn she’s a clone, only to then watch her mother/daughter die. Bummer. Wonder what will happen to her next.
  • Jeremy Irons is so good at making Adrian likable, even though he’s a mass-murdering mad man.
  • And that’s it for Watchmen season 1! If you stuck with these review-recaps the entire season, thanks! See you next season, maybe? Who knows!
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