'Watchmen' Becomes Unstuck in Time When "A God Walks Into Abar"

Listen: Watchmen has come unstuck in time. With its penultimate episode “A God Walks Into Abar”, Watchmen takes us to the past and the present all at once, shedding light on so many lingering questions before next week’s grand finale. Anyone hoping for an episode that catches us up with the cast of characters should take a seat: this episode, like the two before it, is heavy on flashback. In fact, the first full 40 minutes of the 1-hour episode are all flashbacks, telling us the tale of just how Angela Abar ended up in a relationship with Dr. Manhattan, and how, and why, Dr. Manhattan was in disguise all this time.

A Zeus Thing

The piece of literature I kept thinking about during “A God Walks Into Abar” was not the Watchmen comic, but rather Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. In Vonnegut’s story, main character Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time”, resulting in a book with a non-linear narrative that none the less eventually lines up. Like Billy Pilgrim, we, too, are unstuck while watching the episode, which does a remarkable job illustrating the way Dr. Manhattan experiences time. As he says himself, the way he perceives time is both confusing and frustrating to us mortals. We can only think of it as “seeing the future”, but that’s not really what it is. Instead, this man-turned-god somehow experiences all times at once. Today is both tomorrow and 20 years ago – and also 10 years into the future. It’s best not to think about it too much – your head might explode. Another work it recalls: “The Constant”, arguably the best episode of Lost, in which Desmond Hume’s consciousness travels through time. Then again, it’s no coincidence that both “The Constant” and “A God Walks Into Abar” were co-written by Damon Lindelof

Last week’s episode ended with the shocking reveal that Dr. Manhattan isn’t on Mars after all. He’s on Earth, and he’s been right in front of our eyes the entire time in the form of Cal, Angela’s husband. But how the hell did that happen? Years ago, on VVN Day, Dr. Manhattan came down from the heavens to Vietnam, and just happened to run into Angela Abar, drinking alone in a bar. The blue god, dressed in a suit and wearing a Dr. Manhattan mask – which is normal on VVN Day – proceeds to take a table with the cop and ask her out to dinner. What follows is a back and forth between the characters that spans time, with Dr. Manhattan filling in the blanks regarding what we’ve seen so far.

“Is this a Zeus thing?” Angela asks, referring to how Zeus would frequently come down from Mt. Olympus in some form to seduce a mortal woman. It’s sort of like that, but not quite. There’s a curious sweetness to the proceedings. Dr. Manhattan’s sense of time has enabled him to already be in love with Angela even though he hasn’t met her yet. That may not sit well with some viewers, but again, as the being formally known as Jon Osterman explains, his perceptions are both confusing and frustrating to us mortals.

Cal

Despite claims to the contrary, Dr. Manhattan really does have the ability to transform into any person he wants. But rather than pick someone willy nilly, Angela – weeks after the two have had their first date – devises a plan to have Manhattan assume the form of someone recently deceased. After looking at several options in a morgue, Angela finally decides on Calvin Jelani, who died of an apparent heart attack.

This is a fascinating scene mostly for how Regina King plays it. The first few bodies she shows Manhattan don’t seem to inspire much emotion, and she’s hesitant to pick the body of Calvin at all – only showing it after being prompted. In a sense, she’s picking her own perfect partner, but was resistant on choosing the best looking one of the bunch.

A Manor House

It’s been obvious for a while, but now it’s official: yes, Dr. Manhattan is the one who made the space prison Adrian Veidt is trapped in. It’s on Europa, and it was an attempt to create his own version of paradise – a new version of Eden from the book of Genesis. And the cloned beings we know as Mr. Phillips and Ms. Crookshanks started out as this now Eden’s Adam and Eve.

But even they have their own backstory: in yet another flashback, we learn that the inspiration for Mr. Phillips and Ms. Crookshanks were the lord and lady of a manor that took in the young Jon Osterman when he was fleeing the Nazis. The manor house on Europa isn’t just a recreation of their home – it’s the actual home itself, transported from Earth.

But not even his own paradise can satisfy the listless Dr. Manhattan, and he has little use for the beings he created, even though they worship him as their creator. And so, he abandons them, as most gods tend to do to their creations.

Memory

While “Cal” has been Dr. Manhattan/Jon in disguise this entire time, it’s clear he hasn’t been aware of this. And there’s a reason for that: he had his memory short-circuited by old pal/enemy Adrian Veidt. The relationship between Angela and Manhattan is a bit bumpy – it’s hard to be with someone who knows how everything is going to play out; how every argument is going to stop and start. It’s too much for Angela, and after a fight in which she sends Dr. Manhattan away, he ends up heading to Adrian Veidt’s retreat, Karnak, located in Antarctica.

Adrian is a bit of mess. He can’t believe that after all his hard work – you know, killing millions of people with a giant alien squid – seems to have been for nothing, as humans keep building bombs. His dreams of eutopia have apparently been shattered, but he’s happy for the distraction of Dr. Manhattan showing up. And he even has a way to help: 30 years ago, he developed a device that could be implanted into Manhattan’s head and effectively erase most of his memory. He would have no knowledge of being Dr. Manhattan, and thus, no idea how to use his powers – except, perhaps, as a reflex. Sure enough, that reflex does come into play later, during the White Night. We finally learn what happened to the other 7K member who shot Angela: Dr. Manhattan zapped him away without knowing what he was doing.

As a thank you – maybe – for the ability to wipe out his own memories, Manhattan offers Adrian a reward: a chance at utopia. Not on Earth, but on Europa, where he will be worshipped like a god by the beings Manhattan created. Adrian, overcome with emotion at the idea of being treated like a true god once and for all, accepts and is immediately beamed away. Of course, as we all know, things aren’t going to work out so well for him in his new godly position.

Paradox 

Before Manhattan wipes his memory, he takes care of some unfinished business: visiting Will Reeves, Angela’s grandfather, to ask for some help. Will is now living in the mansion of Nelson Gardner, aka Captain Metropolis, who left Will his estate after he died. When you get down to the bare bones of it, this episode is really about time travel – and time travel always presents a paradox.

In the most amusing-yet-shocking moment of the episode, we see that everything that’s happened in the show so far, at least in terms of Angela’s involvement, seems to have been accidentally caused by Angela herself. Because while Angela is having a conversation with Manhattan in 2019, Manhattan is also in the past, visting Will Reeves and relaying a message between the two.

It’s Manhattan who clues Will into the fact that he has a long-lost granddaughter. And it’s Angela, speaking through Manhattan, who tells Will about Judd Crawford. In 2019, Angela says: “Ask him (Will) how he knew Judd Crawford was a member of Cyclops.” In the past, Will’s reply: “Who’s Judd Crawford?”

This exchange understandably blows Angela’s damn mind, and, shocked, she cries out: “Did I cause all this?” Whoops.

Ten Years Later

After 40 minutes of flashback through the 10 years of the marriage of Angela and “Cal”, we’re back to where last week’s episode ended: with Angela smashing Cal’s head in and ripping out the device that wiped out his memories. Manhattan is awake now, but also a little confused, as one might be if their memories were erased and then restored 10 years later.

Angela wants Manhattan’s help stopping the 7K, but Manhattan seems nonplussed. He tells Angela that there’s no way for her to save him, but she’s not buying it. Out into the street she goes, and a gunfight with the 7K members gathered there ensues. Angela has the upper hand for a while, but there are too many of the masked men to handle, and she’s soon cornered.

And then heads explode. Literally. Dr. Manhattan comes out into the street and proceeds to blow up the heads of the 7K members on the street, and it looks like the day is won. But of course, Manhattan already told Angela that she can’t save him, and sure enough, one of the dying 7K members manages to activate a device that teleports Manhattan away – presumably to the mall hideout where Senator Keene is waiting to enact his grand plan, setting the stage for one grand finale.

Watchmen’s Journal

  • I sure hope you kept watching through the credits and saw the post-credit scene where Adrian finds a way to escape his current predicament on Europa.
  • This is such a tricky episode in regards to the relationship between Angela and “Cal”, but I think it ultimately works. We’re forced to buy they’re in love, and while it takes some time, I think the episode sells it nicely. I like the Angela/Manhattan relationship.
  • At one point, Manhattan walks across the Abar family swimming pool. “You need to see me on the pool. It’s important for later,” he tells Angela, which means we should probably store that in our mind for next week’s episode.
  • Hey, whatever happened to Jim Beaver as the biological grandfather of Angela’s kids? He popped up for one episode and was never seen again.
  • Out of everything that happens in this episode – and a lot happens – I think my favorite moment is when Dr. Manhattan uses his awesome, god-like powers…to make waffles.

 

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