By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – December 8, 2019)
All I was worried about with Watchmen following last week’s outstanding episode and the prior week’s incredible story… was tying Adrian Veidt into the larger plot. His scenes and scenarios were wild and outlandish, but what was their purpose, where was he, and would we ever get any semblance of an answer?
Sunday, Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen gave me what I wanted, delivering one of the more compelling and thought provoking hours of drama this decade. Although I’m not certain I understood everything that happened, enough of it made sense that what remained cloudy only added to the intrigue. This was unbelievably good television, but admittedly it left me conflicted, because it treaded awfully close to religious mockery, but pulled back from it. Plus, there’s a balance here as Dr. Manhattan is a deity-like figure that does Godlike things, and him claiming Adam and Eve to be “fiction” within the confines of Lindelof’s universe isn’t implausible for his own fiction. He isn’t making a statement. That isn’t the purpose.
But, the story of how Angela Abar and Jon Osterman met was beautifully told and wonderfully performed in stellar work from both Regina King and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II… oh, and of course Jeremy Irons as well, in what amounted to two relationships that explained much of the first eight weeks of the series. And yes, Adrian Veidt’s nonsense turned out to matter and wasn’t just out in the ether. He’s on Europa in a spot he thought he wanted, because he could be worshipped and loved, which is what he ultimately wants… he fancies himself a God among men, wanting to be adored for creating a utopia. He’s actually a villain who killed three million people in an ironic attempt to stop widespread violence, nuclear war, and humans battling each other, but very few villains recognize their narcissism or God complex.
But where was he? Now we know, and we even know where the Crookshanks and Phillips clones came from. They were Dr. Manhattan’s Adam and Eve, who he created when he synthesized the moon of Jupiter’s atmosphere and formed a new world and all the life on it. This is heavy stuff. In fact, what I’m about to say may make no sense, but it also could land with you. The best kind of mystery is the one where you know you don’t FULLY understand it all, but the way it’s told makes you think you comprehend it enough to feel like it’s prolific.
For example, as much of a disjointed mess at The Matrix: Reloaded was in some respects, that conversation with the Architect is still one of my favorite scenes ever in a movie, because it made me think I kind of knew what was going on while also being totally clueless. It made me feel smart, while being dumb. This episode, at times, accomplished something similar. Two or three things would be perfectly explained and then something else would be added to it that would make it a little, “Huh, what in the world are you talking about,” but that just made me pay closer attention and want to rewatch or listen to that exchange again.
Now I’ll take the risk of trying to parse what happened in the episode, which again, was brilliant and a gem of an hour to experience. When you end an episode with the reveal that Cal is Jon, the followup had better be a doozy. From the shot of Doc standing in the Saigon street and the novelty mask on the pavement next to him, the focus was clear, and as each new wrinkle unfolded, it became a sensible puzzle. Even the “when am I” and relativism of time sort of made sense within the construct, but the idea that the entire hour centered around clips from different times that all occurred RELATIVELY at the same point as the night he met Angela was some ridiculously intricate stuff.
In particular, Jon showing up on the doorstep of Will Reeves after the long chat with Veidt and the reveal of the device that would allow Cal to be… Cal, with perfect amnesia, while also speaking with Angela, would have made my head hurt had it not somehow FELT like it made sense. Even the way in which he assisted his wife during the White Night was carefully crafted as a “reflex” of Dr. Manhattan that could still manifest itself in the right moment. The most important piece of information we’ve received on this series was that entire conversation between Osterman and Veidt, because it showed us who Dr. Manhattan was, what he was capable of, and for those uninitiated, what Adrian’s motivations were.
Veidt asked for what he got, which stood out to me as almost identical to what America got when Nixon asked Dr. Manhattan to go to Vietnam in the first place. He was to go play hero and freedom fighter, but to do it, he destroyed that country and many innocent women and children died. He gave them what they wanted. He gave the country a hero, something to believe in, and he gave Adrian a kingdom in which to rule. No, the utopia Veidt craved, that he obsessed over and tried to manufacture through a giant monster and raining squid, that one would never exist. But he could go play caretaker or steward of the place Osterman created, where the subjects all just wanted to adore someone.
There’s a subtle nod to Christianity here, whether intentional or not, in that the Bible tells us we are responsible for none of our own successes and have nothing of our own. We are merely stewards of God’s creation, with responsibilities to share and to help those in need. Veidt wanted to rule, and he didn’t want to be a tyrant once he got there, although if you notice, as he tries to find an escape so he can get back to the “real” world, he murdered a lot of Europa doing all those tests. So, for the second time, Veidt was a killer.
Why did he want to escape? Why is he locked up and having post-credit chats with the Game Warden? Because he knows the beings on Europa are created by Dr. Manhattan and all they want is to be ruled. There’s no challenge. He can’t take credit for being superior there, because HE KNOWS JON OSTERMAN CONTROLS IT, CREATED IT, AND IS THE REAL AUTHORITY. What Adrian cannot take, and why he feverishly takes that crown and laughs, knowing what he might be able to do with it, is believing others don’t see him as supreme. The reason why it bothers him is because he knows it’s true.
Jon telling Angela what’s coming, what’s going to happen, from the dinner date the next day to a new favorite song to the fight during sex to her telling him to “leave” all helped program us to know that when he said their relationship would end in tragedy, but he couldn’t tell her what it would be…he would be right. We saw how it worked out when he was teleported by the cannon after Angela thought they had won. Because of the triumph and the dominance of those two in the front yard war zone, that next moment was predictable. Remember, this is the penultimate episode of the season, which I will always say is the one that exists to put the heroes in the worst spots, it’s where someone crucial dies, or when the circumstances are the most dire. It has to be this way so the finale can be the release for the audience, before some kind of cliffhanger and new twist sends the show into its offseason.
The difference here is, we don’t know if next week is the end of the season…or the series. The numbers have picked up tremendously, which is surprising, but indicates the critical acclaim has drawn people in or drawn them back to give it another shot. Last week’s episode eclipsed 7 million viewers, making it the biggest success since Big Little Lies as an HBO freshman series. Still, it leaves much to be done next week, and now it’s built some expectations. These last three episodes, even if the early stuff didn’t work for you, have been unbelievable, and each for different reasons.
“A God Walks Into Abar” (also a super-clever name) was a blast, it was laid out with necessary precision, but leaves us scratching our heads in the ways it intends. This was awesome TV, featuring everything you could want. Wherever it might have been slotted at midseason on your list, it’s now in my top five of the year. If it ends on a high note next week, we could be talking top three. I need to take inventory before I try to place it, but it’s fantastic right now. This is what I hoped for when the series began, something that would have me thinking deeply for days after I saw it, just as Lindelof did with The Leftovers, just as he did with Lost.
He’s doing it again right before our very eyes. And Jeff Jensen, one of the people responsible for me writing about TV and film in the first place from his in depth Lost pieces in Entertainment Weekly, has done some of the best work of his career co-writing this episode. I loved it. I need to see it again. And then we’ve got what should be a special finale on tap next week.
I’m @JMartZone. Nothing ever ends.