As we approach the end of Watchmen, we’re getting into serious spoiler territory, so tap out now if you’re not caught up. Okay? If you don’t want to be spoiled, now is the time to get gone.
Throughout Watchmen’s run, I’ve been wondering what the linchpin is, what is the piece that connects Angela Abar’s story and the conspiracy in Tulsa with Adrian Veidt trying to escape from outer space, and now we know—it’s not a “what”, it’s a “who”. Cal Abar (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), Angela’s patient, perfect husband, is DOCTOR F-CKING MANHATTAN. Will Reeves wasn’t joking about Doctor Manhattan being able to pass as human, and he’s been passing as Angela’s husband for the last decade. (The Peteypedia updated with a 2009 “medical report” about a Calvin Abar wandering Saigon with head trauma and no memory.) And it’s not just a shocking revelation for shock’s sake—AKA a “This Is Us maneuver”—because it turns out Manhattan IS the linchpin. He is the piece that brings the two sides of Watchmen together.
Upon learning Cal’s true identity—he, too, was wearing a mask!—a few things snapped into place. One is Cal’s surprisingly cold description of death to his children after Judd’s funeral. Cal seems like the perfect husband, loving, devoted, openly affectionate with his children, and a fulfilled and happy stay-at-home-dad with zero resentment for his breadwinner wife. I know those exist, but we rarely see them in media (the last one that comes to mind is Criss Chross on 30 Rock). But when discussing the possibility of heaven with his children, Cal is clinical, unemotional, and shockingly unempathetic to the human need for comfort in the wake of death. He can’t even fake it for children. In the moment, it was just an odd, discordant note in the character, like, wow, Cal’s EQ isn’t quite up to snuff. In hindsight, that is CLASSIC Manhattan, unfeeling toward the human fear of death. Then there are the many vague references to his “accident”, which we now know is whatever he did in order to make himself look human. And, I guess, we could also count Laurie Blake’s open thirst for Cal, whom she deemed “f-cking hot”. Laurie, Manhattan’s lover for twenty years, would of course be drawn to Manhattan even in disguise. Decider’s Meghan O’Keefe has a good breakdown of all the clues about Cal’s identity, but these three jump out the most—his attitude toward death, his accident, Laurie’s apparent attraction.
This revelation would have been stunning on its own, so well buried in the story and out of nowhere it is, but what really gives it power is how it bridges the various story threads. The Seventh Kavalry’s plan is to capture Manhattan, destroy him, and assume his power, with Senator Keene presumably becoming the supreme leader of a white supremacist Earth. (Laurie’s expression when he says “It’s hard to be a white man in America” is PRICELESS.) So that’s Cyclops and Will’s conspiracy anchored on Manhattan’s presence in Tulsa. And Lady Trieu has a plan of her own, presumably to counter the Seventh Kavalry, which brings Trieu and Will’s alliance into sharper focus as well. The remaining puzzle pieces are the fates of Adrian Veidt and Looking Glass, who seemingly escaped the Seventh Kavalry. But now we know all roads cross at Manhattan.
And we have a new layer of generational trauma to parse thanks to Manhattan. In flashbacks we see some of Angela’s childhood in Vietnam, which became an American state after Manhattan won the war for the US. Visual cues in these scenes, and a bombing which kills Angela’s parents, show us that some—all?—Vietnamese consider themselves an occupied nation and hold Manhattan accountable as a mass murderer. Angela’s roots are in a land wounded by racial violence, and she grows up in another land also scarred by injustice and oppression (visual clues suggest American-Vietnamese are doing better than native Vietnamese). Lady Trieu carries the war’s generational trauma with her, literally recreating it in her daughter-mother Bian. Angela, Laurie, and Trieu are women scarred—sometimes literally—by trauma, so it makes sense that they have in common a single man. After all, who harms women more than men?
To Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who gave such an innocuous performance as Cal he slid completely under the radar for seven entire episodes, and yet who also embedded into his performance little tells that make who he really is SO OBVIOUS in hindsight.
To the foley team of Zane Bruce, Lindsay Pepper, Antony Zeller, and Larry Hopkins for a truly spectacular fart noise.
I gotta shout out Tom Mison and Sara Vickers again for their multi-role performances as Veidt’s clone servants. If you go through the Veidt scenes a few times, you will see the array of expressions and differences they put into each individual clone. These two are doing stupendous background work. Also, I remembered what happened to Sleepy Hollow—it went completely off the rails in season two and everyone quit watching by season three. There was a show that fully expected to be cancelled in season one.