Watchmen: Causation is a two-way street

Sarah Posted by Sarah at December 9, 2019 20:44:44 December 9, 2019 20:44:44

Spoilers

Watchmen’s penultimate episode, “A God Walks into Abar”, has a lot going on. It’s the entire history of Angela’s relationship with Cal/Doctor Manhattan, it explains how Adrian Veidt got to Europa, and where the Phillipses and Crookshankses came from, there is a time travel paradox, AND we get down to the Seventh Kavalry’s big play on Manhattan. But really, this episode is about causation, something all superhero stories must confront at some point. It comes in one moment when Manhattan, who is so powerful he exists in all time and space simultaneously, is talking to both Angela and Will Reeves, at two different points in history. 

The mystery of this narrative kicked off with the murder of Judd Crawford, chief of the Tulsa police. Will Reeves killed him, we found out later because he believed Judd to be part of a white supremacist conspiracy called Cyclops. Now, we know Cyclops is real, because we saw it in New York City in Will’s past. And we know Judd was involved with the Seventh Kavalry to some extent—or at least, his widow is involved with them. It’s actually not clear (yet) if Judd was actually in on anything beyond toeing an uneasy line with the Seventh Kavalry via Senator Keene. There is still a chance Judd was not, in fact racist, and he really did keep his grandfather’s Klan robes as some kind of talisman. What was never clear is how Cyclops and the Seventh Kavalry connected, but now we know—Angela.

In the moments before they are attacked, Angela asks Manhattan to ask Will—because he is talking to both simultaneously—how Judd connects to Cyclops. Will, in the past, has no f-cking clue who Judd Crawford is, and Manhattan relays his confusion. It hits Angela in a split second: She said the wrong thing, at the wrong time to Manhattan, and ALL OF THIS might be happening because she gave Will information with no context. It’s a time paradox. Would Will have killed Judd if he didn’t think he was in Cyclops? Would Angela have thought to ask Will, via Manhattan, about Cyclops if he didn’t kill Judd? As Manhattan puts it, it’s the chicken and the egg. It certainly seems, in that moment, that Angela’s question is what sets off these events, that Will never would have targeted Judd if not for Manhattan connecting Judd Crawford and Cyclops for him.

Causation is a central theme in all superhero stories. In the MCU, Vision posits that villains arise because the Avengers present a certain challenge, and that conflict is inevitable where there exists a power imbalance. In Watchmen, causality is less a product of power, but knowledge. Angela knew something, and she shared that knowledge at precisely the wrong moment. The characters of Watchmen, even the all-powerful ones like Manhattan, are driven less by their ability and more by what they do or don’t know. The majority of character decisions are made by people reacting to new information. In Manhattan’s case, in 2019, he is working from a lack of knowledge as he tries to sort out his memories and the information flooding him after a ten-year hiatus while he lived as “Cal”. In the moment, he doesn’t know to stop Angela asking Will about Judd, he just does it and only realizes in the face of Angela’s horror that an error was committed. 

It’s interesting how this connects to the larger themes of Watchmen. Thematically, this show is about racial injustice and generational trauma, and narratively it uses conspiracies to frame the action. But Will’s “grand conspiracy” only exists because of Angela’s slip of the tongue, which means not only is the violence committed by Will—and arguably everything that stems from that one act—her fault, but it also means she has created a false narrative for the injustice. There is no grand conspiracy, there is just…human evil. Cyclops existed, and the Seventh Kavalry exists, and they both were and are up to no good. But they’re not acting in concert, there is no organized principle here, there is only blind hatred, and the people willing to fight against it. 

We’ll have to wait for the final episode for the point of all of this to come fully into focus, but after Angela’s realization, there is the surety that what matters most is standing up for the people we love. In the face of preordained defeat, Angela makes a stand. She might have caused all this, she might have created a shadow where there was only sunshine, but causation is a two-way street. If villains only arise because heroes exist to be challenged, then heroes stand up because villains exist to be defeated. Angela is the beginning and end of everything. 

Shout-Outs

•    So, the writers totally worked backwards to the name “Cal Abar” from word plays like the Doctor Manhattan vibrator “the Excalibur” (ex-Cal-Abar) and “A God Walked into Abar” (a bar, obvs), right? I could listen to an entire podcast about how writers choose character names.

•    Let’s hear it for the delightful rom-com vibes of Angela and Manhattan’s first meeting. 

•    The Abar children are going to need SO. MUCH. THERAPY. Just, all of the therapy.
 

Photos:
HBO/ YouTube

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