Watchmen: 1.08 A God Walks into Abar
For a show that has the literal start of a joke as its title (including a pun on Angela and Cal’s surname to boot) the penultimate episode of Watchmen is a pretty serious affair. After incorporating several innovate methods of flashback storytelling over its run - the Nostalgia drug fuelled episode as a prime example - A God Walks into Abar finds yet another brilliant way to show us what has come before.
Actually, as we are dealing with the omnipotent Dr. Manhattan; it is less a flashback episode and more a flashback, flashforward and current time affair. As the blue hued member of the original Watchmen team is fond of reminding us, he doesn’t perceive time in the way that we do.
The episode opens exactly as its title suggests with the godlike Dr. Manhattan walking into a bar. The bar is in Saigon and it’s exactly 22 years since Angela Abar’s parents were killed in a suicide bomb attack. Commemorating and drowning her sorrows in equal measure Angela’s life is about to change irrevocably. Dr. Manhattan’s life, however, is about to take the exact path he always knew it would. Cunningly disguising himself with a Dr. Manhattan mask (other people are celebrating VNN night 2009 so he blends right in) the former Jon Osterman sits down with Angela and proceeds with trying to persuade her of his true identity and the fact that he has always been in love with her. Her obvious reply is that they’ve only just met but for the good doctor time is relative.
What follows is the fascinating story of what Dr. Manhattan has been up to since he left Earth at the end of the original comics. Contrary to all the reports, he did not in fact go to live on Mars. The sightings of him there were basically recordings of himself that he made so he could go about his real business undetected. As has been hinted in previous episodes, Dr. Manhattan’s real business was to create life on Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter. This is where Ozymandias has been trying to escape from all this time. We also get to learn in this episode how he ended up there and his part in Manhattan’s memory loss and transformation into Cal Abar.
The timeframe of the show moves back and forth constantly throughout the episode, giving us a glimpse into how Manhattan perceives his life. Conversations flow through him as he talks to several people at once who are separated sometimes by thousands of miles and decades of years. We learn how a young Jon Osterman fled Nazi Germany with his watchmaker father and ended up in England, staying at a stately home. The Lord and Lady of the manor are the templates he will base his lifeforms on, the clones that we have seen Ozymandias routinely destroying throughout the season. The house itself we will see eventually get teleported in its entirety to Europa.
A God Walks into Abar is probably the episode that so far wears its science fiction so brazenly on its sleeve. Less concerned with racial politics this time out, we are instead treated to a masterclass on time travel and the implications of cause and effect. Dr. Manhattan tells Angela he has always loved her when they first meet. He then reveals that the actual moment he falls in love with her is 10 years later as she prepares to battle the 7th Kavalry despite knowing the odds are stacked against them.
It’s the scene in The Matrix all over again when Neo meets the Oracle and breaks the vase. Angela and Manhattan have an argument about six months after they meet and she storms out. This only happens because he tells her this will happen when they first meet in the bar and that is what causes the argument. Confused yet? The outstanding German sci-fi show Dark also tackled these themes recently. In that show the time machine is invented because the plans for it are taken back in time and given to the person who drew them up. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy, one cannot exist without the other. Dr. Manhattan even has an answer for the age old question, what came first, the chicken or the egg? “Both” is his reply, “and at the same time”.
The best use of this paradoxical storytelling is when Dr. Manhattan is simultaneousy talking to Angela in the present and her grandfather Will in the past. Angela gets him to ask Will how he knew Judd Crawford was 7th Kavalry and how he knew he had a klan robe in his wardrobe. Will’s response? “Who’s Judd Crawford?” Too late, Angela realises she’s just become the cause of Judd’s death at Will’s hands. If she hadn’t asked the question, Will wouldn’t have any reason to kill Judd. If Will doesn’t kill Judd, Angela wouldn’t have asked the question. It’s pure science fiction at its best and beautifully written.
Some of the episodes best scenes are when Dr. Manhattan has grown bored of the paradise he has built on Europa and decides to pay Ozymandias a visit in Karnak, his base of operations in the Arctic. It’s a fascinating scene as this is the first time the two have met since Adrian tried to kill him not long after dropping a psychic squid on New York. Jeremy Irons is at his best playing Ozymandias ten years younger than we’ve previously seen. He laments to Dr. Manhattan that although he saved the world from destroying itself in a nuclear holocaust, no one else knows. No one respects or adores him for his feats. Manhattan can help him with this as he’s got a whole bunch of people living on Europa who are just waiting for someone to love. Ozymandias jumps at the chance, something he will obviously come to regret.
Before Manhattan teleports him to his new home/prison Adrian gives Dr. Manhattan something that he originally designed to use as a weapon against him. It’s the device Angela removed from his head last episode and it is what causes his complete memory loss and allows him to live as a human. With this we are back up to date and in the present day and Angela and Dr. Manhattan are in a heap of trouble as the 7th Kavalry turn up to enact their devious plan.
The final scenes of the episode go into overdrive as Angela in her Sister Night guise goes head to head with the 7th Kavalry. Just as things look bleak, we are treated to Dr. Manhattan finally getting to use some of his powers. The music swells as Angela is saved by the man who has always loved her, even before they met, and a whole lot of white supremacists have their heads gloriously explode. The whole thing brought a huge grin to my face, cut short only when Dr. Manhattan is on the receiving end of a tachyon cannon. Instantly we cut back to Saigon all those years ago as Angela agrees to go on a date with the blue god who walked into the bar and told her he loved her.
Watchmen also gets its first post credit scene as we see Ozymandias finally starting his escape attempt from his Europa based prison. With only one episode left, he’s going to have to get a move on if he’s going to get back home. I’m expecting a final episode absolutely overflowing with action as there are a lot of stories to finish. Laurie is still in the clutches of Senator Keene and the 7th Kavalry. Looking Glass has been AWOL for a few episodes now. What’s going to happen when Lady Trieu turns on the mysterious Millennium Clock? Will Nite Owl put in an appearance and what will become of Angela and her newly disintegrated blue skinned soulmate? I can’t wait to find out what Damon Linelof has in store.