Watchmen: 1.09 See How They Fly
“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” – Abraham Lincoln
Adrian Veidt starts this final episode of Watchmen by recording his message for Robert Redford in which he details how he’s going to help him become President of the USA. The smartest man in the world is playing the long game, predicting the future by helping to shape it to his vision. Dr Manhattan, however, doesn’t need to predict the future because he has already seen it. Things will play out exactly as he has seen them, whether that includes his eventual destruction or not.
The sublimely crafted comic book sequel reaches its finale and, after sitting on the sidelines for most of its running time, Ozymandias takes centre stage. After Adrian has finished his instructional video for the future President, he returns to his plan to save humanity from destroying itself. The plan being the one to teleport the huge squid into New York City. To give him his due, it did work. While working on his cephalopod based scheme he unfortunately doesn’t notice one of his underlings, who has plans of her own. Bian (the original one, not Lady Trieu’s clone) breaks into his office and, just like Nite Owl in the comics, correctly guesses his password ‘Ramses II’. This gives her access to Adrian’s sperm bank and with a little artificial insemination later, voila! Bian has started her own long game. One her daughter will continue. So, in another of Watchmen’s seemingly never-ending surprises it turns out that Ozymandias is Lady Treu’s father, albeit a completely oblivious one.
I have to hand it to Damon Lindelof and his writing team for continually bringing something new and unexpected to the story. With the revelation of Lady Trieu’s parentage we are given the last piece of the puzzle as to how Adrian is going to get back from Europa, or rather we are now shown how he is already back and has been for a while. Trieu visits her father in Karnak in 2008 to reveal her identity and tells him that Dr. Manhattan is not on Mars. She reveals that she has sent a probe to get proof of him on Europa. It is going to take 5 years 72 days 9 hours and 17 minutes to get there and this is where Adrian starts yet another long game.
It is when this probe reaches Europa that Adrian made his catapulted leap in a previous episode and left his message made of corpses, “Save Me”. We now get to see the message in its entirety “ Save Me Daughter”. Lady Trieu despatches a ship to retrieve Adrian from his interplanetary prison and return him to Earth in a sort of suspended animation, coated in gold. This is the statue we have seen before in Trieu’s compound. It seems Ozymandias has been in Tulsa all along, much like Dr. Manhattan, hidden in plain sight.
Watching Jeremy Irons parade around looking faintly ridiculous in his Ozymandias costume is a great reminder that for all it’s dense plotting and social commentary Watchmen is a superhero comic book story at its heart. The fact that it balances all this so well is a credit to its creators. Serious storylines sit alongside costumed crimefighting seemingly handled with ease. It’s certainly not an easy feat to pull off and again all credit must go to the writing team for bringing everything together so neatly.
I predicted last time out that Lady Trieu’s Millennium Clock was a weapon that she was going to use to thwart Senator Keene’s attempt to kill Dr. Manhattan and steal his powers. It turns out I was completely wrong, Trieu actually wants to do the exact same thing and with her resources she’s going to do a much better job of it than the 7th Kavalry. It seems Lady Trieu has inherited more than just her fathers dazzling intellect. She also has his colossal ego and has decided that being a god is her destiny. After being slightly ambiguous with her intentions in previous episodes, Trieu now comes into sharp focus as the show's real villain.
Keene does his best to enact his plan; he managed to capture Dr. Manhattan at the end of the last episode. Alas, he has been played all along. He does get to perform his villain monologue where he lays all his plans out before a captured Laurie Blake. It seems he, Judd and the 7th Kavalry were also playing a long game. When they attacked Angela on White Night, one of their Klan members found himself suddenly teleported to the Gila Flats in New Mexico. Not coincidentally, this is where Jon Osterman was transformed into Dr. Manhattan. In protecting his wife Cal Abar’s reflex was to accidentally reveal his powers. Realising that the big blue hero was living in Tulsa Keene, Judd hatched a plan to get close to Angela’s family.
Keene lays all this out while wearing nothing but the same style of pants that Dr. Manhattan occasionally wore to protect his modesty in the comics. He is a repulsively racist figure and seeing him reduced to a puddle of goo when his machine runs amok is immensely satisfying.
If there is a negative to See How They Fly, it is probably the pacing. I haven’t even really mentioned Angela yet and that’s because she doesn’t show up until half way through the episode. A lot of time is devoted to showing Adrian’s return to Earth and revealing Trieu as his daughter. All of this is good stuff but it doesn’t leave a great deal of time to resolve all the other stories. I think maybe even extending the season to 10 episodes would have allowed for a little more breathing room. I also think Laurie is a little underused. Jean Smart’s performance has been so good, it’s a slight shame to see her tied to a chair for most of the episode. She still gets to demonstrate how baddass she is and I understand this is more Angela’s story, but I would have liked to see her play a more active role.
As it is, we end up with all the major players brought together. Lady Trieu teleports everyone to where the show began, the site of the 1921 Greenwood Massacre. A fitting place to bring all the stories to their end. As a child, Will sat in the cinema and watched his heroes on the silver screen before tradgedy overtook him, forcing him to eventually don a mask himself. Now as an old man, he sits there again watching over Angela’s adopted children as the battle to save the world rages outside. Again, it is immensely satisfying to see Trieu disintegrate all the remaining members of Cyclops and complete Will’s revenge. It seems he has played the longest game of all.
Angela and Cal’s story reaches its emotional and inevitable end. Lady Trieu’s machine starts absorbing Manhattan’s energy and his consciousness is scrambled and thrown through time. Regaining his focus for a short time and even reverting to his human Cal form, Dr. Manhattan gets to say goodbye to the woman he gave up being a god for. Before he is atomised for good, Angela asks him one final time where he currently is.
“I’m in every moment we were together, all at once”,
and with that he is gone.
With Manhattan destroyed and Lady Trieu about to gain his powers it is up to the original Watchmen (with Looking Glass tagging along) to save the day. One of Dr. Manhattans’s final acts was to teleport Laurie, Adrian and Wade to Karnak, Veidt’s icebound home. It is from here that Adrian has been teleporting his little squids into the atmosphere to keep people like Wade paranoid. He quickly hatches a plan to freeze the squid and then drop them on Tulsa like little tentacled bullets. Trieu ridiculed Adrian earlier in the episode by saying his squid downpours are just a poor rerun of his earlier scheme. It is suitably fitting then when they come crashing down and vanquish both her and her Millennium Clock.
So ends one of the best television shows in years. Not just a great comic book show but a great show period. The odds of a Watchmen sequel being disappointing were high. The comic is held in such high esteem that it was inevitable that the show wouldn’t deliver. Yet against those odds Lindelof et al have made an absolute worthy successor. In expanding the mythos whilst still paying respect to the source material HBO have created a classic science fiction show that has set the bar high for others to try and reach. Lindelof has been cagey on another season. He wrote the show as a self contained mini series and it does completely work in itself. There are ways the story could be continued for sure. There are plenty of heroes and villains that we have barely been introduced too. I’d be perfectly happy with a series focussing on Red Scare, Pirate Jenny and the guy with the big panda head. Of course there is always Angela. Dr. Manhattan had seen the future and laid the groundwork. He spoke of the possibility of passing on his powers. Could he have imbued a humble egg with his life essence? As Angela Abar cracks the shell and then steps out onto the water of her swimming pool we cut to black.
Who watches the Watchmen?
I did and it was glorious. I hope you watch it too. You won’t be disappointed.