I am in awe. I honestly have so much to say about this episode of Watchmen; I don’t even know where to start. Revelations were aplenty, but sometimes it’s what you don’t see which tells the real story.
First, let’s look at the title, “An Almost Religious Awe.” This a call-back to the original comic. In the original series’ alternate timeline, when Dr. Manhattan uses his superhuman power to bring the Vietnam War to an end (leading to Vietnam becoming the country’s 51st state), he describes the experience:
Episode 7 begins with Angela Abar dealing with the aftermath of her overdose on the memory drug Nostalgia. She sifts through the chaos of recollections she shares with her grandfather, Will Reeves, the famous vigilante known as Hooded Justice. She learns that Lady Trieu is working with Reeves to stop the Seventh Kavalry—the modern incarnation of the same white supremacist cult, Cyclops, Reeves battled years ago. We now know what the Kavalry, with Senator Joe Keene at the helm, want: to capture and harness the power of Dr. Manhattan, who is living in disguise on Earth and is not actually on Mars at all.
But before we get to the big reveal, let’s rewind a little and analyse what went down this episode.
One of Angela’s memories reveals herself as a child in Saigon. Her parents settled there after Dr. Manhattan won the Vietnam War for the Americans. Her father had been a soldier in the war. One day during a celebratory parade in the town (where everyone not Vietnamese was celebrating Manhattan’s victory), young Angela picked a film from the video store. That film became her legacy. Laurie cracked a joke at Angela’s hero name back in Episode 3, asking if a nun had killed her parents and that’s why she chose Sister Night. Angela had, predictably, deflected, but it turns out Laurie was actually almost right. Sister Night came from the title of a ’70s Blacksploitation movie. The movie’s tagline was “Nun with a motherf@!#ing gun,” which also happens to be the title of Angela’s theme song on the official show soundtrack.
Many of you may have noticed the lingering shots over the video racks. The first being Sister Night which needs no further explanation. The second, Silk Swingers, a movie mentioned in the Watchmen comic as a sort of clumsily put-together “documentary” about Sally Jupiter, the first Silk Spectre. Thirdly, our first elephant reference of the episode: Trunky, a kids movie. Lindelof is dropping images into our brains you know. I don’t mind; I am quite happy here, being mesmerised.
Sadly, Angela herself never actually got to watch the movie because her entire life was derailed by a suicide bomber that killed her parents right in front of her. While some celebrated Dr. Manhattan as a god, others clearly thought of him as the ultimate weapon of an oppressive regime. Not everyone in Vietnam wanted the country to be the 51st state in the U.S. It was genuinely upsetting and tense as the inevitable moment arrived. Angela was taken in by an orphanage, but the Sister there was cruel to her, most likely because she was an American. Or black. Or both.
She was eventually found by her father’s mother, June, who came to Saigon intending to take her home to Tulsa. Then, just as Angela got in the cab, June dropped down dead. Angela doesn’t have much luck when it comes to family.
It feels like history repeating watching these memories unfurl. Angela’s grandfather was also orphaned, and both of them saw their parents die in explosions caused out of hatred. They both decided to become cops by day, masked vigilantes by night. It is almost as if there really are traces of history in their DNA. Young Angela experiences a very literal version of genetic trauma—an idea first posited in the show back in Episode 5 during Wade’s support group—when she flashes back to Will’s memories of the Tulsa massacre during the suicide bomber attack. Genetic trauma is the theory that a person’s traumatic memories and experiences can actually be passed down throughout generations.
The future Sister Night didn’t just get a badge and the dream of being a cop from that Vietnamese officer. Her parents’ murderer was executed without trial. Angela Abar and her colleagues in Tulsa in 2019 don’t have much use for the law and frequently act without boundaries as have all the masked heroes before them.
But unlike her grandfather, Angela does not trust Lady Trieu. Trieu is keeping Angela in her vivarium, arranged by Laurie of all people, as Trieu is the only person who can reverse the effects of Nostalgia and save Angela’s life. Angela is hooked up to dialysis and is given a virtual reality shot that explains what is happening to her.
Meanwhile, Laurie Blake recorded much of Angela’s trip down Will’s memory lane on her Agent Cooper-style dictaphone and has learned a lot. Firstly, that Judd hanged himself…with a little help from Reeves. Secondly, that Will really is her grandfather. In light of the final scenes of the episode, I wonder if Angela spilled any more beans to Laurie while she was under the influence of Nostalgia? Was it just Will’s memories she spoke of or did her own leak out? That could make all the difference.
With this knowledge in hand, Laurie heads up to Judd’s widow’s house to tell her she knows who killed her husband. In true Laurie style, she reveals her awareness that Jane and Judd were in cahoots with Senator Joe Keene, and that they were planning to make America White Again with him as President. At least that was the original plan, until something happened and that plan just seemed like “small potatoes.” What was that something that happened?
Jane then attempts, in a really crap way, to drop Laurie through a trapdoor in her living room. The buttons on her control do work eventually, but in my opinion, Laurie allowed that to happen. There’s no way in the world she would’ve just sat there while Jane aggressively button-mashed that thing at her. Look how fast she moved when Angela admitted that Will Reeves was her grandfather into the bugged cactus. Nope, I’m pretty sure this was Laurie’s way of getting inside. Let us not forget that she is The Silk Spectre 2 after all.
Plus I think she has a comrade down there with her. Prior to her entering Jane Crawford’s house, Laurie spoke to Petey on the phone. Petey had found the bodies of five Kavalry members in Looking Glass’ squid-free bunker—one without a Rorschach mask. So, it seems to me that our mirror guy spectacularly kicked some ass, then headed back to the warehouse he’d already been to remember when he learned the truth about Veidt. I never believed for a second that our LG was going to turn to the dark side. Yeah, he got Angela into a bit of a pickle, but he did it for a reason—to get her out of harm’s way. He knew she was hiding something better than anyone, but he also trusted her 100%.
Joe Keene reveals to Laurie that his big plan is to destroy Dr. Manhattan and take his power. It appears they have all the technology to do it and all those lithium batteries collected by the Kavalry. If you listen carefully though, you’ll hear LG’s theme tune playing—the one that always reminds me of the opening to “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails. It plays when LG interrogates people in his pod.
On Europa, Veidt is sitting through the 365th day of his trial at the hands of the Game Keeper. Judge, prosecution and jury are all Mr. Philips and Ms. Crookshanks clones of course. (Yes, I’m still questioning who the originals are.) The Prosecuting Crookshanks gives an excellent speech, arguing why Veidt should be found guilty of the crime of trying to escape. She gives him a wink as she finishes summing up. Which at first you might think, “oh, she’s playing a trick.” But let’s think about this logically.
As early as Episode 1 we saw Veidt telling his maid and butler that they were going to be the starring roles in a play he was writing, The Watchmaker’s Son. This is the origin story of Dr. Manhattan. Now as far as we know, Veidt has never been tried for his crime of murdering 3 million people, because, other than a small minority, no one knows he did.
That’s quite a thing for megalomaniac Veidt to deal with. He created a monster which caused chaos and changed the lives of billions of people. He had all this power and nobody knows it. He’d rather be hated and famous than loved and obscure.
I firmly believe that the person keeping Veidt imprisoned is Veidt himself. For a start, he creates the clones. The clones only learn what they know from him. So for the prosecution to accuse him of all his crimes, he must have told them himself. They are acting out a play that he wrote, and I feel that Prosecutor Crookshanks winked at him because she nailed her lines. He’s found guilty by a jury of pigs, which is a response to his only defence—a loud fart—both absurd and hilarious. Veidt knows this is a sham. No matter what he does, he doesn’t get punished. Or perhaps being stuck there forever with these dull people who obey him without question, give him everything he asks for, including keeping him there eternally, is the perfect punishment for him. It is a very boring world.
The Trieu Story
Then there’s Lady Trieu. Just what is she up to? On the surface, she has a plan to save humanity from Keene and the Kavalry’s white supremacist agenda. However, her Millennium Clock has all the hallmarks of something very shady and Ozymandias-like.
Veidt was her business partner until she bought him out and he disappeared. She has a gold statue of him in her garden, which suggests she still has a respect for him and his work. You know, I wouldn’t be totally surprised if he is the gold statue—his mind kept locked up inside. There doesn’t appear to be much of a limit to what Trieu can do. It makes you wonder again about what the letter D was going to spell out when he wrote, “Save Me D” with clone bodies on the shell of Europa. Could it be Darling? Daughter? We don’t know Trieu’s real name, so that could start with a D.
What we do know is that Bian, Trieu’s daughter, is not her daughter at all. She is actually a clone of her mother. She is slowly feeding her memories to her at night. She also said that her father would be back soon. There are realistically three possible candidates for Trieu’s Dad.
- Comedian—he got several women pregnant while serving in Vietnam, so could easily have met Trieu’s mother. If this is the case, it will make Trieu and Laurie half-sisters.
- Dr. Manhattan—of course he was in Vietnam winning the war, but did he have time or the inclination for romance? He’s my least likely option. Especially considering Trieu and her mother hated that America took Vietnam and killed so many Vietnamese people. Bian’s memories are painful. She’s much more likely to want to destroy him than date him.
- Adrian Veidt—he too was in Vietnam and quite possibly the best match for someone as intelligent as Mother Trieu. Those two minds together really could make a genius child, and Lady Trieu is absolutely that. A bit crazy, definitely a megalomaniac, enjoys making clones, strives to be god-like and not a fan of Dr. Manhattan. All this makes Veidt my top prediction to be the Trieu Daddy.
Remember back to when we first met Trieu. She gave a clone baby and a wedge of cash to a couple in exchange for their farm. Only seconds after the deal was done, some form of spaceship crash-landed on their property. Trieu said, “It’s mine” when they asked what it was. She knew exactly when it was due to arrive; she even had an egg-timer for the occasion. EGGS!
Did she mean, that was her father? If that is the case, it seems that she did see his call for help. It was likely her satellite that hovered above Europa.
An Elephant Never Forgets
Elephants were a recurring motif in Episode 4 when Lady Trieu was first introduced, and they’re all over this week’s episode too.
From the opening scene in which a young Angela flips past several videotapes of animated elephants “Trunky” and “Tusky,” to Lady Trieu’s own elephant-shaped emblem, to the massive elephant Angela discovers herself (literally) linked to late in the episode, elephants are everywhere.
Lady Trieu’s mother wrote a book on parenting called “Pachyderm Mom,” which became a best seller in Vietnam and other Asian countries. According to the Peteypedia, the title was some kind of joke, and it’s possible this episode gave us the punchline—the “donor” of Angela’s memory dialysis was an elephant. Maybe there’s more to Lady Trieu’s mother than we initially thought.
In the Peteypedia, we learned that Trieu named herself after a figure from Vietnamese history who rode an elephant into battle—and it turns out, her company logo looks like an elephant’s silhouette. Add this to the elephant dialysis donor, and things just get stranger.
We haven’t been given a definitive explanation of the role they play in the series yet—making them a literal and figurative elephant in the room—but elephants are associated with having long memories, and the theme of hereditary memory has informed much of the series’ narrative so far.
With only one hour remaining before Millennium Clock is due to strike, just what does Trieu have up her sleeve? Well, we know her interests lie in memory and mesmerisation. Before the big twist at the end, Trieu and Angela talked about Cal’s accident. Trieu commented that it was very rare for a person to lose their entire memory and that might have sparked an idea.
What if everyone lost their memory? If she could pull off mesmerising the entire population, what would anyone fight about? Human’s fight over what they think is theirs, be it land, history, culture, revenge. If nobody remembered anything it would be like hitting the reset button on the Earth. It would undo all the wrongs humanity has done to each other. Of course, that is a very Veidt way of thinking. To take memory away entirely would mean a loss of family, love, legacy, all those beautiful moments you have had in your life that make you uniquely you. It is a totally frightening thought for most people.
Is this what Veidt has also been planning for? Are his clones there on Europa as a practice run? To find out how quickly the human mind learns to follow their master? If Veidt, Trieu and her mother were the only unaffected humans on the planet, they would be by default the leaders, and god-like, purely for their intelligence.
Of course, this is pure speculation on my part. I do not know what’s coming, but whatever comes next we know that a certain man in blue is coming.
In the episode’s final scene, it is revealed that Dr. Manhattan has been disguised as Angela’s own loving husband, Calvin “Cal” Abar. She’s forced to bring him out of hiding by brutally beating him to death and pulling an object out of his skull with a familiar shape: The atomic structure of Hydrogen that Dr. Manhattan adopted as his personal sigil.
Cal was not aware that he was Dr. Manhattan. All of his memories before becoming Cal were wiped. This body had been created for him so that he could hide in plain sight. Prior to this, the last we knew about Manhattan was that he had lost faith in humanity and left the Earth for Mars. Why would he stay on Earth after everything that went down? Love…I guess. Meeting Angela clearly had a monumental effect on him. Was her life so sad it broke through to his remnants of humanity, the same way the revelation about Laurie Blake’s father did in 1985? Whatever it was, it was enough to make him not only stay, but request to become human, wipe his memories, and live as a husband and father. Losing all his godly powers in the process.
Now he’s in grave danger. His enemies have tracked him down and want him destroyed. Is there anyone on his team other than Angela? Certainly the Seventh Kavalry and Keene want him very dead. It’s also likely that Trieu has less-than-innocent plans for him—she would know that Angela would break him free from his human body, is it a trap?
What about Laurie—did she know? This is possibly the most intriguing part for me. Looking back, there were quite a few tell-tale signs that Cal was Manhattan.
The first time I saw that light fitting, I just thought “clock,” but now it’s clear to me that it is the Bohr-Rutherford model of an atom. There is a noticeable blue glow from Cal here too, but I may be reaching a little there.
In Episode 2, Will pushed Angela, suggesting to her that he was Dr. Manhattan. “Maybe I’m Doctor Manhattan,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, giving birth to the notion—both on the series and among fandom—that the character could be in disguise. However, Angela refused to entertain the idea, saying, “He lives on f***ng Mars, and he can’t do that—look like us.” But Will scoffs, running down the litany of other extraordinary things Manhattan can do, so why couldn’t he change the colour of his skin?
Then, after Judd’s body was blown up at his funeral, Cal’s children talk to him about heaven, and he is strangely blunt and cold with them.
“Before Uncle Judd was born, he was nowhere, he didn’t exist. Then he was a baby, then he was a child, then he was an adult. And then he died. Now he’s nowhere again.”
In retrospect, Cal’s comments indeed evoke Dr. Manhattan, who in the comic said:
“A live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles. Structurally, there’s no discernible difference. Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts.”
In Episode 4, Laurie, suspicious by nature, subtly probes Angela as she ponders aloud about her missing car, which fell from the sky in some kind of “thermodynamic miracle.” “My ex used to talk about that,” she elaborates, “when he wasn’t distracted by f****ng quarks.” When Angela replies, “He sounds like a lot of fun,” Laurie replies, “Yeah, well, he’s no Cal.”
So was she hinting that she knew, trying to get a reaction out of Angela? It wasn’t the only time she commented about how hot Cal was to her, which you know, isn’t really appropriate, but it’s Laurie so we don’t care. Even if she didn’t know for sure, she might have sensed familiarity from him. They were close for a long time.
Then there’s the Excalibur. The quite brilliant Dr. Manhattan prototype dildo. Or is it? At the time I questioned was it really a sex toy—the case it was kept in was more likely to hold a weapon (to be honest, it is a weapon, but I digress). We even get a full diagram of its parts! It has to be assembled! I kinda want it to be a strangely smooth replica of Manhattan, but I equally want it to be some kind of communication device between him and Laurie from deep within wherever his mind is. The ring that he exists in looks like it would fit quite snuggly in there, to be honest. And its name: EX-CAL-ABAR. Perhaps Dr. Manhattan felt he had to tell someone other than Angela where he was, you know, in case she got killed or something? Laurie is someone he knew he could trust.
If this plays out to be accurate, will Laurie and Angela join forces, or could this be a tremendous “keep away from my man!” girl fight? Again, I kinda want both to happen. Or maybe Laurie won’t be too bothered now that she has Petey? I’m convinced at this point that Petey is Lube-Man and I do hope we see that slippery weirdness again. I also hope that Laurie made him dress like that just for kicks.
So if he’s not been on Mars, why is there footage of him blowing up sandcastles on Mars on the news? Well, it’s likely the Lady Trieu was behind that footage, to help keep his identity safe. Why? Maybe because she needs him for something. Or, perhaps she’s quite happy to let the world think he doesn’t care about humanity anymore. If people see him on Mars having a hissy fit instead of helping people, they’ll quickly start to lose faith, which they have. There are blue booths in every city across the world with desperate people praying for his help. He never gets those messages of course; Lady Trieu does.
Was Laurie keen to that? I’d really like to think that Laurie is smarter than Lady Trieu and has been playing a game all along, knowing full well that it’s her who listens to the messages, not Dr. Manhattan. Her glee when the planet glowed in the sky after her last phone call to him could go one of two ways: either she thought he got the message, or she was happy that she’d tricked Trieu into giving a sign that she was listening. That would make her laugh for sure.
And so we say a sad farewell to Cal, but a big hello to Dr. Manhattan next week. With only two hours left (which really makes me want to cry) I can’t wait to see how he and Angela met, and just what he looks like in the flesh? Is it flesh? Anyway, next week Hawk Ripjaw will be behind the wheel, and I shall see you at the finale. Tick tock.
All images courtesy of HBO