Watchmen: Season 1 Episode 7 “An Almost Religious Awe” Review

Well, it only took seven episodes, but we’re finally going to learn the origin of Sister Night!

We open on a documentary about Jon Osterman, better known (after his accident) as Dr. Manhattan. This blue-skinned oft naked god is the only superhero in the Watchmen canon with legit superpowers. He’s the reason America won the Vietnam War, and Nixon was able to abolish term limits. But, he’s just a red herring. See, the documentary is playing on a cardboard cutout of Dr. Manhattan within a video store where a little girl is shopping for a movie to rent.

This is Angela Abar (played as a child by Faithe Herman) and the movie she wants to watch is “Sister Night”, a Blaxploitation film centered on a crime-fighting masked woman dressed as a nun. The man behind the video counter (Damien Dao), speaking Vietnamese since they are in Vietnam, scoffs at her effort. She has tried renting this movie multiple times and he knows how it’s going to end. Only…he doesn’t, and neither do we. Not this time.

The little girl leaves, going to her parents (Marcus and Elise Abar played by Anthony Hill and Devyn A. Tyler respectively) convinced she’ll be successful this time. All around her people gather in the streets – It’s VVN, a celebration of the day Dr. Manhattan defeated the Vietcong and ended the war. There are Dr. Manhattan masks, toys, even a puppet show! Angela runs through it all to reach her parents, presenting the tape. Her father denies the request, yet again, why? Because “people who wear masks are dangerous”. He’s not wrong, but as we’ll soon learn not all dangerous people need masks.

You see, not everyone’s thrilled about the liberation, or the subsequent adoption of Vietnam as the 51st state in America. As Angela runs back to the video store to prove the clerk right, she slowly starts to realize something isn’t right. Visions of the Tulsa Massacre blip in and out; Angela’s past is colliding with her grandfather’s. It ends just as tragically. The little girl watches as a man screams just before an explosion goes off. Her parents are swallowed by the wall of fire.

Not long after, the police come to the orphanage where Angela is now living. They ask her to positively identify the man who killed her parents and her reaction to this situation inspires one of the officers (Jennifer Vo Le) to give her a badge. Angela, much like her grandfather, became a cop to get justice for the two people she could never protect. And, like Will Reeves’ family, hers was destroyed because of a hatred they had nothing to do with.

The last memory we get is of June (played as an older woman by Valeri Ross) arriving at the orphanage to free her granddaughter. June explains that she fell out of touch with her son, Angela’s father, when he joined the army. She had a heart attack which made her write him a letter, which leads to her being informed of his death. It worked out though because June found out about Angela. She flew out to Vietnam to bring her granddaughter home to Tulsa. Tragically, as Angela is being loaded in the taxi, June has a second heart attack and dies on the street.

This is why Angela is so wary of family. Why she’s as dedicated to the law as her grandfather was. In Will’s memories, the constant threads are his mother playing the piano and the Bass Reeves movie she was playing it to. “Trust in the law!” is a powerful ideal for a child to cling to when reality espouses the exact opposite. We all aspire to rise above, to hold onto our childhood ideals when the real world bashes our expectations to the ground time and time again. It’s funny how we repeat the past without realizing it. Angela believes she became an officer of her own accord, but blue was in her blood. As for family, avoiding it becomes the path of least resistance for both of them.

Will doesn’t know how to deal with his loss and rage, he tries to channel it, but eventually, it threatens any progress he might make. He allows his family to abandon him in hopes of a better life for them. Angela avoids her past because trusting family has only lead to loss for her. Her parents killed by forces beyond her control, her grandmother, killed by the same just not as flashy. It also gives a new depth to the scene where she is hugging her grandfather while putting him in her car. Trust is hard to have when you open yourself up only to be stabbed. Without context, it’s no surprise she picked Cal – a man without a history – as her husband, and, in lieu of children who might inherit her “genetic trauma”, she has adopted offspring.

To be honest, the rest of the episode isn’t nearly as compelling as the flashbacks to Angela’s childhood, but here are some of the bullet points:

Bian is not Lady Trieu’s daughter but a clone of her mother. The nightmares she’s been suffering from are the result of her life’s memories being reintroduced to her brain via nightly IV drips of Nostalgia. We learn this because of a conversation Angela has with Lady Trieu, where Angela learns that the Lady has been working with Will Reeves. He’s asked her to help him stop the 7th Kavalry, but there’s more and it’s a doozy. Dr. Manhattan isn’t on Mars, he’s on Earth disguised as a human and the Kavalry intend on destroying him then taking his power.

Agent Laurie Blake’s made progress on her investigation. She sent Dale to Tillman’s house only to find his bunker filled with dead Kavalry members (save for one without a hood). Laurie, in the meantime, goes to Jane Crawford’s to inform her of her husband’s murderer, and to hypothesize about his involvement in Cyclops. Agent Blake puts almost the whole puzzle together, working out that Sen. Keene Jr. orchestrated the “White Night” in order to pass the mask-mandate for police officers. Jane doesn’t deny any of it, which shocks Laurie enough for her to stupidly stay in place when Jane activates the trap door beneath her seat. I mean, seriously, this is one of the more frustrating scenes in the whole series. Laurie has dealt with supervillains before, she should know better!

Adrian’s side story returns. He’s been on trial for a year, accused of trying to escape and crimes against humanity (both on Europa and Earth). He’s found guilty after making no effort to defend himself and being judged by a jury of his “peers” which the judge (aka The Game Warden) reveals to be pigs (during the trial the original jury is made up of Mr. Phillipses and Ms. Crookshankses, along with everyone else in the court).

Lastly, we circle back around to that Dr. Manhattan reveal. Just as our episode opened up on Jon it ends on him too. Angela, learning of the Kavalry’s intentions, rushes home to talk to Cal, because he’s really Dr. Manhattan in disguise. She slams a hammer into his skull and keeps digging until she pulls a small round device from the bloody mess. Then there’s a familiar blue glow.

The title is a line from the Watchmen comic itself, Dr. Manhattan’s response to how the Vietnamese react to him.

One more thing of note: Cal is reading “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemmingway. Aside from the fact that you could probably start a whole book club based on Cal’s readings throughout the series, this book in particular is an interesting choice. Not only is it a classic piece of literature (as judged by the masses, not me, I hate Hemingway), it is extremely similar to Watchmen in its structure. The book contains completely fictional characters, historical figures who have been fictionalized, and revolves around genuine historical events. Some of the themes are the same too: death, community, and contemplations about racism and fascism. Granted, one could probably argue that all of the books Cal reads are tied to the same themes. Maybe…it’s certainly worth another watch-through, don’t you think?

Speaking of…if this is your first run-through of the series, I’ll ask nothing of you. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the fucked up show. If this is your second or third though, I would ask that you harken back to “She was killed by Space Junk”, and the conversation that happens in the car with Sister Night, Agent Petey, and Agent Blake. This exchange ties to the current episode in three ways: 1. It references Dr. Manhattan, and more specifically, Laurie’s relationship with him in comparison to Angela’s relationship with Calvin. 2. It references Laurie’s hypothesis on why heroes wear masks. And, 3. It references Laurie’s curiosity as to why a nun? Knowing this, when you get done watching episode seven, please go back and watch “…Space Junk” (ep. 3) and see the majesty of what Damon Lindelof can do when he actually has a fucking plan.

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