Home Culture Watchmen: Season 1 Episode 8 “A God Walks into Abar” Review

Watchmen: Season 1 Episode 8 “A God Walks into Abar” Review

Manhattan from behind
Manhattan from behind

An episode titled after a bad joke…the punch line is, it’s really fucking good!

Dr. Manhattan (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II the entire time, even if we can’t see his face at first) lands in Vietnam on VVN Day and walks into Eddy’s Bar to strike up a conversation with one Officer Angela Abar. I enjoy that Angela points out the obvious connection between Manhattan coming down to Earth in disguise as himself in order to seduce her, and the Greek god Zeus, coming down to Earth disguised as an animal in order to seduce women. I also like that she interrupts his story to tell him how cool it is he can walk on water.

He explains to her how he experiences time – basically, all events are happening simultaneously to him. This leads us to a flashback that describes the origin of the manor house and the clones and the habitable “Earth” that exists on Europa. He, as a child (played by Zak Rothera-Oxley), and his father, Hans (Anatole Taubman), have escaped Nazi Germany and taken refuge at a manor house in England. The people who run the house will eventually become the clones that are so ruthlessly abused by Adrian Veidt years later.

Back at the bar Angela still isn’t sold on the whole “I am Dr. Manhattan” shtick, but Jon isn’t easily deterred. I mean, why would he be? He knows they’re going to get together. The fact that he goes through the whole pickup charade is a mix of creepy and sweet. There’s another story this reminds me of: The Time Traveler’s Wife, in which the main character is a time traveler who knows who his wife will be and essentially grooms her from childhood to fill this role later on. This presents a certain moral quandary. Is it wrong to seduce a woman who either clearly doesn’t want to be seduced (like Angela), or is too young to realize what her future will be (the time traveler’s wife, though let me be clear – when I say groom I don’t mean sexually) when the man knows what the outcome will be? And I say man and woman here because this is the only pairing I’ve seen this setup done with.

As to the answer…the ends justify the means? In The Time Traveler’s Wife, our protagonist’s love interest is deeply bothered by what she considers a choice she never got to make. We, as humans, take the concept of free will very seriously. We’ve built whole religions on it; we’ve rejected whole religions because of it. This idea of a “star crossed” or “fated” romance is lovely in theory, but in practice it’s messy. If Manhattan knows all, especially with regards to how his personal timeline is going to unfold, why not adapt to such knowledge? Or, would that ruin some space-time continuum rule? Technically, it doesn’t matter. Why bother adapting when you know how things will play out. Sure, it might be painful or troublesome to a degree, but unlike the rest of us mere mortals, he doesn’t have to worry all his actions might be for naught. In fact, he gets to see the whole complicated tapestry. Still, despite this, he does experience regret. When Angela asks him why help in Vietnam if he knew how it was going to turn out? His response, “Haven’t you ever done anything you knew you were going to regret?” Touché, asshole.

Now, onto one of my favorite scenes in this episode. Angela explains that she can’t have dinner with him because he’s blue and it would be weird. Manhattan points out that she came up with a solution to this problem: we cut to her pulling open morgue drawers. They contain recently deceased men who have no next of kin and are slated to be cremated. She’s smart. While Jon can take on any form he wants it would require the fabrication of official documents, instead, why not assume the identity of someone who will not be missed and already has those documents? But, what I love about this is that she presents him with bodies she thinks he might want. Given that she knows about him, we can safely assume she knows his history – even without him telling her – which means she knows he was Caucasian. In her mind, the body he would want would match that previous ethnicity, right? Two of the bodies are white men while one is Asian, though he appears fairly light-skinned, yet, Jon insists that he doesn’t care what he looks like. He says that the form he takes should be one she wants. At first, she claims to not care either, but when pushed, she finally reveals a black man: Calvin Jelanie, who dropped dead, possibly of a heart attack. I find this satisfying that Angela is allowed to choose the body she wants. It’s not about him, it’s about her.

Still, even with a new face, voice, and body, you can’t take the god out of the man. Which is a big problem. It’s the thing that tore him and Laurie apart, however, this time he refuses to lose. He treks off to Antarctica to speak with his “friend” Adrian about how he can fix this issue. Is the argument that he didn’t love Laurie enough to think of this before, or that he was young and naïve at the time? He got transformed in 1959, and had his relationship with Laurie in 1985, I guess twenty is young in god years. Anyway, Adrian doesn’t seem surprised by his arrival, taking it in stride, going over the usual talking points – how he’s trying to maintain the peace with his squids, how mankind constantly disappoints him, and also pointing out that Jon’s new black form could be considered appropriation in 2009. That’s a nifty thought experiment. Technically, Adrian doesn’t know it was Angela who picked the form, but even if the Doc had picked black skin on his own could it really be considered appropriation? I mean, sure, Jon Osterman was a white Jewish man to start, but then he transcended humanity.

Racial minefields aside, Adrian, now aware that his friend has come for help because he is in love, is happy to lend his expertise. He made a device, thirty years ago, to destroy Jon. He didn’t end up using it, but now it will enable Jon to forget who he is, completely. He won’t know he has powers, so he won’t use them, except as a reflex in life-threatening circumstances. It’s perfect. However, this gift isn’t without strings. Adrian is tired of saving humanity in the shadows, he wants to be loved and adored for what he’s done. Jon couldn’t take the love of his creations, but maybe Adrian would fancy being their god? So, Jon gets the mind eraser ring and Adrian gets teleported to Europa.

Our next scene is Jon explaining how to use the device. This leads us back to the bar, where Angela challenges him to prove he’s Dr. Manhattan. He produces an egg, expounding that if he wanted to he could put his powers into an organic substance and pass them onto the person who eats said substance (i.e. The egg). We cut back to Angela now ready to implant the device. And finally, Angela, seeing the blue glow of her man fully awake now as she holds the device.

She tells him what year it is, why she took the device out, and that he’s in trouble. Meanwhile, Jon’s playing catch up. He vanishes, teleporting to the swimming pool – doing that walking on water trick – before zapping their kids away to safety. Angela has a decent reaction to this nonsense, but he remains calm and detached as he enlightens her to his relationship with her grandfather. How he showed up on Will Reeve’s doorstep, then walked right through it, to have a conversation with him about Angela. This scene drops the bomb that Angela is the one who told Will about Judd’s connection to Cyclops. Angela started our show. How cool is that?

I gotta say, I really love Angela’s reactions to her superhuman husband. She isn’t impressed by him turning blue, glowing, or teleporting. No, she’s frustrated by it. That’s a real reaction. Her willingness to die for him is something he’s not prepared for. It’s why he falls in love with her. It’s funny because she comments on the fact that he only falls in love with her at the end of their relationship, but because of how he experiences time he’s “always” been in love with her. Again, her reaction to this is amazing. She’s in business mode now. Unfortunately, even with an assist from Jon, his prediction of the future comes true.

We end where we started, back at the bar ten years ago. Angela tries the argument of why would she want to start a relationship with him if it’s just going to end tragically, to which he points out – don’t all relationships end tragically? This depressing line of logic works, and she agrees to go to dinner with him.

You may be thinking, hey, this is another episode without an Adrian Veidt side story, but it is not. We actually get an after-the-credits scene that starts during the credits. When it plays at last, it’s Adrian being pelted with tomatoes for refusing to stay on Europa. Next, he’s in a jail cell, getting a visit from the Game Warden. We discover the Game Warden is the original Mr. Phillips, witness to Dr. Manhattan’s creation of the paradise he will ultimately abandon. Now, he’s witness to another abandonment, that of Adrian Veidt. Even so, as much as the clones don’t want him to go, they still provide him with the means of escape (baking a horseshoe into his cake so he can tunnel his way free).

Overall, I really enjoyed this episode. I loved learning the history of the paradise Adrian’s been trapped on for apparently 10 years. I enjoyed the love story between Angela and Dr. Manhattan. Does it have flaws? Sure. Is it stupid that, Dr, Manhattan, a being capable of knowing everything, allows himself to be abducted by white supremacists? Yes. But that’s the problem with writing a god. You really can’t be sure what it would do. Granted, unlike my gripe with Supernatural’s Chuck, Dr. Manhattan started out as a mere mortal and became a god. His whole storyline is that he loses his humanity when gaining these awesome powers. If you think about it, his intention by the end of the comic was to reconnect with this lost part of himself. He decides to create life – humans, specifically – but it isn’t in hopes of being worshipped. Maybe it was in hopes that they would reflect back to him is own humanity. After all, what are kids but little versions of yourself? The bible doesn’t shut up about god making humans in his image, if that’s true and you expanded the definition of “image” to include mind and emotions, then Jon creating the clones is him trying to see himself in others. Granted, he says he doesn’t create them in his image, but I think that’s wrong. I think, deep down, he still sees himself a human being and that’s why he makes human beings. Although, they are lacking in many ways; he really creates humans as he wished they were: Selfless, innocent, and loving.

His willingness to die is a much better road to feeling human. It would also explain why he allows himself to be captured. Even being with Angela, giving up his powers for her, is a way for him to reconnect with his lost humanity. Being human means tragedy, and loss, and sacrifice. It also means joy, and surprise, and love. As Manhattan Jon gets none of these things, but as Calvin Abar, for ten years, he might just get enough for a lifetime.

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