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Watchmen 1.7 Review – ‘An Almost Religious Awe’

December 2, 2019 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Watchmen - An Almost Religious Awe
7.5
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Watchmen 1.7 Review – ‘An Almost Religious Awe’  

[Warning: spoilers abound for those who have not seen Sunday’s episode of Watchmen.]

I have a confession to make: I’ve never been a really big fan of Damon Lindelof as a whole. Sure, I like large swaths of what he’s done, but I can’t honestly say, that I’ve had a deep liking for any of his projects in their entirety. I appreciated the ambition and boldness of Lost, but I wasn’t enthralled with it the way a lot of other people were. The Leftovers had some great ideas behind it, but the bleak and self-serious tone seemed too jarring didn’t work for me – and I’m a guy who loves bleak storytelling. Star Trek Into Darkness and Prometheus were great ideas that suffered by being shoehorned into the wrong franchises, and the less said about Cowboys vs. Aliens and Tomorrowland the better.

That’s a lot of words to describe things that are not specifically Watchmen, I know. But my point here is that Lindelof has some real strengths as a storyteller, compounded by some glaring weaknesses. It’s weird to me that “An Almost Religious Awe” is the only episode that Lindelof doesn’t have a script credit on, because in a lot of ways it feels like his best and worst traits amplified and combined into a single hour of television. Following on the events of last week’s exceptional Hooded Justice reveal that caused a seismic shift in our perceptions of this narrative, this week’s episode essentially takes a look at last week and says, “Hold my burger and borscht.”

Watchmen Angela

It feels really, really strange to say that this week’s episode is the third-to-last episode of the season, and perhaps the entire series. Sure, a lot has gone on in the series to date. We’ve learned a lot about the characters and how the world of the graphic novel has progressed to the present day; there’s even been plot momentum.

But even if there isn’t a lot of plot left, it feels like there should be. In a lot of ways, “An Almost Religious Awe” feels like it should be a mid-season finale-type episode, and not the hour that leads into the penultimate episode. Angela and Laurie still have a lot to uncover, even as they get some big lessons (much to their distress) this week. Angela has to spend much of the episode getting back on her feet after the Nostalgia trip, which leaves her time to speak with Lady Trieu.

Trieu herself is an interesting character; she acts as sort of a morality barometer in that we can accurately determine every other characters’ alignment by pairing them with her. Look at her in the perspective of how she’s directly trying to oppose Senator Keene and the Seventh Kavalry, and she’s undoubtedly a protagonist; maybe even a hero, or hero-adjacent. But it’s also hard to forget the lesson of Watchmen: the more power you have, the more humanity you lose. When we put Trieu up against Angela in particular (though Laurie too), her alignment starts to shift and seems much closer to a darker direction. No one in Watchmen is purely innocent, but right now Lady Trieu is as gray as they come, arguably the Lord Varys of this series.

Watchmen Young Angela

Angela’s conversations with Trieu are fruitful in terms of plot reveal, but we’ll get to that shortly. In the midst of all of this, we still have a lot to learn about Sister Night herself. After last week’s revelation that Will Reeves was Hooded Justice and used Cyclops technology to mesmerize Judd into hanging himself, we delve back into Angela’s past to learn how she ended up why she is who she is today.

Through the flashbacks, we find out how her parents died because of a Vietnamese suicide bomber, which set her on the steps to become a cop. We also learn that her father – Will’s son, of course – tried to instill her with a distrust of masks, obviously because of what he experienced as a kid at his dad’s hands. But her grandmother, who comes to claim her from the horrible orphanage she’s being kept at, tries to counteract that somewhat, and brings her out of Vietnam, back home to Tulsa.

That rescue, and a VHS tape of a 1970s exploitation film called Sister Night with the amazing tagline, “The Nun with the Mother***king Gun,” makes possible the bad-ass masked detective that Angela is today. These scenes are the kinds of things Lindelof excels at. He’s always had a great understanding of character, and when to dole out character details most effectively. We come to understand Angela better through these, much as we came to understand Looking Glass two weeks ago and Will last week.

Watchmen Judge

But then, there’s that other part: the worst hallmarks of Lindelof’s work. Watchmen has shown a few signs of these so far, but they’ve been mostly restrained. Lindelof loves big, wild ideas, but they aren’t always thought out as well as they could be. There seems to be a sense of “We’ll make it make sense later in the story” sometimes, and the end result is that he has to stretch the credibility of his story to connect the dots.

The most obvious example of this is not the Cal reveal we’re about to get to, but the Veidt storyline. I’ve enjoyed Jeremy Irons’ work on this show thus far without exception. And there are some interesting character moments. But as each episode featuring Ozymandias gets more and more absurd, I find myself caring less and less.

The courtroom scenes this week are the pinnacle of that. It’s clear that the story is building to something, and that Veidt’s tale will dovetail into the main arc. There are moments in the closing arguments that play to that, such as how blasé Veidt is being and an all-important wink from the prosecutor. The thing is, I’m concerned that I will be past the point of caring by the time it’s revealed. This whole scene was just so very extra, from the doubling down on scenery chewing by Tom Mison and Sara Vickers to what can only be called the fart defense, all the way into the judge inexplicably deciding to replace the entire jury after a year’s time with a group of pigs.

Again, clearly there is a point to all of this. The lines of connections that have drawn between Veidt, Trieu, Dr. Manhattan, Angela and Laurie make it nearly impossible that Veidt won’t end up in the main arc in some fashion. But there’s a strong sense that Lindelof and his writers didn’t have a ton of storyline for Adrian, but really wanted to use Irons more. The scenes we’ve had with him are very padded out, which is a particularly odd choice considering that he’s obviously not on the same timeline as the main arc so there’s no need to follow a particular case. It really does feel like less would have been more here.

Watchmen Cal

That time seems especially wasteful when we consider that it could have been used to add some more context to the big plot reveals this week. And by those, I of course mean that Cal is a self-mind-wiped Doctor Manhattan, which Angela knew about, and that the Seventh Kavalry’s plan is to capture Dr. Manhattan and take over his power, so they can enforce their wish for white supremacy. These are both doozies, and inextricably connected in a way that it’s tough to talk about one without the other.

First off is Cal. This isn’t something that hasn’t been guessed by some people online. Admittedly, I wasn’t one of them, but some people made very specific note of the visual similarity Yahya Abdul-Mateen II had to certain depictions of Manhattan in the series. This is the kind of big, bold plot move that is sure to piss people off for a lot of reasons.

That said, for my money it was is carried off well. There are hints if you go back and look, from the way it explains certain narrative gaps in logic (who rescued Angela during the White Night?) to character moments like Cal instinctively trusting Laurie. Do they spell it out for us? No, but that’s why they work. They are the kinds of things that you don’t think about at the time; they don’t seem to be taunting the audience to figure it out, but after the reveal we can look back and find the evidence we need.

The Seventh Kavalry’s plan is a little less shocking, but it’s also carried off well. James Wolk is so good as Joe Keene, I want to punch him in his little white supremacist face (the character, not the actor obviously). The reveal of their plot is done in a way that credits Laurie for her investigation but doesn’t make the 7K/Cyclops look incompetent; at worst they have a bad clicker and an insane plan, but they’re competent racist lunatics. Whether it’s a comfortable thought or not, Keene’s credo that they’re about “restoring balance” is pretty spot-on for 21st-century white supremacy. It sounds rational until you think about it for even half an instant, and then it’s about going back to a status quo where marginalized communities “knew their place” and didn’t try to have a seat at the table.

All of this ultimately brings us to a head for what looks to be a pivotal episode next week. If Keene succeeds and takes Dr. Manhattan’s power, that’s bad news for pretty much everybody. Jon Osterman was a generally moral man, and those cosmic powers turned him into a largely amoral being. With a guy like Keene, it’s horrifyingly easy to imagine how bad it could be. As much as portions of this episode didn’t sit right with me, more than enough did that I’m interested to see how they can wrap all this up with just two episodes left to go.

Watchmen Laurie Jane

Some Final Thoughts:

• Thanks to Wyatt Beougher for filling in for me last week! I hope you enjoyed his coverage; I certainly did.

• Banter of the Night Award goes to Angela and Lady Trieu: “And your life’s work is turning on your big, fancy gizmo so you can save humanity?” “You make it sound ridiculous when you say it like that.”

• Musical references this week included James Brown’s “Living in America” and Trent Reznor & Atticus Finch’s piano cover of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars,” both of which were perfect in their placements.

• So, we’re all pretty sure that Looking Glass is alive will be helping Laurie escape, right? That seems to be the obvious plot choice here.

• We learn that Bian is the clone of Trieu’s mother, who been slowly having her old memories fed back into. Which is both touching and horrific all in one.

• On the subject of hints to Cal’s true identity, the Dr. Manhattan sex toy was named Excalibur. Ex-Cal Abar. I want to be mad at that, but it’s too good for me not to appreciate.

• Next week: We learn how Angela and Jon met, and Angela has to try and save Jon even though he says she won’t. That’s the kind of thing that seems like it would piss her off.

7.5
The final score: review Good
The 411
"An Almost Religious Awe" is the best and worst of Watchmen rolled into one. The script gives us some bombshell plot reveals and great character development. However, it feels like there's almost too much to be wrapped up in just a couple episodes and the Adrian Veidt scene went to the wrong side of the ridiculousness line. On balance though, the episode is still a win that has me interested in how the series will wrap itself up by two weeks from now.
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