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Watchmen 1.8 Review – ‘A God Walks Into Abar’

December 9, 2019 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Watchmen - A God Walks Into A Bar
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Watchmen 1.8 Review – ‘A God Walks Into Abar’  

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

This first (and perhaps only) season of Watchmen has been a bit of a conundrum, if in the best possible way. Taking the world of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ iconic comic book and carrying things out thirty years has allowed Damon Lindelof to tell a story that carries a lot of narrative baggage in the form of high expectations, but also start fresh with a topical and timely story. It’s a series that sort of revels in playing at its own cross purposes. That includes characters who are sympathetic and noble, yet almost irredeemably flawed. It also includes the ages old battle of staying faithful to your source and getting stale or making tweaks that could enrage your audience. Even its narrative structure sometimes seems to be struggling against itself, trying to figure out if it needs to make the most plot-intensive choices for its limited (for a TV series) real estate or if it should take all the time that it needs.

“A God Walks into Abar” – a cheeky-ass title if I’ve ever seen one – is a strange little monster in that it doesn’t seem to be aware that it’s the season’s penultimate episode. There’s still a lot to do as this hour of television begins. We know how Judd died, but we still don’t know the “why.” We know Lady Trieu has a plan, but we don’t really know what it is. Laurie Blake’s fate is up in the air, as is Looking Glass’. There’s just…everything that has to do with Adrian Veidt’s story, which is fun but hasn’t made much sense so far. And then there’s the Seventh Kavalry/Cyclops’ plan to kill Dr. Manhattan and steal his power for Joe Keene, and what that will mean for Angela and Cal/Jon.

That’s a lot to handle in two hours, which makes it all the more surprising that Lindelof and episode co-writer Jeff Jensen instead focus largely on the length of Angela and Jon’s – Dr. Manhattan, for those not paying attention – relationship. But this plan works as a framing device thanks all to the nature of Jon’s superhuman abilities. As the God who walks into Abar, Jon Osterman uniquely feels and experiences all of time simultaneously. That allows Lindelof and Jensen, along with director Nicole Kassell, to use him in a way that jumps back and forth throughout a span of history without ever seeming to lose focus.

Watchmen Jon

It’s a neat trick, and one that is pulled off largely through a very accurate estimation of Jon’s character. Dr. Manhattan is a deceptively tricky character to bring to life. It would be easy to just ascribe him a cold, “I care not what happens” mindset, which is what Zack Snyder’s Watchmen did to a certain degree. I won’t go so far as to say that’s a wrong way to play him; it worked for what Snyder’s version required. But it is a rendition that kind of sells Jon short. On a surface level, it’s easy to see lines like, “A live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles” as coming from a cold, unfeeling god. And that does fit within Moore’s themes about how power distances you from human connection, and thus from humanity.

But it’s also important to realize that Jon Osterman is, if not the hero of the story (Watchmen arguably has no “hero”), then at least as one of the more nuanced characters. He’s certainly not a villain, and even most of the darkest Watchmen characters have shades of gray. I think it’s more accurate to say that Jon/Dr. Manhattan is a man who has lost his grip on his humanity by the very notion of his powers, but still retains enough of it to feel happy at seeing Laurie and Dan at together toward the end of the graphic novel.

To me, that reads as a Jon that, while sapped of his empathy by experiencing so much at once through his quantum perception of time, still remains very much someone who wants to feel. As disassociated as he is, Jon is still Jon. He’s just a Jon who is feeling every moment of his life simultaneously, forever. Anyone who has a particularly high level of empathy can understand how feeling too much from others can shut you down. In Jon’s case, that overload is multiplied by magnitudes.

Watchmen Angela

And yet, like anyone who has a lot of empathy, he still feels. We learn that very clearly here, in that crucial moment toward the end of the episode when he tells Angela that the moment when she’s trying to save him after he told her she can’t is “the moment” that he falls in love with her. Lindelof and Jensen explore what it means to be a person like Jon, viewed from his perspective and centered on Angela and Adrian, the two people he interacts with.

The writers go deep enough into that exploration that Yahya Abdul Mateen II is able to truly knock it out of the park. The subtle things here that the actor brings to the role are astounding. Whether it’s the subtle flashes of Cal that come out at the end, or the way he lightly shades Jon’s actions when he looks like Cal, we see both an authentic connection to the source and some natural changes that he’s going through.

Most of the framing work centers around the conversation that Angela and Jon have at the bar in Vietnam, which is incredibly well-structured. It can’t be easy to write a character who knows almost everything that’s going to happen and is up front about that when he tries to pick up the woman he loves but just met in a bar. There’s of course a sense of certainty from him during their banter, but there’s also that element of being a bit surprised by Angela’s flippancy. Abdul-Mateen and Regina King play off each other so well, it’s a delight that almost makes us forget that there’s still a lot that needs to be done in a short amount of TV time.

Watchmen Jon Hands

But trust Watchmen to get to that too. Lindelof and Jensen answer several questions here; we know that Judd’s death was the result of a paradox of sorts, where Angela asked Jon to ask how Will knew about the KKK robe, which in turn informs Will that Judd needs to go. We learn how Jon became Cal, and we get a good sense of how Adrian fits into the past story, if not necessarily the future yet.

Sure, that still leaves a lot to go. But the point is, this episode does a fantastic job of utilizing its space to both feel like an intimate character study on both Angela and Jon, as well as getting things moving along.

Watchmen Angela

And that, ultimately, brings Jon to the present where he’s been awoken from his intentional amnesia by Angela’s hammer job. This is just in time for him to get the kids to safety before 7K can spring their trap. The whole scene plays into the argument of fate vs. choice. Jon knows he’s doomed, but Angela is determined to save him. It doesn’t work, of course, but Angela retains her agency and her stubborn refusal to be let herself be swept along by destiny.

Of course, she actually proves to be Jon’s undoing, as her attempt to take out the 7K members forces Jon to step in, which is when he’s hit by the 7K weapon that destroys him. There’s still a question in my mind about whether he’s actually destroyed or not; after all, if he couldn’t be killed by the intrinsic field subtractor’s deatomization, I’m not entirely sure what a tachyonic cannon can permanently do. (To be fair, I’m not a physicist.) But either way, Keene’s plan has been successful so far and it sets up what’s coming in the finale.

The other thing that is set up for the finale is Veidt’s escape from Europa, which we learn is in fact that paradise that Jon created on the Jupiterian moon. Veidt’s plans are now clearer; he was sent there by Jon because it was a place needing a man like him, but he grew to view it as a prison. The Game Warden, the first of the men Jon created, is none too happy that he wants to go. But through a smuggled in horseshoe, Veidt appears to have the means to get free.

That doesn’t exactly answer what role Veidt will play in the finale. And I don’t believe he’s going to be the savior, though he will certainly have a role to play. Against all odds, “A God Walks Into Abar” managed to focus the plotlines down to a manageable state for the final episode without losing any of its measured pace or origin explanation. If next week’s “See How They Fly” can stick the landing – still a tricky proposition, though not impossible – Watchmen’s ten episodes will have been a truly impressive feat of television.

Watchmen Cal

Some Final Thoughts:

• I know we talk about the golden age of geek media these days, but I just have to say that right now we have Watchmen and Crisis on Infinite Earths on TV at the same time and 14 year-old me’s mind is BLOWN, y’all.

• Adrian Veidt’s quick lecture to Jon about cultural appropriation was the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while. “It’s not the ‘80s anymore. This kind of appropriation is considered quite problematic.”

• There are a lot of great camera shots in this episode, but perhaps the best is when Angela pushes the tachyon device into Jon’s head, followed immediately by her holding the removed device ten years later. It fits very much thematically into how Jon views time and provides a nice mirror moment.

• Angela and Jon’s conversation in the bar about Jon being able to pass his powers through consumed food seems particularly significant, especially when you consider that he was making waffles. It makes me wonder if he came up with a way to transfer his powers to Angela.

• “How long would it take you to make this device?” “Oh, my dear sweet John. I made it 30 years ago.” Between this and the 1985 squid monster, Veidt sure loves talking about things he’s already done as if he’s about to do them, doesn’t he?

• We do get confirmation that Jon zapped one of the White Night would-be murderers away. Good on you, superhero.

• This week’s musical cues were “Blue Danube” during the creation sequence, Doris Day’s “Tunnel of Love” in the bar, The Fleetwoods’ “Mr. Blue” when Jon leaves Angela and Jackie Wilson’s ‘A Woman, A Lover, A Friend’ at the end.

• Next week: It all comes to a head and I’m gonna be honest; if I were someone in Angela’s way, I’d be very afraid right now.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
"A God Walks Into Abar" hits a high point for Watchmen to date, delivering both weight to Angela and Jon's love story and some plot momentum heading into the finale. With standout performances from Yahya Abdul-Mateen, Jeremy Irons and Regina King, this was simply an incredibly grossing hour of TV that has me highly anticipating next week's episode.