All season, I’ve been worried that adding Dr. Manhattan to the story of Watchmen would make it unwieldy. Manhattan is an indelible creation from Alan Moore’s comic, but he’s also quite literally a god, capable of doing pretty much anything. In terms of the story that Watchmen the series is trying to tell, it seemed like the scale of Manhattan’s abilities would make him a bad fit for this story.
Thank the blue god I was wrong. Damon Lindelof and his writing team seemed to have shared my concerns about Manhattan, but instead of ignoring him, they decided to make his story as intimate and personal as everyone else’s. In A God Walks Into Abar we learn how Angela and Jon Osterman met, and how they eventually fell into the situation we see them in at the beginning of this story.
The episode is unstuck in time in a way that could feel totally disorienting but is instead thrilling in its sudden shifts in time. Much like The Constant one of the very best episodes of Lost, A God Walks Into Abar melds time travel with a love story in a way that only Lindelof seems capable of.
In the episode, we see Angela and Jon meet, and we see the end of their relationship after she fails to keep him safe from the Seventh Kavalry. Because Jon experiences all moments in time simultaneously, he knows what’s going to happen to them, and he tells Angela as soon as they meet. They’ll be together for 10 years, but it will end in tragedy. Knowing this, Angela enters the relationship anyway. She dares to fall in love with him, knowing it can only end in heartache. That’s what love is for, after all.
The episode doesn’t just fill in a vast number of gaps that viewers have around the show (how Adrian Veidt got to a moon of Jupiter, how Manhattan lost his memory, etc.). It also introduces a love story to Watchmen, which has been lacking one throughout its run. It’s a bold move, but one that turns out to be hugely successful. In the space of a single episode, we come to understand Angela and Jon’s relationship and feel its loss at the episode’s end.
The writing plays an obvious role in this story’s success, but the actors deserve a huge share of the credit. I can’t even imagine how confusing the script for this episode was. It’s designed to go careening recklessly through time, and its dialogue is filled with references to events that have yet to unfold or have unfolded already.
In spite of that hurdle, Regina King continues to prove that she may be the only actress alive capable of handling this role. This week, she’s ably accompanied by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who has been mostly sidelined all season but gets to step into the spotlight here. His Manhattan is as chilly as the version readers of Moore’s comic will remember, but that chilliness is accompanied by a tenderness toward humanity, and Angela in particular, that is absolutely vital to his character. They sell the love between them at every moment.
An episode featuring a character who experiences all moments in time simultaneously wouldn’t be complete without a time loop, and we get one here. When Angela asks Manhattan to ask her grandfather about Judd, she inadvertently introduces him to Judd and set the entire plot of the series in motion. The chicken and the egg appear simultaneously, as Jon says.
We also come to realize that Adrian Veidt was not imprisoned or banished to Europa. Instead, Manhattan sent him there because he asked to go, and he’s been trapped because Manhattan then proceeded to forget who he was for 10 years. It’s entirely fitting that Veidt imprisoned himself, and has been trying desperately to escape for a decade since.
The episode reaches its peak emotionally in the present, though, as Angela tries desperately to save Jon, even though he’s already told her that she’s going to fail. “This is the moment,” he tells her. It’s the reason he loves her in the first place. She’s not going to win, but she’s not going to go quietly. The sequence is obscenely violent, but it’s also profoundly beautiful. It’s two doomed people fighting for each other. They do it because they can’t do anything else.
There’s only one episode of Watchmen left this season, and it might be the last episode period. Given the strength of this eighth installment, the finale promises to be as satisfying as anxious fans hope it will be. In addition to being a truly perfect pun, A God Walks Into Abar adds an element of romantic tragedy to an ending that would’ve been fine with the elements that were already on the table.
Like the Watchmen comic, this show is an exceedingly rich text, capable and insistent upon containing multitudes. It’s easy to reduce art, even great art, to its central idea, and most art can be reduced that way. In its closing moments, Watchmen has chosen to expand thematically even as its story contracts. The show refuses to be penned in, even as it remains incisive about inherited trauma and race. All good stories are human stories, and all human stories are about more than one thing. They’re about the sustained pain of our pasts, the profound unfairness of our present, and the beauty and tragedy inherent in loving anyone, even a blue god.
10/10 — With only one episode left, Watchmen dives deep into a love story that we didn’t know we needed until we got it. A God Walks Into Abar is beautiful, romantic, tragic storytelling on a vast canvas, and definitive proof that Watchmen is one of the great television shows of the year.