Nothing ever ends, but Watchmen‘s inaugural season just did. Lives were lost, plans were foiled, and wounds, finally, may have started to heal. In addition to tying a pretty perfect bow around almost every thread from the season, the episode also manages to dive into what Watchmen has been about since its opening seconds — trauma, and the way people do or don’t deal with it. See How They Fly was as good as endings get, as moving and satisfying and breathtaking as any television episode this decade.
The episode starts by providing us with an origin story for one of the few characters who doesn’t have one. We learn that, as many suspected, Lady Trieu is Veidt’s daughter, and that she’s had a plan to become Dr. Manhattan for more than a decade. The opening traces her one and only encounter with her father before 2019 through to Ozymandias’s escape from Europa, where we learn that everything that’s happened to him on the planet was orchestrated by him to keep him from losing his mind.
Early on, the episode is rich on answers and short on emotion, but we do get a beautiful moment when Veidt is frozen in gold in a way that brings Han Solo to mind. He’s a statue of himself while he travels back to Earth, and it’s hard to imagine a more perfect metaphor.
One of the best things about Watchmen all season long is how slippery every single character has felt. We know that the Seventh Kavalry/Cyclops is bad, but Lady Trieu doesn’t seem like a benevolent actor either. Both of them had schemes, and in this episode, we watched both of those schemes fail in rapid succession. Two villains quickly erased from the board.
Before the Seventh Kavalry was summarily dissolved and Joe Keene Jr. melted into a pile of goo, he got a chance to monologue about just how bad things have gotten for the white man. It’s not even a little convincing, and what’s even better, it’s not meant to be. There’s no sympathizing with the Seventh Kavalry, and the show never pretends otherwise. Thankfully, they were never what this show was really about.
As much as Hong Chau crushes it as Lady Trieu, this show was never about her either. After she dispatches with the white supremacists, Manhattan finds a way to foil her plan to absorb his powers as well, but not before she kills him.
Jon’s death is remarkably moving, especially considering how little time he’s been himself on this show. It works because of Regina King and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, two actors of remarkable ability who sell every word of their scenes together. He dies, living every moment of their life together as he does. And just like that, the god that the Watchmen comic book created is wiped off the board.
For all of her efforts, though, Lady Trieu’s plan is not destined for success either. That’s because her father, in spite of his many ruthless tendencies, is pretty good at his job when the world needs to be saved. After Manhattan teleports him back to his lab, he knows exactly what to do. He rains down little frozen squids on Tulsa, and ruins Trieu’s hovering device in the process. She’s crushed under the weight of her own hubris.
All of this is thrilling and visceral and emotional. It’s what makes this Watchmen adaptation so meaty and interesting. It dared to be about everything, but that didn’t mean it lost its focus on its very first images. The show really climaxes when Angela sits down for a quiet conversation with her grandfather.
They talk about Jon’s plan. He knew that both Trieu and Keene would fail, but also that he would die in the process. He set everything up with Will so that it would happen exactly that way. They talk about eggs and the value of breaking a few in order to make something new. Most importantly, though, they talk about Will’s past — his anger, which was really just a mixture of hurt and fear. Angela felt those feelings while she was living his memories, but Will knows now that hiding behind masks doesn’t help. Wounds need air.
That simple three-word phrase is as perfect a summation of what Watchmen is about as we’re likely to get. It’s a reminder to Angela that pain and trauma is real, and the pain and trauma of black Americans is more severe than your typical masked avenger. That simple statement is a reminder that black Americans, who have been roundly ignored in superhero stories, have all the rage and anger that should make them central to those narratives. It’s also a reminder that for Angela, hiding behind a mask is not a way to work through it, just like it wasn’t for her grandfather. The way to deal with trauma is to let it out, even if it comes out angry or hurt or it makes you vulnerable. Even if it’s scarier than the alternative.
Ignoring the past is not going to make it go away, but reaching for it is also wrong. Joe Keene and his band of white supremacists long for a time when they didn’t have to apologize for everything. The past they long for isn’t coming back, and fighting for it is both immoral and idiotic. Instead, the past exists to be acknowledged and accepted for what it was. Everybody has an origin story, and some are much, much more horrific than others. In order to move past the pain, the pain has to be seen. Wounds need air.
Of course, the episode doesn’t end with Angela and Will’s conversation. We get a tease, a suggestion that Jon may have left his powers behind for Angela. We may never know for sure, and that’s exactly as it should be. Lindelof’s Watchmen ends at the second before Angela either becomes a god or doesn’t, and it’s not clear whether he ever plans to make more. When you’ve made something this masterful, sometimes walking away is the smart play.
10/10 — Damon Lindelof was terrified of leaving fans unsatisfied with the ending of his version of Watchmen, but “See How They Fly” delivers a dense, emotional, deeply moving ending to a series that has more than proven itself to be the equal of the comic book it’s based on.