“What the f---?!” It’s a line repeated often enough in HBO’s “Watchmen” to become a catchphrase for Angela Abar (Regina King), the miniseries’ de facto protagonist. It’s also what viewers found themselves asking again and again in the course of the show’s nine dizzying, brilliant episodes. Plenty of TV series can throw you for a loop time and again (see “Watchmen” show-runner Damon Lindelof’s own “Lost”), but this one is a rare show that can toss you into the whirlwind and ultimately land you on solid ground.
With a plot and themes as carefully engineered as the Millennium Clock, “Watchmen” delivered on all the wild moments it threw at us. It built on the world of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s 1986 comic book masterpiece, and deftly combines profundity and seriousness with dry humor and psychedelic weirdness. It took the themes established in its source material and used them to tell a contemporary story about the long shadow of white supremacy and intergenerational trauma in America.
From the first squid storm to the last unbroken egg, here are the moments in the series that made us gasp. But be warned: This is not for the uninitiated. Massive spoilers abound.
****SPOILERS FOR WATCHMEN FOLLOW****
Cloudy with a chance of squids (Episode 1)
“Watchmen” throws us in the deep end from the word go, trusting viewers to roll with the punches. Not too far into the first episode, Detective Angela Abar is driving her adopted son home from school when air raid-esque sirens sound, and all the cars on the road stop in their tracks. But it’s not bombs; it’s a sudden downpour of fist-sized alien squids, which an unruffled Angela squeegees off her car before continuing on her way. As one does.
Rapture via electromagnet (Episode 2)
Angela’s had a hard few days by the end of “Watchmen”’s second episode. Her boss and friend, Judd (Don Johnson), has been murdered by a man who turns out to be Will Reeves, the grandfather she never knew she had (Louis Gossett Jr.). But just as she’s about to drive Will to the station for questioning, a mysterious something descends from the sky, latches onto the roof of Angela’s car, and pulls both car and grandfather up into the heavens.
The bluest sex toy (Episode 3)
Nostalgia can take many forms; for Laurie Blake (Jean Smart), who once was in a relationship with omniscient blue superbeing Dr. Manhattan, it comes in the guise of a giant, metallic, aquamarine sex toy. It’s a sight gag, but it’s also a bitter reminder: Dr. Manhattan abandoned Earth, and Laurie, long ago, and (supposedly) no one has seen him in 30 years. Who can blame a masked vigilante-turned-FBI agent for getting a little lost in memories?
Meeting Lady Trieu (Episode 4)
In a show full of mysterious power players, no one makes a first impression quite like Lady Trieu (Hong Chau). She shows up on the doorstep of a farm on the outskirts of Tulsa one night, and, in a matter of minutes, convinces the content but childless couple who live there to sign away the rights to their house. The exchange? The supergenius/trillionaire “took the liberty” of creating the infant son the pair had always wanted, whom she hands over as readily as a gift basket.
Lube Man, we hardly knew ye (Episode 4)
As if Angela didn’t have enough on her plate already, now she has to go after a scrawny mystery man in a silver suit (Dustin Ingram). The guy gives chase through an abandoned car lot before spraying himself with lube, shucking off his belt, and slipping into a storm drain like a creepy fish. It’s one of “Watchmen”’s only true throwaway moments, and instantly iconic. (For the curious, the show’s writers did eventually reveal Lube Man’s secret identity.)
Fishing for fetuses (Episode 4)
Readers of the comic books clocked early on that the mysterious lord of the manor (Jeremy Irons) was actually erstwhile supervillain Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias. What no one could have guessed is the provenance of his endless array of identical, expendable servants (Tom Mison and Sara Vickers). Episode 4 features a jaw-droppingly bizarre sequence in which Adrian fishes human fetuses out of a lake, throws them in some kind of rapid-growth machine, dresses them in prewar serving clothes, and tasks them with disposing of the slaughtered bodies of their clones…by catapulting them into the sky. Just a very normal day.
One night in Hoboken (Episode 5)
Angela’s coworker on the force, Wade Tillman, a.k.a. Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson), is easily the most paranoid person on the series. Turns out he has good reason: Via flashback, we see teenage Wade (Philip Labes) get conned out of his clothes in a fun house at a New Jersey carnival moments before the disaster that forever altered the world of “Watchmen.” Wade emerges, naked, into a world transformed, the camera pulling out from the carnage around him to reveal the extra-dimensional squid monster that has materialized in midtown Manhattan and claimed millions of lives.
The truth about Hooded Justice (Episode 6)
The series’ most stunning, indelible episode is “This Extraordinary Being,” in which Angela, having absorbed her grandfather’s memories in pill form, relives his life in vivid black and white. The episode delivers one revelation after another — chiefly that Hooded Justice, the first ever masked vigilante in the world of “Watchmen,” is a Black man (Jovan Adepo) who adopted his alter ego in the immediate aftermath of his near-death by lynching. It asks viewers to reexamine not only the mythos of the world Alan Moore created, but the mythos of America itself.
Dr. Manhattan’s disguise (Episode 7)
One of the central questions of the “Watchmen” miniseries — where the hell is Dr. Manhattan? — comes to a head at the end of Episode 7 in the show’s biggest jaw-dropper. With an air of eerie calm, Angela approaches her sweet, steady husband Cal (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) armed with a hammer, tells him she loves him, calls him Jon, and bashes his skull in. She roots around inside his brain and pulls out a mysterious metallic object. “Hi, baby,” she says, as her face is bathed in an atomic blue glow. Cal was Dr. Manhattan all along!
Genesis on Europa (Episode 8)
Dr. Manhattan, née Jon Osterman, is a godlike being who can do things like experience time simultaneously and turn into a giant. He can also, as it turns out, create life, as he recounts to a bemused Angela in “A God Walks Into Abar.” In a sequence straight out of the Old Testament, Dr. Manhattan travels to the Jovian moon Europa and creates life there with a few flicks of his fingers, conjuring air, plants, water, and the unsuspecting humanoids who will one day become Ozymandias’s unfortunate servants.
Angela eats the egg (Episode 9)
In the closing moments of the miniseries, Angela, grieving the death of Dr. Manhattan, realizes that he might have given her a parting gift: an egg that he may or may not have used as a way to pass on his powers to her. She gulps down the raw egg and holds her foot over her pool in the early morning light, ready to find out whether or not she can now walk on water. The credits roll just as her sole makes contact with the pool, and we’re left with a moment of perfect, unresolved possibility.
Now, if you thought these surprises were crazy, then you'll never guess what's coming from DC next. Stay tuned for DC Fandome this Saturday, August 22. Catch all the details here.
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