TV

Watchmen season 1, episode 8 review: A God Walks into a Bar

Time proves relative as Watchmen recounts the love story between Angela and Doctor Manhattan and how their story connects with everything in the series.

Viewers of Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen on HBO got a real surprise last episode. Calvin “Cal” Abar (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the husband of Det. Angela Abar/Sister Night (Regina King) was, in fact, Jon Osterman, a.k.a. Doctor Manhattan. Having learned that Senator Joe Keene Jr. (James Wolk), along with the Seventh Kalvary, was planning on kidnapping Dr. Manhattan to steal his powers for himself, Angela went home, bashed her husband’s head in with a hammer, then removed a metallic object resembling the Dr. Manhattan symbol from his head to restore her husband’s memories.

As you would expect, this raises all sorts of questions. How did Dr. Manhattan lose his memory? Why did he now look like a thirty-something African-American man instead of a glowing blue man? How did he and Angela even meet? What was he even doing back on Earth after he left to go “create some new life?” Would anything that’s been going on this show make any sense?

Fortunately, Watchmen’s penultimate episode, entitled “A God Walks into a Bar,” answers these questions. Though it’s also one of those episodes one may have to watch twice to completely appreciate it.

“A tunnel of love.”

Of course, since Dr. Manhattan experiences his own lifetime simultaneously, “A God Walks into a Bar” is nonlinear… after a fashion. The episode itself begins with Jon literally doing what the title card indicates: he walks into a bar in Saigon in 2009. He also wears a Dr. Manhattan mask to look less conspicuous from those who made themselves to look like him in celebration of Vietnam’s statehood. In the bar sits Angela, whom Jon is already in love with and knows will become his wife six months later. Not that Angela knows this, of course. If anything, she’s highly skeptical, if not a little amused, when he does sit down and proceeds to tell her everything that will happen.

From there, the episode leaps forward weeks, then months into Jon and Angela’s relationship, then back to Jon’s childhood, then to 1985, then back to 2009 again–all as Jon tells Angela what’s happening to him at that moment. In terms of the overall narrative structure, and especially editing, “A God Walks into a Bar” is superb. It’s not as complex as the Dr. Manhattan chapter from the Watchmen graphic novel, of course. Yet director Nicole Kassel and writers Jeff Jansen and Damon Lindelof manage to keep what could have been a mess of a story coherent while staying true to Jon’s near-omniscient perspective.

What is difficult to comprehend are the reasons for why Jon has returned at all. In the original graphic novel, Jon’s almost limitless powers and perceptions made him increasingly detached from humanity, enough that he left Earth. But twenty years after the events of Watchmen, he desires to become human again? Why? Is it because he fell in love again? Did creating new life and being worshiped as a god bore him? Is it both? Something else? We’re never given an adequate explanation beyond “it just happens.”

It’s still interesting, however, knowing that Jon could’ve taken on a more human appearance all this time, albeit that of a dead man. Likewise, Abdul-Mateen’s Dr. Manhattan makes for a unique interpretation when compared to Billy Crudup from the Watchmen film. Where Crudup’s Manhattan sounds like he’s on the verge of tears underneath his monotone speech, Abdul-Mateen seems to be in a constant state of bemused confusion. As he tells Angela, even he’s unsure about which moment he is currently living in. And instead of someone going through the motions of being human, this Manhattan comes off as more autistic than disinterested.

“Adam and Eve”

“A God Walks into a Bar” is also an episode that confirms a lot of long-held suspicions viewers had. Yes, it was Dr. Manhattan who created the pocket world (which the episode confirm is on Jupiter’s moon of Europa) and the Mr. Philips and Ms. Crookshanks clones.

What we didn’t know is that Philips and Crookshanks are clones of a couple Jon knew from England when he and his father fled from Naxi Germany. Even the estate on the pocket world was the same place where this couple took in Jon, his father, and other Jewish refugees. In fact, it was their kindness (and the fact that young Jon caught them in the act of lovemaking) that inspired him to create this pocket world in the first place.

We also learn that it was Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons) who asked Jon to take him to that pocket world. It seems after twenty years of manipulating the world into “utopia” (and creating squid rain), Adrian is frustrated that humanity is still screwing things up. Funny how it took this long for the “world’s smartest man” to figure out that creating a “perfect world” with imperfect people is impossible. No wonder Adrian is moved to tears when Jon offers to take him Europa in exchange for making him human again.

And this is when the series retcons another moment from the original graphic novel. Adrian’s attempt to destroy Dr. Manhattan with his own intrinsic field generator was “Plan B” (“for backup”). “Plan A” was the metallic Manhattan symbol, designed to block Jon’s memories and thus inhibit his powers except in moments where he and others are in danger (thus explaining how Angela survived the White Night). All Jon had to do is make himself intangible just long enough for Angela to push it into the head. The act itself is even framed like a marriage proposal, with Jon on bended knee as he presents Angela this “ring.”

“The Chicken and the Egg”

It’s at this point where the audience finally catches up with where the previous episode left off. It’s here that we see Abdul-Mateen II in full Dr. Manhattan make-up, though he periodically has normal eyes and stops glowing (probably so HBO can save money on the effects budget). The first thing he does when he regains his bearings is walk on the backyard pool then teleport his and Angela’s adopted kids over to Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.).

A naturally angry Angela asks Jon why he did this, and she learns that her godlike hubby and vigilante granddad were in cahoots. It seems before Angela gave Jon his amnesia, he visited Will in New York to essentially ask him permission to marry Angela. It’s at this moment where, along with some brilliantly timed editing, things get complicated. Since Jon is literally in two times at once, Angela asks Jon to ask Will why he plans to kill Jud Crawford and how he knew about the KKK robes in his closet. To which Will asks, “Who’s Judd Crawford?”

It’s your basic predestination paradox, a.k.a. “The Chicken and the Egg.” Did Will set off the events of HBO’s Watchmen, or did Angela? Would Will have even murdered Judd if Angela hadn’t asked Jon to ask Will about his murdering Judd? Even Dr. Manhattan can’t wrap his blue head around it. But at least we now know why there have been so many egg references throughout the series.

Also predetermined, according to Jon, is his own capture by the Seventh Kalvary. Even after Angela goes out with guns blazing to protect her husband, and even after Jon vaporizes the remaining Kalvary goons, he’s still teleported to their hideout. This is the moment, of course, when Jon and Angela’s relationship “ended in tragedy” It’s also the moment when Jon fell in love with Angela, even though he always was in love with her. Like his hydrogen atom symbol, the episode returns full circle back to the bar where Angela agrees to let Jon take her out for dinner. As their dialogue tells us, all relationships technically end in tragedy, but we pursue them regardless.

Next: 25 best superhero movie performances of the decade

Only this isn’t the end of the episode. After the credits, we see multiple Mr. Philips and Ms. Crookshanks pelting a tied-up Adrian with tomatoes as punishment. Then, as we see Adrian in prison, the Game Warden–who we learn was the very first clone Dr. Manhattan created–gives him another anniversary cake. Inside the cake? A horseshoe, which Adrian uses to start digging his way out of his cell. That means we have at least one more episode to figure out how these Adrian scenes will connect to the main plot… if at all.