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Watchmen season 1, episode 9 review: See How They Fly

In its mad dash to bring everything together, the season finale of Watchmen literally and metaphorically comes crashing down around itself.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons divided Watchmen into twelve parts, signifying the same amount of numerals as there are on a clock. Damon Lindelof, for reasons unknown, presented his remix/sequel of Watchmen in nine parts. Perhaps he should’ve also stuck with twelve.

Last episode, “A God Walks into a Bar,” gave viewers the non-chronological love story of Det. Angela Abar/Sister Night (Regina King) and Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan/Cal Abar (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). With narrative and filmmaking aplomb, we saw how this nuclear physicist-turned-god turned himself into an ordinary man for the sake of a woman’s love, only to be captured by a group of white supremacists. And the tragedy of it all is that he always knew this would happen and that Angela was powerless to stop it.

Now Senator Joe Keene Jr. (James Wolk), the secret leader of the Seventh Kalvary, is about to absorb the powers of Doctor Manhattan for himself unless somebody can stop him. Only you’re probably wondering about a few other things.

Things like “What about Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons)? What does all that wacky stuff on Europa have anything to do with what’s going on? What about Lady Trieu (Hong Chau) and her Millenium Clock? Why is Angela’s grandfather, Will Reeves/Hooded Justice (Louis Gossett Jr.) working with her? Where the heck is Wade Tillman/Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson)? And how come we have to go to HBO’s “Peteypedia” website to find out Petey (Dustin Ingram) was “Lube Man” from episode 4?”

But don’t worry, “See How They Fly,” the finale of Watchmen first (perhaps only) season does tie-up some of these loose ends. But not before they also come flying apart.

“I needed a worthy adversary to keep me sane.”

The moment Lady Trieu first appeared in episode 4, it was obvious she was the spiritual descendant of Adrian Veidt. As it turns out, she was also his literal descendant, too. Because Lady Trieu is Adrian’s daughter.

Apparently, on the eve of Adrian’s giant squid attack in 1985, Trieu’s mother worked as a janitor at his Antarctic base, Karnak, and secretly escaped. But not before she made herself pregnant by injecting herself with Adrian’s semen. And the only reason we get for why the “world’s smartest man” didn’t anticipate this is because Trieu’s mother was just a cleaning woman. Yeah, it’s as weak and as it sounds.

In any case, like her dad, Trieu was the real mastermind behind the Dr. Manhattan kidnapping plot, with the Kalvary, Cyclops, and Keene Jr. being her unsuspecting and unknowing patsies. In fact, her plan was to absorb Dr. Manhattan’s powers for herself and use them to save the world (or more likely take it over). She also, as we learn, is instrumental in bring Adrian back to Earth, after her satellite saw the words, “Save me, daughter” on Europa. That gold statue of Adrian she had? That was actually Adrian himself, frozen in suspended animation from his trip through space.

Adrian’s rescue is, in of itself, interesting as it is weird. The various Mr. Philips (Mr. Philips) and Ms. Crookshanks (Sara Vickers) clones, including the Game Warden still don’t hold any ill will against him…even after Adrian kills the Game Warden with the sharpened ends of the horseshoe he used to dig out of his cell. And before the Game Warden dies, he asks Adrian why he made him wear a mask and costume. “Masks make one cruel,” Adrian tells him, and that he “needed a worthy adversary to keep me sane.”

It isn’t a new concept that a “chessmaster,” like Adrian, needs an opponent to keep their mind sharp. It also makes sense that the only one he’d consider capable is his own progeny, or someone he would regard as akin to his offspring. Even so, his connection to Lady Trieu, and the way he’s brought back into the events in Tulsa, does feel incredibly rushed. Of all the twists during this series, it definitely feels the least satisfying.

“Because I don’t want to be alone when I die.”

As for the “stealing Dr. Manhattan’s powers” plot, let’s get this straight? So apparently, Cyclops’ original plan was to create a war between cops and the Seventh Kalvary to get Senator Joe Keene Jr. into the White House. However, it’s when Dr. Manhattan, as Cal, subconsciously teleported one of them to New Mexico that they realized he was Angela’s husband, then decided to transfer his powers into Keene…not realizing Lady Trieu was also manipulating them. And you thought Adrian’s giant squid attack in the original graphic novel was ridiculous.

The most obvious problem is that, even if Keene or Trieu obtained Dr. Manhattan’s powers, why would they even care about what they want afterwards? Watchmen made a big point that Jon, after becoming Dr. Manhattan, grew increasingly distant from the rest of humanity.  And the reason behind that apathy is because of how he perceives and experiences time, something which winds up being crucial to the climax of this very episode. Because it seems Jon foresaw that both Keene and Trieu would fail, just as he foresaw his own death.

Yes, the omniscient naked blue man dies, but it’s a death which, ironically, doesn’t carry the emotional weight the episode believes it does. That’s because to lead up to it it’s practically all comedy. Seeing Wolk’s Keene Jr. deliver his expository villain-monologue while stripping down to Dr. Manhattan style undies is definitely hard to take seriously.

The same with his demise via liquefaction after Trieu teleports the Kalvary and Cyclops gathering to Tulsa’s town square. Then, after using giant magnets to suck up their guns, we get another villain monologue, this time from Trieu, before she zaps them all into dust? No wonder Jane Crawford (Frances Fisher) says, “Just go ahead and kill us.”

Not that the episode doesn’t try to pull at the heartstrings. It’s a neat touch that Jon, due to the intrinsic cage he’s in (made from the synthetic lithium batteries the Kalvary stole, by the way) not only made him further unstuck from the present, but also made him act more emotional. That he kept Angela in Tulsa after teleporting Laurie, Looking Glass, and Adrian away because he “didn’t want to die alone” was, admittedly, a nice touch. Still doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s difficult to care about his demise once it happens.

“You can’t heal from a mask…Wounds need air.”

In the end, “See How They Fly” wraps everything up just a little too neatly. Adrian foils Trieu by creating a frozen squid rain (though if they could pierce through Trieu’s hand, why weren’t all those cops impaled, too?). In turn, Laurie and Wade arrest Adrian for what he did thirty years ago, thanks to the DVD copy of Adrian’s confession to President Redford…and a blow to the back of the head with a wrench. And Angela reconciles with Will, even inviting him to stay with her and her adopted kids “for a couple of days.”

That scene between Angela and Will–in the restored movie theater where Will, as boy, once watched his hero Bass Reeves–is, unquestionably, the episode’s best moment. It speaks about how the past is a source of pleasure and pain. That the pain and sins of one’s past are something we can’t and shouldn’t try to hide if we want to learn and move forward from it. Their heart-to-heart almost, but not quite, brings the series finale back into focus.

Yet even at the end, HBO’s Watchmen can’t help itself but act cute. Wanting just as much of an open-ending as the original graphic novel, we’re teased with the possibility that Angela may have gained her husbands powers herself. He may have placed them in an unbroken egg last episode, the only one that wasn’t broken when Angela angrily smashed them. And, after eating said egg raw, we see Angela place her foot on the surface of her swimming pool, ready to walk on it like Dr. Manhattan did…only for the screen to cut to the credits.

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If this is, indeed, the last episode of the series as some believe, then “See How They Fly,” and Lindelof’s Watchmen, is a definite letdown. Granted, as a sequel to the Watchmen graphic novel, it is intriguing where they took such characters like Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, and Laurie.

Both “Little Fear of Lightning” and “This Extraordinary Being” are prime candidates for two of the best hours of television this year. One certainly cannot fault Lindelof’s ambitions for this series. Though perhaps it might have been better if he’d just made another adaptation of the graphic novel instead.