Watchmen’s finale gave us everything — every major question answered, every character neatly tucked in, every lingering uncertainty resolved. Lady Trieu is Veidt’s daughter, and that’s why she’s so focused on assuming ultimate power. Veidt knows this, and that’s why he’s been working to escape Europa all this time. Trieu’s millennium clock was designed to transfer Doctor Manhattan’s power to her, power assumed by violence and pain. Instead, Doctor Manhattan’s powers were transferred to Angela Abar, powers given as a gift, a form of inheritance that came with an option few inheritances ever have: Angela could’ve refused to take them.
But no, Angela swallowed the egg and will take on Doctor Manhattan’s godlike role in the world, and if there’s any doubt about that, you need only look to the marquee behind Angela as she exits the theater into a once-again-destroyed downtown Tulsa: Several parts of it have blinked out, so the remaining letters behind her head read “Dr M.” In the show’s last image, her foot lingers over the swimming pool, never quite coming to rest on the surface. It’s a nice gesture toward ambiguity, but even that is pretty overdetermined. There’s a distinct blue cast to the light on Angela’s foot. It could be just a reflection of the pool water? Probably not.
“See How They Fly” is a cleanly, painstakingly designed piece of fiction: All the pieces come together in a perfect clockwork motion that feels right for a show obsessed with time and timekeeping. But its precision is so overwhelming that the subtext feels overwhelming, too. It’s a show deeply, painfully, intensely anxious about its relationship with questions and answers.
It’s an understandable position to be in. It’s not just that Watchmen’s showrunner, Damon Lindelof, has battled accusations of failing to answer a show’s questions in the past (although that’s obviously lurking in here, too). It’s that superhero texts abhor uncertainty. The genre yearns for answers. The entire idea of an origin story is that it’s a retroactive answering; it hinges on the confidence that knowing where we came from is the cleanest way to answer where we are now. Even as superhero stories have grown more morally complicated in recent decades, they’ve done so in the direction of more knowledge, not less. Characters may have mixed motivations, but the idea is always that we get to know even more about their methods and motives. They may be more uncertain, but it’s because we the audience know even more about their lives.
Watchmen the series began as an intensely, purposely confusing text, demanding that its audiences hang in for a mythology that clicked along with few explanatory notes. Its design from the jump rested on the idea that answers would be more satisfying if they were given some breathing room after the questions had first been asked. Angela’s role as Sister Night, her ability to survive the massacre of cops, her marriage — all of that was introduced, given space to rumble around in Watchmen’s world, and then capped off with a long origin-story episode that clarified everything. Where was Doctor Manhattan? What was Lady Trieu doing? What exactly happened to history since Ozymandias dropped a giant squid on Manhattan? All of these questions felt disorienting and strange at the start, especially the awareness that some significant historical event was shaping everything that happened and we didn’t know what it was.
By the end, though, the show became an onslaught of answers, with even more of them lurking in the Watchmen’s abounding Easter eggs and references. The anxiety to provide answers is so intense that HBO even provided thorough in-world supplementary texts, written by or about Special Agent Dale Petey. Lest you lose sleep wondering why the giant Doctor Manhattan dildo had removable balls, Peteypedia is there to save the day! If the stunning and singular presence of a mysterious superhero named Lube Man felt like the fly in the ointment of the show’s otherwise completionist vision, fear not! Those same supplementary materials revealed that Lube Man is Dale Petey.
The problem with stories that answer everything is that they’re satisfying. They close with a pleasant snap, and especially in the case of Watchmen, the intense thoroughness of all the answering makes it feel like things have been fixed. The story’s done, the problems have been solved, and everyone can wipe their hands and walk away, happy with a job well done. For Watchmen, that satisfaction is itself the one troubling thing about the finale. If the show’s aim was to raise all kinds of difficult questions about white supremacy, vigilantism, inherited trauma, sacrificing for the greater good, power, and self-knowledge, then the finale provides a sense of satisfaction that feels perfect for the show’s design while also seeming a bit too neat.
Watchmen, a show that builds race reparations into its central premise, feels itself like a form of reparation for past sins. Lindelof has refused to give answers before, and now the answers rain down in abundance, almost as a form of apology. In Watchmen, though, the reparations cause a huge pendulum swing in the other direction, opening up all kinds of messy complications that lead to the entire present-day events of the series. The real tension for the show was not in the reparations themselves, but in what came after. By ending in the moment of fully determined, satisfying answers, it does feel as though Watchmen robs itself of all the fascinating complexity that would inevitably come next.
It’s hard to blame the show, though. Its clockwork perfection is such a masterwork of TV storytelling that complaining about there being too many answers feels a little like the Emperor in Amadeus telling Mozart there are simply too many notes. Besides, even though it does feel overdetermined, that final shot of Angela’s foot not quite resting on the water is just suggestive enough to open up Watchmen’s world for future questioning. The thing about an egg, one of the show’s favorite images, is that it’s a whole, uncompromised, completely contained world unto itself. So it feels reassuring that at the very end, Watchmen gave us the image of an egg cracking open, raising the question of what might come next.