close reads

Let’s Talk About Watchmen’s Egg-cellent Finale

Regina King as Angela Abar in Watchmen.
The American Egg Board approves this message. Photo: Mark Hill/HBO

All season long, Watchmen has been asking us to pay attention to eggs. Not just Easter eggs that reference the comic on which this series is based, though there have been plenty of those. But actual eggs.

The very first time we see Angela Abar, the hero of this story, she is standing in front of a classroom, breaking and whisking eggs in a science demonstration. The couple that Lady Trieu visits in episode four accidentally drop and break several cartons of eggs, which foreshadows the fact that they have struggled with infertility. In last week’s penultimate episode, an extended meet-weird between Angela and Jon (a.k.a. Doctor Manhattan), Angela asks him to prove he’s really a superhero by creating life. He magically produces an egg, and then notes that he could theoretically inject his powers into it and pass them along to someone else.

That theory pays off in the last moments of “See How They Fly,” the fantastic Watchmen finale that borrows its title from the lyrics of the Beatles song “I Am the Walrus.” A cover of that song runs over the credits, putting a button on the episode and this season as a whole, and the song itself has something to do with eggs, too. But before we get to that, let’s talk about the significance of eggs more generally in the episode.

The first egg reference comes in the finale’s opening sequence, when Trieu’s mother Bian, a house cleaner for Adrian Veidt, sneaks into Veidt’s office, hacks into his secret refrigerator, and injects herself with some of Veidt’s sperm right at Veidt’s desk in 1985. In a different way, she’s doing what Jon told Angela he could do: She’s injecting her egg with the powers that come from a wealthy, privileged, very smart man. In essence, she’s passing on a perceived superpower to the daughter she’ll eventually have. What Trieu’s mom doesn’t know, and what we find out by the end of the episode, is that Veidt’s genes also carry a narcissistic arrogance that Lady Trieu will inherit and will eventually be her undoing.

The much more important egg is the one that figures into the closing moments of the finale. After the frozen squid storm and the deaths of Jon, Lady Trieu, Sen. Joe Keene, and all those Seventh Kavalry racists, Angela returns home and finds the carton of eggs she slammed to the floor out of frustration while Jon made waffles. As she cleans up all the shells and yokes (a goopy mess reminiscent of the one she mixed together in episode one), she notices a single, perfectly untouched white orb still sitting in the carton. She instantly remembers the conversation she had with Jon on the night they met, when he told her he could put his powers into an egg and she joked that it would have been better if he had created a chicken. Watchmen solves that classic conundrum — what comes first, the chicken or the egg? — by confirming that the egg comes first. Angela needs it before she can become the new Doctor Manhattan.

By taking that egg and swallowing its contents, Angela is inheriting something through blood — remember, it was Will, her grandfather, who conspired with Jon to make sure Angela would eventually become Doctor Manhattan 2.0 — and also taking on a role that she earned by demonstrating the strength and selflessness that made Jon fall in love with her. “Considering what he could do, he could have done more,” Will tells Angela, referring to Jon, just before she finds that all-powerful egg. What he’s really saying is: You can do better than Jon did, and Jon knew it, too. What the show is saying: A black woman, and especially this black woman, could handle this power more effectively.

After Angela sucks out the contents of that egg and places a foot onto her backyard pool to see if she can walk on water as promised, the episode cuts straight to the credits, where we hear a cover of “I Am the Walrus,” a song famous for its chorus: “I am the eggman, I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob.” (If the ambiguity of that moment makes you question whether Angela really gains Jon’s powers, I’ll just say that I absolutely believe she does, so much so that I will eat a dozen raw eggs if that is not the case.)

The decision to use “I Am the Walrus” is loaded with meaning beyond its eggman reference. Its historical significance, for starters, seems relevant to Watchmen. “I Am the Walrus” was the first song the Beatles recorded following the death of their manager Brian Epstein in August 1967. Epstein, often referred to as the fifth Beatle, discovered the band. In a way you could say he was married to them. That relationship mirrors the one Angela had with Jon, who “discovered” her and whose loss she is still processing when this song makes its appearance. It’s also notable that, according to the website Deconstructing the Beatles and other sources, Lennon asked sound engineer Geoff Emerick to produce his vocals so they would sound like they were “coming from the moon.” The moon … or a moon of Jupiter?

The track was released at the end of 1967 on The Magical Mystery Tour album and as a B-side for the eventual number one hit, “Hello Goodbye.” “I Am the Walrus” didn’t climb nearly as high; it was off the Billboard singles chart entirely by the beginning of 1968, the year that Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed and that President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. When considered in its 1960s context, “I Am the Walrus” landed in the zeitgeist just before a massive upheaval and movement forward in the push for racial equality in America. Within Watchmen, one could hear it as a signifier that Angela’s acquisition of power will also lead to upheaval and, eventually, positive change.

But what’s most significant about the use of this signature Beatles tune is the way it borrows from other works and also acts as an inspiration for others, much the same way that the original Watchmen comic has done. For a show that appropriated from its source material while exploring cultural and racial appropriation, it’s an extraordinarily fitting musical choice. The version of “I Am the Walrus” that we hear is, itself, borrowed: It’s a cover performed by Spooky Tooth featuring Mike Harrison. The lyrics, written by John Lennon, also reference previous Beatles songs — there’s a mention of “Lucy in the sky” — and would be referenced in future Beatles songs, including “Glass Onion,” which cheekily declares, “The walrus was Paul.”

Lennon reportedly was on acid while writing much of the song — not a surprise given lines like “Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come” — but he might have also knocked back a few Nostalgia pills during the creative process. His lyrics reference Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter” poem from Through the Looking Glass, a favorite book from Lennon’s childhood. The opening lines, “I am he as you are he as you are me/And we are all together” has been compared to “Marching to Pretoria,” an old British war song that contains the lyrics, “I’m with you, and you’re with me, and so we are all together.” The section of the song about “yellow matter custard dripping from a dog’s eye” was inspired by a schoolyard rhyme that Lennon and his friends sang as children. Some of those choices were deliberate and some may have been subconscious, but either way, Lennon seems to have been jumping through his own personal timeline in a way that echoes the trip Angela took through Will’s life in episode six. (When crafting the melody of the song, Lennon also was inspired by, of all things, a police siren, a sound that’s central to Watchmen’s narrative.)

This Atlantic piece from Ben Zimmer goes down a lot of these rabbit holes and more concerning “I Am the Walrus,” but one in particular stopped me in my tracks. While dissecting the origin of the song’s “goo goo g’joob,” Zimmer relates it back to Betty Boop’s famous “boop-boop-a-doop,” and notes that in 1932, a performer named Helen Kane sued the makers of the Betty Boop cartoon for $250,000, claiming that the phrase was stolen from her act. A judge ruled against Kane when evidence was presented that suggested Kane actually stole the bit of lyrical flair from Baby Esther, a young black woman who performed at New York cabarets in the late 1920s.

“When the judge was presented with a sound film of Baby Esther, that was enough for him to decide against Miss Kane,” Zimmer writes. “Unfortunately, that film was not preserved, and there are no other sound recordings of her. I would have loved to hear if Baby Esther’s boo-boo-boo / doo-doo-doo interpolations had the same syncopated pattern as goo goo ga joob, with that extra little unstressed syllable.”

Even buried within the loose history of this Beatles song, it’s possible to find an example of white people co-opting the accomplishments of black people, which is what Watchmen is all about. By opening with the Greenwood massacre of 1921, when white men destroyed the wealthiest black community in America, Watchmen reminded us that white people have been robbing from black people for decades upon decades. By putting that egg and its Doctor Manhattan-infused insides in Angela Abar’s hands, Watchmen grants a black woman the kind of authority and power she’s never had to finally take steps toward progress. The eggman is, as it turns out, a black woman.

Ironically, the Watchmen ending reminds me of the lead-in to another Beatles cover, the one U2 does of “Helter Skelter” on the album Rattle and Hum. Bono introduces the track by saying, “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back.”

At the end of Watchmen, Angela Abar isn’t stealing anything. She’s reclaiming what she, her parents, her grandfather, and many generations of black people deserved to inherit all along.

Let’s Talk About Watchmen’s Egg-cellent Finale