Over the course of its inaugural season, Watchmen has been a trenchant exploration of black identity and anti-black racism told through a singular familial legacy whose latest incarnation is Angela Abar, a character who has immediately seared herself into my imagination. It’s also been a wryly wrought dystopian tale, a clever continuation of a seminal comic book, a love story, and a story of healing. But above all else, Watchmen has been a show that’s dazzled me and made my heart soar in equal measure. Not everything has worked for me — the Adrian Veidt segments grated at times — but I have sincerely fallen in love with the show. Going into the finale I wasn’t sure if I wanted anything in particular plot-wise, but I hoped to feel that now-familiar thrill of witnessing a show that has been narratively and aesthetically audacious while being truly moving emotionally. Maybe my hopes were too high.
Directed by Frederick E.O. Toye and written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, “See How They Fly” represents Watchmen at its safest. Despite its hour-and-change runtime, there’s something rushed about this plot-heavy finale, which has a lot of symmetry between the comic that inspired the series and the various plot threads it’s woven through the season. But at times this symmetry felt too neat. There are some great performances and a few moments that really zing, but I was honestly left wishing the finale dug a bit deeper on the themes of the season and took bigger risks as it wrapped up this story.
The relationship between Adrian Veidt and Lady Trieu proves integral to the finale, while also shedding light on the show’s outlook about familial legacies. The episode begins in 1985, as Adrian records his message to Robert Redford about his future presidency, the same video that awakened Wade to the truth of what happened in New York decades later. While everyone focuses on the video recording, an adult Bian slips into Adrian’s office and inseminates herself with Adrian’s junk, which hides behind a painting of Alexander the Great. Then in 2008, Lady Trieu darkens Adrian’s doorstep in Antarctica. Adrian is vulnerable. Redford isn’t returning his calls, and he seems a touch lost inside his wintry fortress. She appeals to his ego, mentioning the brilliancy of his idea decades prior to save the world by killing 3 million people with a giant, alien squid that emitted a psychic blast.
But then Lady Trieu reveals her sweet talk to be barbed. “You had a genius idea 20 years ago, but you’re still doing the same thing. Just smaller,” she says, looking at his machine that drops randomized squid storms throughout the globe. Lady Trieu isn’t just there to measure who is better, the smartest man or smartest woman in the world. She isn’t even just there to reveal to Adrian that she’s his daughter. She’s there to get funding, to the tune of $40 billion, to create the quantum centrifuge she designed to kill Doctor Manhattan and harness his powers. She wants to “do all the things he should have done,” like clean the air, make all nuclear weapons disappear, render the Earth into a far better world.
Of course, Adrian doesn’t help. “So, that is what I offer you — nothing,” he sneers at her request, adding, “I will never call you daughter.” But on Europa, years later, that’s what he’s done, spelling out “Save Me Daughter” with the bodies of Ms. Crookshanks and Mr. Philips, a message to the satellite he knew would come thanks to his 2008 meeting with Lady Trieu. It’s that act that gets her to send him a spaceship, which he boards after killing the Game Warden, the first Mr. Philips, with a horseshoe to the gut.
I’ll admit I haven’t really cared for anything Adrian Veidt–related on the show, but watching Jeremy Irons and Hong Chau spar in their scenes together is an utter delight. Hong Chau’s line readings are utterly delicious, making the prickly edges of their relationship fascinating to watch, even though I find it a touch simplistic that Lady Trieu inherited many of Adrian’s attributes despite Bian’s hatred of the man, his grandeur and his ego in particular. I mean, how else can you describe someone who wants to steal powers from a god but gloriously egotistical?
With Adrian returned to Earth and facing someone he deems “a worthy adversary,” Jon, a.k.a. Doctor Manhattan, has been teleported into the clutches of an extremely self-satisfied Joe Keene Jr. and the senior members of Cyclops. While taking off his clothes to reveal a pair of Doctor Manhattan–styled underwear, Joe gives a speech that provides a window into how white supremacy thinks. He’s self-righteous, yet postures as a victim. “First, [Redford] took our guns. Then he made us say ‘sorry,’” he says to his eager flock. Although I wish the show went a bit deeper with its exploration of whiteness in the final moments of this plotline, before the senior members of Cyclops are vaporized, I will say I did laugh at this exchange between Joe and a captive Laurie (whose only ally is Wade, who happens to be wearing a Rorschach mask and among the Seventh Kavalry members):
Laurie: You look stupid in those panties.
Joe: I’m about to become the most powerful man alive, Laurie. Waving my dick in people’s faces is just overkill.
If you’re wondering where Angela is in all of this, it’s because she takes about a half-hour to show up in the finale. She’s been breaking the fingers of a Seventh Kavalry member to find out where Jon has been teleported to, before swooping in to try to stop Joe. “However long you’ve been planning your shit, she’s been planning hers longer,” she says of Lady Trieu. Like so many men in this show, Joe has quite an ego, so of course he doesn’t believe Angela. He even throws in calling her a “black bitch” for good measure, which got me heated. Joe should have listened to Angela. Maybe then they all wouldn’t have been teleported into Lady Trieu’s trap and he wouldn’t have turned into a human slushie. When she opens the metal casket he stepped within to get Jon’s powers, all that remains is a pool of blood. It’s this blood that allows Jon a final act of teleporting Wade, Laurie, and Adrian, to the latter’s Antarctica offices.
In some ways, Angela feels very reactive this episode, taking a backseat to the show’s larger plot concerns. She’s left out of the world-saving so that she can find closure. But there is beauty to her final moments with Jon, a period to a love story that deeply moved me. She refuses Jon’s pleas to move away from the cage holding him, as Lady Trieu uses the quantum centrifuge overhead to destroy him and steal his powers. He looks lost for a moment. “Where are you,” Angela asks. “I’m in every moment we were together. All at once,” he responds as images of their life together flash by. For a single moment he looks like Calvin again. “I love you, Angela,” he says, before being completely destroyed with a shockwave that sends Angela flying.
Meanwhile, in Antarctica, Wade angrily complains about Adrian’s destruction in 1985, while Laurie futilely hopes they can save Jon, and Adrian prepares to send frozen squid hurtling down upon a five-mile radius of Tulsa in order to stop Lady Trieu’s plan. “Anyone who seeks to attain the power of a god must be prevented at all costs from attaining it,” Adrian says. After all, she’s a “raging narcissist whose ambition knows no limits.” Sure, okay. I get that. But I wish this episode highlighted to a deeper degree why Lady Trieu attaining this power is such a thing to fear, how specifically it would disrupt the order of the world. To what degree would the daughter of a Vietnamese refugee — especially one who loathes everything Adrian represents — respond to American imperialism, colonialism, and racism having attained the powers of a god? It’s a question that kept nagging me as Adrian explained his reasoning. But Adrian’s plan works. Lady Trieu dies under the weight of the destroyed centrifuge, her last word, “motherfucker,” spoken in Vietnamese. Back in Antarctica, Laurie arrests Adrian, with Wade’s help, for his crimes in 1985, aligning her with Rorschach, of all people, in the belief that Adrian should pay for this atrocity, even if it risks worldwide cataclysm. When Adrian points out to her that she “kept this secret all this time, and now you’re having misgivings,” she responds simply, and significantly, that “People change. At least some of us do.”
Back in Tulsa, Will and Angela share a blunt scene where they make amends. He sits in the same spot he did when the season opened, about 100 years in the past, when the theater was once the movie house where his mother played the piano. He asks if she took the Nostalgia, and they talk about his memories, and what Angela felt when putting on the mask as Hooded Justice. “Anger,” she replies. Anger has coursed through the veins of this series through Angela’s story, particularly. But Will corrects her — it wasn’t anger he, and by extension she, felt, but rather fear and hurt. “You can’t heal under a mask, Angela. Wounds need air.”
Angela Abar represents a fascinating origin story, particularly when thinking of how the show renders vigilantism. To Adrian, “masks make men cruel.” To Laurie, they’re an emblem of early childhood trauma the wearer is trying to hide. To Will, they stop wounds from healing. This reverberates through Angela’s story, but I wish we saw more of her healing and what she thought about her own mask-wearing in the closing episodes of the series.
The final moments of the season can be read multiple ways. Angela is cleaning up the kitchen and finds the eggs she slammed down earlier. Inside is one pristine, unmarred egg. Her mind races to the moments Jon suggested he could transfer his powers into an egg, and if she ate it she could walk on water, gaining his abilities. So she cracks open the egg and presses her bare foot to the water’s surface, but the show cuts to credits before we see her walk or sink.
I am torn on this ending. On one hand, ambiguity can be fun to play with. On the other, I think given the groundwork laid this season it’s clear Angela has in fact gained Jon’s powers and will walk on that water. So the real question in this moment becomes “What comes next?” What kind of god does a black woman with her legacy become? Watchmen didn’t answer that question this season, but I can’t help but hope we get an answer someday.
Under the Hood
• As much as I am mixed on this episode, I did really appreciate its sense of humor, as in this exchange between Laurie, Wade, and Adrian in Antarctica.
Wade: You knew? Did they tell everybody in the FBI?
Adrian: You work for the FBI?!
Laurie: I’m their top vigilante-hunter.
• It’s fascinating to see the way Rorschach ripples through the series and certain characters. Laurie coming down on his side, ultimately, is one example. But also, if memory serves, Rorschach always vomited when being teleported in the comic, which is echoed in Wade doing the same.
• So, was Adrian in that statue we saw earlier in the season the whole time? The timeline is slippery.
• Topher and Angela share a meaningful look when he spots her Sister Night costume that I found rather moving. Regina King can say so much with a single look.