Watchmen S1E7: An Almost Religious Awe

by thethreepennyguignol

It’s time to talk about the Doctor Manhattan of it all, isn’t it?

After all, his story seems to sum up pretty nicely the central conceit of this season: self-determination versus genetic destiny. He stumbled into his superpowers in a pure mistake, but what he went on to do with them afterwards was his choice; this episode opens with a trek back into America’s 51st state, Vietnam, as claimed by Manhattan in the Vietnam war, and it’s pretty unequivocal in its condemnation of his extermination of an entire culture as part of this victory. The almost religious awe of the title is, in part, a reference to the place he took up in American culture; powerful, profound, and all-consuming for long enough that he was allowed to act out terrible things before anyone thought to condemn him for it.

And, though the demi-God himself doesn’t make an appearance in this episode (well, quite), his iconic radioactive blue is peppered through the story as a whole: the constant overhang of it, of what his monstrous power could do, defines so much of this delve into Angela’s past. We finally get to spend some time with a young Angela in Vietnam, from the murder of her parents by an anti-colonialist protest group, to her reconnection with her paternal grandmother, to her first encounter with the Sister Night persona that would go on to define her adult life. After so long with her grandfatherlast week, it’s good to uncover a little more of her past, as Angela tries to navigate the choices that have been taken from her alongside the ones she has still yet to decide upon.

And Manhattan is also here via Lady Trieu; not literally, of course, but it turns out that my favourite Artemis Fowl cast member has been recieving the prayers from the Manhattan boxes (as seen in Jean Smart’s first episode). She’s the one saving the world now that Manhattan’s powers have become the main target of the Kalvary for their nefarious doings – the genius who wants to stop the power falling into the wrong hands, because she has seen what happens when Manhattan’s enormous weaponry is used to decimate culture. I think Hong Chau is magnificent in this role, and I love that she’s actually allowed some fucking emotion and confidence in her position as humanity’s saviour. She’s beyond the point of the magnanimous God these days; she has earned the awe through her sheer force of will, and there is nothing supernatural or religious about it.

But most importantly this week is the reveal that Manhattan has been amongst us all along, as it turns out that Cal, Angela’s husband, appears to have been harbouring the hidden consciousness of Manhattan all along. It’s here, to a beautiful stripped-back version of Bowie’s Life on Mars?, that Angela makes her most important decision of the series to date. Her grandfather’s life, her life, everything that we have relieved through her, it boils down to this moment – she pulls off the mask he didn’t even know he was wearing, and decides to undo the lie that she has allowed them both to live in for so long. Cal has always carried this inside of him, his destiny of sorts, but it is Angela who determines its presence in their lives once more. Regina King can deliver the utmost emotion even when she’s as beautifully and devastatingly restrained as she is in this scene, and I can honestly say that this might be one of the best twists I’ve seen on television in a long time – not just in what it means for the story, but its superb execution, too.

We’re rounding the corner into the last few episodes of the season, and damn, these hours have been packed – I didn’t even talk about Jean Smart plunging into a trapdoor in the floor to find herself in a mind-control dungeon, for goodness sake – but I’m interested to see how these pieces come together now we’re settled on where they are all on the board. And, worst comes to worst, at least I might get to hear Tim Blake Nelson say Oklahoma again, right?

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(header image via Hollywood Reporter)