Watchmen S1E8: A God Walks Into Abar
I love love.
Hey, I’m a romance writer in my other literary life, after all – it makes sense that, when presented with a little love, I go all heart-eyes happy over it. Love stories are so often treated as a tack-on to other genres, or a tick-box to be filled out at will (and don’t get me started on how the romance genre is one mostly written by and for women and that it’s also one which is consistently written off as lowbrow in wannabe-smart literature circles and how these two things are certainly not disconnected), but with these weeks episode, Watchmen embraces the power o’ love – and to heart-wrenchingly skillful effect.
If there is a throughline to this romance story, it’s David Tennant’s iconic wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff comment from the Blink episode of Doctor Who; following Doctor Manhattan/Cal, who experiences basically every event of his life at the same time, A God Walks Into Abar (which is just a chef’s kiss pun) spins wildly through the past, the present, and the future – though what they mean for our central character are essentially irrelevant, allowing Watchmen a lot of looseness with the way that they unfold his story.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen, who plays Cal/Manhattan, really acts here as a conduit for other people’s emotions. It’s a remarkably restrained performance, one notably seperate from his role as Cal thus far, and his screentime is mostly spent bouncing off other characters; Adrian Veidt, Will Reeves, and, mostly notably, of course, Angela herself. His cool and collected demeanour really acts as a canvas for these small, detailed emotional moments to unfold; Angela’s last kiss to him before she turns Manhattan into Cal, Veidt’s ennui in the face of a world that doesn’t respect him the way he wants, Reeves and his isolation after years of loneliness. While God knows that Watchmen has gone big this season, it’s smaller, emotional moments have always been what made it stick, and they’re on full display here as Manhattan/Cal moves through his life to the inevitability of his love for Angela, and her love for him.
And great and good Lord, is this just one of the sweetest and most abjectly romantic things I’ve ever seen in my life. I totally appreciate that Watchmen allows this love story to take centre stage here, unapologetic and deeply emotional; Abdul-Mateen and King have marvellous chemistry and always have, and having seen their love for each other over the course of this season, every inch of screentime they share glows with passion. The stunningly-shot scene where Manhattan makes the change to Cal, lit by the soft golden glow of the sun instead of his radioactive blue, is dreamlike and poetic and oh sorry I just got something in my eye-
I love love, like I said, and I love love even more when it’s allowed to flourish at the heart of a story like this. Turning Manhattan’s impossibly inhuman presence into something as decidedly human, so grounded and so comparatively small, as a love story, it’s an inspired choice for a season which has drawn so deeply on notions of trauma, memory, and, yes, of love – the search for it, the lack of it, to have it then to lose it. As we round the corner into the final episode of this season (and God, am I going to miss this show when it’s off the air), I adored the fact that they took this hour to take us down to something that’s so often forgotten in big stories like this: love.
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(header image via TVLine)