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‘Watchmen’ episode seven: ‘An Almost Religious Awe’

I’m sorry, Cal is WHO?!

Have you recovered from your multiple heart attacks yet? Because you’re well within your rights to at least require an oxygen mask after that — I believe the technical term is “bonkers” — episode.

For four episodes, Watchmen was a show that thrived on deliberate, but ultimately delicious narrative obfuscation, which it followed with two deeply sensitive and extraordinary origin stories for Looking Glass and Hooded Justice.

An Almost Religious Awe, directed by David Semel, kicks an already-intense the series into hyperdrive, leaving viewers feeling as if they’ve just been smacked with a two-by-four. Co-writers Stacy Osei-Kuffour and Claire Kiechel take us on a difficult trip as Angela comes out of her Nostalgia haze and her grandfather’s memories mix with her own, once again reinforcing a throughline of trauma.

Let’s reacquaint ourselves with what happened, shall we?

After FBI special agent Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) was nice enough to drop by to tell Judd Crawford’s widow, Jane (Frances Fisher, serving up unapologetically evil white lady), who killed her husband, Jane plunged Laurie into the Crawfords’ own personal, literal Sunken Place. The only thing that’s missing is a teacup. Turns out no one just hangs onto the grandfather’s Klan robe by keeping it in a secret closet shrine for the sake of “legacy,” so take that, every person who’s ever defended the Confederate flag in the name of “heritage, not hate.”

Frances Fisher as Jane Crawford, who is just as racist and diabolical as her Klan-robe-concealing late husband.

Mark Hill/HBO

The Seventh Kavalry attempted a raid on Wade Tillman’s (Tim Blake Nelson) house and even made it into his doomsday bunker, where at least four, possibly five, counting the man who didn’t have a mask, met their deaths.

Angela Abar (Regina King) has been recovering from her Nostalgia overdose at Lady Trieu’s (Hong Chau) estate, where she’s been having her grandfather Will’s memories slowly removed from her brain. For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, they seem to be flowing from her IV and into an elephant that Lady Trieu has been hiding, presumably because elephants never forget?

Senator Keene (James Wolk) confirms that the Seventh Kavalry is just the Cyclops gang with new branding and finally reveals the group’s plan for white supremacist domination: They’re going to capture and kill Dr. Manhattan and make Keene the new all-powerful Dr. Manhattan so that he can fulfill the Kavalry’s dream of restoring white hegemony to America.

Just as Watchmen grapples seriously with inherited trauma, it’s doing the same with the passing of racist hatred from one generation to the next (which, in the Crawford’s case, manifests with a actual Klan costume). America is addicted to denial and mirages of white innocence when it comes to the modern ramifications of historic racism. But Watchmen follows such ideology to its logical end, forcing the sort of reckoning too many Americans would rather put off.

Semel weaves Will’s memories throughout Angela’s own hellish childhood in Saigon, Vietnam, providing valuable insight into the heretofore enigmatic origins of her Sister Night disguise, another instance in which rendering Will’s experiences in black and white provides a welcome distinction between Angela’s subconscious and his own.

We finally learn why Angela chose Sister Night as her undercover cop costume. The formative event of her childhood was seeing her parents murdered by a Viet Cong suicide bomber on her 10th birthday. Moments before, Angela bought a fictional blaxploitation film called Sister Night: Nun With a Motherf*&*ing Gun in the hopes that her parents would finally assent to letting her watch it. After they died, Angela lived in a Saigon orphanage until her paternal grandmother, June (Valeri Ross), comes to take her to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Except June collapses and dies as she’s loading Angela’s suitcase into the taxi that would have taken them to the airport. No wonder Angela doesn’t want to dwell on her childhood.

A young Angela Abar (Faithe Herman, right) receives her first badge from a Saigon, Vietnam, police officer.

Mark Hill/HBO

Oh, and Cal Abar (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is Dr. Manhattan, but he’s not aware of the fact that he’s Dr. Manhattan, which is why the episode ends with his wife bashing Cal’s brains in to more or less reactivate him. So that’s why Laurie has such an unexplained affinity for Cal. She’s drawn to him like a magnet, and she clearly doesn’t know why. Otherwise, why would she be using the Trieu Industries phone booths to call Dr. Manhattan on Mars and leave him rambling voicemails?

The most intriguing character in this episode, arguably, is Lady Trieu, the tech trillionaire with a massive savior complex and equally massive ethical blind spots. No wonder she bought Adrian Veidt’s company. She’s just like him: an amalgam of the tech industry’s worst Machiavellian impulses. Imagine if the chiefs of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Tesla were distilled into the body of a Vietnamese-American woman who not only owns people’s genetic material, but their most intimate hopes, wishes, and dreams. (The tinfoil-hat-wearing part of me is popping out to remind you that your smart speakers are recording you and real humans are listening!) And imagine if this libertarian visionary fooled people into sharing those intimacies by allowing them to think that they were communing with an all-powerful blue dude camped out on the red planet, when in fact she was simply downloading them onto a giant, glowing earth-shaped orb of a hard drive. That’s Lady Trieu. She might not be quite as evil as Senator Keene or as his rabidly racist Cyclops-cum-Seventh Kavalry gang, but she’s not much better.

The big thing I’m now wondering is whether Sister Night, Looking Glass, and Dr. Manhattan will be able to fight this war on two fronts. Will Laurie finally resurrect Silk Spectre? Will Nite Owl break out of federal custody to help them? For the sake of America and the world, let’s hope so.

Stray, but maybe important observations Questions. All I have are questions:

  • I’m sorry. Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let’s proceed: Where is Wade? Is he alive? Please be alive. Oh, Wade, I’m sorry I ever thought to doubt you.
  • Was Jane Crawford prancing about her property on a pale horse?
  • Where, oh where, oh where is Will Reeves? He’s 100 years old. It doesn’t feel fair to expect him to save America from itself, but for the love of humanity and black people, please let Hooded Justice have one more trick up his sleeve.
  • Lady Trieu has been raising her own mother and feeding her memories that she harvested from her actual mother before the woman died?
  • Why is Adrian Veidt being tried by a prosecutor who is actually one of his clones, for the mass murder of 3 million Americans, along with the murder of the clones he made? Remember the clones he catapulted to the moon in a fruitless attempt to signal Dr. Manhattan, who it turns out, unbeknownst even to himself, has been living in Tulsa as Angela’s dutiful, devoted househusband this entire time?
  • Now that Cal is gone and Dr. Manhattan has been sprung from his human disguise, are we still supposed to think of Dr. Manhattan as emotionally distant and uninvolved? And what does this development mean for the Abar children?

Soraya Nadia McDonald is the senior culture critic for Andscape. She writes about pop culture, fashion, the arts and literature. She is the 2020 winner of the George Jean Nathan prize for dramatic criticism, a 2020 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism and the runner-up for the 2019 Vernon Jarrett Medal for outstanding reporting on Black life.