Major spoilers below for the latest episode of Watchmen, so be sure and watch before reading on.
With its eighth episode, HBO's Watchmen finally opened up a can of Doctor Manhattan worms, giving viewers long-awaited answers to questions we've had all season long. "A God Walks Into Abar" fully detailed Angela's relationship with Doctor Manhattan, from their quirky flirting to that heartbreaking tragedy in the final moments. Granted, not everything got resolved, but that's the nature of a Damon Lindelof HBO series.
Star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II had his work cut out for him in the episode, having to flip from playing a compassionate husband and father to portraying the most powerful being in the entire universe. (At least so far.) The actor wasn't aware of the Doctor Manhattan switcheroo when he was cast, but fully embraced the reveal once he understood what it all meant. In his words:
It was wild. Just reading it and realizing how all these things are connected, there’s a lot of plot holes to be filled when Episode 8 came together and started to connect things. This is a story about history, about race relations in America and inherited trauma passed down from generation to generation. But at its core it's a love story. It’s a really beautiful revelation to step into Dr. Manhattan’s shoes and play those three versions of him.
That's right, Watchmen fans, some congrats are in order for those who presumed it was Yahya Abdul-Mateen II doing the voice of Doctor Manhattan inside Eddy's Bar in Vietnam. The actor confirmed that he did indeed provide the soft-spoken and introspective dialogue during Manhattan's first conversation with Regina King's Angela. According to Abdul-Mateen II, he combined the voices of show creator Damon Lindelof, Apple brainiac Steve Jobs and Yale Drama Dean James Bundy in order to find Doctor Manhattan's detached vocal patterns.
Viewers will have to wait until the Watchmen season finale to see exactly what will happen with Doctor Manhattan, though Yahya Abdul-Mateen II says that the series' recurring theme of "Nothing Ever Ends" hints that things might swing in the super-being's favor in some way. That said, his comment does nothing to soothe worries about Seventh Kavalry's potential to succeed with their teleportation scheme in some way. After all, it's still not exactly clear what Senator Joe Keene would want to do with Doctor Manhattan's powers, though we can easily assume that his actions would be racially motivated.
Speaking with EW, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II talked about how surprised and proud he his after all the vocal support for Watchmen shockingly twisting Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' comic book so that Doctor Manhattan would be a black man. (And in a different way from how the show handled Hooded Justice's reveal.) It's interesting (though perhaps plot-necessary) that Keene & Co. obviously knew that Cal was Doctor Manhattan, yet refrained from showing any visible prejudice to the notion of such black supremacy. Here's how Abdul-Mateen II put it:
Online I’ve been really surprised by how much people are moved by Dr. Manhattan living in the embodiment of a black man. People have been really moved. I didn’t see that coming. I was just playing the guy who happens to be the vessel but I’ve been noticing how important that is to people — to the see the possibility of a ‘god’ living in a black man. Especially in a world where the antagonists are a white supremacist organization. It’s really powerful imagery we’re putting forth and I’m proud to be part of that imagery of representation.
Through smart and clever writing, as well as engrossing cinematography, Damon Lindelof and the Watchmen creative team completely flipped the racial script on this well-worn narrative, and have since been wholly championed for it by critics and viewers. It's certainly a different outcome from what plenty of other Hollywood projects face upon revealing gender-swaps and race changes. Again, though, it goes back to the writing.
Say Hello To Doctor Manhattan's Big Black Penis
Logically, if someone is going to take the time to figure out a way to turn Watchmen's Doctor Manhattan into a modern black American, it's almost contractually obligated for that person to find a way to substitute Manhattan's big blue genitalia for the stereotypically similar private parts of a black man. Lo and behold, Watchmen did it in Episode 8, and didn't even bother with using Doctor Manhattan's signature blue glow.
The key moment in question came when Doctor Manhattan paid a visit to Jeremy Irons' Adrian Veidt in the latter's Antarctic retreat. As viewers saw, the character clearly wasn't affected by the cold weather, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II said it was liberating to be able to walk around the sets while nude. In his words:
I knew as soon as I heard I had to get into shape. My thought was this is HBO and it’s Dr. Manhattan so let’s step into it and have some fun. I got into the best shape that I could so I could look good. I’m playing a character who is above shame. He’s confident in who he is. It was fun for me to step into that space. I was joking in Aquaman I have a Black Manta suit, in Watchmen I have my birthday suit. . . . Walking around naked was so liberating. It felt really good! We had an intimacy coordinator — that’s something HBO does whenever there’s nudity involved. I always had a choice in how we would shoot the scene and what they would show. They made sure I was comfortable and that I always had the choice, even at the last minute on the day. They definitely took care of me.
More of Doctor Manhattan's blue skin could be seen in the brief scenes on Europa as viewers grasped how memories from Jon's youth informed the process of cloning Tom Mison's Mr. Phillips and Sara Vickers' Ms. Crookshank. But nowhere was the episode's skin quotient more present than during Manhattan and Veidt's important conversation. The show has now offered viewers a faux-Manhattan dong via Tom Mison's stunt penis actor, a manufactured Manhattan dong via Laurie's heavy metal dildo Excalibur (Ex-Cal Abar), and a non-blue official Manhattan dong. It's as if Damon Lindelof thought of every loophole he could fill.
Watchmen will air its Season 1 finale on Sunday, December 15, at 8:00 p.m. Be sure to watch and spread the word so that HBO knows how valuable a Season 2 renewal would be within the fanbase.