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Spoilers below for anyone who hasn't yet watched Watchmen's big Season 1 finale.
Over the course of its nine episodes, HBO's Watchmen hit a variety of fascinating narrative crescendos, and the many plots somehow culminated together in the magnificent season finale (which hopefully won't serve as its series finale). That said, Damon Lindelof and his creative team left viewers with a large handful of unanswered questions and unaddressed theories that will likely keep the conversation going during the wait for news about Watchmen's future. Thankfully, series writer Jeff Jensen gracious enough to provide answers to some of my post-finale curiosities.
Arguably the biggest question that audiences have had after the Watchmen finale's credits rolled involves whether or not Angela Abar inherited Doctor Manhattan's powers (and possibly his traumas) from the egg she ate. However, the show intentionally set up all the clues that would lead viewers to the answer – yes, she got those powers – and Damon Lindelof has also said as much in the Watchmen official podcast and beyond.
Now let's dive into the other Watchmen questions about everything from Nite-Owl's absence to the fate of Cyclops. Mask not required for reading.
Could Jon Osterman's Doctor Manhattan Reform His Atoms, Or Is He Truly Dead?
Considering the complicated way Doctor Manhattan came into being, Watchmen fans can't say with 100% certainty what definitively can and cannot kill him. Even Adrian Veidt got it wrong in the comic's final issue when he tried to take Manhattan down. So did Lady Trieu's Millennium Clock device get the job done beyond the shadow of a doubt? Here's what Watchmen's Jeff Jensen had to say:
Your question, to me, suggests another one, a larger, broader one about Manhattan, which is, ‘What are the rules regarding his powers?’ We did give this some thought, but every time we did, it felt to me like we were over-simplifying a character whose nature is inexplicable and mysterious. Manhattan is the only super-powered character in the Watchmen world; his existence is an anomaly, magical, or defies current understanding. My direct answer to your question is that, while your suggested possibility is certainly… well, POSSIBLE, it’s never one we discussed. And in general, when it comes to interpretations and theories, I tend to believe they need to honor the FEELING of what’s presented. To me, what’s felt – what’s stated – is that the character we know as Manhattan has reached the end of his life.
So while anything can happen to go in the opposite direction, it looks like Doctor Manhattan is as dead as a nine-inch door nail. HBO's Watchmen did amusingly half-vindicate itself a couple of times for Doctor Manhattan's death by directly pointing out that he squandered a lot of the goodwill his powers could have brought to the world. As Will put it, "He coulda done more."
Did Will Reeves Fully Vanquish Cyclops, Or Does 'Nothing Ever End' With Them?
Viewers aren't quite aware of what Will Reeves' life was like in the decades after June relocated to Tulsa with their son, but it was clear when Doctor Manhattan approached him in 2009 that Will had never forgotten the name Cyclops. From what we can gather, Will spent the years between 2009-2019 digging into the lives of Judd Crawford and other high-ranking members of the Seventh Kavalry, in an effort to take everyone down via Lady Trieu. But did this mass murder, as it were, fully dismantle the white supremacist group? Here's how Jeff Jensen put it:
Cyclops represents white supremacy in many forms that’s deeply woven into the history and fabric of American society. I think he may have succeeded in eliminating some powerful, notable members of the Oklahoma expression of that problem in the season finale, but I am sure he doesn’t believe he has completely vanquished the problem of Cyclops altogether. I’m not sure he believes that’s even possible – not without a complete restructuring of American society. Interesting that he now knows someone who has the power to restructure almost anything with a mere thought…
Watchmen technically did a great job at eliminating a lot of the Seventh Kavalry throughout Season 1, starting off with Judd Crawford himself aiding in shooting down the 7K's plane in the premiere. (Which he did entirely to stop any of the members from potentially ratting Judd out.) Alas, it would be naive to think that zapping 20-30 older and fancier local bigots would eliminate a nationwide threat, regardless of how many Keenes are among them. But do note how Jensen basically confirms Angela's powers just in that answer.
Did Doctor Manhattan Share His Powers With Will Reeves?
During Watchmen's first two episodes, Lou Gossett Jr.'s Will Reeves was presented as a mystery man that may or may not have had unexplainable powers in his 100+ years of age. He copped to hanging Judd Crawford, despite being in a wheelchair, and also escaped handcuffs and did other things that drew Angela's attention. Following Episode 6's reveals, though, Will's prior actions seemed more like parlor tricks than legitimate powers. Still, I asked Jeff Jensen if there was a chance that Doctor Manhattan gave Will any of his powers.
Manhattan did not give Will Reeves ANY of his power. We always assumed that Manhattan and Will worked out a rather detailed plan, based on what Manhattan could perceive of endgame events, that the end goal being the transfer of Manhattan’s power to Angela.
Initially, I'd assumed that Doctor Manhattan let Will Reeves nip some powers (or whatever) in 2009 specifically to ensure the man would live long enough to connect with Angela in 2019 after Manhattan's death. But then I realized once Manhattan regained his memories as Cal, his 2009 self would know that Will is still alive in 2019, thus negating the need to aid him in any way. The power of living all the time at once, amirite?
When Did The Egg Metaphor Come Into The Story?
One could argue that "Time" is the most heavily relied on concept throughout Watchmen's first season, but if we're talking tangible objects that we can hold (and break) in our hands, then "Eggs" would take the top prize. From Angela's first appearance to the Clark family farm to Doctor Manhattan's final wishes, eggs were virtually ever-present, though not until the very end did the overall meaning slam home. Because it felt like such a natural and necessary component to Watchmen's TV narrative, I asked Jeff Jensen how early eggs entered into the creative process.
It’s so hard to say. I honestly forget. It’s somewhere in the middle, I guess? We always had a really good idea what MOST of the final scenes of the show were going to be. Everything else began to suggest itself as we broke the other stories of the season. Somewhere along the way, we realized that eggs were becoming a recurring motif of the season; they kept popping up in literal and figuratve ways. Once we recognized that, we saw exactly how to carry that symbol through to the very end of the show.
Since there weren't any prevalent chickens in Watchmen's earliest episodes, I think the show answered its own question about whether the chicken or the egg came first. Definitely the egg. Now to make sure that Manhattan's powers include "staving off salmonella."
Will Laurie And Looking Glass Go Public With Veidt's Squid Monster Conspiracy?
Adrian Viedt spent the entirety of Watchmen's first season biding his increasingly frustration-filled time on Europa, presumably regretting having Doctor Manhattan send him there, and it's obvious how much joy he regains upon returning to Earth. Especially when he gets to save the day (again) with his frozen squid-lings. What Veidt didn't foresee, however, was Laurie and Looking Glass' pragmatism about bringing him to justice, regardless of the consequences. Knowing that Season 2 is still up in the air, both at HBO and in Damon Lindelof's mind, I asked Jeff Jensen if viewers were indeed meant to take away that Laurie and Looking Glass would go public with Veidt's schemes. In his words:
I think we should conclude that publicly exposing Veidt is EXACTLY what Laurie and LG INTEND to do. But the audience also knows that the most powerful people in the world – including a well-meaning president – have known for 26 years the truth of the squid. We always wanted the audience to wonder WHY these powerful people never revealed the truth – or, at least, why they didn’t reveal the truth in a PROMPT fashion. Is it possible they saw some value in Veidt’s ruse? Did they worry that no one would believe them if they told them it was a hoax? Did they have some long-term plan to reveal the truth to people? This is all to say… I wonder if Laurie and LG might run into some obstacles as they try to pursue their virtuous intention.
Some follow-up information was revealed in the final Peteypedia entry that went up after Watchmen's finale aired. In a memo written by Deputy Director Max Farragut, it says that Laurie was "debriefed at a secure and classified location due to the sensitive nature of the discoveries she made over the course of her investigations," and Farragut also reminds everyone of their oaths when it comes to rumors that Laurie's discoveries involve "hoaxes and conspiracies linked to our Commander in Chief." Sounds like Robert Redford's government still won't let the squid out of the bag when it comes to the 11/2 disaster.
Why No Dan "Nite Owl II" Dreiberg In Season 1?
One of the biggest general questions plaguing Watchmen's first season was "Where is Dan Dreiberg in all this?" And for those who only watched the show and didn't dig into HBO's Peteypedia website with all the supplemental documents, that question went almost entirely unanswered. But as revealed in the background info, Dreiberg's Nite Owl II got busted with Laurie "The Comedienne" Blake when stopping the Oklahoma City bombing, and has been in jail ever since, not having uttered a peep about anything from his vigilante life. When I asked Jeff Jensen about keeping Dan on the sidelines, he gave an extended and very thoughtful answer about how they approached continuing Dan and Laurie's story after their final panels.
So we were utterly captivated by those two panels and that conversation, and wondering where that conversation went. Dan wants to settle down and have kids. Laurie's like, 'Well, wait a minute. You talked me into being a superhero again, and I just found out that my father is The Comedian, who wears leather and has guns. I'm kinda like, I spent some time dressing up as my mom. Maybe I want to kind of dress up as my dad.' Which is how we interpreted that. And so we thought that of those two kinds, you know, Dan suggested one idea for them and Lori suggested another, we were definitely really captivated by where that desire of Laurie's led her; the idea that they were vigilantes, and that she then tried on her dad's persona for a while, and wondering where that would lead or dead-end. The Laurie stories came very quickly. The Dan stories, not so much. So we were like, 'Oh, we've got to come up with something with Dan. We've got to bring him into the story.' And Damon set this rule, which is like, if we can't come up with a great story for him, he's not going to be in the show. So we definitely had some very specific ideas about Dan and what he was up to.
As well, it was revealed in the supplemental material that Dan Dreiberg founded the company MerlinCorps, and that he was responsible for building Laurie's blue sex toy out of spite for her continued fascination with Doctor Manhattan. In any case, Jeff Jensen went on to say that beyond not having a tight story for Dan and/or Nite-Owl II, they didn't want to use him in the wrong way.
And other than the ideas that we had committed to about him as I kind of described – the MerlinCorps idea and the jail idea – we thought that doesn't necessarily have to be reflected in this season of TV. So, you know, if there's going to be future Watchmen storytelling, and I don't know if there will be, Dan is a character that is there waiting for people to explore and do something with. But we didn't want to bring him in to, like, make fun of him or subvert him or kill him for the sake of killing somebody. We didn't want to do those things to poor old Dan. We only wanted to write the characters that we knew that we had a good take on, and so that's why we focused on those versus other characters.
Maybe in Season 2, everyone. Maybe in Season 2. Or hell, maybe a three-episode miniseries, if HBO is willing to go down some weird roads with this franchise.
What Went Into The Decision To Actually Show Doctor Manhattan's Blue Penis?
Considering Watchmen features a male character who spends most of the comic nude and blue, its live-action presence on HBO had many wondering how Damon Lindelof & Co. would handle said nudity. First, there was Mr. Phillips' painted-blue penis as the Doctor Manhattan in Veidt's play – though it wasn't Tom Mison's – then there was Laurie's big blue Excalibur dildo, and then there was Manhattan-as-a-black-man's penis. As such, it was still something of a surprise to see Doctor Manhattan's genuine blue genitals in the finale. When I asked if there were conversations about using it in the finale, here's how Jeff Jensen answered, while noting his discomfort in this avenue of discourse:
There was no plan or mandate to get Manhattan naked in the finale, though there was discussion of how to honor the character’s comfort with nudity and the meaning of that comfort in the show. But as for the specific reason why Manhattan is naked in Episode 9: we actually had some very involved technical conversations regarding the technology used at the end of Episode 8 to blast Manhattan and teleport him to the department store; we even hired a consultant to teach us about practical teleportation. One implication of the ideas presented to us was that Manhattan would have been subjected to intense heat upon being zapped. It was suggested that while Manhattan might survive such zapping, his clothes would surely not. This led us to the idea of a naked Manhattan in the finale.
Because Watchmen can bring out the most extreme opinions in people, a certain section of the fanbase likely would have gotten vocal had HBO's Watchmen not opted to present Manhattan's bonafide flaccidness in all its non-subverted glory. (I mean, even Zack Snyder's movie did, in a CGI sorta way.) Thankfully, it didn't have to come to that.
Why Have Joe Keene Wearing Doctor Manhattan's Old Costume?
One of the best comic book shout-outs in the Watchmen finale came when Joe Keene was mostly disrobed and raring to get blue via the 7K's Doctor Manhattan project. Keene had the brilliant decision to don what I assume is a replica of an early costume that Doctor Manhattan wore before he eschewed clothing altogether. (Laurie was, shall we say, not a fan.) I asked Jeff Jensen about this magnificence, and he said:
It was all about evoking [Keene's] idolatry of Manhattan and how he coveted Manhattan’s image and body. We initially discussed the idea of stripping Keene completely naked and shaving him. But whoever decided to put him in the iconic Manhattan trunks (I’m not sure who came up with that!) really nails that idea much more than nudity.
As well, that V-shaped costume visually pops a lot more than the full-bodied suit that Doctor Manhattan wore in his early days, and the latter might not have been so easily recognizable on TV. Plus, it makes me want to go back to early episodes and see whether or not I believe Keene is wearing that costume underneath his everyday suits.
Why Didn't Lady Trieu Have Biological Children?
As characters go, Lady Trieu is an amalgam of complications, born to a parental guru of sorts who self-conceived using a stolen vial of Adrian Viedt's sperm. Once the so-called smartest woman on Earth set her sights on Doctor Manhattan, her focus honed in on actually becoming him. Meanwhile, she cloned her dying mother Bian's DNA and raised the new Bian as a daughter, while also giving her Nostalgia pills to bring back her past. I'd wondered why the legacy-minded Lady Trieu didn't have any of her own kids, and thought Veidt's disinterest in the filth of sex might have something to do with it. When asked, Jeff Jensen said:
I believe Lady Trieu tells us that she wanted her parents to be present at the moment of her transformation/ascension. Cloning a body from her mother’s cells – and then brainwashing the clone with her mother’s memories – would result in a more authentic expression of that ambition than having a child of her own and the brainwashing that child.
I suppose it shouldn't really be a surprise to learn that Lady Trieu didn't want a daughter for love and compassion's sake, and that she really just wanted to show off for mommy and daddy. Turning into Doctor Manhattan is not a one-way ticket to good parenting, so it's also best that she didn't have any descendants around to carry on her mania. Although that does make one wonder how well Angela's kids will adjust to having a self-aware Doctor Manhattan for a parent.
The Comic-To-TV Details That Fascinated Jeff Jensen The Most
Knowing that Jeff Jensen has been a Watchmen mega-fan for as many years as possible, I also asked him what his favorite comic element was to remix for the HBO adaptation. His answer:
I find the Vietnam of it all fascinating. I’m glad we jumped on that bit of business from the comic and made it a big part of the world. It suggests and evokes so much. Clearly we only give the audience a tip of that iceberg; perhaps future seasons (if there are future seasons) can explore more of it.
Indeed, Watchmen deftly carried on the comic's events where Doctor Manhattan was a monstrous force in bringing about a U.S. victory in Vietnam, which then became the 51st state of the union, and all without exposition beating viewers over the head. Certainly, The Comedian's time in Vietnam no doubt had future repercussions, so maybe those can get explored if Watchmen Season 2 ever happens.
For now, Watchmen is done, with its nine episodes telling a complete story that doesn't technically need to continue. But it should, of course, if the creative team can keep the quality as high as it was in Season 1. Anyone looking to rewatch it can hit up HBO Go and HBO NOW.