“See How They Fly,” the finale of the Watchmen season (and possibly the series), begins in 1985, right in the middle of the events of the Watchmen book – a break from the rest of the show that it carefully avoided most of the book to show source material. Instead of focusing on the murder of The Comedian or Rorschach or one of Watchmen’s other legendary parts, the series follows a cleaning lady at Adrian Veidt’s headquarters in Antarctica while she is impregnated with a sample of Veidts seeds. This is Lady Trieu’s story of origin.
It’s a compelling choice, a reinterpretation of the comic as it used to work exceptionally well at Watchmen. But for the most part, “See How They Fly” is literally spectacular. It feels big and like a real superhero story, as was often not the case in the series, and as the Watchmen book rarely did.
There is the direct Star Wars sight when Veidt is wrapped in a kind of golden stasis goop that has turned into the statue we saw in Lady Trieu’s garden so that he could be sent back from Europe to Earth. There’s the summary execution of the Cyclops tour, starting with Senator Keene, who turns into a mud and culminates with Lady Trieu, who vaporizes everyone else with lasers. There is the death of Doctor Manhattan, along with slow motion, in which Angela is thrown back as if the Comedian was thrown out the window. And then Adrian Veidt rains frozen squids on Tulsa – the clock tower explodes and sends Lady Trieu to its doom.
All of this is a lot of fun and looks damn cool. But instead of an exciting end to the Watchmen TV show, “See How They Fly” feels like a completely different series, primarily designed to deliver comic images in the name of the sensory overload, and not like comic strips -Books effectively uses images to tell their own story and provide compelling arguments for heroism, history, and policing.
Photo: Mark Hill / HBO
Ultimately, it turns out that Watchmen is a bit easier than it seemed, and Angela is the show’s greatest achievement and biggest mistake at the same time. Regina King’s performance was breathtaking and created a story that often threatened to fly off the rails. Whether it’s her peers, persistent brutality, or maternal concerns, King breathed credible life into every relationship she was asked for. She makes sense as a wife, mother, granddaughter and as a nun with the motherfucking gun. But that’s just the problem: King is asked to play emotions to insert Angela into this narrative, a bizarrely shaped piece that completes a large blue puzzle that only reveals its shape in the last minutes of the season.
At the beginning of the series Angela convinced of her own accord – good at her job, protecting her family, is nerve-wracking. In the end, she became a more passive character, largely determined by her largely accidental relationships with characters from the original Watchmen book: her grandfather happened to be Hooded Justice, which somehow affects the later death of her husband, Doctor, Manhattan. These are two bold, big swings, threads that seriously change the way the show deals with the source material. There is not enough space to do justice to both.
In a way, Watchmen is a victim of its own success. The first two-thirds of the season were sensational, building on the unveiling of Will’s backstory. Instead of addressing the question of how Angela would react to this information and how her family history could affect her actions when confronted with modern white supremacists, the series went further and decided to focus on her husband’s sexier, blue figure to concentrate.
All parts of Doctor Manhattan usually fit together – but it is still unsatisfactory. James Wolk is very funny at giving Keene’s big rogue speech, but Cyclops is dismissed with a wave of the hand. (I understand that it is difficult to maintain that “white supremacists are needy babies” and “white supremacists are worth being taken seriously as a threat”, but still.) And although Lady Trieu claims that she will not use Doctor Manhattan Using power to save the world, everyone just decides somehow that it would be bad for them to become a god for some reason.
Veidt’s talk about how you need a narcissistic monster to know one so Lady Trieu can’t be successful, of course, is just one of a few moments in “See How They Fly” that is clever in writing and a bit out of hand run character. At another such moment, earlier in the episode, Veidt tells Lady Trieu that he will never call her daughter – just so we can see a few minutes later how he spells “SAVE ME, DAUGHTER” in bodies. Will says Jon was a good man, but that he could have done more for the world. Was he a good man Part of the point of the original guardians is that he is indeed not a good man and not really a man at all. Some of these pieces of “See How They Fly” feel exactly like this: Pieces. They are clockwork components that bring the whole thing together.
Photo: Mark Hill / Polygon
The presence of these compulsive pieces draws attention to what is missing. There is no scene where Laurie can actually have a conversation with Jon instead of just looking surprised to see him. (Jean Smart sells this as best she can, but it feels strange that they can never interact.) Obviously, it doesn’t fit to closely examine Lady Trieu’s motivations or what she would actually do with Doctor Manhattan’s power. It is not fitting to spend some time with the traumatized children – Angela’s children as well as the somewhat bright, frightened Bian. And that’s all part of Jon’s master plan, which is also Damon Lindelof’s master plan: end the series in the picture of Angela’s blue foot, which is just before the water.
For a brief moment, I thought Angela would break the egg with Doctor Manhattan’s “atomic components” into the pool, which would have matched the overall thematic boost of the series – to cite another brilliant narcissist if no one had all of this power. It would fit Will’s assessment that masks hide fear and pain. And it would reject the idea that Jon had somehow planned or orchestrated all of the series’ events, including the squid rockets and more mass deaths. But no; Watchmen ends with Angela eating the egg so that she can walk on the water.
In a way, ending the series in which Angela becomes a god is itself a bit controversial. Watchmen as a comic – and Watchmen as a TV show – have focused on the consequences of power and the way people use it. We could say we know Angela well enough to know what she will do with the power of Doctor Manhattan. But we? In theory, it seems like she’s rejecting her family history and paying attention to her grandfather’s words about masks.
I don’t buy it. Angela is persistent and just experiencing her grandfather’s memories hasn’t changed much. The end of this season made her passive from the ground up, without her grappling with Will’s story and how she wanted to react to it.
It also raises questions that “A God Goes to Abar” actually came up with how Jon experiences the world. Will Angela also fall victim to nihilism? Will she be able to improve the world if she wants to? What will happen next? These are probably the topics that make me think, similar to whether Nora actually used the machine in The Leftovers or whether and how Don Draper created the famous coke ad.
But these are ambiguous questions about characters that are controversial after the show ends and depend on your perspective on what the show was about. They are not based on the arbitrary way a hypothetical superhero experiences time. This could change due to your optimism or pessimism about the world. I don’t want to see this rash original version of Watchmen. I want to see what comes after that.
And really, I just want to see more. Watchmen season 1 was top-class television. The score is fantastic. The achievements are great. Episodically there were some really incredible things. The whole thing is just overcrowded and worked better in its smaller moments. It created characters that I wanted to spend more time with instead of dropping them in the end. I wanted more from Laurie, more from Lady Trieu, more from Angela and above all more from Looking Glass. (Poor mirror glass; it’s fun to hit Veidt with a wrench, but not exactly a great character beat to end with.) Nine episodes don’t seem close enough to tell the story this season is about tried to tell.
Despite what frustrates me, I can’t help but feel some kind of religious awe. I’m tough in this episode because the series has been so good so far, and even things that don’t work in the finale are still well done and entertaining, if frustrating. (The endless samples of Veidt seeds are hilarious, and even though the squid rockets are ridiculous, they look extremely good. It’s wild that it all feels kind of predictable even though it’s insane.) Guardians may not have been more than the sum of its parts, but the parts are damn good. As with Doctor Manhattan or the original Watchmen, it is strange that they exist at all. Maybe that’s enough.
Read our full episodic coverage of Guardian Season 1:
Episode 1, “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice”
Episode 2, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship”
Episode 3, “She Was Killed by Space Junk”
Episode 4, “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own”
Episode 5, “Little Fear of Lightning”
Episode 6, “This Extraordinary Being”
Episode 7, “An Almost Religious Awe”
Episode 8, “A God Goes to Abar”