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'Watchmen' goes deep into "time travel" with an enthralling Episode 8 twist

Let's unpack a big blue surprise in the latest episode of the HBO superhero drama.

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We’re not wasting time anymore. Something big just went down in Watchmen Episode 08, “A God Walks into Abar” and we’re going to dive right into them. Consider this your spoiler warning, we’re about to talk about all the wildest Doctor Manhattan twists and turns in the HBO show’s penultimate episode.

Warning: Spoilers for Watchmen, “A God Walks into Abar” ahead.

To answer your first question: No, Doctor Manhattan is not dead. That big, Tony Stark-esque tachyon cannon the Seventh Calvary came packing to Angela Abar’s front lawn only teleported Manhattan to a location we don’t yet know. (Probably their basement headquarters where Looking Glass ended up a few weeks ago.) But that won’t stop the Calvary from trying to kill him.

While we wait to find out what the white supremacist terrorists have planned, let’s back up.

“A God Walks into Abar,” directed by Nicole Kassel, is almost all a flashback again, save for the final ten minutes. The episode shows how Angela (Regina King) began a relationship with the man we first met as Cal and now know is Doctor Manhattan. Presumed to be on Mars, Doctor Manhattan has actually been living on Earth all this time, and he’s taken a liking to Angela Abar.

Doctor Manhattan in  'Watchmen' Episode 8HBO

As the episode shows, Manhattan, knowing all about the decade they’ll spend together, begins their relationship by coming to her during her earlier years as a cop in Vietnam — in a bar. (Get it? Abar?)

While Angela is initially skeptical of everything this blue stranger tells her, she eventually believes him and grows to love him too. We also learn Manhattan “borrows” the look of a corpse with no kin (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), allowing him to adopt his face and identity. Years later, after his powers upset Angela, he turns to Adrian Veidt for help and accepts a device that erases his memories and nullifies his powers.

Doctor Manhattan and Adrian Veidt in the original comic.HBO

The big twist in “A God Walks into Abar” is how Angela unwittingly set all of the show’s events into motion. After Angela gets Cal to “reawaken” as Doctor Manhattan by crushing his skull and extracting Adrian’s device from his head (allowing him to regains his memories and powers), Manhattan reveals he had a conversation with Angela’s grandfather, Will Reeves, ten years ago.

And because Manhattan experiences all of time at the same time, Angela asks her grandfather an important question: How did he know Judd Crawford was part of Cyclops? And how did he know that Judd had a klan robe in his home?

Angela’s grandfather has a chilling answer: “Who’s Judd Crawford?”

HBO

If you’ve ever seen any time travel movie ever, or even just an episode of The Flash, you know what happened. By Angela asking her grandfather a revealing question ten years before that moment, Angela unwittingly makes herself the cause for Judd Crawford’s death.

It’s classic time travel fiction 101, except without any actual, literal time traveling. What’s happened is that because Angela gave her grandfather 1) Judd’s name, and 2) Judd’s secret as a white supremacist, this seems to get Will to act within ten years’ time to set the events of the series into motion. As Manhattan (not so) helpfully explains it: Neither the chicken nor the egg come first. They both arrive at exactly the same time.

Of the very few problems in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen original comic is that it didn’t make any real use of Manhattan’s complex grasp of time. Yes, there is his iconic, esoteric narration, but nothing in the comic shows any consequence for that power. Heck, the comic shows Manhattan’s understanding of time is what makes him passive.

During Manhattan’s time in Vietnam with the Comedian, Manhattan witnesses Blake shoot a Vietnamese woman pregnant with his child, dead. Manhattan knew what was going to happen, and could have stopped it all — but he didn’t.

“You coulda changed the gun into steam or the bullets into mercury or the bottle into snowflakes! You coulda teleported either of us to goddamn Australia,” the Comedian told Manhattan, the body of the woman still warm. “You don’t really give a damn about human beings.”

'Watchmen' (1986)DC Comics

So what’s next?

Besides a post-credits scene that continues to give Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons) and his birthday cakes new meaning, the questions Watchmen have to answer next are: Where did the Calvary take Doctor Manhattan? How are they going to kill him and steal his powers? (Can they even do that?) What does it mean that Angela gave her grandfather Judd Crawford’s name and secret? And what else has happened because these characters accidentally spoiled themselves to each other?

Something has clearly changed with Doctor Manhattan between his time in the comic and his time now in Damon Lindelof’s HBO series. Why he seems to “give a damn” about humans now, especially Angela, is something that the series only has one more episode left to explain. (If it will at all.) But for now, we’ve seen the HBO series do something that the comic never did with Doctor Manhattan: It made him human.

Watchmen airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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