This article contains Watchmen spoilers.
Watchmen episode 7, “An Almost Religious Awe,” is the hour where the remaining big questions finally start getting answered. And in the case of its last scene, it may even answer a question that you might not even realize had been asked in the first place. But from its first scene to its final moment, there’s a ton of info packed into this episode, from the mystery of why Angela Abar adopted the masked identity of Sister Night to the actual whereabouts of Dr. Manhattan. In fact, that last one is a good place to start.
AN ALMOST RELIGIOUS AWE
– The episode’s title “An Almost Religious Awe” takes its name from a line in the book, where it’s revealed via Dr. Manhattan’s own narration that many North Vietnamese wanted to surrender directly and personally to him, “…their terror of me balanced by an almost religious awe.”
You can see that “almost religious awe” in how VVN day is celebrated in Vietnam, where Dr. Manhattan is more omnipresent than Santa Claus at Christmas or Uncle Sam at the Fourth of July.
The episode opens with footage from a documentary about Dr. Manhattan, which is thoroughly packed with Easter eggs and even some new revelations about our good pal Jon Osterman.
Among those, we get a New Frontiersman newspaper headline with Jon on the moon alongside Neil Armstrong, with the words “The Right Stuff,” our first HBO-ified look at great moments in Dr. Manhattan history like Osterman Fine Watches or the exterior of Gila Flats, magazine ads touting Manhattan-led technology innovations like the lithium batteries that powered his first wave of cars (one of which is named the Ford Andromeda), the color news footage of the famed panel from the book showcasing a giant Dr. Manhattan on the battlefields of the Vietnam War, the October 30, 1985 New York Gazette headline announcing his departure for Mars, and more!
Another important one is the Nova Express cover story that ended up being so pivotal to the events of the book, where Doug Roth wrote the expose (based on false info planted by Adrian Veidt) about the link between Dr. Manhattan and cancer deaths in people who associated with him.
There’s one more hidden detail in that New York Gazette headline, as a side story seems to say something along the lines of “Italians Flock to Rome to Protect Decaying State City.” Presumably, this is a reference to Vatican City, and it’s it’s “decaying” in 1985, it’s another clue to the idea that religion has fallen almost completely out of favor in the Watchmen universe after the arrival of Dr. Manhattan in the mid-20th century.
– The Dr. Manhattan puppeteer on VVN Day being the mastermind of an attack is apt because of Manhattan’s whole “I’m just a puppet that can see the strings” philosophy from the book.
– The episode ends with Angela holding Dr. Manhattan’s symbol as a blue glow envelops her. Yes, it turns out that Cal is actually Dr. Manhattan. We wrote more about the implications of all of this right here.
– Incidentally, if you ever catch me misidentifying Jon Osterman as Jon (or Jim) Osterberg, it’s because I keep confusing Dr. Manhattan’s former name with the former name of Iggy Pop. Both of these gentlemen are beings of immense power with a penchant for nudity and zero percent body fat, and both have been known to inspire “an almost religious awe.”
It’s tough to find an exact date for this first sequence depicting Angela’s childhood, however, there are a few clues. You can clearly see a VHS copy of Ghostbusters on one of the racks. Ghostbusters wasn’t released on VHS until October of 1985, so that, along with the fact that the documentary narration audible in the store indicates that this takes place after Dr. Manhattan left Earth. We can also assume that VVN Day takes place in May or early June, thanks to a mention in the book, where Dr. Manhattan talks about being in Vietnam in May and that “the Vietcong are expected to surrender within the week.” So most likely, this is taking place in May or June of 1986, which makes Angela approximately 10 years old.
– The song that plays during the VVN day sequence earl in the episode is another tell for the fact that this comes after November ‘85. James Brown’s “Living in America” wasn’t released until December of 1985. It was also, notoriously, a centerpiece of Rocky IV.
– Burgers n’ Borscht is a fast food joint from the book and its presence also places the events of Angela’s childhood here after the events of 11/2/85. Why? Because the melding of US and Russian cultures in such an absurdly commercial way comes about AFTER a new spirit of cooperation is forged because of the “threat” of extradimensional invasion successfully forged by Ozymandias.
– There are three key movies on the VHS spinner rack that young Angela Abar is perusing. The first, obviously, is Sister Night, which should need no explanation. Amusingly, the blurb on the cover reads “A nun with a motherfucking gun” which is also the name of a track on the Watchmen soundtrack from episode 1. In many ways, giving Angela a relatively straightforward origin story (inspired by a fictional hero) puts her almost in line with both versions of Nite Owl from the book (and, of course, Hooded Justice as we now understand him), the few characters who become heroes because it’s the right thing to do.
Now, as for those other two movies…
One is Fogdancing, the movie adaptation of the novel by Tales of the Black Freighter writer and unwitting pawn in Adrian Veidt’s schemes, Max Shea. The movie apparently is quite good, as there’s an awards laurel visible on the box and hell, it was directed by David Cronenberg! The painting of the protagonist, with his back to us, is of a man with a ponytail and blond hair, which is very similar to what Max Shea looked like in the book. Its tagline? “When War Makes Monsters of Us All…” Ugh, can you imagine how amazing a Watchmen movie directed by David Cronenberg circa 1986 would have been? Between this and Steven Spielberg’s Pale Horse, the alternate history of Watchmen also has some intriguing movie projects.
The other is Silk Swingers, a crappy exploitation movie from the late ‘40s that dramatized (apparently quite poorly) the early career of the first Silk Spectre, Sally Jupiter, the mother of FBI Agent Laurie Blake.
There are also several kids movies about elephants, Trunky and Tusky. Considering how important elephants are later in the episode (and how Lady Trieu’s mother wrote a book called Pachyderm Mom) these are also significant. We won’t talk about some of the other showcased fare like Porked! Down on the Farm and The Raunchy Pistol.
– Angela lying to Lady Trieu about what she sees in her memory with something innocent (a pony at her birthday party) mirrors Walter “Rorschach” Kovacs lying to his prison psychiatrist in the book about what he sees during a blot test (Rorschach sees a dog with its head split in two, he lies that it’s “a pretty butterfly”).
THE FATE OF LOOKING GLASS REVEALED
– There are back issues of New Frontiersman in Wade Tillman’s bunker, specifically ones related to the squid rain, so he probably isn’t a reactionary kook. That’s the only thing worth noting, right? NOPE!
– In other/better/more important news, Detective Looking Glass lives! The carnage left after everyone’s favorite lonely masked cop turned no fewer than five members of the 7th Kavalry into racist McNuggets is kinda reminiscent of the disarray that the apartment of the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, was left in after a gang of Knot-Tops broke in and murdered him in the book. Only here, things turned out very differently for the home invaders.
THE TRIAL OF ADRIAN VEIDT
– Ozymandias has been on trial, in full uniform no less, for a full year. I believe we just need one more year to get Adrian’s story caught up to the main story back on Earth.
– The one commandment that Veidt is supposed to live by, and that his “subjects” certainly live by, is “Thou shalt not leave.” It makes the circumstances of Veidt’s arrival that much more questionable.
– You can see a courtroom sketch of the squid that Veidt used to kill millions, as well as a Black Freighter seal behind the head of the Judge/Game Warden.
– So it turns out that Bian, Lady Trieu’s daughter, is…actually a clone of Lady Trieu’s mother. Who was also named Bian. The elder Bian wrote a book called Pachyderm Mom (there’s that elephant symbolism again) about how she intended to raise Lady Trieu to be exactly the kind of embodiment of genius and perfection that she ultimately turned out to be. And according to Peteypedia, those methods sound awfully similar to how we see Lady Trieu raising the younger Bian. So, while it sounds crazy…is it possible that Lady Trieu is ALSO a clone of her mother?
Lady Trieu’s Millennium Clock launch speech refers to how she wanted Nostalgia to be a way for us to evolve. Veidt, incidentally, had hoped to evolve people into a more superheroic mindset with his “Veidt Method” and Millennium line, both of which were failures.
It’s also worth noting that the 7th Kavalry are using stolen Trieu Industries tech to build…whatever the hell it is they’re building. Unless, of course, it isn’t stolen. But that’s too dark and I prefer not to think about that.
– I don’t know why the remote control for Mrs. Crawford’s trap door says WILSON on it. There is indeed a “Wilson Electronics” but this doesn’t seem like the kind of product they make.
– While Paul Young had the big hit with “Every Time You Go Away,” the version that’s playing in this episode is the vastly superior Hall and Oates original.
– Cal is reading Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.
– The closing credits are an instrumental version of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails toured with Bowie in the ‘90s and they collaborated on several songs. This brilliant, beautiful version of one of the most brilliant, beautiful songs ever written is killing me dead.