Watchmen Ending Explained
Nothing may ever end but this Watchmen season does. Here we break down all the various points of the thrilling Watchmen finale.
The following contains spoilers for Watchmen episode 9.
We know, we know: nothing ever ends. Well, Doctor Manhattan isn’t always right because HBO’s Watchmen really did just end with its thrilling finale, “See How They Fly.”
While the prospects of a Watchmen season 2 should seem quite likely given the show’s success, creator Damon Lindelof made clear that this first batch of episodes was designed to tell a complete story. And tell a complete story they did! Angela finally got to speak with her grandfather and share his pain. Lady Trieu came enticingly close to gaining the powers of a god before her own father murdered her with some strategically deployed squid rain. Meanwhile Lube Man is still out there somewhere, lubin’.
As promised, Watchmen episode 9 solves almost every mystery that the show presented while adding some more questions to the pile as a going away gift.
Here Comes the Kavalry
The Order of the Cyclops is presumably a nationwide network of racists, but now that Oklahoma branch seems to be all but decimated thanks to Senator Keene’s arrogance and Lady Trieu’s power.
Keene gathers his troops, Jane Crawford, a bunch of old white racists, and “special guest” Laurie Blake at their secret hideout in a rundown mall to begin the ceremony of turning himself into a god. As Keene strips down to the ridiculous high-waisted underwear that Doctor Manhattan used to wear, he once again explains the particulars of their scheme. As he previously told Laurie, Keene and The Order of the Cyclops controlled both the 7th Kavalry and the police. Keene was set on using control of both factions to “end” the racist terrorism in Tulsa and use the popular support to defeat President Robert Redford in the next election. But then another opportunity presented itself…or himself.
Keene’s monologue sheds light on many of the unanswered questions about the 7th Kavalry and the White Night. When Angela and Cal were attacked on Christmas Eve by two Rorschach-masked assailants, Angela dispatched one of them but it was unclear what happened to the second, the one who was looming over her as she lost consciousness. Thanks to Joe Keene we now know that second man wasn’t vaporized by Cal but rather teleported off to Gila Flats, the birthplace of Doctor Manhattan. Recall Veidt’s words to Jon that even though he has amnesia, his Doctor Manhattan instincts may take over in times of duress. Those instincts caused Cal to send an attacker to a place of significance to Doctor Manhattan.
read more: Watchmen Episdoe 9 Easter Eggs Explained
The incident led Keene and the Kavalry to correctly guess that Doctor Manhattan was in Tulsa and in the body of Cal Abar. Judd and Jane Crawford were given the task of befriending the Abar family while the 7th Kavalry harvested enough synthetic lithium batteries (which we witnessed them doing in the first episode) to build a chamber to contain Doctor Manhattan. The Crawfords’ mission explains why Judd was present at Angela’s bedside the moment she woke up after the attack. He needed to befriend her to make the plan work.
Ultimately that plan fails as Keene’s machine doesn’t turn him into Doctor Manhattan but rather a pile of guts. You have to filter Doctor Manhattan’s atomic energy, you see, you can’t just go around absorbing it. Fortunately, Lady Trieu knows what she’s doing…
Lady Trieu’s Plan
Trieu turns out to be the ultimate supervillain of Watchmen, inasmuch as Watchmen indulges such concepts as supervillains. Trieu wanted to prove to her father, Adrian Veidt, that she could save the world better than he ever could. And to accomplish that goal she would need to harness the powers of Doctor Manhattan to end war, hunger, and every other global issue that Doctor Manhattan refused to address.
To that end, she made a deal with Will Reeves a.k.a. Hooded Justice. Will provided Trieu access to Doctor Manhattan (who made his presence known to Will back in 2009) and in turn Trieu promised to take out the Order of the Cyclops. Somehow the whereabouts of Doctor Manhattan was one of the most widely known secrets in all of Tulsa. While the Kavalry knew where he was thanks to the White Night, Will held up his end of the bargain some time before the events of Watchmen episode 4 and Trieu fulfills her portion now, teleporting everyone outside and then vaporizing all the racist jerkoffs present.
After the Kavalry fails, it becomes Lady Trieu’s turn to literally play God. Lady Trieu is ready to absorb Doctor Manhattan’s powers, becoming the most powerful being in the universe and killing Doctor Manhattan in the process. Trieu uses the containment facility that the Kavalry so helpfully built to begin extracting Manhattan’s essence into the spherical object that emerged from the Millennium Clock.
What Happens to Doctor Manhattan?
The process of being blinked out of existence is painful and difficult for Doctor Manhattan to endure. Based on the graphic display on Trieu’s device, Doctor Manhattan’s essence is basically being drained out of him. This method seemingly confirms what Lady Trieu told the 7th Kavalry: Doctor Manhattan’s energy must be filtered before it can be transfered into a human host.
Jon had been rather scattered since he “came out of the tunnel” as Cal. He always experiences all time at once but is usually better at being present when the situation calls for it. When Jon was determined to help Laurie defeat Veidt in the original Watchmen, there wasn’t much time for his “It’s 1956. I’m in Gila Flats” schtick. He even talks some smack with Veidt saying “I’m disappointed in you, Adrian. Reassembling myself was the first trick I learned.”
Now, however, Jon is more rattled, whether it be due to the traumatic effects of removing his amnesia, the tachyonic canon the Kavalry deployed on him, or his lithium prison. While in captivity, Jon repeats words from the 1980s: “All we ever see of stars are their old photographs,” “As far as I’m aware there’s no situation in Afghanistan requiring my attention,” and the 1950s “Janey. What’s up? Are you cold? I can raise the temperature.”
In the end though, Jon gets his temporal perspective straight not to save himself but to re-experience the time important to him…the time he spent with Angela. As the last of Jon is about to be sucked up by Trieu’s machine, Angela asks where he is. “I’m in every moment we were together all at once. I love you, Angela.”
Is Doctor Manhattan Really Dead?
The show offers little evidence to the contrary. Doctor Manhattan promised Angela that their relationship would end in tragedy and so it does. Doctor Manhattan’s energy now resides in the egg above Trieu and then that egg is destroyed.
Where does that essence of Manhattan go once its vessel is destroyed? Apparently nowhere. There is no blue glow cast over downtown Tulsa. Angela, Will, and all the other parties involved proceed as if he’s dead. In the end it appears as though Trieu succeeded where her father failed. She killed Doctor Manhattan…it only cost her her life.
The Squid Rerun
Lady Trieu is thwarted thanks to the quick thinking of Adrian Veidt, Laurie Blake, and Wade Tillman off in Antarctica. Jon, nigh omniscient being that he is, knew that Veidt either had a plan to save the day once again or would get around to developing one. Veidt proves Jon right by coming up with the ingenious solution to weaponize his baby squids.
Veidt has Wade turn the temperature down to 22 degrees (presumably on the Fahrenheit scale as that’s below freezing) and then fires up the ol’ squid dropper.
Veidt originally designed the squidfalls to be an intimidating yet ultimately harmless event that would remind humanity of extra-dimensional threats without ultimately hurting anyone. The squid even dissolve moments after reaching the Earth’s surface. Now, however, the frozen squid are intended to be bullets raining down from heaven.
It’s a little unclear why frozen baby squids raining down would be immensely more destructive than mere hail but there are some potential reasons. For starters the squidlets are bigger than your standard chunk of falling ice. “Golfball-sized hail”is often the go to comparison for enormous hail and each of these squids is bigger than a golfball. All extant cephalopods have beaks as well, which when frozen could be pretty devastating raining down from the sky.
Regardless, Veidt is pretty confident that the destruction wrought by the squids will be total in nature. “Everyone and everything within five square blocks is about to be obliterated,” he says. The squids prove destructive enough to Lady Trieu, who gains a hole in her hand and is ultimately crushed by the squid-riddled structure above her. So much for “re-runs.”
Angela is able to escape via the most resilient plastic lid in existence. Bian takes refuge in a Manhattan phone booth. Red Scare and Pirate Jenny somehow make it out alive as well. They must have found a structure more sound than cop cars whose windshields the frozen squid rain easily tore through.
Life with Archie
After the deed is done, Veidt is downright jolly at having saved the world again. He brings Laurie and Wade to a basement where there’s a surprise waiting for them and Watchmen fans alike. Veidt has restored Dan Dreiberg’s old owl ship, Archie. Dan Dreiberg a.k.a. Nite Owl built the Archimedes (“Archie”) as a vehicle to assist in fighting crime. In the final two issues of the original Watchmen, Dreiberg and Walter Kovacs a.k.a. Rorschach flew Archie to Karnak to confront Veidt but were ultimately unable to stop him.
Peteypedia reveals that when Laurie and Dan were arrested by the FBI for trying to stop the Oklahoma City bombings, the FBI took possession of all of Dan’s blueprints and built a whole fleet of owl ships for law enforcement, one of which we saw piloted by Judd Crawford and Pirate Jenny back in episode 1. That’s why Veidt trusts that Wade can fly Archie safely back home. Veidt says his goodbyes anticipating that he’ll just stay behind in Karnak as Laurie and Wade leave but Laurie has different plans. They’re going to arrest Adrian Veidt for killing 3 million people on 11/2/85.
The Trial of Adrian Veidt
Over 30 years ago, Laurie witnessed Adrian’s horrific plan to kill millions to save billions firsthand. She recognized the evil of the act, obviously, but at the same time it seemed like there was nothing she could do to reverse it. Back in 1985, turning Adrian in after the fact would only undo the fragile peace brought about by his plan. Even Jon agreed and Jon is usually right about these things. But Laurie has changed a lot in the last 30 years.
Of all the people in the original Watchmen universe, Laurie may have been through and seen the most. While Veidt languished in his Karnak lair and Doctor Manhattan took off to space to create more agreeable lifeforms, Laurie remained on the ground as a masked vigilante, adopting the new persona of The Comedienne and fighting crime alongside Nite Owl. Her worldview had changed both because of the horrors of Veidt’s plan and the knowledge that her true father was the pragmatic Edward Blake.
read more – Watchmen: Unanswered Questions From the Finale
That all came to an end in 1995, of course, and she had to adapt to a new life as a special agent in the FBI’s Anti-Vigilante Task Force. That’s why when Veidt tries to claim that the world will end if he is arrested and his crimes revealed, the argument no longer holds weight with Laurie.
“People keep saying that but it never seems to happen,” Laurie says. Her own personal world seems to have ended half a dozen times. Laurie has had two different stints as a masked vigilante and one as a masked vigilante catcher. The human spirit is stronger that Veidt ever gave humanity credit for.
Through Wade Tillman’s Looking Glass
The man standing alongside Laurie and Adrian is living proof of the resiliency of the human spirit. Look at Wade Tillman prior to learning the truth of the squid. He was scared, hiding behind a mask that supposedly defended him from psychic energy. He lived alone in a bunker, obsessing over extra dimensional incursions and alienating everyone around him.
Now look at the enlightened Wade. He took off his mask, killed at least six Kavalry men, infiltrated their lair to save Laurie, and then helped Veidt save humanity. It’s only fitting that he and Laurie be the ones to take Adrian in. Not only is Wade taking Adrian in to be tried, he has the proof of his misdeeds thanks to a copy of the “confession” tape that Veidt sent to President Robert Redford upon his inauguration in 1993.
It also must be pretty cathartic for poor, traumatized Wade to clobber Veidt, the man who in addition to his other crimes ruined his life, with a wrench.
A Conversation at the Dreamland Theater
Prior to “See How They Fly” premiered, Damon Lindelof revealed the nature of one of the scenes within it to Variety, saying:
“There has to be a scene between Angela and Will, between granddaughter and grandfather. There needs to be a scene where (Will) explains why he came back and why he did what he did and what the purpose behind it all was, and so we knew that’s going to be in the finale, and everything was going to be in service of giving that scene maximum emotional resonance.”
Well here it is! Angela and Will’s conversation is the emotional climax of the episode and the entire season. More than anything else, it drives home Watchmen’s theme of generational trauma and how pain can be inherited from our ancestors.
Will tells Angela that she cannot heal behind a mask. It’s in this that Watchmen comes to the same conclusion that its inspiration did. Masked heroism is inherently a selfish act. The only thing that a vigilante (or in the show’s case: a masked cop) is trying to fix by wearing a mask is themselves (something Laurie alluded to back in episode 4 during a conversation with Angela). But all a mask really does is hide the pain. It’s a lesson that Will took decades to learn and it’s a lesson he’s hoping to have his granddaughter learn sooner.
Will and Angela’s conversion also clears up some other important pieces of narrative information. Hooded Justice had only one mission: eliminate The Order of the Cyclops and white supremacy and that mission brought him into contact with some unusual allies.
Doctor Manhattan visited Will in 2009 to simply request that he look after Angela’s grandchildren during a very important day in 2019. Will fulfilled that end of the bargain. And it seems as though Manhattan was well aware of Will’s need for revenge as Will tells Angela that meeting with Lady Trieu was in fact Doctor Manhattan’s idea.
When Will met with Lady Trieu sometime before the events of episode 4, Trieu promised the elimination of the Cyclops in return for Doctor Manhattan’s whereabouts. Trieu delivered on that and the Order of the Cyclops was defeated (or at least much of it was) on the same Tulsa soil where Will’s whole world ended.
What Came First: Angela or the Egg?
While Lindelof promised no cliffhangers in the Watchmen finale, the episode’s final moments do come pretty close to the edge. Will told Angela that you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. It’s something that Jon told him to tell her and she’ll know what it means when the moment is right.
That moment comes as Angela goes to pick up some broken eggs on the floor once the Abar family arrives home. As she begins to clean up, she recalls words that Jon told her 10 years ago during their first meeting. Theoretically Jon believed that he could transfer his powers to someone through an organic object. Should someone consume said object, they would gain Manhattan’s abilities. Angela finds a single unbroken egg in the carton and recalls the egg that Jon created during their first night together. When Jon levitated those eggs out of the fridge, he even told Angela “watch the eggs,” perhaps as a simple courtesy to alert someone of a floating object in their midst, but more likely as a reminder for what to do later. Moments after Jon told Angela to “watch the eggs,” he apparated over to walk on the family pool as it was “important” that Angela see him doing so.
So Angela heads to the family pool, eats the raw egg, and places her foot on the water to see if she can walk on it. The scene cuts off there, leaving the audience to wonder whether she has the powers of a god or not. The ambiguous nature of Watchmen’s final scene is in keeping with the ending of the book, which concludes with Rorschach’s journal revealing the details of Veidt’s crimes ending up in the offices of The New Frontiersman. It’s up to the reader to decide whether the paper would publish it and what the implications would be.
Of course, HBO’s Watchmen removes a lot of the ambiguity of that original ending. Excerpts of the journal were indeed published and ultimately led to the creation of the 7th Kavalry. It’s possible that this ending is less ambiguous than it previously seems as well.
As we’ve seen throughout the finale and the series, Doctor Manhattan is very rarely wrong. He knew he was going to die. He knew that Veidt, Laurie, and Wade would save the world. He knew Angela would reconnect with her grandfather. When he uses the word “In theory,” you can reasonably assume that his theory is a fact. With that in mind, Doctor Manhattan absolutely has the ability to transfer his powers to someone else. The only question really is if the egg was a magic egg or merely a lucky egg that survived Angela’s smashing of the carton.
Either way, the theme remains the same. Eggs are important to the Watchmen universe. They’re a symbol of procreation and inheritance. We inherit our ancestors’ pain, triumphs, and prejudices. Maybe Angela can break that cycle by inheriting something else – something powerful, from someone she loves.
Angela likely has the powers of a god. The question is: what will she do with them? Just about everyone in this Watchmen finale is disappointed in Jon Osterman’s limited deployment of his powers. Both The Order of the Cyclops and Lady Trieu had big plans for those powers, plans bigger than taking off to Europa and playing with his Adam and Eve action figures. Even Will Reeves says of Doctor Manhattan “given what he could do, he should’ve done more.”
Adrian Veidt said that anyone who seeks the powers of a God shouldn’t be trusted with them. But is Angela seeking the powers of a god by eating that egg or merely trying to reconnect with the love that she lost? If it’s the latter, maybe there’s hope for a brighter future yet.
Alec Bojalad is TV Editor at Den of Geek and TCA member. Read more of his stuff here. Follow him at his creatively-named Twitter handle @alecbojalad