Season One, Episode Nine – “See How They Fly”
Written by Nick Cuse & Damon Lindelof
Directed by Frederick E. O. Toye
Where previous episodes have taken their time and meditated on their characters and themes, this final chapter in the HBO Watchmen sequel feels more plot-heavy and honestly a little rushed. But that is the way finales work when you are trying to tie up the loose ends of a story as complex as this. The plot beats come fast and furious, leading to a reasonably satisfying conclusion with a nice tease of an ending scene. Did this follow-up to the revered comic book match the power of that work? Not entirely, but it had genuine moments of genius and illuminated characters in deeply meaningful ways.
Angela Abar knows who took Manhattan from her and sets off in pursuit. She realizes that Lady Trieu is using the Seventh Cavalry to contain Manhattan so that she can slip in and assume his power. Adrian Veidt is finally revealed to have been right under our noses this whole time and becomes a witness to the events that take place in Tulsa. The bad guys get what is coming to them, and the good guys win, but not without losses. When I sit back and look at this episode as a whole, it never gives us closure for characters like Laurie Blake or Looking Glass. They play a crucial role in the story, but we don’t see the conclusions of their arcs.
This episode feels more like a traditional comic book story than the previous entries and its comic book predecessor. There are too many satisfying moments for it to capture the cynicism of the original Watchmen. The bad guys are destroyed spectacularly, and the good guys know precisely how to take them down. I would have loved to see things slowed down, and some themes deepened while subverting the audience’s expectations. Where the original Watchmen made an argument against the idea of the masked vigilante superheroes who believe they know best, the series doesn’t necessarily think that negatively about heroes. Everything made sense, but not everything felt fully realized.
All that said, Lindelof did a fantastic job continuing the world created by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons. I loved getting to see what this place was like 35 years later, how the events of the comics shaped everyday life for the citizens of the United States. It was also a brilliant move to make Race a central theme of the show. The Cold War was something at the forefront of the American mind in the 80s, and today Race still rules as a point of contention for so many. The place where the complexity of the store resonated was in these explorations of Race, primarily through the eyes of Will Reeves.
Reeves’ arc is probably the most complete of all the characters. He sets out into the world on the heels of the horrific Tulsa Massacre. Then he finds meaning in abandoning the Law and becoming Hooded Justice to try and balance the scales. Ultimately, it is as himself, vulnerable, and aged that he finds some sense of closure. He tells Angela that she can’t hide under a mask and expect to repair the damage to herself and to society. My one issue with Reeves’ final speech to Angela is that he states that Manhattan was a good man who could have done more.
Watchmen, the comic book, clearly posits that Manhattan is not a good man because he isn’t human anymore. People see in Manhattan what they want, but he is so disconnected from humanity that he will never use his power to affect the change they need. He can’t see or understand their needs anymore. Anyone who gets that level of power will inevitably lose touch with the species and have no interest in settling the squabbles and resource deficits of the planet. Lady Trieu says she would fix everything, but she’d more likely float off into space, disinterested in us. If Angela were to get Manhattan’s power, she would do the same. The belief in a messianic figure is a path that will always lead to disappointment. Angela should have learned something about the power of the collective rather than the individual in effecting real change in coming together as a community over waiting for Superman to show up and save the day.
This is a fantastic mini-series, and I hope it stays that way. At least for now. Let some time pass, so we have something new to reflect in the art and meditate on. I am excited about Lindelof does next. He’s proven his talent with The Leftover and now Watchmen. He was brilliant to diversify his writer’s room with Watchmen because it gave us fresh, new stories from that universe and not fanboy retreads. What a pleasant surprise to have the pleasure of watching something so relevant and entertaining.