Watchmen season 1 finale recap: See How They Fly

Photo: Hong Chau in Watchmen.. Image Courtesy Mark Hill/HBO
Photo: Hong Chau in Watchmen.. Image Courtesy Mark Hill/HBO /

Watchmen ended the season with “See How They Fly.” Did the Seventh Kalvary kill Jon? Did Lady Trieu kill Jon? Did Jon even die? We’ve got the recap!

Don’t you hate it when season finales burn off their entire first act with some kind of melodramatic reflection on the season’s story? I do. It’s always better when you keep the momentum of the narrative going and progress with force to your conclusion. If you need to reset the season or provide prospective, do it in the penultimate episode.

The two best examples I use of this are “Across the Sea” from the last season of LOST and the King’s Cross chapter at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. We learn the backstory of the Man in Black and Jacob in LOST. We get to spend some final warm, reassuring moments with Albus Dumbledore In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. Watchmen spent its penultimate season one episode, “A God Walks into Abar,” telling the story of how Dr. Manhattan (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) came to live on Earth as a mortal. It also set-up “See How They Fly” with, among other things, a wacky post credits scene.

“See How They Fly” was written by Nick Cuse (The Leftovers) and Damon Lindelof. It was directed by Frederick E.O. Toye (The Good Wife). It’s one of my favorite season finales ever. There’s a sense of fear for our heroes. That helps the story to build to a crescendo that gets topped. But, it’s not topped by some plot twist. It’s organic and makes sense. There is a real satisfaction at the end of the hour. And there are several possible ways the show could continue in future seasons. On repeat viewings, I’m sure I’ll be able to see all of the hints and foreshadowing. And I definitely will be rewatching Watchmen over the holidays. This was a truly great nine episodes of television.

The Veidt Family Tree

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In the post credit scene to “A God Walks into A Bar,” Adrian (Jeremy Irons) is digging a Great Escape tunnel out of his jail cell on Europa. “See How They Fly” picks up with Adrian’s story. It fully explains everything. In early November of 1985, Adrian is recording his message to Robert Redford about his orchestrated presidency. This is the same one Wade (Tim Blake Nelson) was shown by the 7th K in “Little Fear of Lightning.”

Elsewhere in Karnak, a cleaning woman (Elyse Dinh) breaks into the sperm vault that Adrian keeps in a safe behind his desk that’s covered up by a great portrait of Alexander the Great. She recites lines from the very real, historical Trieu Thi Trinh, who is referred to as the Vietnamese Joan of Arc. She takes sperm sample 2436 and replaces it with hand soap. That reminded me of a random scene from the Commish where Michael Chiklis used hand soap in a cup when he didn’t have time to provide a fertility test sample. I know. I’m odd.

Photo: Hong Chau in Watchmen.. Image Courtesy Mark Hill/HBO
Photo: Hong Chau in Watchmen.. Image Courtesy Mark Hill/HBO /

The cleaning woman resembled Bian (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport). At least, that’s what I was trying to force myself to believe because I was figuring out what was happening. Bian Alpha propped herself up in Adrain’s chair like she was in stirrups and injected the sperm directly into her uterus. In 2008, sample 2436, better known as Lady Trieu (Hong Chau), shows up at Karnak and introduces herself to Adrian.

Daddy’s Girl

Adrian is appalled by the idea of having offspring. Especially when the offspring is so fiercely independent and demanding as Lady Trieu. She knows Adrian murdered millions, she knows Dr. Manhattan left Mars, and she knows how to find him. She just needs 42 billion dollars. Like. For real. She just straight asks for 42 billion dollars like it’s nothing. The 23-year-old Lady Trieu is just as matter-of-fact about things as the 34-year-old version of her is. She joins Angela (Regina King) as one of the two characters on Watchmen who rule hard.

Trieu wants to kill the good doctor because, well, he’s not so good. He laid brutal, instant carnage on Vietnamese people during the war. Since then, Jon hasn’t done anything for Earth. He could have wiped nukes off the planet. He could have ended poverty and prevented hunger. Part of the loan would go to pay for a machine that would transfer Dr. Manhattan’s powers to Trieu. It would also kill Dr. Manhattan. Adrian never mentions this to Jon in 2009 because he’s probably too consumed by his own depression.

More time passes from the post-credit scene at the end of “A God Walks into Abar.” Adrian has dug his tunnel and donned the Ozymandias costume. He is waiting for something. We learn that it’s an escape pod that’s sent for him. As he triumphantly strides towards freedom, the Games Warden (Tom Mison) charges him. After threats, the warden shoots Adrian.

In a callback to the comic and 2009 film, Adrian catches the bullet. He stabs the warden with the horseshoe magnet. As he lay dying, Adrian tells the warden that he made him wear a mask because masks make men crueler. And he yearned for a worthy adversary. With his last breath, the warden asks if he was a worthy adversary. Adrian ruthlessly says nope and walks to the pod, which is flanked by clones who are about to lose another god. Adrian just isn’t cut out for parenting.

Trieu Blue

The escape pod is swanky. The automated voice sounds like Bian. She instructs Adrian to stand and prepare to be placed in stasis for his return trip to Earth. It’s very much like Alien, except for the part where Adrian is asked to stand with his hands on his hips in an Ozymandias pose. To further mix franchises up, Adrian is sprayed with a carbonite-like substance. Except, it’s glittery gold. When he is completely covered, I realized pretty quickly that this is the statue Laurie (Jean Smart) and Angela saw when they went to interview Lady Trieu back in “If You Don’t Like My Story Write Your Own.” So, think of Han Solo displayed in Jaba the Hutt’s sail barge from Return of the Jedi minus anyone caring enough to try and rescue Adrian.

Watchmen -- Colin Hutton
Watchmen — Colin Hutton /

Lady Trieu is Veidting out hard. She wants her mom and dad there to watch her ascension into immortality. So, she cloned Bian and kept her father on ice. This would correct her mother’s death and her father’s ability to run off and screw up her plans. We find out that Trieu sent the escape pod to Europa when Adrian left an SOS on another one of Jupiter’s moons in “Little Fear of Lightning.” He had included the phrase, “Save my daughter.” Trieu is touched by this. Not because Adrian accepts her. But because it really must have been a humbling blow to the world’s smartest man to have been outsmarted.

Adrian is awoken in time. The two bond over the fact that Adrian made his moon message out of dead bodies. Because this is how Veldts bond. Veldts are creepy. And, you know, super smart and stuff. Adrian is fully jealous that Trieu built her clock. He seems a little proud, as well. But, he just has a hard time accepting things.

White Stupidity

Laurie is still tied to a chair. She’s brought in front of some glass cage by 7th K goons. Her guard starts hearing the gunfight on the walkie-talkie from the end of “A God Walks into Abar.” As he walks away to let other 7th K goons know, another Rorschach-wearing guy walks up to assume guard. It’s Wade! I knew (was hoping) he survived the 7th K attack at the end of “Little Fear of Lightning.” I was also hoping this is exactly how he would show up. As Laurie realizes she’s next to Mirror Guy, Jon is forcefully teleported into the glass cage. The structure of the cage is made from those lithium batteries the goons were collecting in “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice.”

Regina King in Watchmen.. Photo: Mark Hill/HBO
Regina King in Watchmen.. Photo: Mark Hill/HBO /

Apparently, Jon can’t teleport out of lithium. So, I guess it kind of mimics lithium carbonate, which slows down hyperactivity in manic episodes. Jon is not manic, but his brain is. He’s hyperactively existing in multiple timelines and dimensions. Perhaps the lithium prevents those abilities in the same way as the pill does.

Senator Keane (James Wolk) assembles the older, upper echelon of Cyclops to watch his transcendence into Dr. Manhattan. Reparations will be repaid to white folks in the currency of carnage. He doesn’t say that, but he’s that cheesy. Laurie and Wade are joined by Angela who arrives to try and save Jon.

Keane takes his pants off to reveal the angled speedo that Dr. Manhattan wore on his way to being a nudist way back when. Angela warns him that Lady Trieu is going to hijack his plan, but Keane is an arrogant idiot. He locks himself in a chamber and starts the intrinsic field generator. Then, the whole party is teleported to the Greenwood Community Square. That’s the site of The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. It’s where the Dr. Manhattan phone booth is. It’s where the cultural center is located. And, it’s where Lady Trieu lasers all of the remaining Cyclops members to goop.

Have You Tried Our Calamari?

Lady Trieu had no idea how to trap Dr. Manhattan. She never wasted time on it. She was given insider info that the 7th K was going to kidnap him. So, she let them do the grunt work. Trieu could spend time engineering her process for becoming Dr. Manhattan. You see, one can’t simply flip a switch on his power. You have to process it down before you are exposed to it or you pop like a balloon. For proof, Lady Trieu opens up the chamber Keane was in. A pool of blood and marrow spills out. It was like a mix of the elevator scene from The Shining and Johnny Depp’s death in the original Nightmare on Elm Street. And maybe a little bit of the attic scenes in Hellraiser.

Photo: Tim Blake Nelson in Watchmen.. Image Courtesy Mark Hill/HBO
Photo: Tim Blake Nelson in Watchmen.. Image Courtesy Mark Hill/HBO /

But, Trieu is arrogant, too. When the gooey remnants of her dramatic demonstration seep into Dr. Manhattan’s cage, he is able to interact with the blood and teleport Laurie, Adrian, and Wade to Karnak. He still remains trapped within the lithium. Lady Trieu is genuinely hurt that her father was not going to be there to witness her ascension. She visibly pouted throughout the rest of the episode. I felt bad for her. She just wanted to be seen. And, you know, she totally wanted to rub it in his face. Because Veidts!

Trieu’s clock starts draining Jon. He’s holding on, but it won’t be long till his essence is destroyed. Angela asks why he didn’t teleport her away. Jon broke my heart when he said it was because he didn’t want to die alone. He tells her that he is now able to recall their time together. He’s experiencing all of the memories at the same. Jon stops being nuke blue and turns into Cal. He smiles at Angela but tells her to run. She won’t. She is staying with her love. Jon is disassembled and killed. The force from his explosion throws Angela against the phone booth. I thought she was dead.

Lady Trieu enters her own chamber. She’s ready to become the Earth’s savior. Meanwhile, in Karnak, Adrian knows he’s been dispatched to save the day. He will do this with a squid attack. The squid attacks are designed to be benign with the squids mostly disintegrating on impact. Adrian instructs Wade to change the temperature in their tank to exactly 22 degrees. They will be frozen projectiles from space. Everything within a 5-mile radius of Tulsa will be destroyed. Laurie calls the Dr. Manhattan phone to warn Angela. She gets a very confused Bian who is clearly a victim, here.

Angela survived Jon’s death explosion. She wakes up as the police arrive and the squids start falling. Bian hands her the phone and says it’s for her. Angela is able to save Bian. Many cops are killed. Lady Trieu realizes there is a problem when a squid flies through her left hand, leaving a big old hole. Her clock is destroyed by the squid and it crashes on her, killing her. Jon’s power is seemingly lost into the ether. Back on Karnak, Laurie arrests Adrian and Wade flies them back home in the original Archie.

Sister Manhattan

Angela makes her way to the movie theater, which is only a few hundred yards away. Will (Louis Gossett, Jr.) is there. The kids are asleep on the stage. Angela talks to her grandfather. He explains that he always knew it would go down as it did. Jon had told him he had to make a deal with Trieu. Angela offers him a spare bedroom for a couple of days that will clearly turn into forever. Will says that for all the power that Jon had, he could have done more.

On the way home, Angela notices police taking their masks off. Red Scare (Andrew Howard) and Pirate Jenny (Jessica Camacho) have survived. They are maskless and helping an even more confused and distraught Bian get into the back of a police car. Her whole world has been destroyed. Could she potentially be a season two villain?

Angela has her family take a short cut through her bakery. Topher (Dylan Schombing) catches a glimpse of her Sister Night costume hanging up in the lair. He’s fascinated and you can see where his future could potentially lie. Angela notices it. She wants to tell him not to think about being a masked hero. But, she also knows she has to let him learn that on his own.

At home, she finds the mess left by her and Jon’s fight when he attempted to make waffles in “A God Walks into Abar.” The eggs she cracked are on the floor. Eggs have been mentioned one way or another in almost every episode of Watchmen. Angela remembers that Jon assumed he could transfer his powers to someone if they were able to consume them.

I remembered when Jon walked on water in the family’s back yard pool for Angela’s benefit because it was “important for later.” Angela opens the smashed carton of eggs. There’s one egg left. Angela takes it with her to the pool. She cracks it and eats eat after she removes her shoes and rolls her pant legs up. As she puts her foot on top of the water THE CREDITS ROLE.

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So, Bian vs. Topher with god Angela in the heavens? I’m ready for season two of Watchmen!

On to this week’s music:

  • Lacrimosa” by Mozart. This plays over Adrian’s speech to Robert Redford. I love that when Adrian gets back on Earth, he reads a paper and is shocked that Redford is still president.
  • Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy. This plays when Trieu asks Adrian for 42 billion dollars because they’re family.
  • Waltz of the Blue Danube Waltz” by Johann Strauss II. This plays when Trieu’s satellite spots Adrian’s message. And a few other times.
  • Oh What a Beautiful Morning” sung by Frank Sinatra. This bookend the music of season premiere and season finale of Watchmen. Sinatra’s cover of the Oklahoma! opener plays when Angela and her family exit the movie theater and enter a brave new Tulsa.
  • I Am the Walrus” by Spooky Tooth featuring Mike Harrison. This Beatles cover plays over the credits. It refers to the title of the episode. Has a ton of egg references that are often hard to understand. And, you know, it’s a Beatles song.

Did you like “See How They Fly?” Do you like how Damon Lindelof extended the story of the original Watchmen comic? Let’s discuss in the comments!