Our trials and tribulations are a test in trepidation. In this article, we review and analyze the seventh episode of HBO’s hit new television series.
“An Almost Religious Awe” is directed by David Semel (Heroes pilot) and written by Stacy Osei-Kuffour and Claire Kiechel.
If you haven’t seen the previous six episodes (or this one for that matter) of the season and want to avoid spoilers, do so now then return to this article. Major spoilers are ahead. You may also check out our reviews on the first six episodes of Watchmen.
This week’s episode of Watchmen sets aside vigilantism to showcase a few things that lie deeper within the layers of the television series and what it is supposed to represent.
We begin where we last left Angela Abar. She awakes in Lady Trieu’s research facility atop the Millenium Clock with twelve hours left until it is activated. Recovering from her Nostalgia overdose, Abar experiences traumatic moments of her past as a child while getting glimpses of her grandfather’s past.
On VVN Day in 1987, Saigon celebrates Doctor Manhattan’s end to the Vietnam War some years back. In a store, a young Angela Abar picks out a VHS tape from a rack; the videotape reads “Sister Night.” She walks through crowds of people and shows the tape to her parents, who refuse to let her watch the movie and instead make her return it. Abar makes her way back to the store when she watches a puppet show of Doctor Manhattan reigning down on Vietnamese soldiers. At that moment, a young man takes a backpack from the puppeteer and detonates the explosive inside, killing Abar’s parents and the locals in the process.
In the present, Abar experiences broken memories of the past and undergoes neural dialysis treatment at the facility. As this happens, a little commercial advertisement for Trieu Pharmaceuticals seems to play in her head:
Four memories have invaded your brain, [which] consolidate into neural networks, clogging existing pathways and threatening higher cognitive function. We call this process collective infestation.
Abar’s dialysis is supposed to act as a pest exterminator would:
Let’s get in there and spray. Neural dialysis saturates the brain’s cerebrospinal fluid provided by a natural host and literally flushes Nostalgia from the cortex. The process is delicate and somewhat tedious. Consider keeping yourself occupied by meditating or reading a good book.
As the treatment ends, Abar gets another glimpse at her grandfather’s book on the Cyclops, and his “painful memories” are cleansed away.
Meanwhile, Abar’s husband Cal is denied access into the Millenium Clock and is refused conversation with his wife. Wade Tillman has disappeared after Seventh Kavalry’s attack at his home, leaving five members of the group killed. Adrian Veidt is put on trial for killing “fellow costumed adventurers [and] three million innocent people [by] manufacturing an enormous alien being and using it to perpetuate mass genocide.”
Laurie Blake speaks to Jane Crawford about the suspect in the chief’s murder. She reveals everything she has gathered from Abar’s Nostalgia overdose.
- The suspect is Will Reeves, “the very first masked vigilante” known as Hooded Justice. Because he was a black man in America, he concealed his civilian identity from the world because “white men in masks are heroes but black men in masks are scary.”
- Reeves suspected the chief was part of a racist cult called “Cyclops” (which was known in its time to be “hot for mind control) but now went under a new name known as “The Seventh Kavalry.” For this reason, Reeves killed the chief during the events of the series pilot to exact justice.
- Senator Joe Keene may be part of the cult and allowed both policemen and the cult members to wear masks. This resulted in the confusion that led to mayhem as a means for him to run for President.
Knowing too much, Blake falls for a trap activated by Mrs. Crawford and later discovers herself in the lair of the Seventh Kavalry, where the Senator provided an alternate excuse for racism as to why the cult functions.
With five hours left until the Clock’s activation, Lady Trieu’s daughter Bian helps nurse Abar to full health, but reveals her true intentions are for her “dissertation on the adaptive function of empathy and the role of race suppression and social cohesion.” Bian also reveals that she, too, experiences visions. The dreams that she speaks of are her being trapped in an old woman’s body. It’s later revealed that Bian is actually not Trieu’s daughter but rather a clone of her mother, with reintegrating harvested memories of the original as the girl sleeps via IV drip.
Bian asks Abar why she wears a mask and acts as an undercover cop, hiding this secret from her children. This triggers Abar into remembering another moment from childhood where she points out the prime suspect of the explosion. The suspect is shot soon after. A Vietnamese policewoman gives the girl her badge to recruit her into the force when she grows older.
In another memory, young Angela is taken out of the orphanage by her grandmother June (Angela’s father’s mother, and Will Reeves’s wife), who intends to bring her granddaughter back to Tulsa. June shares a conversation with Angela at a Vietnam burger joint about her discovering that her son–who enlisted in the military and started a family–died alongside his wife with their next of kin to be their daughter. June packs Angela’s bags into a taxi but dies from what looks to be a heart attack outside the vehicle.
In the present, Abar discovers a secret room in Trieu’s facility, where people’s calls intended for Doctor Manhattan are ignored. Lady Trieu finds Abar there and reveals that Doctor Manhattan has been in Tulsa disguising himself amongst the humans; the Kavalry plots to capture him in order to “become him.” Realizing who he may be, Abar breaks out of the facility, evading capture by Pirate Jenny and Red Scare, and heads home.
In the final scene of the episode, we learn that Manhattan is no other than…well, more on that later in this article.
The whole episode functions as a mind blow. Apart from the literal elephant in the room in Trieu’s facility, “An Almost Religious Awe” brings up a subject that doesn’t seem to be as addressed much in America: Colonialism.
Control over foreign land has been established, from Abar’s father helping in the Vietnam War and residing with his family in the country, to the Seventh Kavalry taking back what they believe is rightfully theirs. However, while these characters act as if what they are doing is on the right side of history, we can argue that the mindsets that they have play within the liminal spaces between colonialism and post-colonialism. Abar’s family happily lives in Saigon until her parents’ tragic demise because some locals hate what Doctor Manhattan symbolized. In its first scene, the episode describes him as the following:
Jon Osterman transcended pain, suffering, and even death itself to create a life the likes of which history has never seen. [He is a] toxic nightmare … an immortal god impervious to the passage of time.
Manhattan represents the reckless hubris of America over decades and decades of history in which the country/nation pays no mind to their actions due to the power it holds. When the Vietnamese man blows up part of Saigon during the celebration saying “Death to the Invaders!”, he and his co-conspirator(s) intend to take back what’s theirs. Likewise, Joe Keene and the Kavalry justify their domestic terrorist actions as good when really they aren’t. In addition, Veidt’s own actions as the catalyst of the comic arc carry over into the show when he is put on trial. He believes what he’s done is “necessary sacrifice to achieve utopia” and his excuses are a means for escape.
When you look at it, the Nostalgia pills and treatment for overdose act similarly in which unwanted memories take over the human mind and make use of a purging procedure to flush them out when the memories become too much to bear. Where the land is the most valuable physical commodity humans must keep or lose, our minds are the most precious of our bodily possessions.
While colonialism has become a focus here, family has become the more obvious theme in both the comic and television series. Who else to corroborate this than Laurie Blake herself? The character has lived through the comic book’s tragic events, discovering who her biological father is. As she tells the chief’s widowed wife:
We all have family, Mrs. Crawford. Some of them are just…not talked about.
Abar keeps her secret from her family (as her grandfather had as Hooded Justice) to prevent them from experiencing a higher degree of tragedy. Will Reeves’s secret had driven his wife and son away, turning his son against those who wear masks.
This week’s episode of Watchmen doesn’t have many Easter Eggs worth noting, but one should be taken into consideration:
- Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls
- When Abar comes home, her husband Cal wakes up on the living room couch with the book lying on him. The plot of this novel is akin to that of Watchmen. An American man takes part in a civil war with the task of blowing up a bridge. Along the way, he falls in love with a young woman. You can guess to whom this relates.
- The title of the novel is also taken from a line from a poem by John Donne.
- Faithe Herman
- The actress previously portrayed Darla Dudley earlier in this year’s DC film Shazam. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II portrayed Black Manta in last December’s Aquaman, and Jeremy Irons had been Alfred Pennyworth in the same cinematic universe. Also, Jessica Camacho, who plays Pirate Jenny in the show, was previously Gypsy in CW‘s The Flash.
“An Almost Religious Awe” steps back from the redundant vigilantism theme and focuses more on other themes. The cinematographic transitions and musical score remain on point as the show’s background, while the episode foregrounds family tragedy, memory, and colonial affairs. Laurie Blake’s entrapment in with flashes of a Kavalry member creating sparks in the background may foreshadow the return of Cyclops in a near-future episode. Angela Abar’s line “people don’t fly kites alone” is one to think about as we progress into the series. Flashbacks for her childhood unravel how the character was led to become “Sister Night;” she finds a VHS tape because the cassette cover showed her a figure she believed looked like her. It’s important, no matter how many times it needs to be said, that representation matters. The biggest unmasking of the series thus far is the reveal of Doctor Manhattan’s disguising as Calvin “Cal” Abar, when his wife Angela bashes his head in with a hammer. The signs have been present for some time now. In a previous episode, we see the human character read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, while this week’s episode has him reading Hemingway’s novel. Both deal with colonialism, so perhaps (if he is Doctor Manhattan) he is still trying to comprehend the consequences of his actions.
Overall, this episode of Watchmen maintains the perfection of the show and what better way to indulge in the sciences of nostalgia than the director of the Heroes pilot joining forces with the co-creator and showrunner of Lost! The mid-2000s will be forever grateful for such a stellar episode.
What do you think? Are we missing anything? Have you seen Watchmen yet? Have you read the 1986-87 run of the comic book series? If not, do you plan to? Let us know! For more DC-related news and reviews follow The Cinema Spot on Twitter (@TheCinemaSpot) and Instagram (@thecinemaspot_).
Watchmen is out on HBO now!