‘Watchmen’ Review: Episode 7 Unveils a Master Plan and Cuts Together One Big Surprise — Spoilers

"Time to come out of the tunnel."
Watchmen Episode 7 Regina King HBO
Regina King in "Watchmen"
Mark Hill/HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Watchmen” Episode 7, “An Almost Religious Awe.”]

An inevitable comedown after last week’s masterpiece, “Watchmen” Episode 7 tries to swap groundbreaking storytelling for long-craven explanations, going so far as to unveil its biggest twist yet. Yes, some folks foresaw that Dr. Manhattan isn’t actually on Mars, and instead has been hiding on Earth under the guise of Cal Abar (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) — but did they know that Angela was receiving recovery treatment from an elephant? Did they know the origin story of Sister Night? Did they know Bian (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport) isn’t the daughter of Lady Trieu (Hong Chau), but her mother? Did they know Jane Crawford (Frances Fisher) was part of the “insidious conspiracy” meant to turn Senator Keene (James Wolk) into Dr. Manhattan 2.0?

“An Almost Religious Awe” drops juicy tidbit after juicy tidbit and tries to ground its many reveals in Angela’s tragic backstory. At times, the balance works beautifully — most of the aforementioned payoffs are exciting, and the focus on Vietnam culture post-Dr. Manhattan is fascinating —  but this hour (written by Stacy Osei-Kuffour and Claire Kiechel, directed by David Semel) gets stuck when it stops providing new information and starts repeating itself.

Take the quick cuts between Angela’s memories and her grandfather’s: They slowly morph from a way to convey her recovery from a Nostalgia overdose into redundant exposition. Damon Lindelof has long used flash cuts to quickly reflect what a character is thinking. (“The Leftovers” often did this when Kevin remembered something that’s suddenly relevant now, like the National Geographic magazine or his time in the hotel.) Episode 7 amps up the technique, at first using it to show how Angela’s real memories are colliding with the events she experienced from her grandfather’s pills.

Some moments are effective: When a young Angela (Faithe Herman) sees a suspicious man pick up a package and bike toward her parents, her older self remembers what her grandfather saw as a boy: a KKK member killing Tulsa citizens. The parallels between their childhood experiences are powerful, but the blending memories soon become less revelatory and more obvious. By the time her grandmother shows up and explains why Angela’s father didn’t like people wearing masks, did we really need a cut to Will Reeves (Jovan Adepo) rubbing the Hooded Justice makeup off his son’s face? We just saw that scene last week. We know the moment she’s talking about, and hand-holding edits like this one kill the current story’s natural momentum, even if they can be explained by Angela’s fractured mental state.

Speaking of June (now played by Valeri Ross), Angela’s childhood trauma is another aspect of Episode 7 that verges on overkill. How bad do things have to be for Angela to become the no-nonsense cop she is today? That path was already set before her grandmother showed up only to lay out a little backstory, promise her granddaughter a better life, and then drop dead on the first leg of their trip home. Perhaps June’s story will become more relevant in the coming weeks, but it’s just one more dour note in a child’s life that was already defined by the horrific death of her parents.

When Episode 7 ends and Angela tells her husband it’s “time to come out of the tunnel,” she may as well be speaking directly to camera. So much is unveiled this hour it’s hard to think about anything other than the craziest moments (my vote? elephant) and the new questions we have. There are bound to be more surprises in store during these final two hours.

Watchmen Episode 7 Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in “Watchmen”Mark Hill/HBO

Masks On: What We Don’t Know

Where’s Looking Glass?

After spending an intense, eye-opening hour away from Wade “Mirror Guy” Tillman (Tim Blake Nelson) — and the cliffhanger ending that saw a truck-full of Seventh Kavalry members storming his house — Episode 7 finally told us what happened next: Wade killed them. Well, we think Wade killed them. They’re all dead, and Mirror Guy is gone, according to Agent Petey (Dustin Ingram). But where did he go? Is he watching over Angela? Is he back at the “J.C. Penney” where Agent Blake (Jean Smart) is being held (and Wade visited in Episode 5)? Wherever he is, here’s hoping he’ll be there for his fellow officers in their time of need.

OK, so what exactly is the Seventh Kavalry’s plan?

Per Laurie’s theorizing to Jane Crawford and Lady Trieu’s explanation to Angela, it’s something like this: They know Dr. Manhattan is living in Tulsa, not Mars, and considering there are Seventh Kavalry members waiting outside Angela’s house when she gets home, they seem to know that Dr. Manhattan is hiding inside of Cal. From there, they’re going to capture him (using… mesmerism?), destroy him (using… the transportation device Wade saw?), and then replace him with Senator Keene (using… something). “Can you imagine that kind of power in the hands of white supremacists?” Lady Trieu asks Angela. (Yes, we can, at least a little bit, given the wink-wink, nudge-nudge, “being the president is small potatoes” line that reminded everyone, “Oh yeah — there is a racist running America.”) The Seventh Kavalry is up to no good, and now it’s up to Angela, Cal Manhattan, and Lady Trieu’s biggest clock to keep them from taking over the world… or so it seems.

What the hell is going on with Adrian Veidt? (Part VI)

Honestly, very little about Adrian Veidt’s circumstances have changed, and we know very little more than we did before his fate was sealed by a piggy’s squeal. Yes, Adrian (Jeremy Irons) sat trial this week in another preposterous and entertaining episode break, where The Game Warden played the judge and all the Mr. Phillips (Tom Mison) and Ms. Crookshanks (Sarah Vickers) filled the courtroom. Yes, Adrian presented only one loud, gaseous exhibit as evidence toward his innocence, and dozens of adorable pigs were asked to step in as an emergency jury. Yes, it was wonderful. Yes, I’ve been waiting seven hours to find out how the pigs shown in the first trailer would make their appearance. And yes, I still have no idea what will happen (or has already happened) to Adrian Veidt. So let’s just keep waiting, shall we?

Did “Watchmen” just bring back “Living in America“?

Not since the last time I watched “Rocky IV” have I had James Brown’s R&B classic stuck in my head, and I gotta say — I don’t mind. I assume everyone recognized the opening bars as young Angela walked through her Vietnam video store, just as I’m sure everyone lost their freaking mind when the chorus kicked in just as a Dr. Manhattan puppet floated down into view. Now, I don’t know if music supervisor Liza Richardson pitched this song as a way to foreshadow tragedy — after all, Brown sings it right before Apollo dies in “Rocky IV,” and it’s heard here shortly before Angela’s parents are killed — but “Living in America” is such a frivolous (half the song is just naming cities!) yet addictive song, it feels like an ideal encapsulation of our nation’s persistent patriotism, even when it’s not the time to be proud (like, say, post-Vietnam). From the cacophony of jubilant sounds to the singer’s indecipherable lyrics, “Living in America” will make you want to dance in spite of yourself, and I think that’s probably the point. But more importantly: Can “Watchmen” get “Living in America” back on the charts? Time will tell. Tick tock.

Grade: B+

“Watchmen” airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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