"Watchmen" finale: One last reveal explains all those eggs and the crushing weight of legacy

A satisfying end to what could be the drama's only season leaves one question unanswered, making us hungry for more

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published December 16, 2019 8:29AM (EST)

Regina King in the season finale of "Watchmen" (Boris Martin/HBO)
Regina King in the season finale of "Watchmen" (Boris Martin/HBO)

Warning: Spoilers ahead for the finale episode and entire season of HBO's "Watchmen."

Watch the eggs.

Cal Abar (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) says this to his wife Angela (Regina King) in the penultimate episode of the first (and possibly only, but I hope not) season of HBO’s “Watchmen.” It happens after Cal the mild-mannered amnesiac has revealed his true self at last: Cal is not Cal, but Jon Osterman, the man who became a blue god-like hero known as Doctor Manhattan.

He's in their kitchen making waffles, having teleported himself there moments after dropping the information equivalent of a nuke on his wife.  Minutes earlier, in the single and same instant that Cal/Jon is speaking with her, he also converses with her grandfather Will Reeves (Lou Gossett Jr.) in the past. She asks Cal/Jon to ask Will why he killed her boss, police chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson), and Will responds that he doesn't know who Judd Crawford is.

Angela is horrified. “Did I start all this?" she frantically asks. "Did I send my grandfather here? Is this my fault?”

To which the blue god replies: “Hmm. The chicken or the egg … the paradox. Which came first: the chicken or the egg? The answer appears to be both at exactly the same time ... I'm hungry.”

Cut to the kitchen, where Cal/Jon uses telekinesis to float the required ingredients through the air: milk, flour, and: "Watch the eggs," he tells Angela, and she grabs the carton out of mid-air and smashes them on the floor.

Many key moments involving eggs, actual and figurative, are rolled into the nine episodes of Damon Lindelof's “Watchmen." But the egg sighting in the closing moments of the finale,“See How They Fly,” may prove the most exciting, given the way Angela (by way of Lindelof and Nick Cuse, who co-wrote the episode) leaves us.

After the final battle is won, as she’s coming to terms with what she’s lost, Angela goes to the kitchen to clean up the shattered eggs puddled on the floor only to discover one remains unbroken and intact.

In the eighth episode, when Manhattan and Angela first meet in a Saigon bar, he creates an egg out of thin air. Then he casually tells her that if he wanted to, he could transfer his powers into some sort of biological matter, and if that matter were to be consumed his abilities might transfer to the person who ingests it.

She takes the last egg, gingerly walks to the pool in their backyard, cracks it open and swallows it whole and raw. Then she slowly lowers her foot to touch the surface of the water, to see whether what Cal/Jon told her holds up and test if, indeed, she can now walk on water.

Cut to black. End of story?

If it is, what an ending.

Digesting "Watchmen," as is true of Lindelof's work generally, requires a certain amount of vigilance for visual metaphors and other clues. Small hints abound in the background scenery and within foregrounded dialogue and action, as always. ("See How They Fly" is a line from The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus," a song that also includes the lines "I am the egg man" and "I am he as you are he as you are me," which could be telling us something or nothing at all.)

Lindelof also knows that he turns off a segment of viewers for this very reason. Prior to the debut of “Watchmen” he let it slip that he designed the season to be a one-and-done affair. This may have struck some as preemptive concession on the part of a man all too familiar with how quickly followers can turn on a creator at the end of a show.

Seen from another angle, this is an assurance of discipline. A successful nine-episode season must be designed with an eye toward succinctness, knowing that audience’s measurement of success is subjective and relative. With “See How They Fly” Lindelof and Cuse provide definitive answers to the season's  main mysteries while leaving us with a cliffhanger we can take or leave with a smile, a gentle invitation to open debate as opposed to derision.

“Watchmen” also concludes in a way that ensures its multifaceted critiques about power and race and the American story hold up and stand firm. More than just providing a satisfying ending to a season or a series, this is a just wrap-up for those of us who sat with its every moment.

But it is also about eggs. And seeds. And legacy.

These hints were there from the start. Think of that performance of “Oklahoma!” with an all-black cast. Rogers and Hammerstein’s all-American musical is an upbeat romance that takes place in fertile farm country,  “where the waving wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain.” There's nothing in there about racial strife and massacres.

"We know we belong to the land,” the title song’s lyrics declare. “And the land we belong to is grand!” And the man charged with protecting a corner of that land in 2019, Judd Crawford, has a standard cowboys-and-Indians portrait in his home of a Native American on horseback confronting a settler in battle. That, and a hidden vault where he keeps his grandfather’s Klan robes.

“Legacy isn’t in land,” Lady Trieu tells a childless couple earlier in the season. “It’s in blood. Passed to us from our ancestors and by us to our children.” She says this seconds before she pressures them into handing over their family’s legacy — an ailing egg farm and its acreage — in exchange for $5 million and a baby she created from their DNA, all within a frantic three minutes.

You can’t make an omelet without breaking a couple of eggs.

The origin story of America is one of a nation of built by immigrants, people who came here of their own free will to throw off the old world’s caste systems and to seek their fortunes unencumbered by restrictions of the past.

This tale intentionally minimizes or erases the role of the people who were forced to “immigrate,” including slaves and the conquered and downtrodden of other nations. It also makes a failure to thrive the fault of the individual or a particular group as opposed to an effect of a greater power structure that benefits from preventing the underclass from unifying.

In “Watchmen” this plays out in many ways: Robert Redford’s government providing economic reparations to the descendants of those killed in the Tulsa massacre of 1921 is one of them, and it angers the poor white Americans in their midst.

In Alan Moore's comics Vietnam becomes the 51st state after America — Doctor Manhattan, actually — defeats the Viet Cong. The common assumption is that its people welcome assimilation, much in the way that's assumed to be true of native Hawaiians. Angela’s story proves this is not the case.

One final reveal further illustrates Lindelof’s interrogation of who gets to play the American hero, why power behaves the way it does and how our obsession with legacy enforces those ideas. That would be the origin story of Lady Trieu and her connection to Adrian Veidt.

The trillionaire didn’t only buy Veidt's company as a demonstration of her might. She did it to claim her legacy as his daughter.

Every revelation concerning a character's true identity is a commentary on how deeply white supremacy is embedded within American history and the American story, how it hides behind masks.

Each reveal also feels bigger than the last. Will Reeves' outing as Hooded Justice is symbolically outdone by placing the all-powerful Doctor Manhattan inside the skin of a black man named Cal Abar.

Lindelof told Salon that his intent was to troll the notion of the white savior — how that concept manifests in film and in our culture. He's done this all season long, but that concept concretizes in the finale's explanation of who Lady Trieu is to Veidt.

The episode opens in 1985, with Veidt speaking to Redford in 1993 congratulating him on his election and informing Redford that, in fact, he planned the actor’s rise to the presidency. While he is distracted with this ultimate act of arrogance, a Vietnamese cleaning woman in Veidt’s compound breaks into this office and steals one of the sperm samples hidden behind a portrait of Alexander the Great — specifically, the one from test tube #2346.

The woman marks this moment by paraphrasing the lines supposedly said by the real Lady Trieu in response to being admonished for not behaving more like a traditional and subservient Vietnamese woman: "I want to ride the strong winds, crush the angry waves, slay the killer whales in the eastern sea, chase away the Wu army, reclaim the land, remove the yoke of slavery. I will not bend my back to be a slave. F**k you, Ozymandias."

Then she does exactly that, in a manner of speaking, by injecting the sample of Veidt’s “legacy” directly into her womb.

Years later, circa 2008, Lady Trieu finds Veidt in his Antarctic hideaway, reveals her identity and her plans to finish what he started when he dropped that giant squid on New York, killing millions in the name of uniting humanity. She intends to do this, she says, by ridding the world of all nukes, eliminating starvation, and cleaning the air ... by taking Manhattan’s powers for herself.

She also tells him she's found Manhattan on Europa, adding that she has launched a probe to take images of Jupiter's moon that will arrive there in five years and change, that will beam images of Manhattan’s location back to her on Earth. And she’s designed the device that can transfer Manhattan's powers to her. She merely lacks the financing. So Lady Trieu asks Veidt to stake her $42 billion, because she’s his daughter.

Veidt rejects this outright with a speech straight out of Wealth and Privilege 101.

“Your genius wasn’t given. It was stolen,” he hisses. “ And you have the audacity to come here for a handout!” He goes on to brag that when his parents died, he inherited wealth beyond imagining.

But he gave it all away, he says, “because I wanted to demonstrate that I could achieve anything starting from nothing.  And that is all I offer you, sample 2346: Nothing. And I will never call you daughter.”

That line, delivered with a knockout combination of arrogance and venom by Irons, underlines Veidt’s extraordinary hubris.

What he overlooks is that Lady Trieu already has built a fortune out of nothing and a lot can happen in five years and change, to say nothing of a few years after that.  All this occurs before Manhattan traps Veidt on Europa, where he spends years biding his time, counting the moments to meet up with the scheduled arrival of Lady Trieu's probe and hurling enough clones into airless space to use the frozen bodies to spell out, in letters large enough to be seen from orbit, “SAVE ME DAUGHTER.”

Lady Trieu ends up rescuing dad, mostly to rub it in his face that he had to call her daughter after all. It turns out the realistic statue of Veidt Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) eyes in her vivarium during an earlier episode wasn't an artistic tribute to Ozymandias but dear old dad himself, preserved in a golden substance to survive the trip from Jupiter's orbit back to Earth.

But Lady Trieu also fetches her sire for a more important reason: so that he and the clone of her mother Bian (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport) might witness her life’s greatest achievement firsthand. It's narcissism at its purest. And when father first lays eyes on his daughter's Millennium clock, the best he can do is paraphrase the ancient Egyptian text known as the Merneptah Stele in reference to his own folly.

“Israel is desolate," Veidt says, "and her seed is no more. Palestine is become a widow for Egypt.”

The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley expresses this thought a bit differently: “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Within this story, “See How They Fly” wraps up the climax involving Seventh Kavalry led by second generation politician and Cyclops scion Joe Keene Jr. (James Wolk), who believes he will be taking Manhattan’s power.

Lady Trieu leads Keene to believe that, unbeknownst to him.  She’s taken into account that the Seventh Kavalry and the white supremacist network Cyclops will enact the capture portion her plan for her, trapping Manhattan in a cage he can’t escape.

They, too, are conceited enough to invite or force witnesses to the culmination of their plans, including Cyclops’ senior leadership,  Manhattan’s ex-lover Laurie, Angela’s partner Wade Tillman (Tim Blake Nelson) — missing since episode 5, now revealed to be hiding among the enemy — and Angela herself, who finds out where they're keeping Manhattan and pleas with the assembled racists to halt their plan.

It was never about the Seventh Kavalry destroying the cops, or white people pitting themselves against disenfranchised minorities, you see. It’s about the people at the top of society's ladder keeping the people on the rungs beneath them at each other’s throats, distracted so the most powerful of all can consolidate might and wealth unto themselves.

But Keene and the Kavalry do not listen to reason, and as quickly as Manhattan can teleport Veidt, Tillman and Blake to the safety of Veidt’s Antarctic hideout,  Lady Trieu enacts the first part of her plan. A couple of surgical passes of a laser wipes out Cyclops' top leadership before she prepares to take Manhattan. Veidt stops her by raining frozen squid down from the heavens with the force of a Gatling gun, destroying her machine and crushing her under the weight of her creation.

Opus esse uno, unum cognoscendi,” the arch-narcissist Veidt haughtily declares before he does this, which he translates to mean, “It takes one to know one.”

Through this A-plot and its epilogue, “See How They Fly” fulfills the mission Lindelof sets out to accomplish, asking and answering questions about unchecked power and returning to his assertion that white supremacy is the existential threat of our time.

And in their own way he and Cuse use nostalgia to their own ends by circling us back to the place where the story began: the Dreamland Theater, the site of Will Reeves’ life-defining nightmare.

Manhattan teleported his and Angela’s three children there to keep them safe under their grandfather’s watch before the Kavalry's attack. When she joins them there, the children are soundly sleeping, snuggled into the props left behind by the “Oklahoma” cast.

Lindelof favors gathering his heroes in sacred spaces at the end of their journeys. The “Lost” finale reunites everyone within a church.  "The Leftovers" end with long parted lovers finding each other again at a stranger's wedding reception. Here the consecrated ground is a theater, a place meant to sustain us with myths and legends about ourselves.

In this setting Will fertilizes the seed of realization already planted in Angela’s mind, by Cal ... as Jon … as Manhattan. Will says Manhattan told him, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a couple of eggs.”

This is a recurring trope in cinematic dialogue, used here as another wink at the audience. HBO viewers may have noticed a version of  it in an episode of “Succession,” but it’s popped up time and again before that, in films like “Fight Club,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman.”

In each of those instances the antagonist utters the line as a way of brushing off horrendous action (or in the case of “Succession,” highlighting stupidity). Here it comes from a hero who fails to do as much good as he could have with his nearly unlimited powers.

But as Will speaks with his granddaughter in that theater, his more important messages were about the origins of so much of the strife dividing us today, explaining that the anger that drove him to become Hooded Justice resulted from fear and hurt.

Obscuring that fear and hurt does no good, he said. “You can’t heal under a mask, Angela,” he tells her. “Wounds need air.”

And with that they make their way home together. Maybe they’re walking into a new chapter in Angela’s own heroic legacy. Maybe they’re destined to head into TV drama legend, leaving that question of whether Angela can walk on water open and unanswered.

Regardless of how we view the outcome of the “Watchmen” finale, the point of it all — about our damaging insistence on clinging to a poisoned past, about the danger of clinging to legacy at the expense of moving into a better future, and meaning of all those eggs — is the same, clear and true.

It is past time for us to start fresh.

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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