Caution: Major spoilers ahead for Watchmen episode 7
HBO’s Watchmen has delivered an almighty Dr. Manhattan twist, and here are all the clues that were laid out in advance of the grand reveal. Watchmen has been riddled with mysteries thus far, from the whereabouts of Ozymandias to the fate of Nite Owl, but perhaps the biggest, as always, has been Dr. Manhattan. The blue superhero was glimpsed briefly in Watchmen’s trailer, confirming that the character would appear in some capacity. Up until this week, however, Manhattan had only been mentioned or shown in passing, and was yet to appear in the series proper.
That all changed with “An Almost Religious Awe,” where Dr. Manhattan’s location was revealed in gloriously unexpected fashion, answering several of Watchmen’s major questions but leaving a whole lot more for viewers to ponder. Essentially, the 7th Kavalry are being run by Senator Joe Keene (not so unexpected that part) and are planning to create their own version of Dr. Manhattan after killing the real deal. And as deduced by Lady Trieu, the real deal is currently holed up in Tulsa, inside Angela Abar’s house, as her husband Cal. In a final, even more surprising, turn of events, Angela is revealed to have known about this the entire time and worked in cahoots Manhattan to hide his true identity.
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While it’s fair to say that Cal being Dr. Manhattan is something that many Watchmen viewers hadn’t predicted, the benefit of hindsight reveals that Damon Lindelof and co. had actually been planting subtle clues as to Manhattan’s secret identity since the very beginning.
After appearing in Aquaman and Us, and with a leading role in the upcoming Matrix sequel also lined up, Yahya Abdul-Mateen is clearly a big-name Hollywood actor. It’s fairly strange then, that he’d be playing a background character in Watchmen. Thus far, Cal has done little more than look concerned and have sex in closets, and having a renowned actor in such a minor role made little sense. Many might’ve assumed that casting a talent of this cal-ibur indicated a bigger role further down the line, but it’s now clear that the part is even more significant that anticipated.
After Judd Crawford is hanged in Watchmen’s premiere episode, Angela and Cal’s kids understandably have some questions about life and death. While most parents, particularly those of the doting kind Cal appears to be, would attempt to sugarcoat the grim reality of death for their youngsters, Cal gives a fairly brutal explanation, claiming Judd came from nothing, and had now gone back to being nothing. Elsewhere, Cal expresses a very scientific, atheist outlook to his children, leaving no room for religious sentiment. This trait comes directly from Dr. Manhattan, who gave a similar “life and death” speech in the original Watchmen story.
Bringing Silk Spectre back into the Watchmen fold has made clear that Laurie is absolutely not over her ex-lover, Dr. Manhattan. Blake visits Trieu’s phone booths to pretend to tell “John” jokes and she also carries around a big blue dildo in honor of her ex (more on that later). Despite harboring feelings for Manhattan still, Laurie makes no attempt to hide her attraction to Angela’s husband during the course of her time in Tulsa. Various comments about Cal’s attractiveness at first just seem like the unfiltered ramblings of the sexually-frustrated, but it’s possible that she could somehow see a resemblance between Cal and Manhattan, having previously known John so intimately, and was magnetized toward him
One element of Watchmen that felt strange at the time but now makes perfect sense is Angela’s reaction to Laurie visiting Cal. The first oddity is how annoyed Angela becomes after learning about the visit, which doesn’t quite fit with the couple’s otherwise progressive and stable relationship. Also unusual is that Cal deliberately doesn’t mention meeting Laurie to his wife. Why would he not bring up being questioned by an FBI investigator to his own police officer of a wife? With the knowledge that Cal is Dr. Manhattan, both question marks are addressed. Angela didn’t like her husband being visited by his ex, and Cal perhaps felt guilty due to some residual feelings for Laurie that he was confused by and felt like he had to hide.
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Another strange Dr. Manhattan moment with Angela comes when Will Reeves claims he’s actually the blue superhero in human form. Angela rebuffs this seemingly ridiculous idea by stating that Dr. Manhattan can’t pose as a human, and Cal later echoes the same sentiment. But how could a cop from Tulsa possibly know the extent of Manhattan’s powers? Does anyone on Earth truly know what he’s capable of? The good doctor can supposedly create life from scratch, so why would anyone doubt his ability to pose as a human? Clearly, Angela was trying to deflect suspicion by denying the possibility that Manhattan could be walking on Earth unnoticed, and as odd as her assertion seemed at the time, it was merely part of a bigger ruse.
Watchmen fans will no doubt remember Laurie Blake’s dildo, a unique item secreted inside its own special suitcase. The generously proportioned toy is named “Excalibur.” That’s Laurie’s ex, Cal Abar. Now the dildo scene makes a bit more sense… sort of.
The practice of masked police officers in Tulsa began after an event called the White Night, in which the 7th Kavalry attacked police officers in the homes. Some of Angela’s ordeal on this night is explored via flashback, but the audience doesn’t explicitly see how the situation is resolved, as the scene immediately moves to Angela waking up in hospital. Cal is revealed to be fine, but how did he survive? Being Dr. Manhattan might’ve helped, since virtually nothing, especially some low-level white supremacist conspiracy nuts, can kill the former Watchman. This could potentially be the reason the 7th Kavalry know to target Angela’s house when seeking Manhattan in this week’s episode – because they shot Cal and revealed his true form during the White Night.
Watchmen has included several references to Superman, albeit as a fictional comic book entity rather than an in-universe DC character. There have historically also been comparisons between Superman and Dr. Manhattan due to their overwhelming power and occasional feelings of detachment from the rest of humanity. Perhaps “Cal” is a nod towards “Kal-El,” providing a subtle link between Angela’s husband and Manhattan.
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Watchmen has been an unusually progressive and outspoken series in terms of its depiction of “woke” culture and the battle between left and right wing politics, so it perhaps wasn’t too unusual to see Angela take on the lead action-based role, busting criminals and solving crimes, while Cal stayed at home and looked after the kids. This was a neat, welcome reverse of the traditional TV male lead format…until it wasn’t. With episode 7’s reveal in mind, it seems that the real reason for Cal’s inconspicuous, domestic lifestyle was likely just to keep him as hidden as possible.
Watchmen literally laid the whole plot out and hardly anyone noticed. When Angela and Laurie are discussing their respective lovers during an especially tense car journey, Laurie sarcastically uses the line “he’s no Cal!” when comparing Angela’s partner to her own glowing ex. Directly comparing the two characters should’ve been a surefire indication that something was amiss, but the moment passed by largely unnoticed, disguised as an innocuous jab from a scorned lover.
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Watchmen continues with “A God Walks Into Abar”
Caution: Major spoilers ahead for Watchmen episode 7