The penultimate episode of HBO’s Watchmen ended with a shocking development: Doctor Manhattan, the series’ only character with actual superpowers and the closest thing Watchmen has to a god, is captured by the white supremacist Seventh Kavalry and sent to his presumptive demise.
Exactly how this happened is a little convoluted, involving tachyon cannons, self-imposed amnesia allowing Doctor Manhattan — once the physicist Jon Osterman — to live a human life as Calvin Abar, and a certain level of pessimism. But it’s where the show ended up. The Kavalry’s plan is to kill Doctor Manhattan and then transfer his abilities to Senator James Keene, their nefarious, white supremacist leader.
It seems pretty likely that Doctor Manhattan is not making it out of this Sunday’s season finale alive. Even beyond the fatalism with which he allows himself to be captured — or, if you prefer, goes through the motions of being captured, because that was always how things were going to go — there’s a bit of foreshadowing about the possibility of another person becoming Watchmen’s god. In particular, there’s a conversation from episode eight in which Jon explicitly tells his wife Angela Abar that someone could, in theory, consume an item (like an egg) that would give them his powers.
With that in mind, there’s exactly one, totally thematically cohesive question about the Watchmen finale: Who will become the new Doctor Manhattan? Time to gamble! Here are the most likely possibilities:
Angela is the obvious choice to become the new god of Watchmen’s world. She’s the protagonist of the TV series, bringing all of the characters together around her investigation of the murder of her boss, Police Chief Judd Crawford. Her family history is the history of masked adventuring, given that her grandfather, Will Reeves, was the original superhero Hooded Justice. Regina King would make for an incredibly intimidating, charismatic blue deity. And, of course, Angela is Doctor Manhattan’s wife — and is consistently illuminated by Jon’s blue light in their scenes. This would fit, but it would also feel a bit pat. And is that really where we want Watchmen to go?
Will Reeves would be an absolutely sick Doctor Manhattan. Louis Gossett, Jr. has been giving one of the best performances on a show filled with excellent performances, drawing out the effect of a life lived in a furnace of righteous anger. We spend more time with Will’s past than with any other character — his traumatic experience of the 1921 Greenwood Massacre, his retreat into old age and subsequent murder of Chief Crawford, and, of course, his career as Hooded Justice — wouldn’t it make sense for his life to become the blueprint for a new superbeing?
In Damon Lindelof’s version of Watchmen, Laurie Blake responded to the events of 1985 by turning her back on her old life entirely. With her ex-boyfriend Dan Dreiberg (aka Nite Owl) in federal prison, she’s turned her talents to catching other idiots running around in masks. There’s a certain level of irony in the idea of Laurie both taking on her other ex’s mantle and becoming the thing she hates the most: a person with actual superpowers. A pretty good punchline for the daughter of The Comedian.
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As the absolute biggest nerd in Watchmen, a TV show full of nerds, it would be extremely funny for Petey to accidentally become the most powerful being in the universe. It probably won’t happen — especially because Petey is probably the mysterious Lube Guy from earlier in the season — but I can dream.
This is a dark horse, but one that I’m willing to bet on. That’s right: Angela and Cal’s adopted son Topher, an intense, rage-driven child who lost his parents to the Seventh Kavalry, will become the next Doctor Manhattan. Consider the evidence. Topher has a similar distanced viewpoint to Jon Osterman, though one that’s cut through with searing, human emotion. He notably plays with a floating sculpture — one that might be just a toy made with technology derived from Doctor Manhattan’s body, but that also might be foreshadowing. And, perhaps most importantly, Jon tells Angela that someone can ingest his powers during a conversation about whether or not the two will have children. Jon tells Angela he would never pass his powers on to their children without their consent — but what if it’s what Topher chose?
Okay, hear me out on this: Yes, it would be seemingly apocalyptic if the United States Senator behind a conspiratorial white supremacist cult gained the powers of a god. But one of the consistent threads in every depiction of Doctor Manhattan is the way Jon’s newfound perspective changes his personality once he becomes a superman — his ability to see and live in the past, present, and future inevitably shapes his experience of the world. And from a god’s-eye view, Senator Keene could well discover that America the way it’s constructed in 2019 is actually about as good as you could expect for racist white men. As another person on the wrong end of Doctor Manhattan’s wrath once said: Good joke. Everybody laugh.