The lives of each and every single one of Watchmen’s characters is part of a larger story about how the world is on the verge of becoming an even more wildly dangerous place. But what few characters understand is how the roles they’re going to play in the events yet to come were defined by moments from their past that made them the people they are now.
Though Regina King’s Angela Abar is one of the first Watchmen heroes we met, the series has spent much of the season playing coy about her interior self beyond her home life with her husband and kids and moments where she’s alone and can be somewhat more open about how what’s happening in Tulsa has unmoored her from any real sense of stability. But to paraphrase Agent Laurie Blake, people don’t just wake up one day and decide to put on costumes and go out into the world to fight crime—there’s something that compels them to hide their identities and become larger than life ideas about what justice looks like.
Angela wasn’t always Sister Night, but what we learn in “An Almost Religious Experience” is that that same something was part of her from the very beginning. It was simply biding its time to manifest right when Angela and the rest of the world would need Sister Night the most.
One of the most impressive things about Watchmen has been the series’ ability to stand on its own at a solid distance from the comics, all the while never leaving you particularly wanting for more connective tissue between the two. Of course, Watchmen has nodded to the past, and the present-day world is one that’s been undeniably influenced by previous generations of masked vigilantes, but “An Almost Religious Experience” is a marked change of pace specifically because of the degree to which it demands that you think about the source material.
Watchmen’s United States of America became a radically different place following the Vietnam War, which the country won in large part thanks to the presence of Doctor Manhattan, the closest thing to a god that the world had ever witnesses who just so happened to be the child of German immigrants who came to America at the turn of the century.
“An Almost Religious Experience” opens with a brief documentary about Manhattan, further building out the idea that even though the blue man has been missing from the world since the late ‘80s, he never left people’s minds because there’s really no way that the public could ever “move” on” from his presence.
Up until this point, Watchmen’s largely showed us the ways in which people still long for Doctor Manhattan to come back into their lives in a larger sense, but the episode explores the reality that there are more than a few people who harbour an understandable hatred for the famous hero. While it might have seemed like “This Extraordinary Being” was going to be the show’s major foray into the past, “An Almost Religious Experience” makes clear that Angela’s not yet done with her Nostalgia trip.
Thanks to Lady Trieu’s medical intervention, Angela’s waxing (Watchmen’s term for overdosing on Nostalgia) wasn’t fatal, but at this point in her treatment, her mind was still in the process of reasserting her own memories in the absence of Will’s.
In the past, we’re introduced to a much younger Angela (played by Shazam’s Faithe Herman) whose life takes a tragic turn on her tenth birthday when her parents are murdered by a suicide bomber protesting the U.S. absorbing Vietnam as its 51st state. The specific circumstances of Angela’s parents’ death are important to note because they factor into her eventually becoming a masked crimefighter unknowingly following in her grandfather’s footsteps.
On that day, a day when Doctor Manhattan was being celebrated in a busy town square, what Angela wanted most was to finally be able to watch Sister Night, a blaxploitation film that her parents had repeatedly told her she wasn’t yet old enough to see. One imagines that because it was her birthday, Angela believes she had a solid chance at seeing the film, but when the man’s bomb goes off, everything about her world falls apart.
It makes a certain amount of sense that Angela’s most traumatic memories would be the first to resurface following her waxing, and when she awakes in Lady Trieu’s labs in the present, she’s alarmed at being conscious in her own body once again. She doesn’t fully understand what’s happened to her, and Lady Trieu’s none too interested in explaining it to her because it isn’t actually the first time she’s woken up.
Whatever it is that Trieu’s doing to her, it’s a work in progress, and rather than laying out all the details, Trieu injects Angela with a sedative that essentially causes her to fall asleep while a helpful commercial about the treatment plays inside her mind.
While the Nostalgia coursing through Angela’s veins is obviously dangerous, you can also see that, on some level, Angela wants to hold on to Will’s memories both because he wanted her to have them and because they’re part of her family history. Angela wants to see her grandfather to speak about all of the things he’s tried to share with her, but Trieu warns her that interacting with Will too soon could have a detrimental impact on her mind, which is still in the process of sorting itself out.
Elsewhere, Cal (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is in a state of panic because he hasn’t seen his wife in hours and he has no idea what exactly Trieu is doing to her. When he shows up at her tightly-secured campus, the guards refuse to let him in, and rather than speaking with him herself, Trieu sends her daughter Bian (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport) in hologram form to try and put the man’s mind at ease. Bian explains that as much as she would love to let Cal see Angela, the campus is on lockdown ahead of Trieu’s Millennium Clock finally being activated, and the only thing Cal can think to do is demand that Laurie come down to throw her weight around in order to force Trieu’s hand.
Laurie, though, is busy mulling over her recordings of Angela’s Nostalgia ramblings. As it turns out, Angela basically narrated nearly everything that was depicted in the last episode leaving Laurie stunned to learn the truth about Hooded Justice and curious about whether there’s a connection between the Cyclops organisation and the Seventh Kavalry.
Petey calls Laurie to inform her that Looking Glass’ house has been ransacked and is now filled with dead Kavalry members but Looking Glass’ himself is nowhere to be found. While she intends to address that, she has a more immediate concern at the Crawford ranch-speaking with Judd’s widow Jane (Frances Fisher).
Perhaps because everything about Judd’s death, Hooded Justice, and the Kavalry’s resurgence is so batshit, Laurie gets right to the point with Jane and reveals essentially everything she knows. She believes that Cyclops and the 7K are related and that Judd was likely involved with them. And because she doesn’t suspect that Jane knew about the secrets he was hiding, she’s also shocked when Jane reveals that...of course she knew her husband was sympathetic to the Klan.
Jane informs Laurie that all of her suspicions about the 7K—including the idea that Senator Keene is in league with them as part of his plan to win the upcoming presidential election—are quite on the money, and there isn’t a damned thing Laurie can do to stop their plans. After a season of dragging the hell out of people with her scathing observations about who they are, Laurie gets a small taste of her own comedic medicine as Jane whips out a remote control and presses a button—which initially doesn’t work—triggering a trap door that plunges Laurie somewhere in their basement.
When Laurie awakes, she’s stunned, not from being knocked out, but from being so blindsided after years of always being at least two steps ahead of everyone around her. This clearly isn’t the first time Laurie’s found herself tied to a chair in a villain’s lair and frankly, she’s more annoyed than scared at the entire situation because she’s heard enough villain monologues to know that they’re all basically the same at the end of the day.
As the Senator’s going on about how difficult it is to be a white man in America, Laurie struggles not to roll her eyes so hard they pop out of their sockets, but she cuts her mockery of him short when he explains just what it is that the Kavalry’s been working on. The racists have figured out how to create stable portals, sure, but their true goal is to recreate the same experiment that transformed Jon Osterman into Doctor Manhattan.
In retrospect, this twist makes all the sense in the world—of course the racists want to create an übermensch of their own who could remake the world in their image. It’s a horrific prospect to even consider and one that would definitely spell doom for the entire world’s non-white population, but thankfully, Lady Trieu knows precisely what they’re up to and she has a plan to take them down. But there were more twists to come before this episode was through.
At Trieu’s campus, Angela spends some time wandering around while connected to a strange IV that tethers her to Will in another room in order for the Nostalgia-flushing process to work. Trieu’s perturbed by Angela’s insistence on trying to figure out what secrets she’s hiding from her, but she’s cowed when Angela reveals that she knows Trieu is also dosing Bian with Nostalgia (thanks to a brief exchange she and the young girl had earlier).
There was always something a bit off about Bian when she was first introduced to the series and, in another refreshing cut-straight-to-the-chase moment, Trieu reveals the truth matter of factly—Bian isn’t actually Trieu’s daughter, she’s Trieu’s mother who was cloned so that her parents could witness the completion of her life’s work. Curiously, Trieu glosses over Angela’s question about her father.
Angela’s more than ready to leave Trieu’s campus, but she desperately needs to speak with Will, and so she stays, hellbent on tracking her grandfather down and having a heart to heart. She’s easily able to follow her IV drop to his locked room and break the lock when he doesn’t answer, but what she’s unprepared to find is...an elephant instead. It’s wild, but also makes a certain degree of sense given how this treatment is focused on memories.
Terrified, Angela rips the IV from her veins, causing her to pass out and be transported back to another memory of Vietnam on the day her grandmother June showed up at the orphanage ready to bring her back to Tulsa. June sees so much of Will in Angela that it hurt because she understands that the thing inside Will that compelled him to become a cop and vigilante also lives inside of her granddaughter.
In a kinder world, June’s plan to bring Angela back to the States would have worked out perfectly, but as the pair of planning to take off for the airport, the old woman suddenly dies on the street, once against leaving Angela without any sort of family to call her own.
On Angela’s exploration of the building, she also stumbles upon a strange room where there’s nothing but a large, glowing blue globe. The Manhattan booths, Angela learns don’t actually send calls to Mars, they’re merely routed directly to Trieu, who makes a habit of listening to them all for her own purposes.
Because this is a high tech facility, it isn’t long before Trieu herself shows up in the room, and she continues to be a bit more open with Angela about what’s happening. Doctor Manhattan, Trieu explains, hasn’t been on Mars for some time, and he’s not even really missing. Unbeknownst to anyone, Manhattan’s been hiding somewhere in Tulsa and Trieu is certain the Kavalry intends to capture him for their nefarious plan.
Angela doesn’t believe Trieu for a minute and suspects that she’s the person who first put the idea into Will’s head that the blue god was wandering around somewhere in Oklahoma, but Trieu counters by stating that it was actually Will who first told her about Manhattan’s presence. For all of Trieu’s theatrics and megalomaniac vibes, she is truly out to save the world, and she wants Angela to help her.
But all Angela wants to do is leave, and return to her home where she can gather her thoughts and put together a plan of her own. The episode could very well have ended as Angela left Trieu behind in the globe room questioning why Angela didn’t want to know who Doctor Manhattan might be. But instead, the episode closes out with a scene that telegraphs how Watchmen is about to become a different kind of show.
Cal’s shocked to find Angela rummaging in their kitchen when he wakes up from a nap and he can’t make any sort of sense of the wild things she tells him about what she’s been through. He’s even more confused when she picks up a hammer and begins to advance on him while telling him that he always knew the time would come when the two of them had to deal with the truth about their relationship.
The episode had made a number of mentions about Cal having suffered from profound amnesia following a car accident 10 years prior to the series, but here, Angela states that there was never an accident. When Cal insists that Angela isn’t herself, she responds by telling him that he isn’t himself...and she calls him “Jon.”
Just as Cal’s trying to figure out what Angela’s talking about, she cracks his skull open with the hammer and proceeds to hack at his head before reaching into the pulpy mess to pluck a small metal object from his flesh, and as David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” swells in the background, Angela’s face is bathed in a soft blue glow.
HBO’s Watchmen didn’t necessarily need to introduce Doctor Manhattan at all, but with the show’s stakes getting raised ever higher, his presence feels thematically appropriate. Now that big blue’s back, though, there’s no question that the doomsday clock really is that much closer to midnight, and if he and Angela don’t figure out exactly what their next move is, the world might very well end.