What Dr. Manhattan’s Past Tells Us About His Role on WATCHMEN

Warning: This post contains major spoilers for episode seven of  Watchmen.

We spent the first six episodes of Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen wondering when Dr. Manhattan would return, only to find out he was there the whole time. We thought there was a chance he was hiding in plain sight, but we didn’t think he was Angela’s husband Cal. So why did he come back to Earth after leaving in 1985? And how did he wind up in Angela’s life? The answers might be found in his past, when another woman who was a thermodynamic miracle reconnected him to humanity.

A Man Without Time

Dr. Manhattan does not experience the passage of time the way we do. For him, time is not linear with a defined past, present, and future. It’s not even a flat circle. It’s more like a dot; his entire existence takes place all at once. He simultaneously perceives everything that has happened and will ever happen to him. He takes a photo in New Jersey in 1959 while at the same time sitting on Mars in 1985. He is not totally omnipotent, though. Back in the ’80s, Adrian Veidt used tachyons, a hypothetical time-traveling particle, to blur Manhattan’s vision of the future. It was how Veidt was able to launch his giant squid without Manhattan knowing.

Dr. Manhattan drops a photo and explains how he sees time while on Mars in the original comicDC Comics/Dave Gibbons/John Higgins

Manhattan’s experience with time is more a curse than a power. The de facto deity, who was born Jon Osterman, can see the future, yet he has no ability to change it. Dr. Manhattan has to play out his life like an actor who can’t change his character’s lines or his fate. Without extraordinary interference, he never experiences surprise, hope, expectation, or even fear. It’s why that brief moment when tachyons took away this ability was exhilarating for him. For the first time since the accident that made him a god, he didn’t know what was going to happen, and it was exciting for him, even in the midst of an unthinkable tragedy. Excitement about not foreseeing the death of three million innocent people might sound inhuman, but it was one of Manhattan’s most human moments in the original comic.

The way he experiences time contributed to him losing his ties to the rest of mankind. His growing disconnect with humanity turned him into an uncaring monster. When told about a former colleague’s death, he famously answered:

“A live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles. Structurally, there’s no discernible difference. Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts. Why should I be concerned?”

Laurie Blake referenced that heinous statement on HBO’s Watchmen when she told Dr. Manhattan her joke about him being sent to Hell (which ended with him saying he’s already there because of how he experiences time). It was only fitting that she reminded him he once found no value in human life, because she was the one who long ago reconnected him to mankind.

Jean Smart as Laurie Blake calls Dr. Manhattan calls Dr. ManhattanHBO

Laurie Blake’s Trip to Mars

Dr. Manhattan first met Laurie Blake, a.k.a. Silk Spectre II (then known as Laurie Juspeczyk), in 1966 when she was only 16. The two began a relationship shortly after, with Manhattan no longer interested in his girlfriend Janey Slater, who left him soon after. The Keene Act of 1977 then outlawed any non-government-sanctioned masked vigilantes, temporarily ending Laurie’s superhero career. In 1981, the two moved to a U.S. government base. Dr. Manhattan was America’s greatest weapon and supposedly the ultimate nuclear deterrent. Her job was to keep him happy. But their relationship over the years deteriorated as Jon (as she still called him) drifted further away from humanity. Tired of only being someone’s girlfriend, tired of being under strict surveillance, and tired of him, Laurie left Dr. Manhattan in early October of 1985.

Dr Manhattan sits alone on Mars in the comicDC Comics/Dave Gibbons/John Higgins

The two spoke one more time before Adrian Veidt’s squid attack on November 2. Manhattan brought her to Mars where he had spent the last few weeks alone. It was there, where Dr. Manhattan allowed her to momentarily experience time the way he does, that Laurie finally realized the truth about her father: He was Edward Blake, better known as The Comedian, the man who tried to rape her mother years earlier.

Cal talks to Angela in their kitchenHBO

Thermodynamic Miracles

Dr. Manhattan didn’t see the truth of Laurie’s parents as a tragedy or a joke. He saw the improbability of her very existence as a thermodynamic miracle that helped him find his lost humanity.

“Thermodynamic miracles… events with odds against so astronomical they’re effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing. And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter… Until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold… that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle.”

Dr Manhattan tells Laurie she is a thermodynamic miracle from the watchmen comicDC Comics/Dave Gibbons/John Higgins

She answered by saying that logic meant ever human in the world was a miracle. He agreed.

“Yes. Anybody in the world… But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget… I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from the another’s vantage point. As if new, it may still take our breath away. Come… dry your eyes. For you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly. Dry your eyes… and let’s go home.”

Laurie Blake stands in a Manhattan telephone boothHBO

Dr. Manhattan did love Laurie. Though he left the planet when she broke up with him, it was that love for her that ultimately helped him realize that every human life has value. Only then did he return to Earth to try and save mankind. Unfortunately, he was too late to stop the squid. But he didn’t forget what he had learned on Mars.

After killing Rorschach to ensure the peace created by Adrian Veidt’s atrocity would stand, Dr. Manhattan said he was leaving Earth again. “Human affairs cannot be my concern,” he told Veidt, “I’m leaving this galaxy for one less complicated.” So he left, but this time with his newfound love of life. He told Ozymandias he would try creating his own life somewhere else. The imperfect Crookshanks and Phillips are proof that might not have been as easy as he thought. Even the seemingly all-powerful Dr. Manhattan has his limits. One such limit: that he never fully lost his connection to his past life.

A Dr. Manhattan puppet performers in VVN DayHBO

Something brought him back to Earth. Was he lonely? Did Dr. Manhattan miss people, or Laurie in particular? Did he feel guilty for what he did to Vietnam? We don’t know yet the why of his return, but we know what kept him here. We know what made him give up his powers—another thermodynamic miracle.

The Miracle of Angela Abar’s Life

Angela Abar is the granddaughter of two survivors of the Tulsa Massacre. She survived the terrorist attack that killed her parents. She also endured after losing her grandmother under impossibly awful circumstances. Her very existence defies probability, both good and bad, just like Laurie Blake.

Young Angela Abar looks at her dead grandmother with a vandalized Dr. Manhattan mural behind herHBO

And just as it was a thermodynamic miracle that brought Dr. Manhattan back to the world in 1985, one kept him there until 2019.  Laurie Blake understands why better than anyone. She didn’t know that Cal (who she kept saying was hot) was the man she once loved. But she never forgot what Jon Osterman said to her 34 years ago on Mars about her life. She has referenced thermodynamic miracles on the show twice, including to Angela Abar herself. Without knowing, she somehow knew.

Dr. Manhattan is indirectly responsible for so much of Angela Abar’s miraculous life. If he hadn’t conquered Vietnam, her parents never would have moved there. She never would have become a cop or a masked vigilante. And they likely never would have met. Even their relationship is a thermodynamic miracle.

Angela Abar holds Dr Manhattan's symbol with her bloody handHBO

It’s why even though his secret life on Earth was a shock, from everything we know about Dr. Manhattan’s past his love for Angela isn’t a surprise.

Featured Image: HBO

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