The season finale of HBO’s Watchmen comes with a number of questions, including whether or not the premium cable channel will order another season. At one point, it seemed as though Watchmen was designed to be a one-season event, with executive producer Damon Lindelof saying the season represents “everything” he has in mind for the Watchmen world. HBO has since walked back his comments, though, as it likes to have dependable programs come back year after year.
The season ended on a similar ambiguity: Did Dr. Manhattan (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) have the time to transfer his abilities into that last remaining egg? His conversation with Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons) and the use of that “I Am the Eggman” cover would suggest this is the case. But as Watchmen leaves us wondering if Angela Abar (Regina King) stuck the landing, any thought of a second season story is predicated on the answer to that question, which leads to two major options.
Assuming a season 2 happens, of course, but more on that later.
Presuming Angela receives the Manhattan powers, she faces the unenviable position of not just living every moment of her life simultaneously, but answering up to her grandfather Will’s (Louis Gossett Jr.) belief that Jon Osterman (Dr. Manhattan’s civilian name) could have done more with his powers.
Indeed, that is a central topic in the Watchmen comic book series by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins. Jon’s increasing distance from human issues makes it difficult for him to care — particularly after the Vietnam invasion — or willing to do much of anything to help until his perception of humanity changes. True, his apparent omniscience indicates to him that interfering in history is impossible, but it leaves a lot of innocent people brutalized or killed during his lifetime.
For Angela, this could easily become the central moral conflict of the season. She is predisposed to Will’s morality and would jump at the chance to put the racial hatreds that have dominated her life to an end, which includes the tension back in Vietnam. But is a such a thing even possible, and would her sudden omniscience hold her back?
Beyond those questions is the acting challenge for King. Angela has been such a passionate and sympathetic protagonist — ready with the barb or well-timed expletive — that turning her into a “Dr. Saigon” would be a major departure. Granted, it wouldn’t happen all at once, but the slipping away of her humanity would be an awesome thing for King to play. It terms of story, it would be a major shift as the protagonist is, essentially, a god. The writing challenge there would be incredible.
Provided, of course, Angela sticks that landing.
So let’s say Watchmen returns with Angela falling into the water and Jon getting one last laugh in at her expense. She is still faced with rebuilding her life in the wake of his death and the revelation that her mentor was a Klansman. Presumably, the Tulsa Police will also be reorganized into a more traditional — and maskless — organization. Will she be able to go back to that? Or will events force Sister Night become a vigilante?
Alternatively, there is always the possibility Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) will offer her a place in the FBI’s anti-vigilante taskforce. Despite their differences, the two characters have a few key things in common — including their relationships with Jon. They also had a natural rapport in the first season that could serve them well. Add Agent Dale Petey (Dustin Ingram) and Wade (Tim Blake Nelson) into the mix, and we could see a second season of Watchmen ripping apart the idea of costumed identities utterly, starting, perhaps, with the mysterious Lube Man (whom many fans believe to be Petey). But Angela’s new position could be threatened when Topher (Dylan Schombing), inspired by Angela’s time as Sister Night, decides he wants to put on a mask.
Of course, that premise lacks the astonishing ambition of the first season. While Watchmen’s dalliance with the Klan ended in something very swift (and very cathartic), spending so much screen time on historic racism in the United States (via the Watchmen lens) set it apart as a Big Idea show. It makes continuing stories with these characters feel smaller somehow. Unless of course, one turns around and uses Will’s belief that Jon should’ve done better to ask a large question: can those with greater economic and political power genuinely do better? In the context of the show, the characters could face that question in a variety of ways.
And, as it happens, there is plenty of economic disparity in U.S. history for the capes and technology of Watchmen to examine.
Whether or not Angela breaks the pool’s surface tension — or even whether or not the show continues — it is clear Adrian will finally be brought to justice as the architect of the 1985 squid attack on Manhattan. And unlike his phony trial on Europa, he cannot fart his way out of this one. Well, maybe he can. He is the smartest person on Earth again.
Nonetheless, a trial could allow Irons to perform his role in an essentially separate production once again. Which would no doubt keep him interested and keep us watching his fascinating, if odd, take on Ozymandias. It would also put his thinking behind the attack in the forefront – is it OK to kill 3 million people if it will save 6 billion lives?
Also, the trial would, presumably, force Robert Redford out of office. His replacement could be a compelling source of background details or, perhaps, a new central storyline. Imagine what would happen to Laurie’s task force if the new president was sympathetic to vigilantes or a mask themselves. Would it allow Dan Dreiberg a reprieve from his prison sentence?
And while we’re at it, Bian’s (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport) survival could lead to a Free Vietnam movement.
Again, this might feel a little bit pedestrian, but now that the series has blown the roof off a 2019 in the Watchmen world, its 2020s must follow up on some these ideas.
Of course, we’re presuming the series can quickly remount with traditional network speed. As a matter of history, HBO famously let The Sopranos take 18 months off and gave the last season of Game of Thrones the time it needed to complete effects work on extra-long episodes. Besides the postponed release of The Hunt, Lindelof has no publicly announced projects on his docket in the near future. This would suggest a plan to continue with Watchmen even if he needs a year or two to put it together. Then again, he once said he would not be interested in continuing to make Watchmen, favoring to hand it off to someone else to dream it all up again.
“Watchmen is not mine,” Lindelof told Collider in October. “Someone else can take the reins in the way that, for comic book fans, of which I consider myself one first and foremost, the idea that Alan Moore himself came to Swamp Thing in the early 1980s and he basically completely and totally reinvented that character, but that character was not his creation.”
He added he would consider returning should the right idea appear, but as of that interview, claimed no such idea was in the frame. That said, he subsequently told LADbible that he and his writing staff planned to “take a breath over the holidays” and “seeing where to go from there.”
King and Irons have no long-term commitments in the upcoming year, while Smart is currently shooting a television pilot. Gossett has a number of projects in various stages of development and Nelson has a handful of films. Their combined relative availability suggests they are, at the very least, in holding contracts should HBO quickly decide to order another season. Granted, that is a standard contractual obligation on a show like this and the entire cast could be released from their contracts by Wednesday.
And much like the original Watchmen’s limited run, there is something to be said for the television show to come to its conclusion here, with Angela on the precipice. As with the comic book’s final moment, it leaves viewers with a question they can debate until the next format prepares itself for Watchmen. Maybe its next iteration will put you behind Angela’s eyes and face the questions of godhood in a VR simulator. Imagine the slightest movement taking you to random parts of her existence.
So even if this iteration of Watchmen is seemingly at an end, it is wise to keep Dr. Manhattan’s words in mind: “Nothing ever ends.”