HBO's Watchmen will feature the return of the godlike Dr. Manhattan, and the new trailer offers some major hints as to why he's back. HBO's adaptation of the legendary graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons has been shrouded in mystery since it was announced, with showrunner Damon Lindelof dropping only the tiniest of hints. The trailer, unveiled at San Diego Comic-Con, revealed the basic premise - the show takes place approximately three decades after the book, revealing the warped world created by Adrian Veidt's murderous con job to unite humanity at the height of the Cold War.
Humanity is anything but united, however. A cult has coalesced around the late Rorschach, presumably after his journal detailing Veidt's conspiracy surfaced. Costumed vigilantes are still outlawed, but the police have begun wearing masks themselves after the Rorschach cultists begin targeting officers' families, all of which serves to create obvious issues of trust and security within society. Rather than saving humanity, Veidt seems to have only prolonged its misery. But
In the Watchmen SDCC trailer's final moments, a blue hand picks up a Dr. Manhattan mask, left behind from a parade seen earlier. Dr. Manhattan has indeed returned to Earth, but why? It figures to be one of the central questions of Watchmen's first season, and whether Manhattan has come back to help - or finish what Veidt started.
Dr. Manhattan Is Back To Judge Humanity
Dr. Manhattan made it fairly plain at the end of the original comic Watchmen that he was leaving humanity in his rearview, moving on to explore the universe and life in different ways. What could have pulled him back to his home planet after all these years? The answer might come down to Manhattan's origins. A being of almost unthinkable power, Dr. Manhattan started out as Jon Osterman, a promising young scientist. A scientific accident turned him into the naked blue superman who stands as one of comics' most iconic characters. But despite his claims to the contrary, Dr. Manhattan is still, deep down, a man, capable of the same moral failings and emotional vulnerabilities as anyone else. His self-imposed exile wasn't an objective decision - it was largely out of disgust with the actions of some of his closest former friends.
Three decades might as well be a millennium for Dr. Manhattan; it's hard to fathom how powerful he could be after exploring his own existence for so many years. One of his final remarks before departing Earth suggested a desire to create life of his own. Given Dr. Manhattan's unique relationship with time, it's possible he's already played as God and shepherded that race to a level of evolution in line with humanity. What if Dr. Manhattan has figured out the key to utterly peaceful civilization, and decides humanity's moral rot has reached the point of no return? Is he back to offer a guiding hand, or to remake Earth in his own image? It's the step he never took while on Earth, but if his moral compass has been altered by so many years in exile, there'd be little to stop him from having his way with his home planet.
Dr. Manhattan Will Be A Minor Player In Season 1
Watchmen's showrunner Damon Lindelof is no stranger to genre television. He and Carlton Cuse were the main creative force behind Lost, and Lindelof's little-watched The Leftovers was so good it's managed to paper over some fans' distaste for Lindelof over Lost's polarizing final season. Both of those shows invoke the queasy, not-quite-reality sense that has come to dominate a lot of television in the 21st century. Watchmen was a pioneer of that mood, and the source material lends itself well to Lindelof's storytelling strengths.
If Lindelof is anything as a storyteller, he's patient. Lost notoriously suffered a viewership dip midway through its run, as fans got tired of the show seemingly spinning its wheels in its second and third seasons; The Leftovers was such a slow burn it barely got renewed for its magically great second season. Both shows kept most of their primary power players - Lost's Man In Black and The Leftovers' version of a higher power - relegated to the dark corners of the story until pretty late in the game.
Dr. Manhattan represents the ultimate power, and it would go against every one of Lindelof's storytelling instincts to fully unveil him in the first season, let alone the first episode. The more likely outcome is the first season of Watchmen takes its time exploring what's become of the world since Manhattan left, leaning into timely, relevant themes like police brutality and fake news. It also figures to be seen primarily through the eyes Regina King's Angela Abraham, a masked police officer who's trying to keep her own little corner of the world from flying apart. We can also expect Lindelof to lean into some visual absurdism and black humor - if you were amused at the sight of Don Johnson in a cowboy hat bouncing around inside the Owl ship, this is likely going to be the show for you.
There's also the case of Veidt, played here in his twilight years by Jeremy Irons. It's much more likely we get a full-on exploration of Veidt, the architect of the New York City disaster at the end of Watchmen, and how he's been either impressed or disappointed by the future he helped create.
Clearly, Dr. Manhattan will be around for Watchmen season 1 in some form - you don't drop a bomb like that in a trailer and then not pay it off. But it's entirely possible we only get glimpses of him in the first year, that he's being held back in service of a much longer game Lindelof has planned out. While that may disappoint fans longing to see Manhattan in all his naked, destructive glory, it will only serve to deepen the legend of the man, so that when he does finally show up, he can have the proper impact.
HBO has a lot riding on Watchmen. While Westworld has become a reliable, if unspectacular ratings success, it didn't turn out to be the cultural sensation that Game of Thrones is, and they're in need of another flagship series now that the sun has set on Westeros (until the prequel series, anyway). Watchmen looks primed to be the next show to take a shot at that title. Lindelof has overseen pop culture phenomenons like Lost and Star Trek before, so he knows the stakes here, and what brings in rabid fans. It's obviously coming at the height of the superhero explosion, and the first time HBO has dipped a toe into those particular waters. A superhero show on HBO seems like a no-brainer for success, but the trailer signals that Lindelof is not interested in copying Marvel-style humor or story beats. It's likely to be the most unusual comic book TV series this side of Legion.
Dr. Manhattan's role in the show is likely the biggest question fans currently have, but they'll likely have to wait a while for the full answer. That's not something they should lament, as no one is better at exploring the nooks and crannies of their characters than Lindelof. When Dr. Manhattan does finally show up in Watchmen, it will be an event, likely either signaling a brave new beginning or the end of all things, with very little in between.