The TV event of the year for comic fans has come to an end today. The epic, layered tale of Ozymandias, Dr. Manhattan, Looking Glass, and Sister Night gets a decidedly final conclusion from series creator Damon Lindelof. At the same time though, you will find yourself reflecting not only on this series, but the comic that inspired it. Lindelof, along with co-writer Nick Cuse, has done something with this conclusion that only the best TV can pull off: it wraps it all up and make you thirsty for more. There’s no word yet if a second season is in the cards, and Lindelof has said himself this season is the only one he had planned. That stings a little bit, as characters die and new heroes are born.
The first 25 minutes of this episode is devoted to Ozymandias, played by the exceptional Jeremy Irons. I’ve said in previous reviews I wanted more of this character in the series and this episode delivers big time. Not only does it close out the plot of him living amongst clones on a moon of Jupiter, but it gives his role in the bigger story so much more purpose with a key flashback. It turns out Lady Trieu–played by the amazing Hong Chau–was in fact Ozymandias’ daughter. That would explain her smarts, ambition, and aspiration to follow in his footsteps. It’s a clever twist that comes with a bit of humor and some nice armchair psychology to go along with it. Ozymandias’ narrative has felt a bit disparate from the rest of the show but it all becomes much clearer in this episode. He plays the part of hero just as he’d want while also playing into the fact that he’s over the hill and likely is experiencing his last great adventure. When he makes it back to Earth, Irons is given plenty of great dialogue to make you think and reflect on his obsession with history. When he says to the newspaper salesman “Palestine has become a widow for Egypt…the end is nigh” you have to wonder if he was saving that line for just such a moment.
Multiple times in this episode there are characters reflecting on what it means to wear a mask and be a hero. We see it early on with Ozymandias and his adversary on the moon of Jupiter when he says, “Masks make men cruel.” I actually thought he said they make men true, but the clone’s response seems to confirm he said cruel. A possible slip up, or a purposeful mix of the two? The complexities of wearing a mask have driven a lot of the narrative of this show. Later, Angela Abar (Regina King) is speaking with her grandfather Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.) and he points out, “You can’t heal under a mask, Angela. Wounds need air.” He’s speaking from experience and it’s an interesting take. It jives with what Ozymandias’ clone said and while this may not be a final say on the matter since we’ve heard other takes in the season, it seems like a good point to close out on.
The messaging around the racist cult that is the Seventh Kavalry gets its time to speak out in this finale, which is important since it ties into Reeves’ past as Hooded Justice and the main threat in the series. As Joe Keene Jr. (James Wolk) prepares himself to become Dr. Manhattan–complete with the black underwear he wore early on in the comic book–he tells Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) once he’s God he’ll “Take some power back, start ourselves a culture war” and he dubs slavery an “alleged sin.” He’s a bastard all right, and the show telegraphs that rather obviously, which in itself is a weakness, but then again maybe it’s trying to be on the nose since it’s reflecting the comic book medium? Similarly, we see an old man enter the building in a previous scene throwing up a racist hand signal to remind us this is the king’s court of racists.
There is quite a bit of standout acting in this finale. Jeremy Irons chews up the scenery quite well as the egomaniacal hero-slash-villain. You feel for Jean Smart when she sees the love of her life trapped. Regina King steals the show, however, when she refuses to leave Dr. Manhattan’s (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) side. It’s a scene that we’ve seen a thousand times before, and it’s almost comical in hindsight as this blue man is getting the energy pulled from him, but King will make you tear up as the pain she feels is so evident and real. The timing may not be right since the Emmy nominations are in, but maybe she can get one next year once voters see this performance?
This doesn’t quite feel like a perfect finale, but maybe it would upon rewatching since we’ve learned so many things that directly affect previous scenes. The biggest thing is how cleanly this all ends. The bad guys lose and the good guys win. Even Dr. Manhattan, who dies in the end, gets a happy ending of sorts as things come together as he predicted. It might seem minor, but the use of baby squids seems like a rather big misstep. When they come raining down, one of the frozen squids puts a hole in Lady Trieu’s hand, yet it doesn’t do the same for the cops looking on? When Abar walks out of the theater with her father–which in itself is a bit too perfect of an ending as it connects to the opening scene of the series–all the leaves on the trees are intact. This frozen squid could take down a giant floating Dr. Manhattan making machine, but can’t take out leaves? It seems like a simple oversight but it is a glaringly weird thing to miss in the slow-motion scene.
Alas, I think this series may have tried to do too much in nine episodes and that shows in this finale. The fact that all the characters come together so perfectly at the end may be signaling this is a show based on a comic book, but it doesn’t match the weight of the messaging behind the show nor the careful steps that got us here.
A finale is a tricky thing to pull off since expectations run high and so much needs to go right. For the most part, I think Lindelof, Cuse, and director Frederick E. O. Toye have done an admirable job. While this finale has faults, I almost want to make the argument that this isn’t a TV show at all, but a nine-ish hour movie. When viewed in that light, this is a rousing success and something to hold up for TV viewers, but especially fans of the comic book series. This show has managed to make me view the source material in a new way while also delivering a layered and rich TV show experience. Bravo to that.