In episode eight of HBO’s Watchmen, the big blue man Dr. Manhattan finally arrives. The god-like being has been looming over the series like a blue beacon in the night, a symbol of approaching doom. Much is revealed about where he’s been, what he’s been doing, and what’s next for him, but more than anything, he was revealed to be a surprisingly romantic figure; he is the love of Angela Abar’s life.
However, Dr. Manhattan, or Jon Osterman, is no stranger to the concept of love. In fact, he has often found himself in quite complicated and tumultuous relationships as seen in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ 1987 graphic novel, as well as Zack Snyder’s 2006 film adaptation. Throughout the many version of Osterman, he’s been seen falling in and out of infatuation with aging friends and masked women, ultimately breaking their hearts in the cold, feelingless way that can only be achieved by a being who perceives past, present, and future simultaneously; he knows the affairs are doomed from the start but pursues these relationships anyway. It begs the question: why does he keep doing it?
What does a god need love and relationships for when he can manipulate atoms and see into the future? Perhaps it is how he tries to grasp the few straws of humanity he has left. He tries to tether himself to Earth by staying with old fling Janey Slater or remaining in a meaningless, yet long-lasting, relationship with Laurie Blake, also known as Silk Spectre.
Importantly, Dr. Manhattan experienced love when he was a human, before his transformation via an intrinsic field generator. He was in love with fellow nuclear physicist Janey Slater, who even remains with him for years after his change. In staying with Janey, he seems to believe he can continue going through the motions of a normal human life. But, he knows he can’t stay with her, or Laurie (his next relationship). He sees Janey aging, he chases a younger woman, then he becomes preoccupied with the idea of creating life. So he lies and fakes his way through the decades to placate those around him.
Now, in the 2019 TV series, Dr. Manhattan is truly and deeply in love, though his version of love looks a little different than what we’re used to. He is no longer just emotionlessly monologuing and disregarding a woman’s feelings. Well, there is a little bit of that, but now he makes sacrifices and concessions in the name of staying with Angela.
First, he is honest with Angela. He sits down at a bar in Vietnam and tells her exactly how things are going to go, though he skips over the details of their tragic end. He does not tell lies about their beautiful life together nor view decaying relationships with detached indifference. Instead, he flat out confesses his love for Angela right there and then, letting that big L word fall from his lips without hesitation. He says it with matter-of-fact purpose, because to him, it is a fact and always has been.
Even better than the graphic novel, writer Damon Lindelof utilizes Manhattan’s simultaneous perception of time to encapsulate a relationship full of love, anger, and desperation. In an unprecedented move, Manhattan sacrifices his blue form for Angela, opting for the likeness of Cal (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). He would make himself more palatable for society to be with Angela. Wouldn’t it just be easier to flee back into space and create more life? No, because to Manhattan, it seems that love is finally worth it.
Manhattan even gives up his powers for 10 years for Angela. He willingly gives himself amnesia, thanks to Adrian Veidt. Veidt even says, “You laugh now? This Angela must be quite something.” This one line, uttered from an outsider’s perspective, solidifies that what Angela and Manhattan have is something genuine, unlike his previous romances.
Underneath decades of detachment from the human race and a godlike disconnection from basic human emotions, love seems to have always been stuck deep in Manhattan’s brain. He has never forgotten what it meant to love and be loved. In fact, if the graphic novel and series are meant to be in the same continuity, then Dr. Manhattan has always known about Angela being the love of his life.
He has always known that he would meet her in a cafe in Vietnam and sacrifice his powers to live 10 beautiful years with her. Through failed relationships, screaming matches, and a seeming emotional detachment to human beings, Dr. Manhattan was just awaiting the one. There must be a comfort in knowing that the one is out there and will eventually enter your life; he knows he will not end up alone and will finally experience love. While being a walking bomb and an omniscient god detaches him from humanity, he still has an anchor: love.