In Watchmen’s early episodes, Cal Abar was one of my least favorite characters. He was just so blandly hunky, a perfectly supportive TV spouse airlifted from some less brutally cynical show. In a world where no one is what they seem, he appeared to be exactly what he seemed. Which, in retrospect, should have been the first clue.
In Episode Six, we learned that Angela Abar’s grandfather was Hooded Justice, which was a brilliant, beautiful twist that few people expected to see in this show. But, Episode Seven offered a reveal that fans have been waiting for with a big twist: Angela’s husband Cal is actually Jon Osterman—Doctor Manhattan. After Angela spends most of the episode in Lady Trieu’s compound, recovering from her massive Nostalgia overdose, Trieu reveals the Kavalry—today’s iteration of the tech-savvy hate group Cyclops —intends to kidnap Doctor Manhattan and turn their leader, Senator Joe Keene, into a similarly all-powerful being, destroying the original Doctor Manhattan in the process. Angela immediately rushes home, where she brains her beloved Cal with a hammer, before fishing Manhattan’s iconic hydrogen atom emblem from beneath his broken and bloody skull.
It’s a truly shocking revelation, but looking over the course of the season, there were clues. In a show where many of the characters are played by actors who look more or less like every day people, Cal was markedly more jacked than your average suburban dad. Apparently, Jon was willing to ditch the blue, but not the six pack.
And then there was that moment in Episode Four, when Cal calmly explains to his tiny daughters that “heaven is pretend,” and that their recently-exploded Uncle Judd had simply ceased to exist upon his demise. It’s the sort of pure, Spock-ian logic that most people shelter little kids from, but Cal barely blinked before shattering his kids’ comforting beliefs about heaven. The speech definitely could have come from the lips of an all-powerful super man who was alienated from puny human emotions.
Later in that episode, he pouted a bit about having to lie on Angela’s behalf, which struck me at the time as childish. His wife has to pretend to run a bakery in order to do her job and protect herself and their family, and Cal gets to be a Pollyanna who hates lying? But knowing that he’s Doctor Manhattan, the exchange instantly makes sense. He’s not beholding to some overly-principled commitment to truth, justice, and the American way, but when you’re a being so powerfully knowing that you exist simultaneously in the past, present, and future, falsehoods just don’t make much sense.
Finally, there’s Laurie, who’s always seemed way too into Cal. She told Angela he was hot, which is not normally a great thing to say about people’s spouses, and she compared him favorably to her ex-partner, Doctor Manhattan. After complaining to Angela in Episode Four that her ex was always “distracted by fucking quarks,” she said that Jon was “no Cal.” And when they first met at Judd Crawford’s funeral, Cal asked Laurie, “Do I know you?” upon shaking her hand. There was also a meeting between the two that viewers haven’t seen, when Laurie stopped by Angela’s house. Both give Angela secondhand accounts of the encounter, we still don’t know what really happened between them.
But there’s still a lot we don’t know. Before Angela went to town with the hammer, Cal didn’t seem to understand that he was Doctor Manhattan, and appeared genuinely perplexed when she called him Jon. So why did she tell him way back at the start of the season that Will believes Doctor Manhattan was in Tulsa cosplaying as a human, if she already knows that Will’s absolutely right and that Cal is unaware of his true identity? Upon hearing the theory, Cal said that Osterman can’t pretend to be a normal human, and is on Mars anyway. Just how much both Cal and Angela know, and when they discovered it, is pretty unclear.
Naturally, the great minds of Reddit were hip to this theory before everyone else, and pieced together the truth from clues that went as deep as the knuckle markings on actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s hands. But we still don’t know where it will go next. It seems likely that by murdering Cal, Angela liberated Doctor Manhattan in his true form. Which should make things pretty easy right? Jon Osterman can take care of the Seventh Kavalry with a snap of his fingers. What will be interesting to see, however, is if, once removed from the humanity that being Cal Abar seemingly imbued him with, he’ll want to.