How 'Watchmen' Pulled Off That Dr. Manhattan Episode
Watchmen's eighth episode has been hotly discussed, now hear from the director about how they pulled off their biggest reveal yet.
SPOILER ALERT: Do not read unless you are all caught up on Watchmen.
Week in and out, HBO's Watchmen does something strikingly incredible and never before attempted on television.
This week's episode, "A God Walks into Abar," took its story cues from the fourth issue of the comic, “The Watchmaker.”
Structurally, the story jumps all over in time. We get the sense of what it is like to be Dr. Manhattan, experiencing all of the world in relative terms -- all at once.
While writing the episode was probably a steep ask, directing was also a big task.
Check out this interview from The Hollywood Reporter, where episode director Nicole Kassell talks about filming the episode and the challenges faced delivering the penultimate hour of the hit series.
Kassell directed the first two episodes of the Watchmen series and came back for the eighth episode and the biggest reveal of the series: Showing audiences the face and story of Dr. Manhattan.
But with every assignment comes a challenge.
Kassell had to shoot the entire episode without showing Dr. Manhattan's face during a key scene at a table; she had to leave the reveal until the end. Her Instagram explains some of the challenges.
And the obstacles didn't stop there.
Kassell expanded upon what it was like to direct the episode:
"Because I was executive producing the whole thing, I was brought in at the beginning. I knew right away, from the get go, who Cal actually was. When we were making the pilot, though, no one knew who Doctor Manhattan was, except for the writers, myself, and a couple of very key crew members. Nobody else knew, and we kept it that way for a really long time."
The only thing harder than keeping this reveal a secret? Editing a scene between two people when you can't see one of their faces for a reaction shot in a considerably long scene.
Kudos to the staff and crew for carrying that weight for almost a year.
Kassell didn't seem intimidated by the show or the pressure building to the reveal. She was eager to dig into the script and get the scenes shot. When talking about favorites, she said:
"The sequence in Karnak was incredibly delicious to film, especially with getting Jeremy and Yahya together. The bar was an incredible challenge, too. Those three days were probably the hardest days of filming. On top of doing all these wild action scenes, we're having to figure out how to do 25 pages of dialogue between two people at a table, without showing Manhattan's face. It was insane. To me, making it a visual medium is essential, and that was handcuff upon handcuff upon handcuff. It was really fun to take that challenge on, though."
The nice thing about this show is that when in doubt, they can return to the source material for inspiration.
"The script and the structure of the storytelling was absolutely deliberate ... For me, I always pored over the book, looking for images from that chapter, but also scenes set at Eddie's bar, because we are in Eddie's bar [in this episode]. Also, when he goes to Karnak [in the final issue], I paid close attention to the imagery of Doctor Manhattan. Those exterior shots of him arriving at Karnak are a direct homage to the book."
One of the reasons the show is so successful is that audiences can tell that Lindelof and all the directors assembled care so much about the source material. That reverence, despite Alan Moore's disapproval, shines week in and out.
When in doubt, the love of the material helps guide them every step of the way.
With only one episode left, we cannot wait to see what happens next.