The ‘Thermodynamic Miracle’ on Watchmen, Explained

Spoiler alert: The following piece contains spoilers for Episode 4 of HBO's Watchmen.

Watchmen's 'Thermodynamic Miracle,' Explained
  • Laurie Blake tells Angela that her car falling from the sky was, in fact, a "thermodynamic miracle."
  • The phrase is a callback to a key moment in the comic.
  • Yet again, it's a hint that Dr. Manhattan could soon be returning to earth.

So far, HBOs Watchmen has yet to give us more than a couple of fleeting glimpses of Dr. Manhattan . Both of them, fittingly, have been of his big, blue ass, which he seems to have once again turned on humanity. The scientist-superman was spotted from afar in the series premiere, briefly seen conjuring a mysterious fortress-like structure on the surface of Mars. He later turned upagain, naked and from behindon an old magazine cover, in the same episode that also found his ex, Laurie Blake (Jean Smart), talking to him via space-phone , before fondling what appeared to be . While the show teases his inevitable return, he continues to float around the margins: his origins , his presence clearly still weighing on Lauries mind.

We got another nod to in episode four, thanks to a fleeting bit of dialogue between Laurie and Regina Kings Angela/Sister Night. While discussing how Angelas car was stolen right after Crawford (Don Johnson) was murdered, only to fall out of the sky on the night of his funeral, Laurie concedes this could be just a coincidence. However, I think were talking about a thermodynamic miracle, she says. As she explains to a confused Angela, a thermodynamic miracle is the science-y version of its all connected, man. She then adds, My ex used to talk about them, when he wasnt distracted by fucking quarks.

Even if youve never read the Watchmen comics, you no doubt picked up that Dr. Manhattan is the quark-loving ex shes mockingly referring to here. But the thermodynamic miracle (which receives a sarcastic callback from Angela a few scenes later) is more than just the bitter memory of a woman who was forced to compete with quantum physics for her boyfriends attention. Its a reference to a truly pivotal Watchmen moment, one that, arguably, hinges on.

After years of navigating a romance with an omnipotent super-being, Laurie's already-complex relationship with Dr. Manhattan took a turn for the metaphysical after she finally left him, sick of his increasingly cold, apathetic philosophy. His devastation was compounded after a reporter confronted Dr. Manhattan with evidence that his radioactive presence was causing cancer in those around him, including a former lover from his human days. Filled with self-pity, Dr. Manhattan retreats to Mars, determined to turn his back on humanity for good. But when his absence seems to accelerate an impending nuclear war, Dr. Manhattan summons Laurie to the Red Planet, where she must convince him that people are worth saving.

Hes understandably reluctant at first. Compared to the infinite stretches of time, the petty struggles of humanity seem insignificant. Yet in the course of their conversation, Laurie suddenly uncovers a long-repressed truth, which helpfully recaps in episode four: Lauries father was actually Edward Blake/The Comedian, who sexually assaulted her mother, the original Silk Spectre, before a subsequent consensual affair left her pregnant. Lauries realization prompts Dr. Manhattan to change his mind. And its here that, to quote Laurie, he goes all science-y:

Thermodynamic miracles... Events with odds against so astronomical they're effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing. And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter... Until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold... that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle.

Laurie protests that this could apply to anyone in the world, but this only reinforces Dr. Manhattans point. The world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget, he says. I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from the another's vantage point. As if new, it may still take our breath away.

The scene was also dramatized, with a few liberties,

Thus persuaded of the common miracle of life and how were all connected, man, Dr. Manhattan agrees to return to Earth. Hes unfortunately too late to stop Veidts plan to drop an alien squid on New York, faking an apocalyptic event to forestall a real one. But with his belief in the importance of humanity restored, Dr. Manhattan agrees to the ploy of keeping Veidts secreteven vaporizing Rorschach to protect it. He then seems to wash his giant hands of the whole mess, scooting off to outer space again with the typically apathetic shrug, Human affairs cannot be my concern.

Whether hell abide by that ruling remains an open question, as Watchmen continues to hint at Dr. Manhattans inevitable return. The fact that hes apparently on the relatively nearby Mars, as opposed to the separate galaxy hed set his sights on in the comic, certainly suggests he still cares a little. Ditto the existence of those aforementioned phone booths where, an automated voice reminds us, Dr. Manhattan is listening. And by reminding us this week of the thermodynamic miraclenotably, amid an episode covered in eggs, and other allusions to the origins of lifethe show certainly seems to be setting him up for another deus ex machina return. If Dr. Manhattan still believes in miracles, were guessing hell be back soon to show the world his heart, instead of just his ass.


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