Time has a habit of getting in the way of a great love story. Sometimes, there just isn’t enough of it. Death can cut a romance short, but in science fiction, there are ways to overcome even the largest of obstacles.
2019 has featured the conclusion of one courtship that spanned decades and introduced audiences to a new couple to root for. The laws of physics cannot bind the grand romantic overtures of characters on Watchmen and the Avengers. Another pair looks set to defy the rules of space and time in June's Wonder Woman 1984.
Spoilers for the season finale of Watchmen ahead.
Dr. Manhattan doesn’t experience a linear version of the human experience; an accident transformed him from the regular Dr. Jon Osterman into a god-like being. As with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel of the same name, Dr. Manhattan was in a relationship with Laurie Blake (Jean Smart), but it is his bond with Angela Abar (Regina King) — aka Sister Night — that provides Watchmen’s beating heart. He hasn't been living in exile on Mars as the general public believes; rather, he has been hiding in plain sight, disguised in the body of Angela's husband, Cal Abar (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). An implanted device has suppressed all of Dr. Manhattan’s memories and his capacity to navigate multiple periods of time.
The penultimate episode, “A God Walks into Abar,” starts with a pretty typical meet-cute, momentarily transforming the series into a low-key romantic-comedy. Up to this point, Watchmen had primarily focused on historical events tied to the source material and standard-issue police work and investigation. Initially, Angela plays along with this man who claims to be Dr. Manhattan, charmed by his unusual flirting technique. She indulges in his fanciful origin story that begins in 1930s Germany before becoming this blue god in 1959. Time isn’t the only obstacle to her heart, as Angela hates everything he represents; he is the reason her parents were killed in a bomb in Vietnam when she was a child.
They have a solution for both: finding the body of a deceased person with no next of kin, later followed by the amnesia device. The latter 10-year period is referred to as “the tunnel of love,” which Dr. Manhattan can’t know-it-all his way through. His omnipresent capabilities only reveal that Angela is there at the beginning of the tunnel and she is still there when he regains his power.
We later learn that Dr. Manhattan isn’t so much time traveling; rather, he simply experiences different moments in time all at once. He first fell in love with Angela not when he walked into the bar, but in a present-day scene as she is preparing to go up against the Seventh Kavalry. She looks confused (and annoyed) when he observes that “this is the moment” he fell for her, but then again, it has been 10 years since she last had to deal with his unique set of skills.
In the Watchmen finale, there is futility and hope in equal measure. The laws of physics will ultimately destroy Dr. Manhattan, but as he comes apart at every molecule he tells Angela he is experiencing "every moment we were together — all at once." Love envelopes him in his final moment, but his powers have not vanished into the ether. If there is ever a second season, Angela could very well be the next Dr. Manhattan, which means this union can maybe break the scientific laws all over again.
While Watchmen chose romantic ambiguity, Avengers: Endgame gave one couple a fairy tale resolution. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) had been waiting for nearly 70 years to get a dance with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) — a date that was first arranged before Cap made the ultimate sacrifice in Captain America: The First Avenger. When he was found in the ice, Peggy was still alive but her dancing days were over and her memory was failing. She was the one who got away.
Peggy went onto have a full life with notable love affairs, but their rain-checked date had not been forgotten by Steve. Time travel is a big part of Avengers: Endgame, which allowed these characters to experience both events they had already been present for and ones they had not.
Seeing Peggy through the glass in the 1970s cuts deep because she is right there, but Steve's dream life is just as out of reach because there is a larger mission at hand. However, time isn’t going to come between them again, and Steve is later shown dancing with the love of his life in the home they share. In this timeline, he experienced victory, peace, and his happily ever after. This is not a fantasy that will ultimately be snatched away.
Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) could do with some Infinity Stones to turn back the clock so she can find a way to be with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). A photograph and memories are not the same as the real thing. Plot details for the forthcoming Wonder Woman 1984 are thin on the ground, but a version of Steve has made his way back to Diana. The new trailer suggests desire and the ability to will something into existence might have a hand in Steve’s miraculous reappearance, nearly 70 years after he presumably perished. Somehow, he is back home in the United States taking in the ‘80s architecture, clothes, and looking on in awe at everything Diana does.
Love stories that transcend time are highly rewarding. Conflict and obstacles are part of a romance narrative, but nothing is harder to overcome than living in a different time or space. There are long-distance relationships, but this has nothing on the commitment required for the couples discussed here. And nothing deals with this impregnable problem, quite like a little bit of time travel or bending the laws of quantum physics. Obviously, we don’t know how Steve has come back to Diana in Wonder Woman 1984 or if it is even the real Steve. Nevertheless, the swoon-worthy levels of hope and Diana’s joy at seeing her beau elevate our giddiness.
“By definition, don't all relationships end in tragedy?” Dr. Manhattan hypothesizes to Angela in the penultimate episode of Watchmen. It's a less-than romantic notion that she contends to be true, but in the world of this god-like figure, “nothing ever ends.” In the world of science fiction and fantasy, there are ways to avoid a tragic outcome. Just ask Peggy and Steve. A dance is not just a moment to be conjured in a dream, and time can also be vanquished.