[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the latest episode of Watchmen, “A God Walks Into a Bar.” Read at your own risk!]
Watchmen‘s latest episode took fans on another journey through time and space, often simultaneously, as we got a closer look at Doctor Manhattan (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and learned how he came to be known as one Cal Abar. Thanks to the special talents and temporo-spatial experiences of the Doc, also known as Jon to Angela (Regina King), we were able to traverse many moments that were of particular significance to the couple. We witnessed their very first meeting and a few weeks later, when Angela chose Cal’s body as a cover; we also watched Doctor Manhattan choose to conceal his identity even from himself with the help of Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons), and, picking up in real time, we also saw the exact moment of “tragedy” he’d been waiting for, when he’d become captured by members of the 7th Cavalry.
Since “A God Walks Into a Bar” would finally offer the first full glimpse of Doctor Manhattan in all his neon blue glory, achieving his look was a matter of focus for costume designer Meghan Kasperlik.
“In the graphic novel, he pretty much is either naked, in a black suit with a white shirt and a black tie, or he has on his briefs,” Kasperlik explained to TV Guide. “So, it’s really those three elements that I focused on. Then, we needed to really make sure that the black suit was absolutely perfect.” Indeed, the crisp nature of Jon’s clothes — when he wore them at least — added to the disorientation and sense of mystery that his presence presented throughout the episode, but fans will have to wait ’til next week’s finale to see part three of that achievement. As Kasperlik teased, “There is a brief element that will come into play.”
If the build up to Cal’s reveal as Doctor Manhattan in cognito wasn’t obvious based on his prior styling alone, there’s a reason for that: Even Kasperlik didn’t know what tricks Damon Lindelof had up his sleeve for the character until well into production on the season.
“The amazing thing is when we started the series, no one knew who Doctor Manhattan was. So, I thought about what would a stay-at-home dad wear [for Cal],” Kasperlik explained. “As the series went on, the more I was guessing that it was him. So, when I kind of figured it out and knew, I definitely made sure it was really simple so that people really wouldn’t question a lot of his look. So, he was kept under the radar.”
As a whole, throughout Watchmen‘s triumphant first season, Kasperlik has taken care to contribute to the characters’ various histories and eccentricities with a less-is-more-style approach to creating their clothing pieces. Look closely and you’ll notice a trickle of Vietnamese influence in the architecture and hues of Angela’s blouses, for example, and there’ll be almost no black in her non-Sister Night attire. At the same time, though, there are some characters whose very natures invite outlandishness — of those, Adrian’s looks are particularly inspired.
The blonde buffalo suit Ozymandias sported in “Little Fear of Lightning” was a pure piece of creation for Kasperlik, with the imperative that it be both extraordinary and still in line with his “rich luxury” style. “We were creating all pieces that don’t exist. And being able to design for that is to create what’s possible,” she said. “He’s living in a different world at the moment, so it’s great to be able to expose his opulence through that.”
Kasperlik calls the experience of working on Watchmen, her latest major TV project following Netflix’s The OA: Part II, “an absolute dream” because of the sprawling menagerie of timelines, locations, and even shooting styles at hand. “On most shows, you are only getting to experience the current time or you’re in one time period. Because the show spans 100 years, as a costume designer it’s great to be able to go between all of these different time periods and design costumes for the ’30s and the ’40s and the ’80s and a fantasy world. You’re able to really showcase so much of what you’re able to do,” Kasperlik said.
One of her favorite challenges was the living history of Will Reeves (played in flashbacks by Jovan Adepo), for the episode “This Extraordinary Being,” a segment that immediately bounded to the tippy top of our best-of accounting. According to Kasperlik, it wasn’t always certain that the episode would be produced in grey-scale format, so she had to prepare the fabrics for the possibility of a color lens.
“I loved doing the research and developing within that the different textures,” she remembered. “We started out with the possibility of doing color or black and white. So, it was really about working with different textures and color codes. When you do a normal black and white film or TV show, the colors can be a little bit more wild because you know you’re only going to see the texture. But with the option to go to color, it was really exciting to be able to make it be reality but then also black and white.”
One person she knew would not get the monochromatic treatment was the Hooded Justice: American Hero Story retelling-slash-erasure of the earliest days of vigilantism, and Kasperlik seized on the opportunity to differentiate that bit of Hollywood iconography from the genuine article by “simplifying it ever so slightly.” Fans will notice that the color patterns on the American Hero Story version of the Hooded Justice costume are bolder — “The lights had to be brighter, we needed some vibrancy. and the action had to be starker,” Kasperlik noted — but there are also some subtle distinctions folded in for historical accuracy’s sake.
The extended collar of the American Hero Story costume is also on sharp display in the cinematic iteration, as in the comics, but Will’s is far less severe. “That wouldn’t be something that a vigilante would be able to have stand up on his own at that time,” Kasperlik reasoned, adding that the choice to outfit the real Hooded Justice in black was a nod to what would actually be available to him in the ’30s.
“I noticed that some pages, it looked like there was a purple to his top, and other pages it looked black. So, it was a big conversation between Damon and I about which costume really was working,” she explained. “For Hooded Justice: American Hero Story we had it be purple because that would be more vibrant and play better to the story. Then the actual color of the Hooded Justice costume in Episode 6 … it is black because that would be more accessible to that time period of the ’30s and ’40s.” Though it’s the storytelling that’s really sold these wild narratives in Watchmen, these kind of careful costuming choices made by Kasperlik and her team have been incredibly effective at supporting the landscape and character arcs at hand all the way through.
As many home runs as have already been hit in the costuming department so far throughout the season, too, there’s still more to come in next week’s finale; in addition to getting a glimpse at Doctor Manhattan’s iconic underwear, some other characters will be serving up some sartorial surprises next week.
“Oh, you just wait,” Kasperlik teased of what’s ahead. “There are quite a few … with Angela and with Lady Trieu (Hong Chau) and a couple of characters that you’ll see come out.”
Watchmen airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.