This review contains spoilers for Watchmen, episode 6, “This Extraordinary Being.”
After last week’s eventful insight into the current state of the Watchmen world, “This Extraordinary Being” opts to focus on the earliest possible point in the series’s timeline. With Angela (Regina King) under the influence of William’s (Louis Gossett Jr.) Nostalgia, the entire episode is a flashback to the events that made William the man he is today. We also learn slowly and deliberately that William isn’t just your average African American cop in New York City during the era of segregation. No, William is also Hooded Justice, one of the original members of the Minutemen.
The Minutemen have always held an interesting place in the Watchmen mythos, both from a plot perspective as well as a thematic one. In the original graphic novel, they’re meant to be a callback to the Golden Age of Superheroes, where the worst enemies that these vigilantes had to fight were a bank robber here, a mobster there, and occasionally a goofy villain with world domination on the brain. Their legend was meant to contrast with the harsh realities of the events of the 1980s. All of their efforts back in the ’30s and ’40s meant nothing. They were just a group of adults playing pretend, feeling vindicated about solving meaningless crimes instead of targeting the root causes.
Whenever a member tried to do something meaningful – like Silhouette in Darwyn Cooke’s wonderful Before Watchmen: Minutemen, who attempted to break up a child pornography ring and was subsequently outed for being too political and for being a lesbian – they faced painful scrutiny or retribution. Hooded Justice/Will is no different, with his ultimate goal being to stop the systemic racism that’s plaguing America. Yet those aren’t pretty issues. Those are tough problems with ugly answers, not fit for public consumption.
The “American Hero Story” clips that have appeared spontaneously throughout the season, as well as in this week’s opener, all offer the fictionalized version of what the populace wants to see and hear. Back in the ’30s it was glittering generalities about how superheroes are defeating the bad guys. In 2019, it’s now a deconstruction of that same era and shining a light on the truth with a heaping helping of melodrama. Yet in both instances, whether it’s Captain Metropolis telling reporters meaningless fluff or police officers gathered around a TV to catch up on the latest hit show, neither are the truth. Instead, the truth comes from Angela reliving Will’s memories.
I’m happy that the show has gone back to analyzing its themes of racial tension between civilians and the police, even if it may be too little too late. It’s been clear since the premiere that putting complete trust in the police, despite what William’s childhood icon Bass Reeves may say, isn’t the smartest thing to do. Most of the police in New York during this time are either corrupt or racist, or both. These officers are active Klan members and developing tech known as Cyclops to incite racial violence to further their own insidious ideas of racial purity. In order to stop those villains, there obviously needs to be a hero.
Our insight into Will’s backstory also serves as a brilliant origin story for Hooded Justice – a character who had been anonymous in all known Watchmen material. While I’m sure that there are some people who may be upset that the show is offering a definitive origin on a mysterious character, the decision to have young Will (played by Jovan Adepo of The Leftovers) makes perfect sense. Like the Klan members who hide their faces to enact evil onto the world, it only makes sense that a black man takes on a hood to protect the disenfranchised from them. But time and time again, it’s too serious of a topic to discuss, so whenever Will attempts to reach out to someone for help – like Captain Metropolis – his problems are hand-waved away as being not sexy, with slight undertones of racism towards Will.
It feels great to see the show firing on all cylinders again and tackle some very hard-to-swallow concepts. Sure, we’ve seen racist cops before, but there’s something especially unsettling about watching them beat up and attempt to lynch Will – all from Will’s perspective – that gets under your skin. Family comes in yet again as a theme as we watch Will slowly throw his family away in service of protecting them from what he’s becoming.
His son may be happy to dress up as Hooded Justice to be like his father, but Will only ends up pushing him away in an effort to protect him. After all, Hooded Justice is now the personification of mob justice. Hooded Justice was created the minute that those officers tried to teach Will a lesson about his place in society and strung him up on the side of the road. It’s understandable why Will would try to protect his family from that path, but if Will in the present is any indication, the only thing he learned from that lesson was that only he can save the world, only Hooded Justice.
However, a question remains: What is Will trying to save us from, and why has he allied himself with Lady Trieu (Hong Chou)? What does she have to gain in all of this, and what exactly is the threat? It seems clear now that the 7th Cavalry has been a red herring for the true threat, though what that threat is has yet to be seen (or has it?). The police and the Cavalry are in cahoots to create a false peace, so what is the enemy? Is it actually the Cavalry, or has Cyclops endured for nearly 75 years waiting for another attempt at racial purity?
In truth, this has been Watchmen’s most cohesive and well-paced episode yet. There’s no Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons) cutaway to derail all forward momentum. There are no strange new mysteries introduced for the sake of having a new mystery. Everything in “This Extraordinary Being” feels deliberate and well constructed. We learn about Will’s past as Hooded Justice, that Will is in possession of the Cyclops tech, and that Judd (Don Johnson) may actually have been associated with Cyclops. Things are finally starting to come together in a way that feels truly meaningful.
With only three episodes left, one has to wonder how all of these various plot threads are going to come together. We still have mysteries from previous episodes that haven’t been touched on in weeks, plus next week will have Ozymandias return to face trial for his escape attempt. At this point there’s no real use predicting what may or may not happen. With too many cards in play, all that we can do now is sit back and hope that everything comes together in a satisfying way.