Watchmen: This Extraordinary Being

“The uniform a man wears changes him.”

We take a break from the insane 2019 plot to take a much needed insane trip down memory lane. One I greatly enjoyed.

If this series continues past one season, I would love it if they did more flashbacks to previous events in this universe. Because as this episode displayed, there is a lot one could do to further flesh out the history of Watchmen.

Of course, I kind of doubt we’ll ever get anything this vivid and in-depth again, since this entire episode is taking the point of view of Angela Abar as she overdoses on Will Reeves’ Nostalgia and finds herself reliving her grandfather’s memories.

Someone Else’s Nostalgia

This was already a wildly creative show, but this stands out nonetheless. Angela isn’t simply seeing Will’s memories, she becomes a part of them, walking in Will’s shoes and seeing through his eyes. Not only that, she also remembers what Will remembered back in the moments of his life that she is presently remembering, making for a beautifully demented journey as Will’s real experiences with racism and violence as a beat cop blend together with his childhood memories of the Black Wall Street Massacre. Most of the soundtrack this episode is provided by Will's mother, the sound of her playing the movie theater piano constantly in his head.

The experience consumes Angela, even as Cal and Agent Laurie Blake struggle to wake her from her drug-induced coma.

Angela's coma dream is kind enough to begin with Will joining the NYPD in the late 1930s. Although he initially puts on the uniform with all-American optimism, Will cannot escape his past. As noted by June, his wife who had once been the orphaned baby little Will Reeves found in the aftermath of the massacre, he is "an angry, angry man," irreparably scarred by the injustices he's faced in life.

These intense feelings of rage are only deepened when he learns that wearing a badge won't shield him from the same malice that killed his family. And it’s here that we discover Will’s significance not only to the plot of the show, but of pretty much the entire universe of Watchmen.

Will inadvertently stumbled upon an insidious conspiracy involving the Cyclops organization, a splinter faction of the Ku Klux Klan with possible ties to the Nazi party. This discovery results in his racist fellow officers throwing a hood over his head and lynching him from a tree. They only spare him for the pleasure of breaking his spirit.

They had the opposite effect.

Immediately following this traumatic event, a shaken Will then stumbled upon a violent mugging in an alley. Fresh with righteous outrage, Will pokes some eyeholes into the hood and becomes the original masked crime-fighter who inspired the Minutemen and thus the Watchmen themselves: the fearsome, enigmatic, noose-wearing vigilante, Hooded Justice.

Under the Hood

The show had been building up to this reveal from the beginning and they did not disappoint with its execution. I think this is a fantastic interpretation of a character that, while significant, is only briefly examined in the source material. In fact, this might be one of the best portrayals of a person's path to becoming a "superhero" I've ever seen. It's storytelling on a level equal to the graphic novel; yeah, I said it.

Fittingly, Hooded Justice's newly conceived origin draws inspiration from the two most famous superheroes in fiction. Early in the episode, Will is shown an issue of Action Comics No. 1, the first Superman comic, and he immediately empathizes with the last son of Krypton. Like Superman, Will is also a lost orphan, sent away from a world on the brink of destruction by his father and destined to become the first in a new era of costumed heroes; the coffin Will was hidden in symbolizes the rocket ship that carried Kal-El through space to crash land on Earth. And naturally, the horrifying murder of his parents as well as his adult self's realization that he won't find the justice he seeks through the legal system is meant to remind us of Batman.

And at first, it's pretty awesome. Will and even June embrace his new role as this dark avenger, since he was always inspired by Bass Reeves, Oklahoma's historical black U.S. Marshall; June is even the one who states that Will's costume should conceal not just his face but his race for his own protection. It feeds Will's sense of purpose that went unfulfilled as a normal policeman, and acts as an outlet for his great and terrible rage. Slowly the history we do know takes shape through his eyes, as Will finds himself partnering with (and soon sleeping with) fellow masked vigilante Nelson Gardner aka Captain Metropolis to form the Minute Men, America's first team of "costumed adventurers." But then we and Will (and Angela) begin to see clearly again.

As readers and viewers of Watchmen know, the introduction of masked heroes does not suddenly fix the world. If anything, they only make things way more complicated than necessary. This is just as true for Will.

He quickly finds out that Captain Metropolis and the Minutemen are more concerned with taking soft targets like petty crooks and wannabe super-villains to boost their celebrity than making an effort to solve any major issues. His affair with Gardner also sours when Gardner displays his own obliviously racist attitude, reinforcing the idea that he must hide his race. What drives him over the edge is his obsession with taking down Cyclops, especially after he discovers they are brainwashing the city's black citizenry into killing each other through a form of hypnotism. Gardner's flippant refusal to involve the Minute Men in his crusade against white supremacists brings about Will's Rorschach moment. He snaps, methodically executing a warehouse full of Cyclops minions (including a few corrupt cops), confiscating their mind-controlling projector device and setting the place ablaze.

In a dark way, this is his most triumphant moment. Then he comes home and discovers his son dressing up like his father. Will's panicked reaction to seeing his impressionable child imitating the monster he's become ends up scaring the boy, finally driving June to leave Will and return to Tulsa with their son.

Mesmerism of the Masses

And here we get the significance of the quote at the top. Will Reeves was a victimized black man who became Hooded Justice to avenge the injustices of fascism and racial violence, but this forces him to pretend that his alter ego is a white man (down to wearing white face under his hood) and later compels him to passive-aggressively pretend that he is a supporter of the KKK and the Nazis. He becomes a reflection of the cycle of hatred and violence he sought to destroy.

As many other masked crime-fighters would discover in the years that followed, being a crimefighter is a lonely existence. And that loneliness has only made Will even more driven in his quest to stamp out racist conspiracies and right the wrongs of America's vicious past.

We discover that he wasn't lying about being the one who killed Judd Crawford. It turns out Hooded Justice wasn't just a brute. Sometime after he went into hiding, Will managed to modify the mesmerism technology he took from that warehouse. Only where it was once used by Cyclops to make black people kill each other, we see crazy old Will is now using it to force those connected to Cyclops to kill themselves; talk about karma. Angela sees herself as her grandfather making Judd lynch himself the way Cyclops nearly lynched him so long ago. And it's with this dramatic reveal that Angela is ripped out of her coma and finds herself in the care of Lady Trieu, Will's new partner-in-crime.

So wow, this episode was a lot. And I loved all of it. This show is becoming so good in such a nuanced way that reviewing it has become quite the challenge. Not that I mind.


Capes and Masks:

* “I Don’t Want to Set the World On Fire” by The Ink Spots. It fits very well with Will Reeves’s transformation into Hooded Justice.

* No Adrian Veidt this week. While I have come to love those little interludes, I didn’t mind that this episode was more focused.

* The show has really been littered with clues foreshadowing that Will Reeves is Hooded Justice. In the present, Will's civilian clothes still bear Hooded Justice's red and purple color scheme. The first Hooded Justice scene in American Hero Story is juxtaposed with a scene of Angela driving in the rain. Like Rolf Muller, the man everyone assumed was under the hood, Will was also connected to Germany through the World War I leaflet his father gave to him. And I remember reading years ago that Alan Moore's original name for Hooded Justice had been Brother Night. Lindelof really is a super fan.

* Not gonna lie, I'd probably watch American Hero Story.

* The moment when time slows to a stop as Hooded Justice leaps through a window felt like it might have been in homage to Zach Snyder’s style, as Hooded Justice's very similar action scene on ASH: Minute Men clearly was.

* Agent Petey previously criticized American Hero Story: Minutemen for its historical inaccuracies, and we were clearly meant to agree with him based on the fact that he’s studied the history of masked vigilantes and AHS: Minutemen is obviously doing that Ryan Murphy thing where it’s kind of being true to history but mostly indulging a ton of urban legends and rumors. It turns out, though, the way the show (within a show) portrays Hooded Justice is actually surprisingly faithful to history, since he actually was carrying on an affair with Captain Metropolis and he did in fact coldly murder corrupt lawmen. Even TV Hooded Justice’s big monologue a few episodes back was pretty spot on, because he really was using the mask to channel his rage into a force for justice. He just wasn't a white guy.

* The truth about Will Reeves makes Angela and Laurie Blake’s relationship a lot more interesting now. Hooded Justice's one big scene in the comic involves him brutally beating The Comedian, Laurie's father, for attempting to rape the first Silk Spectre, Laurie's mother. This is (retroactively?) foreshadowed in Will’s first act of vigilantism, brutally attacking men he found assaulting a woman.

* It was a bit unclear to me as to whether or not June knew about Will’s relationship with Nelson Gardner. It’s also left ambiguous as to whether Will is bisexual and was truly in love with June, or if he was a closeted gay man who felt obligated to be with June because of the bond they shared as lifelong companions and survivors of the Tulsa massacre. Then again, maybe it was ambiguous to Will as well.

* It's heavily implied that Glenn Fleshler’s character Fred, the virulently racist businessman in league with Cyclops, is meant to be Fred Trump, who really was a known supporter of the Ku Klux Klan as well as the father of the United States’ current president. If so, that burn deserves an A+.

* Most Obvious Symbolism: Will donning his signature hood in combination with his police uniform to exact merciless vigilante justice on the Cyclops agents, alluding to the masked Tulsa Police and their war against the Seventh Kavalry.

* In the second to last scene revealing Will's killing of Judd, Judd's comments add to the ambiguity of Joe Keene Jr.'s revelations. Although he tiredly refers to them as "you fuckin' people," Judd claims that he's trying to help African-Americans and that Will doesn't understand his true motives. And while he evidently doesn't identify as a member of the KKK, he explains that he keeps possession of his grandfather's Klan robe because "it's my legacy." Before making him hang himself, Will questions why Judd would feel the need to hide his legacy. A question he already knows the answer to.

* Jovan Adepo's portrayal of young Will Reeves was extremely powerful. The only other thing I've seen him appear in was a movie called Overlord. There he played a vulnerable American soldier forced to embrace his savagery when he finds himself combatting what are essentially Nazi zombies. How's that for a commonality?

* Edit: The dynamic splashes of color in this mostly black and white episode brought Sin City to mind.

Quotes:

Lieutenant Samuel J. Battle: Beware The Cyclops.

June: You ain’t gonna get justice with a badge, Will Reeves. You gon’ get it with that hood. And if you wanna stay a hero, townsfolk gonna need to think there’s one of their own under it.

Laurie Blake: You may be confused as to who you are right now, or when or where, but you’re still at the precinct. You’re not moving but your eyes are wide open. It’s kind of fucking freaky, Angela.

June: You really think Roosevelt gonna save us? Eleanor, maybe.

Nelson Gardner: Captain Metropolis is a master of strategy. He scrutinized the different locations where Hooded Justice appeared and cross-referenced them with patrols of local police.
Will Reeves: So you think he’s a cop?
Gardner: No. I believe a cop is feeding him intelligence about criminal activity. But you know all about this, Officer Reeves, because that cop is you.
June: (busts out laughing)
Gardner: I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that as a joke.
June: Mind if I ask, is this strategic mastermind, Captain Metropolis, blond? About your height?
Gardner: (blindsided) I… I don’t understand what you're implying—
This was hilarious, and yet another subversion of superhero tropes. Captain Metropolis wasn’t exactly the brilliant leader history remembers him as. He was just a privileged white guy whose good intentions obfuscated his hypocrisy, opportunism and major ego.

Nelson Gardner/Captain Metropolis: Such a shame, they can never know how beautiful you are.

Nelson Gardner/Captain Metropolis: I’m afraid you are going to have to solve black unrest on your own.

Will: I was just trying to take it off.
June: You can't take it off!

Judd Crawford: What's happening? Who are you?
Will Reeves: Justice.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure about this show at first. But I’m glad I stuck with it, because it is shaping up to be one of the most imaginative seasons of TV I’ve seen recently. This episode was stellar. Five out of five hoods of justice.

2 comments:

Henrik Bennetter said...

"I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure about this show at first. But I’m glad I stuck with it, because it is shaping up to be one of the most imaginative seasons of TV I’ve seen recently. This episode was stellar. Five out of five hoods of justice."

My thought exactly! Another superb review!

Logan Cox said...

Thank you, Henrik!