“Watchmen – Episode Six: This Extraordinary Being”
Developed by: Damon Lindelof based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Directed by: Stephen Williams
Featuring: Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Andrew Howard, Jacob Ming-Trent, Tom Mison, Sara Vickers, Dylan Schombing, Louis Gossett Jr. and Jeremy Irons
Jane Crawford: “What are y’all talking about?”
Judd Crawford: “Oh, nothing. Just the end of the world.”
Judd Crawford: “Tick-tock, tick-tock…”
The Story so far…
The Watchmen series is based on the comic of the same name, taking place in an alternative, contemporary reality in the United States. Masked vigilantes became outlawed due to their violent methods. Despite this, some gather around in order to start a revolution while others are out to stop it before it is too late. In this reality, the Watergate scandal never happened, allowing President Richard Nixon to dismiss term limits and run for five terms and lead the United States to a decisive victory in the Vietnam War with help of some of the vigilantes that sided with the government. The comics events end in 1985 after Adrian Veidt, a former vigilante known as Ozymandias, created a fake alien attack in New York City with millions dead in the resulting psychic shockwave, leading to a new accord between the United States and the Soviet Union ending the Cold War and avoiding a potential nuclear holocaust. Veidt asserts his actions were for the greater good, but they disgust his former allies; Rorschach seeks to tell the world of Veidt’s misdeeds but is vaporized by Doctor Manhattan before he can do so, after which Dr. Manhattan decides to depart Earth, seeking a place less complicated than Earth. Unaware to them, Rorschach had sent his journal to be published before he accosted Veidt.
The sixth episode of the HBO series “Watchmen” has aired, following on from last weeks game changing instalment which ended with the cliffhanger of Laurie taking the drug Nostalgia which means we are set to revisit the past through her eyes while at times she is actually experiencing the memories of her Grandfather. This on the surface may seem like treading water but it actually illustrates how and why the world has arrived where it has, especially in the South. While a black cop, Will is isolated in a white police force he has to witness racism, violence against himself and other African Americans all the while bowing to pressure, ignoring crimes and being betrayed by his own fellow officers, it is at once shocking but a reminder how far society has come and why these elements at least up until 2016 were pushed underground. One of the more serious and shocking aspects is Will being taken by fellow officers to be lynched, when hens cut down we see Laurie in his place. After this shock we see an origin story where Will dons a sack cloth to save two white people from being mugged, in doing so we see hm become a ‘superhero’ of sorts in the form of the first “Hooded Justice”. What is absolutely genius about this is that a scene earlier saw Will talking to a man who was reading ‘Action‘ comics with the origin of the original white saviour in the Christ inspired Superman, which is of course a play on words as Will becomes a white saviour, of sorts. This of course is echoed in the black and white silent movie that Will has seen as a child, this is an incredible and original turn of events, these echoes are felt throughout history where it is easy to see that white people in power were in a majority and were intent on keeping their power. We then witness a montage in which Will takes the law into his own hands to punish criminals thought out the city. You can feel the anger in Will when he takes down the KKK, years of persecution are thrown off in a one action that sets him free, something he has wanted for himself and his people.
It is exactly at the half way point that Laurie has her first reprieve, we also get a chance to breathe in what has been a very dramatically heavy episode. However when we are plunged back into the narrative so is Laurie of course as Will. The idea of secret identities comes into play when Will is approached to join the ‘Minutemen’ we see that as an African American in the South he already has two identities so keeping secrets is second nature unlike whites at the time who were only one thing, we see here that this might not be the case with heroes sexuality comes into play, something that resonates into the present day, illustrating that some things never really change.
The idea of shaping a narrative to fit a plot come to play when Will joins the Minutemen and their own public face does not fit into his own persona, especially when he has to pretend to be a white hero, he sees the racism all around and it sickens him as well as the hypocrisy as time moves on, is he part of the solution or part of the problem. We also see the lies that have permeated society as in the mini series that plays in the present Will is played by a white man. What is ridiculous is that even though they hide the fact he was black they don’t mind broaching the subject of his homosexuality, not only that but he is able to defend his orientation.
“This Extraordinary Being” is arguably the best episode yet which after last weeks episode is really saying something, it explores many issues about society, the relevance of heroes, who we are as well as who public figures portray themselves as. It also explores the harrowing effects that occur and are felt when you are a minority within a minority within a minority, something that is seldom explored at all let alone in fantasy. We also see the truth of the Chiefs death at the hands of Will but how the sins of the past can never be forgotten which is truly sad. The truth of the Chief is not at all what anyone suspects but it will come to play in the closing episodes I am sure.
Some of the ongoing themes that occur within this episode are of course some of the same that we face today, politics, social commentary, past actions having real effects on the modern world, the reliability of news, forgiveness, racism, left versus right and one of the more important, that of decision making and the outcomes of those decisions. There are of course a multitude of others which will become apparent on repeat viewings and as the episodes unfold from week to week.
Some important aspects to consider in this alternate present:
- The series takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma;
- Vietnam is now a U.S. state;
- Fossil fuels have been eliminated by Dr. Manhattan;
- Robert Redford is the President and has been in office since 1992, he is now the longest-serving President.
- There is an Act named as the ‘Victims Of Racial Violence Legislation’ designed to give reparations for those affected from past racial injustice, which is seen as unfavorable by a large portion of the white population.
- The ‘Seventh Kavalry’, a white supremacy group in Tulsa has taken to the writings of Rorschach and use masks similar to his own.
- Laws are passed to allow the police to take extra precautions to protect themselves and their families, including wearing their own masks.
Whilst there have already been readings of this being about possible white power as well as a variety of what could be called anti-left stances this is far too simple. This new world is not just a place where we have back versus white, but there are serious political, economic and social realties that have come to the fore which like today is something that divides people along rigid lines. Unlike the world in which we live where there is a right wing President in office who seems at peace with disrupting the left as well as behave like some new millennium Nixon this new one is run by the left, so a figurehead like Robert Redford is apt to be able to embody this for all audiences who know his obvious allegiances. This is a world we can see what would happen to the right if the left were in charge, making laws that were not agreed with and where the price for disagreement can be ultimate. We live in an age where right wing politicians globally are making a comeback in many countries and hard liners are making their feelings grow. At the same time we are also seeing the lot flex their own muscles in social media where they are negating others opinions so that wokeness and SJW are able to influence where there should be none, these are juxtaposing narratives which exist in “Watchmen”. I am looking forward to how these dichotomies shake out in weeks to come and if they can be brought together somehow, unlike in real life.
This episode has the first returning male director in Stephen Williams who also was present for the excellent “She Was Killed by Space Junk” which was a episode where we really departed but also established what this series was going to be, something that was very present but embraced the past much like this new episode which is a narrative set in the past that fills in much about Angela and her family especially farming the racism that existed and exists in this alternate reality. This is such a wonderfully complex episode it would have been simple for it to go off the rails but Williams does an expert job at balancing all of the elements so as to offer what must be the best episode so far, possibly one of the best episodes of television of the year, with the stellar Regina King at the centre, proving her Oscar win was no light award or mistake.
What is unique about the “Watchman” series is that in any given episode we can be in a small room or in a giant machine that keeps time, one a real environment that other a CGI creation but both are as good as each other, the mise en scène for each scene is intricate, important and sometimes extremely subtle. The construction of sets or scenery is as important as the music, the characters or the direction which lends itself to proving why this is a prestige drama. I have to admit that Damon Lindelof has done an exquisite job something I would not have been thought possible.
There are three songs that feature prominently in this weeks epsiode they resonate long after the instalment is over, they are:
- I Don’t Want To Set the World On Fire – The Ink Spots
- Smoke Gets In Your Eyes – Eartha Kitt
- Living In The Past – Witch
Their importance is impactful as they assist in the narrative especially with the story beats that occur while they are playing, along with and complimented by the score by Ross and Reznor.
I cannot wait until next week.
Episode Six: This Extraordinary Being
Laurie tries to get Angela to agree to treatment before the Nostalgia kicks in, but is too late as the latter starts to experience Will’s memories as a new officer with the New York Police in 1938. After discovering a ploy called “Cyclops”, he is nearly lynched by his fellow white officers. While walking home, he dons a mask and hood to fight off men attacking a young couple. He is called a hero the next day, and supported by his wife June, takes on the persona of “Hooded Justice”. Will is invited to the Minutemen by Captain Metropolis and begins an affair with him, but when Will finds that “Cyclops” is a plan by the KKK to hypnotize black people at movie theaters to incite riots among themselves across the country, they refuse to help. Will takes out the New York operation on his own, killing all involved, and becomes disillusioned with his role; leaving his family. In the present, Will uses a modified form of the hypnotic technology to make Judd hang himself. Angela wakes up at Lady Trieu’s quarters, who has been helping to get the Nostalgia out of her system.