A flashback episode like no other.
Retcon (or retroactive continuity) has become a dirty word for pop culture fans. It leaves a sour taste in the mouth when continuity is contradicted, altered or just blatantly ignored. It could be argued that This Extraordinary Being sees Watchmen skirt very close to a massive piece of retconning but it does it so well you certainly won’t hear many people complaining.
Watchmen continues its incredible first season with a flashback episode that is both visually and structurally inventive. Angela a.k.a. Sister Night, bookends the episode and is in a lot of trouble. After Looking Glass gave her up to the FBI at the end of the last episode Angela swallowed the entire bottle of Nostalgia pills that her grandfather left behind. These now outlawed narcotics were created by Lady Trieu’s company to assist the elderly by letting them experience the memories imprinted in them. This device very cleverly allows the writers to have Angela experience Will’s memories and still keep the format fresh. Overdosing on the nostalgia Angela slips into a drug fuelled coma and begins to witness her grandfathers life. A life, it will turn out, that has some very surprising moments and radically changes the entire Watchmen mythos for ever.
This Extraordinary Being is the latest entry from a show that has absolutely hit its stride and is confident enough to experiment and make bold creative choices. It starts with a brutally violent opening scene, taken from the sleazy documentary American Hero Story, depicting original Minutemen member Hooded Justice. Filmed in the over the top tabloid style, it depicts Hooded Justice being unmasked in a police cell before he mercilessly beats his captors to a pulp.
After a quick sojourn, to see Laurie Blake trying to convince Angela to sign a release form so they can get her stomach pumped, the show enters Angela’s psyche. This is where the nostalgia-induced memories of her grandfather take over. From here on in, almost the remainder of the show is in black and white with only a few splashes of colour to highlight items of importance. The cinematography beautifully captures the nature of dreams and memories as scenes meld and merge into each other. The camera rarely stops moving as it prowls around, never lingering too long in one spot. Cleverly choreographed shots mean Will and Angela become interchangeable, subtle camera moves allow the actors to switch places. Characters walk through doorways and appear in different locations and various elements are all tumbled together just like in a dream you are not fully in control of. Just on a technical basis alone, this episode of Watchmen is a triumph.
The memories that Angela experiences bring us back full circle to the show’s first episode and the racial troubles in Tulsa. We see Will at his police graduation to the NYPD, where the chief won’t even shake his hand. He later catches a man committing a crime red handed but is dumbfounded when he is released without charge; the colour of his skin making sure he walks free. Instead Will’s “punishment” for this infraction is to be lynched by his fellow officers. Strung up in a tree with a bag covering his head, we get to see this atrocity from Will’s point of view and it is an effectively harrowing scene. Just at the point of unconsciousness, Will is cut down and left to learn his lesson. What happens next is completely unexpected but in hindsight makes so much sense I’m surprised I didn’t see it coming.
I had wondered why all the scenes we had been shown from the American Hero Story show had been of Hooded Justice. I assumed at some point it would focus on the other members of the Minutemen. It isn’t until Will is walking home from his mock lynching and witnesses a crime taking place, that you realise he still has the noose around his neck and the bag used to cover his head. With a few eyeholes quickly poked through the bag you begin to realise you’re witnessing the origin story of Hooded Justice. In an incredibly brave move, Damon Lindelof and his team have inserted Angela’s grandfather into the very fabric of the original Watchmen story. This is where some people will take issue and cry retcon but Hooded Justice was the only member of the original team whose identity was never revealed. I personally think it is a fantastic piece of writing and feels completely organic and unforced.
The rest of the episode follows Will as he takes on the persona of Hooded Justice, spurred on by his wife June. Using white make up around his eyes no one even suspects that it is a black man fighting crime under the hood. No one that is except Nelson Gardner a.k.a. Captain Metropolis, who visits Will and invites him to join the Minutemen. Will does, against June’s wishes, but finds he must also hide his true identity and colour from his own team mates. It seems even the mighty Minutemen suffer from the same prejudices as the ordinary folk. Will and Nelson quickly become lovers which is handled quite abruptly. I don’t recall any previous hints that Will was gay. His relationship with his wife doesn’t seem in trouble until after later events. It almost seems that once he is revealed as Hooded Justice the audience is just meant to accept that he’s gay because we already know that Hooded Justice is. It’s not a big issue, it just seems to come out of nowhere.
Will discovers a mysterious plot instigated by the KKK called “Cyclops” that appears to involve using a form of hypnosis to make black people commit acts of violence. Embedded into film projectors, it makes a theatre audience turn on each other. Will tries to enlist the help of Captain Metropolis and the Minutemen to help but is turned away. Metropolis scoffs at what he thinks is a ludicrous fantasy of Will’s. Angry at being abandoned, Will tracks down the Klans headquarters and kills everyone he finds there. Returning home to find his son dressed up as Hooded Justice, Will flies into a rage, disgusted at what he has become. June informs him that she is returning to Tulsa and warns him to never come near her or their son again. In his pursuit of justice – or perhaps just revenge – Will loses everything that he held dear.
We return to the season’s first episode and it is revealed what really happened to Chief Crawford. Will kept telling Angela he had strung Judd up in the tree, which would have been physically impossible. It turns out he has been tinkering with the “cyclops” technology and talks Judd into hanging himself. He knows Judd had a Klan robe hanging in his closet but perhaps he isn’t aware of the peace being brought about by Judd and Sentor Keene that was revealed last episode. Maybe we’ll soon see what this action has wrought.
The final scene is of Angela waking up to discover she is now being held by Lady Trieu. My guess is that the plan that is going to happen shortly involving Trieu’s giant clock structure, is also going to involve Will’s mass hypnosis device. I foresee some major event along the lines of Ozymandias and his giant one eyed squid monster. This would be poetic considering it involves “cyclops”.
The only down point I can make is that we don’t get to visit Jeremy Irons and enjoy the lunacy of him and his clones. I can absolutely see how it wouldn’t fit in with the structure of the episode. It’s just a shame because I absolutely love the Ozymandias side story. With any luck we’ll get a whole episode dedicated to him breaking out of his prison soon.
Watchmen goes from strength to strength. This Extraordinary Being features some brilliant writing and the setting up Will as Hooded Justice is a stroke of genius. With inventive camerawork and some great framing devices this instalment raises the bar for flashback episodes, this will be hard to beat.
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