‘Watchmen’ Season 1, Episode 6 Recap: Nostalgia

Season 1, Episode 6: ‘This Extraordinary Being’

Every episode of “Watchmen” dances along the precipice of catastrophic failure, like a circus performer who has waved away the safety net, despite the abundant junctures where he could go splat. The safety net being waved away here is Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s canonical graphic novel, which Damon Lindelof and his writers have accepted as history but rejected as scripture. Until now, the extent to the show’s audacity has been to imagine events before and after the time frame of the book, using the Tulsa massacre of 1921 as the jumping off point for a modern story about the legacy of racism and violent white supremacy. Scenes from Moore and Gibbons’s book have been recreated, often in the context of the “American Hero Story” show-within-a-show, but rarely revised.

Tonight’s astonishing episode directly engages with the most foundational element of the book: the identity of Hooded Justice, the first “masked adventurer” and perhaps the most eternally mysterious.

While there’s speculation in the book that Hooded Justice was a circus strongman named Rolf Müller, his true identity is never actually confirmed, which gives the show all the latitude it needs to claim one for itself. A scene from “American Hero Story” becomes an ingenious ruse for the twists to come, sticking Hooded Justice in an interrogation room with two detectives determined to expose and humiliate him. They want to know about the get-up — executioner thing or “sex stuff?” — and they threaten him with evidence of his gay dalliances with Captain Metropolis, a.k.a. Nelson Gardner.

The detectives get a glimpse of this white, green-eyed, black-haired mystery man, but it’s the last thing they’ll ever see. (The narration afterward, “I should probably be worried that I just murdered two federal agents, but all I can think about is that Nelson Gardner is cheating on me,” is a nice jab at TV phoniness.)

From that synthetic docudrama, “Watchmen” pivots into a character study similar to Looking Glass’s story last week, only more focused on the themes the show has wanted to emphasize from the beginning. After overdosing on the memory pills her grandfather left for her — a drug called Nostalgia, which is admittedly more concise than Narrative Device — Angela Abar learns a back story she might not have believed from the horse’s mouth.

What Abar eventually discovers is that her grandfather, Will Reeves, is Hooded Justice, which would seem like a heretical rewriting of Moore and Gibbons’s source material if it weren’t so convincingly and powerfully wrought. Inspired by his hero Bass Reeves, the black deputy who in that silent movie from Episode 1 asked people to “trust in the law,” Will is shown joining a nearly all-white police force in New York but becoming quickly disabused of his faith in the law as it applies to black people. As a newspaper headline signals the march of the Nazis on the other side of the Atlantic, Will catches Fred (Glenn Fleshler), a sinister grocery store owner, brazenly torching a Jewish deli in front of him.

Will tries to put Fred through booking, but it soon becomes clear that the police force is festooned with white supremacists, who flash a conspicuous sign right in front of him. (The sign bears enough of a resemblance to the “O.K.” hand gesture, which in some circles doubles as a white-supremacist symbol, that the reference seems intentional — although the gesture always allows for plausible deniability.) Will realizes he can’t work toward racial justice behind the badge, so he chooses to work behind the mask and around the law, prompted by a mock execution by lynching from his fellow officers. Without changing the book one bit, the improvised costume makes dramatic sense while dovetailing naturally into the first official instance when Hooded Justice saves the day by intervening in an alleyway mugging.

When Will stumbles onto a racist conspiracy called Cyclops, in which people are coaxed into violence through film-flicker hypnosis, his cause seems like a righteous one, but all versions of “Watchmen” are allergic to the untroubled superhero. Hooded Justice’s admission into the Minutemen lends it legitimacy and earns him an advocate — and, less plausibly, a sexual partner — in Captain Metropolis, the blond Adonis who recruits him. But the Minutemen aren’t the most racially progressive bunch, and as in the book, they’re doomed to be seized by infighting and scandal.

“This sort of thing isn’t the Minutemen’s cup of tea,” Metropolis tells him. “You’re going to have to solve black unrest on your own.”

That’s where this episode of “Watchmen” gets even more interesting. It all goes back to the “joke” Laurie Blake shares on her phone call to Dr. Manhattan, the one about the three heroes who make appeals to God at the Pearly Gates, but all wind up going to hell. At the time, the joke seemed like another way for the show to slip in some exposition about the “Watchmen” universe, but it underscores the impossibility of achieving justice without serious consequences. Sometimes the moral failings of these costumed adventurers are obvious, but in Will’s case, the missteps are personal, like the dissolution of his family, and perhaps natural in the course of his activities. People are imperfect, masked vigilantes more so.

We’re left with the revelation that this wheelchair-bound centenarian did not string up Crawford with his hands but rather used the mesmeric techniques of a white supremacist group to his own ends. Yet the question remains: Was he right to do it? Are we absolutely certain Judd Crawford is in league with the types of racist cops who nearly lynched Will back when he first joined the force? Those are sensitive questions for “Watchmen” to answer later — no doubt with a vigor that feels just short of reckless.

Tick Tocks:

Lady Trieu’s connections to both Will and the Nostalgia drug tie together a couple of loose threads and explain why she is waiting for Abar when she wakes up after a supposedly lethal dose. I would happily watch a spinoff series on just the drug itself and the memory addicts it created.

“The uniform that a man wears changes him. Make sure yours changes you for the better.” Takeaways from commencement speeches are rarely this prescient and useful.

The device by which the past literally enters the frame is so elegantly wrought here, especially when Will’s mother is shown playing the piano theme that haunts his entire life.

The scene in which the Minutemen’s photo-op turns into a marketing opportunity “from our good friends at National Bank” is good shorthand for revealing Metropolis’s empty ideals. But it also doubles as commentary on the commercial appeals of superhero team-ups in our Marvel dominated age.

Source: Read Full Article