What kind of hero wears a mask?
The episode begins with Hooded Justice being interrogated by two agents: Jerry and Art, played respectively by Adam Drescher and Erik Palladino about his role in suiting up and fighting crime. He got this whole masked vigilante thing started, and thanks to Hooded Justice and the Minutemen, criminals are behind bars. Hooded Justice most of all is important because he was the first. The officers ask about Hooded’s noose.
Jerry, thinks it’s for sex stuff. Both want Hooded Justice to remove his mask for a photo. After all, they don’t know who he is, but they know what he does and who he does, like Captain Metropolis. They even know Metropolis’ secret identity and ask about some film that Metropolis has hidden. This film contains sex stuff and Metropolis has other boyfriends. He’s even trying to blackmail Director J. Edgar Hoover.
But Hoover isn’t a homosexual, right? Hooded doesn’t see why he should trust the officers, but they assure him that this is all off the record.
Hooded eventually does unmask himself. Jerry then grabs his camera and goes to take a photo, but before he can, Hooded goes on the attack. He engages the two officers in battle and beats the ever living shit out of them before bashing their heads together. This is, as you’d expect, just another episode of American Hero Story.
At the precinct, Laurie wants this program turned off because, I think, she hates good drama. She heads to the cell where Angela is being held and asks where Will Reeves is being held. She explains to Angela how Nostalgia works: it’s supposed to be for older people, but that limits the market. Who wants to be in the present when you can live in the past?
Eventually, people got hooked. Redford outlawed it and the company that made it had to stop.
Who owns that company? Lady Trieu. As Angela gets very woozy, Laurie tells her to sign a release form so they can pump the Nostalgia out of her. She then warns Angela that she’s about to turn into a vegetable. She yells for Angela to respond to her, but Angela doesn’t respond. Hell, she can’t.
Why? Because she’s landed in a black and white world as a police cadet at a ceremony in 1938. The chief at the podium tells the officers to think about what they wear. The uniform that an officer wears changes them. They must honor the badge as they head forth. The chief then proceeds to congratulate the new cadets. However, we aren’t watching Angela, but a Negro officer instead.
The White officers pass him by, so the Black officer, Sam Battle, played by Philly Plowden, places his badge on William Reeves, played here by Jovan Adepo, before telling him to beware the cyclops.
Later, Will meets with a reporter, June, played by Danielle Deadwyler, who tells him that it’s apparently big news for a Negro to become a cadet. His plan is to join the enemy. The police smother Blacks under their feet, and Will figures he was hired for the publicity. Still, he was given a gun and nightstick, and June is worried about what he’ll do. After all, he is an angry man.
Angela, though, counters that she’s not angry. Will figures that he’s young and has nothing to be angry about. But an entire town of people were murdered right in front of him. Will doesn’t want to live in the past, but this is apparently why he’s so angry.
Will walks his beat and stops at a newspaper stand where he sees an article about Nazis marching West, but no time for that. He spots a man tossing a Molotov cocktail at a Jewish bakery. The man calmly walks away as Will pursues him and asks for his name. The man, Fred, played by Glenn Fleshler, blows smoke in Will’s face and figures he did the bakery a favor since it apparently had a rat problem. Sure.
Will places Fred under arrest for arson, but Fred claims he did no such thing. He was out for his evening constitutional. Fred tells the officers that this spook is just accusing him of a crime, but one officer, Bourquin, played by Jordan Salloum, doesn’t take kindly to Fred referring to Will as a “spook” and forces Fred to apologize. He then takes Fred in for booking.
Well, isn’t that refreshing?
The next day, Will stops by a newspaper stand- the man at the stand some comic no one’s ever heard of called Action Comics #1- when he’s surprised to see that Fred has been freed in no time at all. I guess that’s democracy.
Will heads to the precinct and demands to know what happened- as well as asking about the sign Bourquin made on his forehead- but the officer in charge tells him to let it be. He’s trying to help Will out and warns him to have this matter dropped so he doesn’t get a bullet in his head.
Sometime later, Bourquin and two other officers pull up in their cruiser and offer Will a ride home. Will turns it down, but he’s got an early shift and wants to get home early and even rejects Bourquin’s offer of a beer on the house.
Oh, and the squad car is dragging two bodies on the buffer of their car because that’s normal, right?
Will heads down an alley and is immediately cut off by the same police cruiser. The officers exit and beat the living hell out of him, but we’re not done here.
The three drag him to a tree where a noose has been prepared for him. They slip it around his neck and put a black mask over his head before raising him into the air. As Will starts swinging from the poplar tree, his vision fades, but he’s soon dropped. The officers cut the noose and warn him to keep his Black nose out of White folks’ business. Otherwise, they won’t cut him down next time.
Angela sputters and shivers as she’s left on the ground with the black hood at her side.
As Will heads home, noose still around his neck, he spots an assault in progress. After tearing some eye holes in the mask, he dons the hood and goes on the attack, beating the hell out of the thugs. The couple thanks the masked man for his help before rushing off. Plot twist: that couple was actually Thomas and Martha Wayne.
Anyway, Will arrives at home and tells June that yes, as of now, he’s angry.
Sometime later when he awakens, the day has already passed. June has already been to work and back, but seems that Will’s heroic efforts have made the paper and he’s being hailed a hero. But the identity of the mysterious hooded savior remains unknown. She asks why he put it on. Even though the officers put it on, he must’ve put it back on for a reason. He doesn’t have one.
She asks about the name of the movie that he watched when he was a kid: Trust in the Law. She wants to know how it ends. He explains that a sheriff is shooting at a man riding after him- a man in a hood with a lasso. He throws his lasso at the sheriff and pulls him off of his horse. The townsfolk at the church come out and learn that the sheriff is stealing from the town.
The people see that the Black Marshal, Bass Reeves, is the hooded man. The townsfolk cheer and call for the sheriff to be hanged, but Bass Reeves rejects that, telling the people to trust in the law.
Later, she places white face paint around Will’s eyes and asks him what happened to the theater where his mother played the piano. You know, where the Klan gunned Black folks in the street. It was burned down. She tells Will that he won’t get justice with a badge, but with that hood. The townsfolk need to think that one of their own is under that hood, after all.
Will plans to start with Fred, who owns a market in Queens, which he stakes out one night while recalling the Black lieutenant’s warning to beware the cyclops. This, he figures, must have to do with the other officers warning him to stay away from Fred.
Will bursts into the building, which is currently occupied by Klansmen who suffer a brutal beating at the hands of the hooded stranger. When Will is done and has a minute to look over what the Klan is planning, as well as a book called “Mesmerism for the Masses,” one of the Klansmen tackles him through a door as the fight spills into the store. Into Red’s store.
Customers are surprised at this sudden outburst, but Red just readies his shotgun and opens fire on the hooded stranger. This forces Will to dive through the window.
We freeze in time as Laurie walks up and asks if Angela can hear her. She took a lethal amount of Nostalgia, but she’s been given a shot of adrenaline to bring her back. Angela’s apparently not moving, but her eyes are wide open. She asks for Angela to blink if she can hear her- she does. Laurie’s brought Cal with her to read something that would help bring her out of this. Angela then blinks again to confirm that she hears her.
Cal does indeed start reading off information about Angela’s upbringing, meeting Cal, and their three children. It’s 2019 and the President is Robert Redford. The President is still Robert Redford.
But back to the past. As Will and June debate President Roosevelt’s qualities, the two get a surprise visit from a Nelson Gardner, played by Jake McDorman. Nelson is here on behalf of a costumed adventurer named Captain Metropolis- costumed vigilantes are a growing trend, seems like. Metropolis wants to put together a team of patriots and heroes called the New Minutemen- there are even some ladies in as well.
The team, though, is incomplete without the hero that inspired them: Hooded Justice. Metropolis is a master of strategy and cross-referenced the locations that Hooded Justice scouted with local police beats. Nelson thinks that an officer is feeding information about criminal activity to Hooded Justice, and that this officer is Will.
June and Will find this funny, with Will asking if the word “cyclops” means anything to him. Nelson guesses that it’s about an underground criminal enterprise, and that’s possible if you consider the Klan a criminal enterprise.
Sounds like a job for the Minutemen. Will asks why Hooded Justice should join this team, but Nelson says he should join because brave men like him are a rare specimen. Why fight alone when he could have true companionship? Nelson then tells Will that if he knows Hooded Justice, let him know that Captain Metropolis is a huge admirer of his. With that, he hands Will his business card and slightly caresses his hand…
June says No to this offer. But Nelson says Yes. When?
When Will is laying into him, that’s when. In bed, Nelson reveals that he figured out Will was Hooded Justice when he first laid eyes on him. Will figures that’s bullshit, as Nelson probably thought that Hooded Justice was White. True, but now Nelson knows the truth. As for what the others think, the Minutemen are thrilled to fight crime with Hooded Justice. Will’s participation legitimizes the operation.
What they can’t know, however, is Will’s secret. Some of them aren’t as tolerant as Nelson. He’ll have to be covered up, wear the makeup and hood at all times. Nelson wanted to try something on the net go-around, so he takes out a mask and puts it on his face as he heads back to bed with Will.
Later at home, June believes that Metropolis don’t care about Will so much as what he can do for them. He can’t take down Cyclops on his own, so he needs a team. June asks Will to tell her about the first time he saw her. He does: he woke up in tall grass and there was a wrecked car. Off in the distance, Tulsa was in flames.
He thought he was the only person still alive in the world, but then he heard a cry, so he walked towards the source of the noise: a baby wrapped in an American flag. Will comforted the child and she- June- stopped crying. June doesn’t want Will to make her start crying again, and he won’t.
As Will gets ready, he looks over news clippings about Nazis marching through Madison Square Garden. He joins Captain Metropolis and the Minutemen at a press conference. He speaks about the vast conspiracy at play and has evidence of a secret plan, but Metropolis cuts him off, saying this plan is the work of a crime boss called Moloch the Magnificent, who plans too harness the sun’s energy into a deadly solar weapon.
As Will’s life goes on, even having a son- Marcus- he continues his routine as Hooded Justice. He reads over reports of Klan violence and lynchings when we cut to a riot in progress at a theater. The officers tell Will that this is what happens when you put animals in the same cage. One officer tells Will to go in and help calm things down, since he apparently speaks their language.
He speaks to a crying Negro woman and asks for what happened: when the film started, there was a flicker and bright light going on and off and the room was full of lightning. She heard a voice that told her that she had to hurt people, and maybe she did just that. Will remembers the warning to beware the cyclops as he gets an idea.
He heads outside and sees two men packing film projectors, which he believes are being used to turn Negroes against each other. That and Mesmerism, as he remembers the book he found. He telephones Nelson, who is more flippant and says that Negroes in Harlem cause violence on their own. Frankly, he finds it ridiculous that the Klan may be using mind control.
He invites Will over to talk about the red file, but lets him know that this sort of thing isn’t the Minutemen’s cup of tea. Will must solve the problem of Black unrest all by himself. Some heroes the Minutemen turned out to be.
As Will takes out his frustration on the phone, outside the booth is, as you’d expect, Fred. Apparently Will’s not a cop who regularly walks the beat, and Red knows that, as he doesn’t recognize this officer. He figures that Will is looking for free steaks and offers his best cut, even though from what Fred heard about Will’s kind, he may have more than enough meat to satisfy his wife.
Fucking asshole, this guy. Fred has some meat in his warehouse. Just as Fred asks if he recognizes Will, he gets a bullet in his head. Will walks on, donning his black hood, and heads inside the warehouse, where various men are packing up film projectors. Will opens fire on all of the them.
He heads further into the warehouse and finds a man recording a message on a projector. This man, turns out, is Officer Bourquin, and his message is loud and clear: all Negroes are your enemy. Attack them, but bring no harm to any White man, woman, or child. Do not stop until they are dead. And then they should kill themselves.
Will tries to shot Bourquin in the back of the head, but he’s out of bullets, so he just strangles him to death. Following this, he gathers the bodies together and sets the warehouse ablaze.
As Will watches the warehouse burn, he finally removes his mask. But he’s also kept one of the film projectors for himself…
He then heads home and finds Marcus suiting up to be just like his father, but Will shuts that shit down immediately. He removes the white paint from Marcus’ face just as June intervenes, telling Will that he can’t take it off. He has to hide under the hood because he can’t stand to see what he’s become. June and Marcus will be heading back to Tulsa. Alone. All Will has now is his noose.
We cut to present-day, but flash back to the point where Will uses a spike strip to stop an approaching vehicle driven by Judd Crawford. Judd exits and finds the spike strip that stopped his car, but he’s soon blinded when Will shines a flashlight in his face.
This places Judd under a trance as he pushes Will to a tree. Will tells Judd that he’s Justice. While Judd tells Will that he’s trying to help his people, saying that he doesn’t know what’s happening, Will knows all about Judd’s Klan robe. Judd says that it belongs this grandfather and he keeps it as part of his legacy. But then, if he’s so proud of his legacy, why hide it? A fair point.
Judd insists that Will doesn’t know him, but Will makes the Cyclops symbol, saying that he knows all about Judd. He flashes the light again and tells Judd that he can hang himself now.
As Angela hands the noose to Judd, the captain starts preparing the rope, tosses it into the tree, steps up, and place the noose around his neck. He takes one last look before stepping off and killing himself.
Angela then sees flashes of the Minutemen, the Cyclops folder, and June, who tells Will to stay away from her, his son, and out of Tulsa. Then an older woman approaches Angela and tells her that she’s going to take her home.
It’s now time for Angela to wake up. She’s welcomed back to the real world by none other than Lady Trieu. And this, my friends, is where we leave things.
As with the previous installments, there’s a lot to unpack on HBO’s Watchmen. The series once again manages to top itself as the story continues to unfold and we dig deeper into the mystery of Will Reeves. This adaptation is indeed telling its own story with an alternate take on the aftermath of the graphic novel, with a focus on race, but it’s very much in the spirit of Alan Moore’s graphic novel.
Before we dive in, you ever see the movie Dreamgirls? Even if you haven’t, there’s a point early on where characters discuss how Big Mama Thornton, an R&B artist, was the first to sing the song “Hound Dog,” more famously associated with Elvis Presley. Why? Because radio stations wouldn’t play something they saw as being another race song.
The same is very applicable to Watchmen here, as Lindelof, director Stephen Williams, and co-writer Cord Jefferson, give their own version of history with Will Reeves, an African-American man, being the first costumed vigilante. In a world where Action Comics #1 gives readers their first look at the Last Son of Krypton, Will, a Black and gay man, was the spark that led to a soon growing revolution of costumed heroes.
Yet Will didn’t do this for glory. For one, he wouldn’t get any. For Will, it was a matter of survival. In the years during and after World War II, despite desegregation of the armed forces and Black troops finding acceptance abroad that was unknown to them at home, racism still prevailed. Plus you have the slow growth of American Nazism. This isn’t me getting on a soapbox and preaching to you about the evils of America.
It’s an era where Blacks, even when given a modicum of authority and power, are still stripped of it by systematic oppression that halts their progression at every turn. Will doesn’t get his badge or even a look from the White captain during the cadet ceremony. Bringing Fred in for burning a Jewish bakery is all but undone within a day. His efforts to uphold the law nearly lead to his death at the hands of his fellow officers.
But then, they were never his fellow officers to begin with, not just because of the era, but the reveal by episode’s end that they were involved with the film projector messages. Much like Keene warning Wade that Angela needs to keep her nose out of some people’s business, the same is applicable here with Will, but to a harsher extent when he’s nearly lynched for just doing his job.
The subtle, quieter moments of racism are just as impacting to Will as the moments that are thrown right in his face. It’s one thing for the captain to pass you over when congratulating the other cadets, it’s another for Fred to make remarks about how Will has enough meat to satisfy his wife or when another officer refers to the Blacks in the theater as animals who will riot when put together in the same place.
Moments like this highlight the struggle Will continues to face even after escaping the destruction of Black Wall Street in Tulsa. So what choice does he have but to put on a mask and seek justice? A White man would be hailed for his efforts, but not Will. It’s why he must use makeup to conceal his face when dressed as Hooded Justice, and it’s why, despite the good he does, he can never come clean about his secret.
The world wasn’t ready for that and, to be fair, probably still wouldn’t accept that right now. But like Bruce Wayne using bats, which frighten him, as his symbol to strike fear into the hearts of Gotham’s criminals, Will turns the noose and hood into his own symbols. Both of those have their negative connotations with Blacks, but Will embraces them when he goes into the night as Hooded Justice.
It’s a smart way to add the racial angle to Hooded Justice’s origin and, for my money, fully believable based on what we know about Will’s past and Angela’s present. Hell, it’s an outright reversal of Angela using black spray paint around her eyes when she suits up as Sister Night. Nice parallel between the two and further cements Angela’s ties to Will Reeves.
Cord Jefferson stated in an interview with The Washington Post that it makes total sense for a person of color to be the first person to don a hood and seek justice, and within the context of the series and just in general, I can’t disagree. It goes against the grain and our typical expectations of what we’d expect from the world’s first costumed vigilante or superhero.
Will isn’t doing this for fame and glory. The system won’t work with him, but even his efforts among the Minutemen are minimized when Captain Metropolis talks down his efforts to report on the Klan’s secret plan. The Minutemen seek attention and capitalize on the vigilante boom, but their actions remain within the confines of what society will accept. At least in public.
Despite Nelson’s attraction to Will and seducing him into joining his group, he draws the line helping Negroes because, as he says, Blacks in Harlem cause violence on their own. Interesting that a closeted gay man who knows that society won’t accept him also has his own prejudices to overcome, even as he tells Will that the rest of the Minutemen aren’t as tolerant as him.
Side-note, on the plan…as I sit here thinking over it, I can’t help but be further impressed by how ingenious it sounds. Using film projectors and recording messages that will entice Blacks to attack and kill one another is truly maddening, but in the world Lindelof is presenting, it’s not unlike something you’d expect from a group like the Klan. They get the Blacks to kill one another without getting their hands dirty.
It’s deeper than that, though. One episode ago, we saw Wade learn about how Adrian Veidt’s squid attack was just one giant hoax. If Wade went public with it, who would believe him? The same applies to Will. Even though we know he’s telling the truth, the idea of the Ku Klux Klan using film projectors and Mesmerism to turn Blacks against each other sounds pretty fucking ridiculous. Yet it’s exactly what happened.
Will’s worldview had already been shattered by the barbarism he’d seen committed against his people, but to learn that the officers who stood beside him- and tried to hang him- were behind this vast conspiracy is enough to drive any man to kill. All that anger that Will had been holding onto came rushing out when he became Hooded Justice.
What’s worse, we see how this impacted his personal life. At first, things seemed to go well as he and June read the reports about Hooded Justice. She even tells Will that he won’t get justice with a badge. But as Will’s quest continues, he sees that his own son was interested in picking up after his father. Rather than be proud, Will tries to shield Marcus from that life.
Will doesn’t want his son following in his footsteps, but the damage to the family is already done, thus forcing June and Marcus back to Tulsa without Will.
One thing that came to mind when thinking about the flashbacks is the use of color. While everything in the past is presented in black and white, we see the occasional flash of color, both with Will’s mother playing the piano and when we see the Black bodies being dragged behind the police vehicle. To me, these moments represent emotional bursts in Will’s past, thus making them stick out in a black-and-white world.
If I wanted to stretch things, this reminds me of Pleasantville and how the characters in the fictional TV universe also slowly see color during emotional moments in the film. But here, only Will has the outbursts and they only come from his memories, not present-day events. Hell, if that was the case, the world around him would be in color.
It goes without saying that I think this is a great episode not just on its own, but for filling in the blanks on questions from previous episodes. It respects the source material and doubles as the show’s origin for both Hooded Justice and the Minutemen.
I figured if we saw any other members, it’d just be Captain Metropolis. During the press conference, the other members are blurred and in the background, but I could at least make out Nite Owl and Comedian. Imagine my surprise when the HBO Twitter account tweeted out a photo of the full Minutemen team. A great image.
Good call on the show that we don’t jump back and forth between the past and present. Jovan Adepo and Regina King seamlessly jump in and out during scenes as we see moments play out from both of their perspectives. It’s Will’s life we’re seeing, but you can see some parallels with what Angela’s going through now. It would’ve been distracting to jump back and forth, so wise move on the show to not do that.
But I did appreciate Laurie bringing in Cal to read some of Angela’s history to her in an attempt to bring her back. It may not have worked immediately, but I want to believe that it at least helped.
Talking about the casting, Jovan Adepo is great as young Will Reeves. He’s optimistic about being an officer, but he’s not stupid. He’s aware of the risks that come with him wearing a uniform. Just think about the Black soldiers who were killed while in uniform when they returned home after World War I. But once Will puts on that mask, Adepo shows us the rage buried underneath that he unleashes as Hooded Justice.
By the time we return to present-day, we see that Will did indeed kill Judd Crawford by use of the same technology that was used to force Blacks to kill one another. Will knew about Judd’s Klansman uniform, but like Angela covering up the murder, I wonder if Will’s actions could interfere with whatever Keene and the Seventh Kavalry are planning.
Like the Veidt reveal last week, there’s a bigger picture that we aren’t seeing yet. Judd’s death throws a wrench in the controlled opposition that he and Senator Keene had, which is why the Kavalry had Wade remove Angela from the equation. But now Angela has awaken with Lady Trieu at her side, and we know that she’s working alongside Will. What will happen now? We’ll have to wait and see.
“This Extraordinary Being” is a masterful piece of television that manages to both honor the world of Watchmen while simultaneously integrating the racial angle in a way that makes sense in this universe. Seeing the origin of Hooded Justice and Minutemen were great shout-outs to the source material, but also filled in the blanks from previous episodes to give viewers a better idea of who Will Reeves truly is and what he inspired.
Until then, see you next week! Tick-tock, tick-tock.