Watchmen S1E6: This Extradordinary Being
Once in a while, an episode of TV comes along that just punches me in the throat, and then I have to find ways to write about it that aren’t just “buh. Guh? Hurgh”. The last one that did this for me was American Crime Story’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but this week’s episode of Watchmen, This Extraordinary Being, might just be coming for that crown.
I predicted last week that Angela downing a great big bottle of her grandfather’s memories was going to lead to some trippy Legion-esque sequences in the episode that followed, but this is more than I could have expected. In a masterful hour of television, Lindelof and company dive deep into the history of Will Reeves and how his relationship with justice changed so much about the way that Angela would come to live her life.
The concept of generational trauma is one that I have been really interested in recently, and I think that this episode is perhaps one of the most succinct and devastating looks at how it functions to undo families I’ve ever seen. Angela literally takes the place of Will in some of the most profound and undoing moments of his life; their paths reflected in one another, pursuers of justice first through the police and then through vigilante justice, wracked with the same injustices. Will, after everything, is the one to kill off Judd, who is a representation of everything that Will has found wrong in the police force over decades of his involvement with justice and the search for it, and it’s here that his trauma, his experience tips over into kicking off a whole new wave of Angela’s troubles, their suffering overlapping to set off a rush of new trauma for this next generation to come to terms with.
The images that flickered in the cultural heritage museum in Tulsa are in sharp relief here, as we relive Will’s attempted lynching (in what has to be one of the most singularly disturbing sequences on TV this year) and other moments of horrendous, racially-motivated violence and aggression that come with his existence after his survival of the Tulsa Race Massacre. And it is really there that Will’s trauma begins – not just the Race Massacre itself and the loss of his parents therein, but the disillusionment in the face of a justice that he always wanted to believe in.
From the police to his eventual involvement in the masked heroes of the day, Will is reminded at every turn that his blackness will always come above his pursuit of what is right, no matter who he turns to for help. Over the course of this hour, watching Will as he goes from hopeful but embattled cadet to emotionally and physically brutalised upholder of a justice even he has trouble believing in – Jovan Adepo, as the younger Will, puts in what has to be one of the performances of the year as this man simmering with a barely-contained but often controlled anger. Slow-descent-into-disillusionment stories are hardly new, but my goodness, I haven’t seen one condensed into an hour like this before that has served so much depth and galling, gutting devastation.
With most of this episode taking place in handsome noir-ish flashback, it’s a chance for the show to really flex its stylistic muscles, too, with long, artful takes and pinpoint-accurate blocking that constantly rearranges the position and power of the people in any given room. Will’s worst moments shimmer in and out of reality – the cop car pulling away to reveal two black corpses tied behind it, as in Will’s experience in Tulsa, is a truly chilling image – lend the whole episode a woozy, unrelenting sense of the impact the trauma has left on Will. Oh, and the choice to have Cheyenne Jackson, an actual alumnus of American Horror Story from which American Hero Story is drawn, starring in the opening clip of the AHS of this universe? Delicious. Delightful. We’ve decided to stan.
There’s so much more to unpack here that I don’t even know where to start – the depiction of justice and moral right in a time of abject moral failure, how pop culture plays into our notions of morality, the acceptance of whiteness as the face of our saviours, how fun it is to hear someone say Sex Stuff in deadly seriousness twice in a row. If you’ve been on the fence about Watchmen, This Extraordinary Being is reason enough to throw yourself into it to earn the sheer emotional and technical brilliance that this episode delivers on. Watch it, watch it, watch it. And then come here, so I can talk about it more.
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(header image via Den of Geek)