Watchmen decides to completely forgo its sequel tag this week. Instead, it presents a tour-de-force look at the man who would go on to become Hooded Justice, one of the founding fathers of the Minutemen. Alan Moore probably wouldn’t like it, but you’ll love it.
Not only does it allow entry into the series’ most unexplored corners, we also get a straight, if slightly unfulfilling, answer to one of the show’s biggest mysteries. It’s an episode filled with brave narrative choices and universe-enriching origins – and once again proves that Watchmen is the most capable show on television at dancing to the beat of its own drum.
After Angela swallowed the memory pills of her grandfather Will Reeves, almost the entire hour is given over to her recollection of his life. Playing out in black-and-white, it follows Reeves from his cadet graduation in 1930s New York through to his origin story as Hooded Justice (one we were never privy to in the comics), and even confirms the rumoured liaison with Captain Metropolis. As an in-universe plot device, the flashbacks feel shoehorned and low-effort, even in Watchmen’s fantastical world. But when the finished product is this good, it’s easy to overlook the most minute of complaints.
The core plot of the episode revolves around Reeves taking down ‘The Cyclops’ – a branch of the Ku Klux Klan that succeeds in brainwashing young African-Americans into attacking each other at a theater.
As Hooded Justice, he fights back against corrupt cops and, at the advice of his wife, June, even putting on makeup to make himself appear Caucasian. He eventually joins the Minutemen – an all-too-brief detour, but this episode is not about superhero wish fulfilment – and starts a relationship with Captain Metropolis. But Hooded Justice’s one-track mind eventually proves to be his downfall. His wife and child leave him and return to Tulsa after one outburst too many, and he begins to grow distant from the superhero group.
So, we know who Hooded Justice is – but the show also takes ample time sketching out a portrait of the man behind the mask. Regina King’s continual interludes as Angela are a little odd – and can often draw the viewer too far out of the flashbacks. Especially so given Jovan Adepo’s beautifully measured and forceful performance as the younger Reeves. His anger lies dormant throughout much of the episode but, when it finally explodes in a superbly-directed bullet-ridden massacre, you feel every trigger pull, and exactly what each one means to him. It’s fast becoming Watchmen’s trademark: hand over an entire episode to one supremely talented actor and let them do the heavy lifting. Here, it’s no different.
It carries with it the feel of a sweeping epic – think Casablanca or Gone with the Wind – as we track Reeves’ pursuit of justice across decades. Watchmen diehards might deride the fleshed-out backstory of one of Moore’s most deliberately-obscured characters but, in the framework of the story Damon Lindelof is trying to tell, it works as a means to shine a light on racial politics, and the legacy each hero leaves behind. The decision to make the entire episode a prequel, then, was ultimately the right one in that respect.
When we eventually reach the present day, we’re confronted with the Kavalry-shaped elephant in the room. “This Extraordinary Being” lets us in on the big secret: who killed Judd? He killed himself – thanks to Will Reeves using the Klan’s own memetic hypnosis to suggest that the police chief hang from a noose. What we don’t have yet are motivations or further answers – such as why Judd keeps his grandfather’s Klan robes in his house – but there’s no Lost-style dangling thread here. The grand reveal may ring a little hollow, but at least it arrives after hours of groundwork. We might not know exactly why he did it – but we can certainly guess.
By the time Angela wakes up, with Lady Trieu of all people watching over her, she (and the viewer) have a clearer picture of what’s happened after weeks of toying and teasing. This was Watchmen’s chance to put most of the pieces together, and it sticks the landing to great effect. It’s what comes next, though, that will either sentence this episode as merely being a one-off great, or the highest peak in a series littered with exceptional episodes. The show has already presented many a cliffhanger – here, it’s Trieu’s involvement in the whole affair – and has often meandered around into the next episode(s) without reaching a definitive conclusion. Now is the time for Watchmen to put up or shut up. After this exceptional deep dive into the past, odds are that it’s got a lot more to say over the next three weeks.