TV Review – Watchmen Season One, Episode Six

Watchmen (HBO)
Season One, Episode Six – “This Extraordinary Being”
Written by Damon Lindeloff & Cord Jefferson
Directed by Stephen Williams

Once upon a time, there was a man named Bass Reeves. Reeves was a slave to many prominent men since childhood and eventually became a fugitive, hiding out in the territory of the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole. When the dust settled from the Civil War, Reeves emerged as an expert in Native relations and was made the first black U.S. marshall west of the Mississippi River. Throughout his 32 years serving in this position, he earned accolades as a skilled marksman and phenomenal detective. At one point, he even had to bring in his own son, who had murdered Bass’s daughter-in-law.

Many decades later, the story of Bass Reeves is believed to have inspired a series of pulp novels and a hit radio program that transitioned to television & movies. There was one significant change to his character, he was made white. That fictional media hero is known as The Lone Ranger. In the way that Bass served as the archetype for the mythical American cowboy, his descendant in the Watchmen universe, Will Reeves ends up being the inspiration of the masked mystery men. Using makeup matching the skin tone of whites, Reeves becomes the Hooded Justice.

In previous episodes, we’ve seen that the program American Hero Story is attempting to dramatize the foundations of heroes in this reality. Hooded Justice has taken a prominent role, with one of his early appearances being the halting of a robbery at a grocery store. This moment is recontextualized when we see that Reeves was actually investigating a white supremacist cell calling themselves “The Cyclops.” Reeves eventually meets Captain Metropolis & The Minutemen, who diminish his concerns about this menace in favor of things that will play better with the white media.

At this point, it is evident that Lindeloff has cleverly made race the core theme of this continuation of Watchmen. He has used the fact that the founding “superhero” had his identity obscured for his career with only speculation about who was under that mask. The show also makes the connection between Will Reeves and Superman very explicit when he encounters a newspaper vendor reading Action Comics #1.

Once again, as it always ends up in the Watchmen universe, the squeaky clean heroes of our fantasies are dark, grim realities there. The “Superman” of this world is a marginalized black man attempting to serve and protect as his father and grandfather did. He’s even married to a plucky female reporter. He is an outsider who also employs a disguise to fit in. But instead of this masquerade being a pair of innocuous glasses, it is the erasure of Will’s racial identity. The breaking point comes when he catches his son, Angela’s future father, whiting out his skin, smiling, and expressing he’s just like his dad.

Will learns that for all his desire to do good, protect & serve, society has expectations about whom they will allow to hold that place of justice-bringer. A black man is ignored as when Will witnesses a man firebomb a Jewish grocery store. But Will did play a pivotal role in another character’s life, Agent Laurie Blake. He was the hero responsible for stopping The Comedian from raping the original Silk Spectre, Laurie’s mom. One wonders how Spectre would have reacted if she knew Hooded Justice’s racial identity. As Captain Metropolis warns, the Minutemen are not all as “open-minded” like him. I’m curious if the rest of the world will learn the truth about the hero who started this all.

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