Spoilers for Watchmen Episode 6 follow below.
It seemed like Watchmen couldn’t possibly get any better after its jaw-dropping fifth episode, but then Episode 6 comes along and just blows our minds all over again. This week’s stunning episode, “This Extraordinary Being,” was told almost entirely in flashback form, as Angela (Regina King) had just downed her grandfather’s entire bottle of “Nostalgia”—a drug that allows one to re-live old memories. This allowed for the show to put Angela in her grandfather’s shoes, as the Tulsa Race Massacre survivor found his way to New York City, began a career as a police officer, and then single-handedly inspired the creation of the Minutemen.
Yes indeed, those theories that Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.) was Hooded Justice were confirmed in Episode 6, but it’s far more complicated than simply deciding to become a superhero. After just barely surviving a lynching by his fellow white police officers, Will came to the rescue of a couple being assaulted—with a noose still around his neck, and wearing the hood to hide his face. He subsequently donned the “Hooded Justice” moniker to fight crime in 1940s NYC, but heartbreakingly had to hide his race with white makeup.
This Watchmen episode played out visually in somewhat abstract form, as it was showcased in black and white with flourishes of color to mimic the experience Angela was having while overdosing on Nostalgia. To that end, director Stephen Williams brilliantly shot multiple sequences as long “one-ers” so that he could swap out the young Will Reeves (Jovan Adepo) with Angela all in one shot. It was a stunning, brutal, incredibly emotional hour of storytelling and Williams deserves all the accolades sure to come his way.
When Collider’s own Steve Weintraub spoke with showrunner Damon Lindelof about Watchmen for an exclusive interview last month, he asked how the episode came together. Lindelof said when they pitched HBO the idea of presenting the whole installment in black-and-white, there was initially some hesitation:
“It wasn’t written in the script as being black and white, but then we told HBO that was our intention and that there would be bursts of color to evoke memories that Will was having from Tulsa ’21, because that memory, that trauma was so vivid and it was bleeding into all his other memories. And HBO was like, ‘Let us have a think on that,’ and then they came back to us and said, ‘If it’s just for this one episode, we’re cool with it as a stylistic choice.’”
Lindelof says it was Williams who conceived of the idea to create vignettes within the episode that would be captured as if they were one long shot:
“That’s the way that Stephen Williams wanted to shoot it, because these were subjective memories and we were going to be doing these swaps between Jovan and Regina, so that we could continue to remind the audience that Angela is actually having the subjective experience of walking in her grandfather’s literal shoes. He said the best way to do that would be with no cuts. I was like, ‘Whoa, ok.’ He said ‘It’s not going to be an uninterrupted shot like Birdman, but each one of these vignettes I think I can do as one-ers. And as proof of concept, I’m going to go out with the DP and we’re essentially going to block out on my iPhone each scene with stand-ins, and I’ll show you what I’m going to do.’ And he did just that. And when I saw his blocking, I was like, ‘Alright, vaya con dios, this feels like it’s going to work.’”
And holy hell did it work. This was one of the best-directed episodes of television I saw all year, and that’s saying something.
For more on Watchmen, check out Vinnie’s weekly Questions column and Lindelof’s breakdown of that Hooded Justice reveal.