From the New York Times opinion page:
As with the original comic series, Damon Lindelof’s HBO show is critical of a society shaped by profound injustice.
By Jamelle Bouie
Nov. 25, 2019, 6:00 a.m. ET
… But through an extended flashback, what we learn from this latest episode is that he was in fact a black man: a young New York City police officer in the late 1930s named Will Reeves (Jovan Adepo). …
After arresting a white man for setting fire to a Jewish deli, the young Reeves is beaten and nearly lynched by three white officers, who are leaders of the city’s Ku Klux Klan.
New York City’s Ku Klux Klan?
As he walks away from the site of the attack — bloodied and draped in a hood and a noose — he sees a mugging. He could walk away. Instead, he acts. He fights off the attackers. The next morning, the local paper notes the altercation. Hooded Justice is born.
Practically impotent as a black police officer, Reeves has power to act while under the hood. But the mask doesn’t conceal everything — the skin around his eyes still marks him as black. And so he wears makeup and gloves to conceal his racial identity, to let the public believe that their hero is a white man.
Reeves eventually joins a group of costumed vigilantes and works with them, hoping the entire time they will assist him in his fight against the Klan. But they refuse. His lover, a hero called Captain Metropolis (Jake McDorman), believes he is delusional — that there’s no threat to the city’s blacks other than themselves. Reeves takes things into his own hands. He finds the Klan hide-out. He kills everyone, including his fellow cops. He burns their building down and returns home. His wife, horrified by his violence, leaves with their son. And he decides to quit. Hooded Justice disappears.
… Again, What kind of society produces masked vigilantes? Who takes on the mask?
The answer? A society shaped by profound injustice, where the victims have little recourse. Reeves could have been killed as a child in Tulsa; he could have been lynched as an adult in New York. Nothing would have been done, because nothing was ever done. In the show (as well as our own world) there were few consequences for racial violence and terrorism.
That society would produce someone who sought to strike back, someone who would try to deliver justice to those whose power in a racial caste system puts them beyond accountability. The people motivated to take justice into their own hands would be those for whom the law is not an option for themselves and their communities.
It’s not a plot contrivance that Hooded Justice is black — it couldn’t be any other way. A society that brims with the unresolved pain and anguish of racial trauma can’t help producing a reaction. Hooded Justice is violent and uncompromising. He beats and kills and acts in contempt of the law. But HBO’s “Watchmen” suggests his crusade is fundamentally righteous — that his brutal work is necessary.
Our society does not have masked vigilantes meting out punishment to racists. But if there were a Hooded Justice — if our history of racial violence and trauma had produced an avenger, of sorts — then “Watchmen” seems to say that whether or not it’s right, it is justified.
It is worth noting that the last paragraph is largely in the present tense. It’s less a reference to the KKK and the lynchings rampant in the 1930s New York City inside Bouie’s brain, it is a reference to how a black vigilante “is justified” right now.
P.S., I haven’t watched any of the show, so I can’t tell you if this is exaggerated or out of context, but this plot line seems …
Logical Meme has the entire plot of the sixth episode that so excited Jamelle. Keep in mind this is all taking place in New York City in the 1930s, where the Irish cops were all secretly in the KKK and publicly lynched blacks.
After Reeves arrests a fat white racist guy, whom he caught nonchalantly torching a Jewish deli – some young white police officers (who are secretly KKK) string Reeves (who they know is a fellow police officer) from a tree with a noose, as a warning, but then release him. This leads Reeves to stagger home with the cut noose still hanging about his neck, looking quite a bit like Jesse Smollett.
A black film theater in the city — which is showing The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Danny Kaye — experiences a (black) riot, which involves blacks attacking each other and destroying the theater. A white cop tells Reeves something to the effect of “This is what happens when you put a bunch of these animals in one cage together.”
Reeves then single-handedly uncovers a KKK factory operation, wherein nefarious KKK-Cyclops members insert subliminal, mind control celluloid frames into Hollywood films vis-à-vis manipulated film projectors, these subliminal messages designed to trigger blacks into attacking each other.
It’s like how Putin controls social media in the US.
When, over the phone, Reeves tells Captain Metropolis what has transpired at the theater, Captain Metropolis calls this in a “conspiracy theory that is unfounded”, and then says how “black people in Harlem cause riots all on their own.” But Reeves has saved the book that the white KKK Cyclops members left on a desk, a fictional book called Mesmerism for the Masses by W.C. Florentine. Reeves asks Captain Metropolis to bring the whole team to help him, but Captain Metropolis says this is “not our cup of tea” and that “you’re going to have to solve black unrest all on your own.”
The episode then becomes a black revenge fantasy bloodlust, like a first person shooter game, as Reeves (donning an impromptu Hooded Justice hood) begins shooting all the evil white people at the ‘implant-subliminal-messages-into-film-projectors’ factory: first, the fat racist guy, then in the warehouse Reeves starts popping off all of the white employees one by one. After all, we know they are all clansmen, which makes it okay. In the factory, these white guys were putting together the doctored film projectors. Reeves even walks into a projector room where one white guy is actively implanting voiceover elements into various films and/or projector devices, saying things like: “Do not harm any white man, woman, or child. Only harm each other.”
OK, this is by the “Lost” guy who totally wrote himself into a profitable hole that he was not clever enough to get out of, much to the disgust of fans who’d stuck with his series.
So it could turn out that these events are later revealed to be some kind of delusion. They are so hilariously stupid that they might turn out to be a put-on. Might.
But if they do, Jamelle Bouie would sure be disappointed.