This week I was reminded with a big, thundering oomph that the sixth episode of HBO’s The Watchmen, This Extraordinary Being, is some of the finest television I’ve ever seen. The focus of this episode is inherited pain, the idea that it can be passed on from generation to generation. And at the heart of all this pain is a virus called white supremacy.
I won’t spoil anything more than that because this episode rewrites The Watchmen comic and if you haven’t read it then I highly recommend you would before you start the show. I watched it with my roommate not so long ago, who hadn’t read the comic, and afterwards she was so baffled by what she’d seen that I began to appreciate the show even more. The fact that not only would it have the courage to say “absolutely not, fuck white supremacy” but also to rewrite the intent and themes of the graphic novel without providing any hand holding to the folks who don’t know what this world is all about...just...woah.
I love this episode for so many reasons; the dad stuff, the confrontation of racism, the black and white saturation, the way the camera stops and stutters through time. In one moment a baby is born and in his mother’s arms, and as she carries him behind a door frame he’s suddenly a young boy. People age and get younger, characters return from the far future, and in the background the protagonist’s dead mother is constantly playing piano. Even the camera is haunted; it floats around this space watching each character ominously. Speaking of which, this whole episode reminds me of A Ghost Story in that way.
It also reminds me of The Fire Next Time, a book I’ve been thinking about all week. It’s a collection of essays from James Baldwin and one of them is a letter he sent to his nephew in 1963, the anniversary of one hundred years of emancipation. And in it, he writes:
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You know, and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon.