‘Watchmen’: Damon Lindelof on Answering a Lingering Question From the Comic

Eric Goldman
TV HBO
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Note: FULL SPOILERS for Watchmen episode 6, “This Extraordinary Being,” follow.

The sixth episode of HBO’s Watchmen series was a pivotal installment, as we learned much more about the life of Will Reeves (played by Louis Gossett Jr. in the present), the grandfather to Angela Abar (Regina King), and the path he took as a young man (portrayed by Jovan Adepo).

As it turned out, after surviving the horrific Tulsa massacre as a child, Will would go on to become the world’s first costumed hero, Hooded Justice. In turn, Will would join the team of heroes known as the Minutemen, as first introduced in the original Watchmen comic book limited series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

The creator of the series, Damon Lindelof, spoke to Fandom about this episode and how he decided to fill in this notable missing piece of information in Watchmen lore.

JUSTICE REVEALED

Cheyenne Jackson as the "American Hero Story" version of Hooded Justice in Watchmen.

Lindelof has previously spoken about his memories of first reading Watchmen alongside his father, as each issue was initially released, and noted they became keenly interested in the mysterious identity of Hooded Justice.

Recalled Lindelof, “Hooded Justice was the only one of the Minutemen whose identity was unknown, and, in fact, didn’t unmask during the McCarthy hearings, and we were like, ‘This is setting something up.’ And obviously, it could only mean that Hooded Justice is the one who murdered the Comedian. Because in the second issue, the Comedian is sexually assaulting Sally Jupiter and Hooded Justice beats the s**t out of him.

“In hindsight, it was a rather brilliant piece of red herring-ness because we didn’t look at Adrian Veidt, who was in front of us the entire time. Because, lo and behold, the twelfth issue of Watchmen came out and Hooded Justice’s identity was never revealed. There was some speculation as to whether or not he may have been a circus strongman who washed up on the shores of Boston Harbor — but that was never confirmed and didn’t entirely add up. So over the years, I have really always wondered and loved that it was never resolved who Hooded Justice was.”

While Lindelof was speaking to HBO about a potential Watchmen series, he had been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s essays in The Atlantic called “The Case for Reparations”, which is where he learned about Black Wall Street and the Tulsa massacre, which then became a key component in his series.

Said Lindelof, “All of that stuff was happening independently of Watchmen, it was just what I was thinking about at the time that they offered me Watchmen. Then I just felt like if I were to do Watchmen, I don’t want to adapt the original. It has to be in conversation with the original, but not a sequel. But how is it not a sequel? Well, are there any unresolved things from the original Watchmen that could not be like, ‘Oh, and hey while we’re at it, we’re going to answer this question?’ That they could be the central idea of the new Watchmen? If we’re going to do a retcon, make it really intentional. Don’t just do it because it’s cute. Make everything about that.

“So I started asking the question: ‘Why would Hooded Justice never unmask?’ Everyone else did. And more importantly, when all the Minutemen were on a first-name basis with one another, during the time that they were around in the ’30s and ’40s, everyone knew that Captain Metropolis was Nelson and Sally was Sally — she wasn’t even wearing a mask. They called the Comedian “Eddie.” They called Mothman “Byron,” etc. But they all called Hooded Justice “HJ.” They didn’t even know who he was. So why? How was it possible?”

So Lindelof explored the idea.

“When I started to think about motivations for why someone would go to such extremes to never reveal themselves, even to the people that they were working most closely with, it just seemed the obvious answer was that in 1938 if you were a black man who wanted to fight crime, you would have to do it in a mask or you would be murdered,” he said. “That idea started to combine with my desire to take the story of the massacre of 1921 in Tulsa and present it to a mainstream audience and my desire to do that great thing that Watchmen did, but all great alt-history does, which is it’s just history adjacent.

“The Plot Against America works because Lindbergh actually did run for president. All of those ideas started to feel like they were on the third rail of my collective imagination. I started sharing that idea with people, both people who were very familiar with Watchmen and people who had low familiarity with Watchmen, to see if it was something that could be pulled off. “

RETCONING MOORE’S LORE

Jovan Adepo as Will Reeves in Watchmen.

Noting his own use of the term retcon, Lindelof acknowledged the source material and the famously adaptation-averse writer of Watchmen, stating, “Let’s be clear about this — there was no way that it was Alan Moore’s intention for Hooded Justice to have been a black man. And I know this for a fact because when we first pitched our idea to [Watchmen artist] Dave Gibbons, he was like, ‘Oh, that’s clever.’ He wasn’t like, ‘You have found the great secret I’ve been waiting for someone to discover for thirty years!’”

Added Lindelof, “The canon of the original Watchmen is just those twelve issues, right? Zack [Snyder]’s movie isn’t in canon, Before Watchmen isn’t in canon. And this television series isn’t in canon, unless Alan Moore decides to say, ‘Not only should you vote Labour but also I’ve started watching HBO’s Watchmen and it’s in canon.’ So I have to acknowledge that although we’re treating the original as canon and being as strictly adherent as possible, that this decision, the decision to make Hooded Justice a man of color, it was not within the original intention of its author. And therefore, we’re doing it anyway, regardless.

“I don’t know if people still want to believe that the identity of Hooded Justice was never revealed, since that’s what the canon says. We’re taking a stab at it in the same way that Oliver Stone’s movie is basically like, ‘we’re going to tell you who killed Kennedy. We’re going to call it JFK.’ It’s not going to be a compelling movie if Kevin Costner doesn’t get up there and say, ‘Here’s who I think killed Kennedy.’ That doesn’t make it so. This is just our version of this story and it felt like it was worth telling. Especially now.”

FAN GUESSING

Louis Gossett Jr. as Will Reeves in Watchmen.

The idea that Will might be Hooded Justice had been gaining momentum among fans theorizing about Watchmen, but asked if it bothered him that some guessed the reveal – and in the social medial age, that meant many others saw that theory – Lindelof replied, “No, and in fact, after seeing what happened on Westworld — and I don’t want to spoil Westworld — but in the first season, they did something in their storytelling where the fandom guessed [a reveal] after the second episode, which is the soonest they possibly could have. But it wasn’t revealed until the finale. We’re in the world of episodic storytelling and not binge storytelling, where if we dropped every episode of Watchmen at once, we would have approached it differently.

“But we thought after the pilot, if we’ve done our jobs right, people should be able to guess that Will is Hooded Justice. And we’re going to give them clues. We’re gonna put him in a red blazer and he’s going to have a hoodie, and Angela’s going to walk by these Hooded Justice posters. And at the end of American Hero Story, the camera is going to linger on Hooded Justice and literally a few scenes later we see the old man under the tree with a noose, and the noose is Hooded Justice’s emblem. There’s all the data. If we don’t give you a chance at getting it, then we’re not doing our jobs.”

Observed Lindelof, “In this day and age, it only takes one individual on Twitter to say, ‘Hey, I have a theory’ and then it’s cracked. So we had to walk the line of not being so obvious that the audience feels like we’re talking down to them but all good twists have to be guessable.”

Lindelof added, “We knew that when we eventually revealed it in episode six, that we should do so in a way that it would be revelatory to those who did not have a preexisting knowledge or curiosity of the historical Hooded Justice. And for those who guessed — and this is what I think Westworld did quite brilliantly in its first season — is that even though we knew what the twist was, the way they revealed it to us was super compelling. Even though I knew it was coming, it was still really cool the way they did it.

“Our conversation in the writers’ room became ‘How do we want to reveal that Will was Hooded Justice?’ If we did it at the end of an episode, where it was revealed and then cut to credits, that would have been the wrong way to do it. Because that would have been like, ‘Yeah, uh, thanks we knew this four episodes ago and you just treated it like a drop the mic moment.’ But we also knew that as episode six began, the entire audience wouldn’t have assumed it yet. And is it that big of a deal for people who don’t know Watchmen that well — to reveal that this guy Will Reeves was Hooded Justice? All of those things went into account.”

Ultimately though, Lindelof said regardless of how they tackled the Will reveal, “To oversimplify, the job is always the same. Can we make a really good episode of television? We’re trying to make a good episode. Not just in the overall chapter but we want to create an hour-long experience for people. In the midst of that hour, you’re going to learn the identity of Hooded Justice, but learning the identity of Hooded Justice is emotionally important. It’s not plot.”

THE OTHER MINUTEMEN

Hooded Justice puts us right in the midst of the Minutemen era of Watchmen, but the episode pointedly doesn’t prominently feature much of the team. There is a notable role for Nelson Gardner/Captain Metropolis (played by Jake McDorman), who becomes Will’s lover, but the rest of the team are only glimpsed in the background of one scene, purposely shot in a hazy manner.

Regarding why that was, Lindelof explained, We wanted to cast Nelson because Nelson was an important figure in Will’s life, for all the obvious reasons inherent in the storytelling. But Hooded Justice didn’t really connect with any of the other Minutemen in the story we’re telling. And then, of course, we had a lot of conversation about whether or not to dramatize the sexual assault that was so iconic in the original Watchmen. But we also felt that was very relevant to the Comedian’s story in the original Watchmen. But the Comedian isn’t really relevant here. It may be relevant to Laurie Blake that Hooded Justice beat up a guy who was attempting to sexually assault her mom, but we figured that terrain would best be covered in a scene about Blake, which we did in episode four. The actors we cast to play the other Minutemen were featured extras. They’re not relevant to Hooded Justice’s story.”

There are references in the Watchmen comic to a false relationship built for the press between Sally Jupiter and Hooded Justice, to hide his homosexuality, and the possibility that Hooded Justice was seeing other men behind Nelson’s back. Regarding those aspects of the story, Lindelof noted, “We’re dealing with that in the ancillary materials that are going to drop after episode six. So you should read those. There are a couple of things, and that’s one of them, that kind of squared the circle for the super fans but felt pedantic for the show.”

THE VEIDT FACTOR

Jeremy Irons as Adrian Veidt in Watchmen.

Watchmen only has three episodes left – and Lindelof has said the show is likely only going to be one season by design – and one interesting factor has been the Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons) story, which has found him, quite literally, in a very different space than the other characters.

Regarding when it might all come together, Lindelof said, “I’ll just reiterate what I’ve been saying since the very beginning, which is it is going to connect. It is not a parallel track but two tracks running toward one another. I think that it’s probably best to say, just in terms of sheer management of expectation, that the connection will probably happen in the last episode or two.

“But you don’t have to wait long, that’s the good news. How they connect and what the two stories’ relationship to one another is is something I’m not going to comment on but I would refer people back to what you said earlier about the fandom’s ability to guess things. One of the things I love about the original Watchmen is that if by the time you get to Rorschach being unmasked, you were given multiple opportunities to say, ‘Why am I seeing this red-headed dude with the sign so much?’ All of the information is there in the first five episodes — because obviously there’s no cutaway in the sixth episode — to create an informed opinion as to how he might connect to the Tulsa storyline. It has definitely been conveyed to me, by some of the other writers, that there are some people out there who have come dangerously close to approximating how those two stories are going to crash into one another.”

The reveal in the fifth episode that Veidt was indeed not on Earth found him using corpses of his cloned servants to write the message, “Save Me D” – with the camera not capturing what the third word was. Many surmise it’s Doctor Manhattan, though I did joke about the meta possibility that he was writing “Save Me Damon.”

Said Lindelof, “I love that first theory because he took the time to spell out ‘Doctor.’ He could have said ‘Jon’ and handled it in three letters! I’ve also heard it speculated that it may be Dan Dreiberg. Of those possibilities, I will only rule out Damon.”

Watchmen airs Sundays on HBO.  

 

 

Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.