“Deep Dive” is a in-depth podcast and video essay series with the stars, creators and crafts team behind an exceptional piece of filmmaking. For this edition, the IndieWire Crafts team partnered with HBO to take a closer look at the limited series “Watchmen,” and interviewed creator Damon Lindelof, and 10 members of his creative team to go behind the scenes of Episode 6, “This Extraordinary Being.”
“What is Hooded Justice’s origin story?” It was the question showrunner Damon Lindelof asked his “Watchmen” writers room early on in their reinvention of Alan Moore’s groundbreaking graphic novel. The answer to this question would become the basis of Episode 6 of “Watchmen,” “This Extraordinary Being,” one of the most formally bold 60 minutes of television ever made.
“For an episode like this to work,” Lindelof told IndieWire, “you need so many brilliant minds coming together and at any one time different people are taking the reins and steering the carriage.” To understand the brilliance of the episode, you need to understand its craft story and how the themes of generational trauma were translated into director Stephen Williams’ black and white, long-take dreamscape, which brings Will Reeves’ nightmare of racial injustice to haunting life.
In the podcast above, the “Watchmen” team takes us through every step of the execution of “This Extraordinary Being,” beginning with co-writer Cord Jefferson’s original pitch of how Will Reeves (Jovan Adepo), a young Black cop in 1938 Harlem, became the superhero Hooded Justice. In the video essays below, Lindelof, Williams, Jefferson, and others look at the pivotal club scene from multiple angles, discuss immersing the viewer (and Regina King’s Angela) in Will’s memories via carefully executed long takes, and talk about what went into reverse engineering Hooded Justice’s origin story — from its inspiration in the source material to its 11th-hour soundtrack from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Ready to Explode: Dissecting the Club Scene
At the heart of “This Extraordinary Being” is how the ghosts of the past haunt Will Reeves, who we discover in this episode was the small boy we saw escape the 1921 Tulsa Massacre in the pilot. In the club scene, analyzed in the video above, June (Danielle Deadwyler) addresses the anger brewing inside of Will as a result of this trauma. Will tries hard to ignore it, but the filmmaking team uses editing, color, and sound to show how his trauma is impossible to escape.
“They are the intrusion of other traumatic memories that are buried at a deep level within Will Reeves consciousness,” said director Stephen Williams. “So when they intrude with a different kind of visual vocabulary.”
In the first part of the video, Williams, editor Anna Hauger, and supervising sound editor Brad North break down this visual and aural film language used to bring the viewer into Will’s headspace and, as Jefferson notes, make the viewer “feel like you were watching a bomb getting ready to go off.”
Both in terms of story and form, there are so many layers to “Watchmen,” so in the video above we peel back the onion, watching this same club scene a few different times to gain a deeper understanding, as Lindelof, cinematographer Gregory Middleton, production mixer Douglas Axtell, and re-recording mixer Joe DeAngelis bring us behind the scenes of what was involved creating the scene.
Stream of Consciousness: Filming the Long Takes
When Lindelof first described the drug-induced “nostalgia trip” to 1938 Harlem — where Angela would enter the memories of her grandfather, Will — Williams saw the unique episode as a “cascade of images” that would require a visual language that was distinct from the rest of the series. The director would even work with Lindelof and co-writer Cord Jefferson as they were writing Episode 6, so his vision of a dream-like fluidity with surreal transitions that made the black-and-white flashback feel like one continuous action could be incorporated at the story level.
“It felt to me like the best way to render the sensation or experience of memories was to create a visual landscape that felt fluid, unbroken, continuous, seamless,” Williams told IndieWire. “What you are left with at the end of immersive with the experience of memory is an overall kind of impression of a complete experience. Not necessarily segmented into discrete portions, but one stream of consciousness.”
In video essay above Williams, Lindelof, and cinematographer Gregory Middleton break down the use of long takes, the episode’s need for a subjective intensity, and the incredible amount of pre-planning required to pull it off — including Williams and Middleton shooting the entire episode twice on an iPhone with the stand-ins before production commenced with full cast and crew.
Hooded Justice: Crafting an Origin Story
Damon Lindelof knew he wanted his adaptation of “Watchmen” to reveal that Hooded Justice was a Black man. In piecing together that origin story — taking into account the known details from the graphic novel, like Hooded Justice’s noose and hood, and that his first known appearance was preventing a sexual assault in a Harlem alley — Episode 6 co-writer Cord Jefferson pitched that Reeves’ fellow police officers would try to lynch him just moments before the alley scene where Reeves would become Hooded Justice.
“It’s an atypical origin story because he doesn’t choose to become Hooded Justice,” Lindelof said. “Hooded Justice is foisted upon him as a result of this assault.”
The success of the episode hinges on the viewer emotionally making that connection, specifically how the lynching compels Will, noose still around his neck, to walk into an alley, take on a handful of assailants, and involuntarily become the first masked vigilante superhero.
“Despite the fact that I wrote that scene and put all those elements into the script I was taken aback by how much it impacted me when I watched [the lynching],” Jefferson said. “I was surprised how much that scene resonated with me, about how terrified I would be, and sick I would feel. That loneliness of being in that black bag [as] the camera goes up with Will and hearing Will struggle in there as he’s preparing himself to die this lonely violent death.”
The subject of the video essay above is an analysis of exactly how this was accomplished — how the heady ideas of Lindelof and Jefferson’s script were translated by the filmmakers into such a visceral and emotional scene. Cinematographer Gregory Middleton, editor Anna Hauger, re-recording mixer Joe DeAngelis, and supervising sound editor Brad North analyze how the camera, sound, and editing came together to allow the viewer to so intensely feel what Reeves experienced at this moment.
You’ll also hear how Lindelof, at the last minute, asked “Watchmen” composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to write a big band ballad (“The Way It Used to Be”), that sounded like it was recorded in the 1940s, to replace “the perfect,” but non-licensable Doris Day song the lynching scene was originally set to; and how Hauger, North, and DeAngelis fed off the composers’ incredible last-minute track to create something even more immersive.
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