The Watchmen Explores Transgenerational Trauma
Episode 6 of The Watchmen series is one of the blackest moments I’ve ever witnessed on television. The episode is titled “This Extraordinary Being” and returns to a scenario where Angela Abar (Sister Night as her hero name) has consumed a vial of memory pills that allows her to psychoactively experience her grandfather’s memories. Transgenerational trauma is the theory that trauma can be transferred down through generations through post-traumatic stress disorder mechanisms. From a genetic perspective, researchers have theorized that epigenetic markers can be left on a person’s genes after they experience trauma, which is then passed down through generations. The idea is that the genes themselves are not mutated, but the trauma alters the “mechanism by which the gene is converted into proteins, or expressed.”
The way that the writers of this Watchmen episode (Damon Lindelof and Cord Jefferson) explore the theory of transgenerational trauma is jarring.
They want blood, we all hangin’ with a noose on our neckMeek Mill – Trauma
If you were to ask the average black person what time period they would like to travel back to, you would probably be met with a confused stare. While I do not speak for an entire race, the betting man in me says 95% of African-Americans would not want to go backwards to any point in history. In a famous Dave Chappelle sketch with the “Time Haters”, the group travels back to when slavery was legal. Donnell Rawlings comedically runs off stating he can’t be a slave before Dave shoots the slave master.
In episode 5 of The Watchmen Sister Night has to quickly swallow a bottle of pills containing her grandfather’s memories before getting arrested. This would be an absolute nightmare scenario for most black Americans. Episode 6 of The Watchmen explores how this would all play out.
Jovan Adepo’s (The Leftovers) performance absolutely steals the episode, which is saying a lot since he is acting alongside Regina King. Jovan’s performance starts with him graduating the New York police cadet academy as officer William Reeves. He immediately deals with a microaggression as the police captain skips over him while congratulating all of the other white graduates. A black ranking officer does greet him, giving him the advice “to beware of the Cyclops.”
The story continues to unfold and we graphically get to see the Hooded Justice hero origin story and how a gay black superhero started the costumed crime fighting trend in the Watchmen universe. William ends up “harassing” the wrong person and arrests a man simply known as Fred (bonus points if you got the political reference) who is a powerful member of the racist Cyclops crime group. This ultimately ends up with Reeves being lynched by fellow white police officers who put a hood over his head and hang him from a tree. The officers decide not kill Reeves and end up letting him down. The series masterfully cuts to showing Angela lying on the ground in pain instead of Will, again emphasizing that she is experiencing her grandfathers trauma.
Reeves puts the hood and noose back on, then leverages his anger and fear to become Hooded Justice. Hooded Justice uses his rage to absolutely thrash criminals and KKK members the rest of the episode, which makes him privy to the Cyclops master plan.
The Cyclops master plan is to disenfranchise black people through mind control using video in theatres and to ultimately incite violence against each other (*cough* Worldstar *cough*). Hooded Justice ultimately thwarts this plan, destroying the mind control devices and burning down the facility. William does keep a piece of the technology himself before burning everything down, which he uses in the modern day to make Judd Crawford kill himself.
If you can only imagine—this isn’t 2019—you have to be concerned for your own life not only as a black man in the early 1900s in a major city, but a black man who, in those times, was considered “not normal” because he’s sexually attracted to men. There’s turmoil even as he tries to find that stability because as a cop he’s surrounded by people who stand against who he is. Eventually, in his mind, the only way to serve justice is by not being himself, in a way.Jovan Adepo via GQ.com interview