HBO’s Lovecraft Country is ambitious and astounding and will undoubtedly blow your expectations away. Created by Misha Green, who’s working with Matt Ruff’s 1950s-set dark-fantasy novel as source material, the show counts horror visionary Jordan Peele and sci-fi maestro J.J. Abrams as executive producers. The show is full of literary and musical references, along with monsters, both in-your-face and and figurative; we’ll discuss the resulting symbolism on a weekly basis.
So far, Lovecraft Country‘s monsters have shone light on how Black history and horror are often interchangeable terms while exploring “sundown towns” and cult rituals gone amiss, along with a commentary-filled soundtrack that includes Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey On The Moon” and Marilyn Manson. Figurative and literal monsters have abounded, and this week, the show gets down with what (at first) appears to be a classic haunted house story (but is, contextually, so much more) in the “Holy Ghost” episode.
The themes might be complex, but the action is straightforward and more of a building block for what’s to come. Atticus and Leti struggle to cope with what went happened in Ardham, including a certain snake-vision, in different ways that intersect. We also learn more about what sure sounds like a scheme from Christina Braithwaite, although the show’s making a mystery of where on the evil-good spectrum her intents are sitting, as well as the whereabouts of her associate, Patrick. As some of you fine people have pointed out, we’ve never seen them in the same room together.
Let’s move on with the action because there’s so much this week.
Letitia F*cking Lewis living up to her full name:
Jurnee Smollett tearing down the street with a baseball bat, smashing windows of her racist Chicago North Side neighbors isn’t the most shocking visual of the episode, but it’s a striking sight. What had seemed like a (suspiciously) great deal (and an opportunity to open a boarding house) turns into a nightmare when neighborhood racism stirs up dormant spirits trapped within her new home. The burning cross in Leti’s front yard push her over the edge, but the spirits inside the Victorian structure were already primed for vengeance. This leads to an unsettling and gruesome climax.
Lovecraft Country does a Poltergeist send-up:
There’s a lot of exorcism scenes out there, but one would be hard-pressed to outdo the satisfaction gained from watching this one: a gathering of ghosts (with mutilated bodies) joining hands with Leti to force Hiram Epstein’s soul out of Atticus, and it’s all set to more gospel (Shirley Caesar’s “Satan, We’re Gonna Tear Your Kingdom Down”). Yes, it’s somehow connected to that damn Order of the Ancient/Sons of Adam cult, as Christina confirms later this episode in a windy bout of exposition. It’s a complicated web, but Leti had purchased the Winthrop House, named for Horatio Winthrop, a founding member of the cult who stole scripture and influenced Epstein as a follower. He’s the monster who kidnapped Black South Side residents, upon whom he performed tortuous, inhumane experiments. Leti knows they only want to be free, and Jurnee Smollett is killing this role.
— jurnee smollett (@jurneesmollett) August 31, 2020
Leti also believes that her mother left an inheritance, which adds to existing tension with her sister, Ruby, but this is all a ruse from Christina, who’s pulling financial strings. Does Christina actually mean to reveal her entire hand to Atticus regarding her aim to decode the entire Book of Adam? It’s hard to say. On one hand, she knows that no one would believe Atticus if he tried to sound the alarm on her actions. On the other, she also has quite an ax to grind against the cult (and apparently knew that ceremony would explode), so perhaps she’s more benevolent than she appears. Hell, George even threw out the “don’t judge a book by its cover” line, and I don’t think Jordan Peele would agree with tossing that line into the script without coming back to it.
More bad dudes getting taken out:
Anyone who’s watched the first few episodes of this show knows that Lovecraft Country isn’t afraid of getting graphic (that giant ghost with a baby head? yikes), but its violence isn’t gratuitous or without a purpose. As our own Brian Grubb pointed out, this show loves to take out bad guys in the best ways, and this house appears to have gathered quite a few white home invaders in its crawlspace. We see one get beheaded by an elevator, which is both brutal and efficient (even if the scene was literally too dark).
We’re done with this week’s monsters, so let’s do loose ends.
Montrose and Atticus’ secrecy pact:
I gotta say that Montrose makes a fair point when he asserts that telling the truth about George’s disappearance could be counterproductive, due to revealing that “white people also have magic on their side.” We also see another reminder that Montrose favors classic lit like Alexander Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo whereas Atticus favors the pulp fiction also beloved by the late George (whose Dracula love comes up this week). Atticus also loves Lovecraft (despite the author’s racist legacy), whereas Dumas experienced racism first hand and did not shy away from exploring the effects of colonialism. There’s a lot of layers there that we’ve already discussed about this show’s literary references, but I also think it reinforces that George is Atticus’ real father.
Another well-placed use of spoken word:
Like with last week’s “Whitey On the Moon,” this show crushes the soundtrack/spoken-word game. The episode opens with Leti at church with a voiceover from a 3-year-old Nike “Be True” campaign, which starred Leiomy Maldonado, the transgender model and “Wonder Woman of Vogue” who appears as a judge on HBO Max’s Legendary. Maldonado, much like Leti, climbs metaphorical mountains and breaks down barriers:
“Hey Lei, What did you do, to make a mark on this world? What mountains did you climb? Which angels gave you their wings? Which skies have you flown? When you reach the heavens, who was there to catch when you fell? And did they tell you that you saved them too, like you saved me? That they are mending their wings and holding them up to the sun, just to step back and watch… you fly.”
Not too long after this scene, Leti endures even more than she’s seen already. Not only does she lose her virginity to Atticus this episode (that puts a whole new spin on that snake scare), but she pieces together faces of the murdered South Side residents that materialized in her darkroom photos. She does all of the detective work, and Atticus attempts to play hero at the end of the hour by confronting Christina, who isn’t about to be intimidated. Then there’s the different way that Leti and Atticus deal with trauma: she resolves to confront it, while he’d prefer to simply move out of the house. In the end, Leti helps the spirits mend themselves, and I hope that means that Leti helps them fly.
Oh, and the show also hot-dropped another mystery. This looks interesting.
HBO’s ‘Lovecraft Country’ airs Sundays at 9:00pm EST.