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 figurative; we’ll discuss the resulting symbolism on a weekly basis.
Lovecraft Country is starting to feel increasingly anthology-esque, with the episodes so far diving into monster, cult, haunted house, Indiana Jones-esque, and body-horror entries, along with the show departing from Chicago setting last week to show viewers what happened to Army Atticus in South Korea. This week, the show goes to… space? Yes, of course. I’d be surprised if not for two things: (1) This show’s been bonkers from the beginning; (2) Everyone from Tom Cruise to Vin Diesel to Kal Penn wants to make movies in the cosmos, so I don’t see why Lovecraft Country can’t journey across time and space before the real deal happens with those blockbuster-type films.
This move makes the show even more audacious than I gathered in my review of the first five episodes. And all of the gutsiness and creativity and tone-hopping and genre-mixing still comes back to reinforcing the larger message: Black history and horror are often interchangeable terms.
This week’s episode, “I Am,” integrated the effects of the Tulsa Race Massacre (which reinforced how this show’s a good followup to Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen), but most prominently, Hippolyta took a multi-dimensional voyage to discover herself (which yielded truths about how she’s been “shrinking” herself to suit how society sees her as a Black woman). We also learned a lot about ongoing Chicago events. As far as literal monsters go this week, that might have to do with Leti. We’ll get there soon.
As mentioned, the bulk of the episode involves Hippolyta’s road-trip-cosmic-journey, which somehow ended up involving Aunjanue Ellis executing fight choreography as an Amazon warrior. What she meant to do was to find out what really happened to George and unravel the mysteries of Hiram’s orrery, and all of a sudden, a portal opened up (gotta be careful about those portals, man). Before all hell broke loose, we did get a nice cameo from none other than the legendary Bessie Springfield, the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami” and first Black woman to ride solo across the U.S.
Hippolyta found evidence of George’s presence in the Ardham Lodge rubble, and then things got weird at an abandoned observatory, and my god, there’s a ton of exposition in this episode. Perhaps that’s the one aspect of Lovecraft Country that actually does feel overdone at times. Long story short: Hippolyta got sucked into that portal and landed on another planet, where she awakened with alien-tech implants. She was not sure if she traveled in time or is actually not on Earth anymore, but a giant “robot” with a human head informs her that she’s not a prisoner. And that led to a whirlwind trip for Hippolyta to explore different lifetimes as time coordinates whiz across the screen.
First stop: Paris, where Hippolyta was starstruck to find herself onstage with Josephine Baker. (This is the same face I’ll be making whenever we can go to concerts again.)
Damn, this show is layering those historical references on thick. Baker’s much more than a Jazz Age dancer, singer, and icon — she’s a symbol of Black female empowerment. In the 1920s, she ditched the U.S. for Paris, where she flourished (not only as an entertainer but as a Black woman no longer tied down by racism or the patriarchy). She later became a World War II spy against the Nazis for France and returned to the U.S. to become an NAACP activist. I’m pleased to also report that Hippolyta learned the dance moves and connected with Josephine. Their conversations were telling.
“All those years I thought I had everything I ever wanted, only to come here and discover that all I ever was was the exact kind of negro woman white folks wanted me to be,” Hippolyta told Josephine. “I feel like they just found a smart way to lynch me without me noticing the noose.”
Hippolyta’s next destination had everything to do with the name “Hippolyta,” who was queen of the Amazons in classical Greek mythology.
This whole sequence was flat-out wild with Hippolyta training as an Amazon warrior, rising to general status, and leading a battle against Confederate soldiers while Mother’s Finest’s “Fire” blazes on the soundtrack. (Seriously, it’s invigorating.) We saw blood spatter all over the camera lens and a beheading and a resounding victory speech from Hippolyta while enemy reinforcements lurked in the background, proving that the fight’s ongoing. Bless HBO for lighting this scene up so much better than the Battle Of Winterfell because it never hurts to see racists lose their sh*t in broad daylight.
From there, we saw Hippolyta come full circle with George as she revisited him (in a variation on their first scene of the series) in bed. He listened to what she had to say and apologized for helping shrink her down as a person. It feels like semi-closure. God only knows what this show has in mind for Hippolyta next.
– What of the Christina/William/Ruby triangular mess?
Despite the many social media reactions I saw (last week) that celebrated how Christina and Ruby are “a couple,” I’m not feeling so great about this “love triangle,” and Ruby appeared to agree, at least in the moment. She thought she was sleeping with William, you know? And there was Christina, inside of William’s skin, which Ruby had no idea was the case, so she never consented to have sex with Christina. It’s… a problem. Ruby left the house, although who knows how long that will last.
We did receive confirmation that, yep, William is dead, and Captain Lancaster killed him. Christina’s been hooking up his blood (and Dell’s) for her skin-crawling potions, and she’s making all kinds of noises about wanting to use the Book of Names for “so many other things,” which may or may not include romancing Ruby. Again, Christina’s motives are impossible to decipher, although Tic has made it clear that he believes she’s going to follow in Titus’ footsteps and use spells to wipe out Black America.
– Leti’s warning, the Book of Names, and the Tulsa Massacre
Before Tic showed up while cops were apprehending Hippolyta, he and Leti tried to track down the Book of Names after they have the same dream about Hanna (who was carrying the book) at the Ardham Manor. Sooo, magic must be in Tic’s family, and he visits a maternal family friend in St. Louis but learns that that book (if it existed) probably burned in the Tulsa Massacre. There’s a little interlude where he leafs through a photo album and notices that his birthmark matches one on his cousin’s arm, but Leti’s phone call interrupts that moment. Of course, Ruby heard the whole Tic-Leti exchange, which (I suspect) means that she’ll pass that information to Christina. Oh, and it looks like Leti’s pregnant, so I have to wonder… is she carrying an alien or monster? We’ll see!
– Hey, Atticus took a journey, too
Lots of developments for Tic this week, including a nasty exchange between himself and Montrose, who was engaging in a lover’s quarrel with Sammy when Tic and Leti showed up. That confrontation wasn’t handled well on either side (with Tic letting a gay slur fly before venting to Leti about how Montrose physically abused him). And while attempting to rescue Hippolyta, Tic slipped into his own portal. We’re not sure where he went yet, but he did return with a keepsake.
His re-entry feels super relevant because of the book he’s clutching. For a split second, one would assume that he unearthed the Book of Names, but it’s a copy of a book called Lovecraft Country. This also could have been viewed as a meta-reference to the show’s title, but the book’s not authored by Matt Ruff, who wrote the novel that acts as this show’s primary source material. Instead, George Freeman wrote what looks like a pulp novel called Lovecraft Country. Atticus nabs it and what looks like Hippolyta’s notebook, and from there, he bolts into what I assume is next week’s episode.
HBO’s ‘Lovecraft Country’ airs Sundays at 9:00pm EST.