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.
This week’s episode of Lovecraft Country takes a break from Chicago and heads back in time to Atticus’ tour in South Korea. In other words, we’re not getting an immediate followup on finding out that Christina and William are the same person. We also don’t learn what that reveal means for Ruby, who thought she was sleeping with William while also swapping into the body of a white woman. And we aren’t seeing any followup on Montrose coming out as homosexual. This episode also won’t please anyone who isn’t a fan of the show’s abrupt tonal shifts, but man, no one can accuse this series of playing it safe. This week, we do receive a much-needed backstory on Atticus’ Army years in “Meet Me In Daegu,” in addition to more insight into his beef with Montrose.
Overall, this was a tightly focused installment — revolving around Atticus’ Korean War tour of duty, which led him to meet a nursing student, Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung), in two separate contexts (though he doesn’t remember the first) — that’s not nearly as complex as most Lovecraft Country episodes. Of course, there are still numerous WTF moments, so let’s talk those out.
Lots of wizard-y, borderline-snakey things:
Shout out to that trouser snake from Episode 2, but that wasn’t Atticus’ first snakey rodeo. In fact, he was all wrapped up and eye-penetrated by furry “snakes” after Ji-Ah lost control of the monster inside of her during their lovemaking. We’ve seen her a few times already (more on that later), but most importantly, she’s the owner of the ominous voice at the end of that South Korean telephone number. Of course, that first snake vision that we saw, back at the Ardham Manor, appeared to be strictly happening inside of Leti’s alternate, spell-driven reality as an allusion to Adam and Eve’s fall after she was tempted by the snake (which came out of Atticus’ pants).
This time, though, the snake-like creatures are more like furry tentacles. Ji-Ah has been transformed by a shaman — at the behest of her mother, as part of a combative, resentful relationship that parallels that of Atticus of Montrose — into a vengeful entity known as a Kumiho, a shapeshifting fox spirit that seduces and kills men. In order to break the spell and become human again, Ji-Ah must kill 100 men, and she intended for Atticus to be the final sacrifice. Yet she couldn’t go through with it when she first had the chance. And Ji-Ah ends up sparing him during their final meeting (when he finds out she’s a monster that hurled him, naked, across a room), but he’s still driven to contact her. Well, he’s kind-of a monster, too? That brings me to the next point.
Atticus committed some very bad wartime acts:
We know Atticus to be a generally levelheaded man who’s prone to fits of rage when it comes to his father. That’s something that scared the heck out of Leti last week before they reconciled, but we straight-up see the inhumanities that he committed while acting under orders of the U.S. Army. He executed a nursing student on camera while she knelt next to Ji-Ah, and then he helped cart off Ji-Ah’s best friend away (never to be seen again), which is what led Ji-Ah to faux-romantically pursue him when they meet again in the hospital where she works. Later, she tells him, “We’ve both done monstrous things, but that doesn’t make us monsters.” And hell, they could have worked out, if not for the whole shaman-spell thing ruining their romance with sex-tentacles.
How should we view Atticus now, given that we know he’s capable of also torturing prisoners of war (Ji-Ah saw this vision while connected to Atticus’ mind during their tentacled encounter) — is he still the hero of this story? In the debut episode, we saw him waxing rhapsodic about (the racist) Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess Of Mars hero, John Carter, while overlooking the character’s flaws. It’s a problem.
Otherwise, the whole snake-y sex attack provides for a bizarre backstory to Atticus’ brushes with magic before Ardham Manor. We’re gaining some perspective on why Atticus was so levelheaded, compared to George and Leti, during the crazy sh*t that went down with the cult. I mean, he managed to survive a spirit that reduced 99 other men into a bloody spatter like this…
… so perhaps a homicidal white supremacist cult wasn’t all that shocking to Atticus in comparison? Fair.
Is Atticus in real danger of dying?
It’s not looking great, let’s put it that way. Due to the powers bestowed by this ^^^ shaman, Ji-Ah’s Kumiho powers cause her to foresee Atticus’ death in America. We also learn during this episode that Ji-Ah’s phone warnings (“You should have listened to me”) may have sounded like threats, but she actually tried to stop him (“Don’t go home… If you go home you will die. I saw it!”) from leaving because she wanted to protect him. Obviously, Atticus didn’t listen to her and may live to regret his stubbornness, but he’s in too deep now in Chicago. He’s now devoted to unraveling the Language of Adam and stopping Christina from doing whatever it is that she’s plotting to do.
Here’s where we’ve seen Ji-Ah before this episode:
She appeared as the Martian Princess in Atticus’ opening dream.
She was Atticus’ imaginary assailant during his alternate-reality experience in Ardham:
In a show that never even needed a secret weapon to succeed, Jamie Chung’s sure looking like a bonus weapon.
Hey, Atticus once enjoyed Montrose’s favorite book:
Ji-Ah and Atticus ended up bonding and falling in love with their mutual desire to escape reality through pop culture. She adores Judy Garland movies, and he loves losing himself in books. Interestingly enough, we don’t Atticus poring over his usual pulp fiction (by racist authors including H.P. Lovecraft, who Montrose abhors) that was also beloved by the late George. Instead, we see him reading the same book, The Count Of Monte Cristo, that he took note of a few episodes ago in Montrose’s apartment. That was a reference to Black French author Alexandre Dumas’ pushing back at racism (particularly as exercised through colonialism) after experiencing it firsthand.
Atticus even requests for Ji-Ah to read The Count Of Monte Cristo to him, and when she claims to know the ending of the book, he realizes that she’s talking about the movie version. He’s read the book already and wishes to re-experience it… because it’s Montrose’s favorite. He’s not sure whether Montrose liked the book because Dumas was a Black author or due to the protagonist’s successful pursuit of revenge. Yet if it’s the latter, then we’ve still got a lot to see from Montrose before season’s end.
HBO’s ‘Lovecraft Country’ airs Sundays at 9:00pm EST.