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.
While likening the experience of Black America to a horror show, Lovecraft Country is doing its best to make heads spin. Last week, the series did it with a Poltergeist send-up, and this week, we’ve got the “A History Of Violence” episode with a visit to a museum (that exalts Titus Braithwaite), which turns into an Indiana Jones-style adventure to find Titus’ vault and a sacred scroll. Yup, Atticus and Leti (with Montrose in tow) headed up to Boston, where they want to uncover those missing pages from the Book of Names before Christina can find and decode them to weave some presumably disastrous spells. Are these spells that might wipe out Black America? That’s what Atticus seemed to suspect while urging Yahima (who Titus also turned into a siren) to help them.
That’s after they discovered Yahima in mummified form, grasping the scroll and looking supremely monstrous.
Yikes. (Yet I’m glad that none of these tunnel moments included snakes because Leti probably would have lost her damn mind if she had to face another one.) From Yahima (who is visually presented as a trans person, although characters refer to Yahima with she/her pronouns), we received more confirmation that Titus was the real monster. His expeditions led to her Caribbean tribe, who he brought to America, where he promised to help them but killed them all and imprisoned Yahima.
All of this fits right in with all of the other lessons we’ve seen in this show, and of course Titus counted the abuse of indigenous people among his many other evil deeds. That Yahima doesn’t survive this episode is confusing but perhaps intentionally so (we’ll get to that soon). But using an Indiana Jones-style expedition appears to be Lovecraft Country‘s way of saying that a temple-raider is also a culture-raider, and it also fuels much of the action this week. There was a dissolving plank and a foreboding message — “Beware all ye who tread the path. Ever the tide shall rise” — and everyone nearly drowned before and after Atticus stuck his arm into a hole, and (wtf) used his blood/ancestry to unlock a door. Those scenes weren’t well lit, but we’ll make do.
“This is some Journey to the Center of the Earth-type sh*t”:
Obviously, the sci-fi-loving Atticus had to mention Jules Verne’s 1860s novel before Leti spotted one of her missing white neighbors floating in the abyss. This was probably one of the guys who got killed by that baby-headed ghost-thing, whose existence suggested that Titus and Horatio were mixing some time-travel into their white supremacist magic. And somehow, Atticus inherently understood Yahima’s language, which could have meant that he’ll be able to decode those spell pages without much trouble. That might not happen, though, since one of this week’s question marks involves Montrose, who bookended the episode by going apesh*t and then calmly slicing Yahima’s throat in the episode’s closing moments.
What the hell is going on with Montrose?
Montrose lighting a cult’s bylaws on fire and remarking that it “smells like Tulsa” is… whoa. We learned a few weeks ago that George and Montrose Freeman grew up in Tulsa, which (as Watchmen informed audiences after it was largely wiped from history accounts) is where the 1921 Race Massacre went down, including the bombing of Black Wall Street. There’s the suggestion that the Freeman brothers witnessed these horrors, as well as the possibility that Montrose is haunted by the memories. He’s also hitting the booze to deal with his grief over George, and quite possibly, the cult did something to him in Ardham. All of that bumps up against Montrose finally saying something fatherly to Atticus right before murdering Yahima behind closed doors.
Obviously, there’s duplicity here. At times, Montrose softens and seems to support Atticus, but he also tried to undermine the trip to find Titus’ vault. Taking out Yahima might also prevent Atticus from deciphering the scroll before Christina can nab it, and he burned the Order of the Ancient book that George wanted Atticus to have. Michael K. Williams explained this episode as Montrose wanting to protect Atticus, but that’s not how some Twitter users are seeing it. People have noticed that when Montrose snarls, “Smells like Tulsa,” his voice sounds different than usual. Almost like he’s possessed by a cult member, who’s orchestrating his movements? That might be a stretch, but Christina also could have put a spell on him. I really wouldn’t put anything past her.
Meanwhile, back in Chicago:
The return of William was really something.
In an episode that features Cardi B. and Rihanna songs, we’ve also got the second Manson tune of the series. “I Put A Spell On You” is a cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ 1956 song, for which Nina Simone also recorded a version. And as with all the songs on this show, including “Killing Strangers” earlier in the season (in which Atticus’ presumed shell shock parallels the lyrics referring to the PTSD of Manson’s father in Vietnam), this song selection is a telling one. My theory — after hearing William croon, “What if I told you that I could change your life, forever… it’s a promise that I can keep” — is that their sex scene involved some sort of blood ritual on his behalf. Ruby seems like a sharp tack with both eyes open, though, so I can actually envision her agreeing to something here, but maybe not involving the actual spell.
We’ve seen William (who has supernatural-looking markings on his chest) operate at the behest of Christina, and he knows that Ruby is Leti’s sister. We also listened to Ruby vent to William about not being able to get a department store job as a Black woman, whereas he would obviously have no problem doing so. What does he want? It’s another mystery, although Christina straight-up told Leti about something that she wants.
This scene, man. It begins with Christina arriving at Leti’s house while the camera recalls a famous photograph in Black U.S. history, something that the show’s been doing all along. When Christina attempted to enter the house, she ran into an invisible spell-wall and recovered quickly, almost sounding impressed while asking, “Who helped you evict Hiram?” Christina wants something inside the house, and that includes Hiram’s orrery (a model of the solar system), but something doesn’t add up. If she wasn’t aware of not being able to enter the house, then why did she go to all the trouble of secretly giving Leti the money to purchase it?
Leti wondered if Atticus was the key here, and Christina did that contradictory thing that she does — make a feminist declaration while adding a racist twist at the end: “Don’t let the men fool you into thinking that it’s always about them. His blood may have power in it, but that’s only because Titus spelled it that way. It doesn’t make Tic special.”
How sinister of a web is Christina weaving? We later see her bizarrely approaching children to play hide-and-seek in the street, which (I guess) was her way of getting cops’ attention. Captain Lancaster wasn’t thrilled to see her, and they exchanged barbs about Hiram’s “stolen pages” being the key to unlocking something, possibly a time machine. However, no one realizes that Hippolyta is in possession of Hiram’s orrery, and she’s still determined to uncover what really happened to George. After Hippolyta spots their daughter doodling on one of George’s maps, we can gather that she’s headed to Ardham. When we last saw the manor, it was crumbling into a pile of rubble and ashes, but who knows what Hippolyta might find when she arrives. Maybe more vampire things eating bad guys? Yes, please.
HBO’s ‘Lovecraft Country’ airs Sundays at 9:00pm EST.