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.
Back when I reviewed Lovecraft Country, I wrote that the series makes a fine followup to HBO’s Watchmen, and that it’s the closest thing we’ll see to a second season of Damon Lindelof’s limited series. That statement was based upon five episodes, which (like Watchmen) subverted genre conventions (but with less comic-book-ness and more pulp splatter) to illustrate how Black history and horror are often interchangeable terms. I hadn’t yet seen this week’s episode, “Rewind 1921,” which performs its own retelling of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. And whereas Lindelof went cinematic with the burning of Black Wall Street in Watchmen, Lovecraft Country showrunner Misha Green leaned toward an operatic take. Yep, the LA Times even quotes series composer Laura Karpman as describing the episode’s feel as “a requiem” and “a piece of opera.”
The episode placement also brings a different vibe. Lindelof chose to begin Watchmen with the massacre, so that trauma was on display from the beginning, and we later learned characters’ connections to massacre survivors. In Lovecraft Country, we saw the effects of trauma first, especially with Montrose, a massacre survivor who has been downing liquor as strong as “gasoline” while struggling to cope with memories triggered by George’s death. Well, Montrose traveled back to Tulsa this week (courtesy of one of Hippolyta’s time portals) while helping Leti and Tic chase down the Book of Names, so they can do two things: (1) Save Diana; (2) Deter Christina.
Am I a little sad that Tic didn’t get to bring his new pet monster back in time to Tulsa, too? Yes, but while a raging monster eating racists in Tulsa’s Greenwood district would have been an amazing sight, it also (obviously) would have changed the course of history. However, Montrose realized that Tic was the “mysterious stranger” who beat the snot out of a white mob with a baseball bat in front of Montrose and George (and that links back up to Tic’s dream-vision of Jackie Robinson in the first scene of the series).
Lovecraft Country also (much more so than the Watchmen treatment) dedicated airtime to real-life figures who perished in the massacre. Montrose got the monologue while tearfully watching the mayhem unfold all over again:
“Peg Leg Taylor’s last stand on Standpipe Hill. Oh, that was something. Still, they burned down Briar’s tailor shop. Dr. Jackson, best Negro surgeon in all America, shot in the face. Mrs. Rodgers lost her invalid daughter. White Phelps took in Negros, hid ’em in the basement. Commodore Knox, they did him in the worst.”
And the invulnerable Leti walked through fire while holding the Book of Names as an operatic version of Sonia Sanchez’s “Catch the Fire” poem blazed as well. (Obviously, there’s a ton of CGI at work, but Jurnee Smollett did suffer a burn in another fire-filled scene during the making of this episode.)
As with the “Whitey On The Moon” episode, this show continues to crush the spoken word game with Sanchez’s poetry:
“Where is your fire? … Can’t you smell it coming out of our past? The fire of living… not dying. The fire of loving… not killing. The fire of Blackness… not gangster shadows. Where is our beautiful fire that gave light to the world? The fire of pyramids; The fire that burned through the holes of slaveships and made us breathe.”
Oh, and the past turned awfully circular here. We already knew that Tic’s ancestor, Hanna, was the only known survivor of the 1833 Ardham fire, and she escaped with the book, which she passed on to Nana Hattie, who noticed that something wasn’t right about Leti (her shoes). Leti confessed to being from the future and being pregnant with Nana Hattie’s great-great-grandson (George, author of the Lovecraft Country novel that Tic retrieved from the future). Nana Hattie chose to have faith and follow the course of history (instead of saving herself) while passing the book onto Leti.
Notably, Nana Hattie placed a spell upon the book so that it can only be used for good, not evil. This might be the key to Atticus defeating Christina, though it sure sounds like he’s gonna die according to the following: (1) Ji-Ah’s fox-sex-tentacle vision; and (2) Tic’s portal trip to the future. Whether or not he dies, one of Nana Hattie’s proclamations (“When my great-great grandson is born, he will be my faith turned flesh”) will likely echo in the mind of Leti through any future obstacle.
A lot of artistry went into this episode. It’s also wild that Lovecraft Country — although it was in production while Watchmen aired and had already been written, both with Matt Ruff’s novel and the HBO screenplays — follows up on Watchmen‘s comic-book-fueled dissection of generational trauma with pure fire. Leti, undoubtedly, has absorbed a great deal of ancestral trauma while holding the hand of the older woman burning alive. It’s powerful stuff and stands up to scrutiny from anyone who believes that Lovecraft Country is simply goofing off with haunted houses and horror tropes.
From there, we’ve got some loose ends.
Atticus vs. Montrose:
I’m truly hoping that son and (maybe) father managed to heal their rift (on a long-term basis) during their Tulsa time. Clearly, Montrose has been dealing with monsters from the past (both racists and homophobes) for decades, and he and Tic have been at odds for many years. Still, we saw Atticus reading Montrose’s favorite book in South Korea. Atticus suspected that Montrose favors The Count Of Monte Cristo because the protagonist successfully pursued revenge. Wouldn’t it be something if Montrose stepped up next week to save Tic from Christina? I’m here for it.
Christina vs. Leti and Atticus vs. Ruby:
Has Ruby had enough of Christina’s sh*t yet? I hope she’s on the brink of jumping ship there. Meanwhile, Leti (and by extension, her son with Atticus) is now protected by magic, courtesy of Christina bestowing her with the Mark of Cain. Presumably, this was a quid pro quo for Leti handing over negatives of those missing pages, but I think that Christina had no idea that Leti would end up holding the actual Book of Names due to this spell. This development might lead to Atticus stopping Christina from killing him. Still, he agreed to participate in whatever fresh hell that Christina plans to whip up during the autumnal equinox, and I guess we’ll see that go down next week.
William is “alive” again, and WTF:
Yeah, so Christina donned William’s skin again to spook-and-threaten Captain Lancaster and his goons. This grew complicated, though, because Lancaster was killed last week by Tic’s pet monster, and the cops are trying some sort of regeneration spell upon him that’s not working. We saw a suggestion of this horrific spell (it’s very Get Out, isn’t it?) in the “Strange Case” episode, in which Lancaster’s head appeared to be sewn onto a Black man’s body. Considering that Lancaster was tight with Hiram Epstein, I can only assume that the spell’s a result of Hiram’s Tuskeegee-esque experiments. Naturally, Christina-William’s thrilled to see it backfiring.
Someone please help Diana, this time for real:
In the last episode, Montrose proved to be the only person who noticed Diana’s distress while she was terrorized by the Topsy-Twin ghosts, who were a result of the cops placing a curse upon her over Diana’s incendiary comic strip. Unfortunately, he didn’t know that restraining her would allow them to attack and infect her arm, which withered away and died. Let’s hope the Book of Names holds the secret to reviving her beyond whatever half-spell Christina performed.
With all the grown-ups letting Diana down (disappearing on her and screwing up magical spells), I hope Lovecraft Country can come through for her during next week’s season finale.
HBO’s ‘Lovecraft Country’ airs Sundays at 9:00pm EST.