Lovecraft Country is owned by HBO
Directed by Daniel Sackheim
The first episode did a lot of things right with its characters, it’s setting, and its stomaching churning tension, as well as how well it pulled from its various sources of inspiration to create something that we really hadn’t seen before. However, by the time we got to the end I started to worry that what made it so good was going to be pushed aside for something that felt more like a genuine SyFy series instead of an HBO riff on a SyFy series. Does Lovecraft Country keep up the excellent tone and explore its interesting characters in greater detail, or are we already going off the rails only two episodes in? Let’s find out!!
Despite the grisly ending of the last episode, we start things up here as happy as can be as Lita and Uncle George (Jurnee Smollett and Courtney B Vance) are making themselves at home in this LUXURIOUS mansion while The Jeffersons theme is blasting on the soundtrack. Lita is trying on all these fancy clothes that JUST SO HAPPEN to be in her size while George is reading all these books that JUST SO HAPPEN to be his favorites, and all the while Atticus (Jonathan Majors) is brooding all by himself as he remembers over and over again the monstrous creatures that nearly killed them the night before. I mean jeez, buddy! Get over it why don’t ya? You don’t see the other two complaining about the nice clothes, the rare books, and the creepy white dude who pops in all over the place like a very smarmy Batman! White dude by the way is William (Jordan Patrick Smith) who we saw at the end of the last episode that looks like a de-aged Matthew McConaughy, and he is rather cagey with the details of Atticus’s father but is more than happy to go on and on about this magnificent house!
Okay, I’m going to jump ahead a bit on my criticism here and let you all know that the big problem with this episode is that TOO MUCH IS GOING ON!! The problems I had with the first episode as well as my reservations about the ended proved to be spot on as there is SO much going on in this one episode that it feels like it should have been expanded to at least another two episodes. However, since they crammed it all in here, we might as well go over the pertinent details. The house belongs to the Braitwhite family which, as far as we see in this episode, consists of the patriarch Samuel Braitwhite (Tony Goldwyn) and his daughter Christina (Abbey Lee) who we briefly saw going all Jean Grey in the last episode. The Braitwhite family was originally lead by Titus Braitwhite who founded the little town of Ardham hundreds of years ago, and this house that they are standing in is the SECOND Braitwhite mansion. The first mansion MYSTERIOUSLY burned to the ground about a hundred years ago and this is an exact recreation that serves as Lodge for a Freemason like society known as the Sons of Adam. All of this is a bit much considering the last episode focused so heavily on gritty and realistic (if perhaps a bit overly dramatized; at least as far as the car chase was concerned) depictions of the racial climate of America in the fifties, but thankfully they didn’t drop it completely as it’s made clear that the Braitwhite family fortune was built off of importing and selling slaves which as you can imagine underlines the overwhelming sense of dread that permeates throughout the walls of this estate.
Now that we have all that straightened out, the current situation is that William is spinning up a story about Atticus’s father going to Boston for a few days which is why he’s not here now, and on top of that the Sons of Adams will be arriving later that day for a dinner hosted by Mr. Braitwhite which Atticus as and George are expected to attend. Leti on the other hand doesn’t get an invite for being a woman, but considering the spooky vibe coming off of everything, I probably wouldn’t want to go to it in the first place. Ah, and there’s ONE more thing that they throw at us, which is that Leti and George FOR WHATEVER REASON cannot remember the events of last night, so that would explain why they were enjoying their time at the lodge instead of dealing with the shock of seeing TERRIFYING MONSTERS just a few hours prior. They will explain this later, but I honestly don’t know why this was necessary other than I guess it was in the book and the book just paced it out better. In any case, we’re only about ten minutes into the episode so we should really get a move on with the plot! All three of them are feeling suspicious about all this, and so they decide to investigate further in the town of Ardham itself. What they find is… well I guess the best description is a cross between an Amish community and the bee cultists in The Wicker Man; a vague sense of sinister undertones coupled with bad fashion and an entirely white population. They also find this ridiculous though still rather disquieting tower right in the middle of town; standing taller than any other building and made out of dark stone. They’re informed by the town sheriff that it’s a… meat locker I guess? The village gets invasive animals regularly and I guess this is where they store the meat when they catch them. Then the sheriff goes on a “black bear” rant that for all intents and purposes is the Black Ice sketch from Key and Peele, and I’ll be honest; I was REALLY losing interest by this point. Like I said, there’s SO much going on and we’re being pulled in so many directions without a chance to really soak it all in. The three of them end up leaving the village right after checking out the meat locker, and we never get any better idea of what this community is or even what its relationship is to the Sons of Adam! It’s just on to the next plot point which is the three of them walking in the woods and those monsters from the last episode just start coming out the ground for whatever reason! Christina Braitwhite shows up before they get eaten and she calls off the monsters with a whistle; leaving George and Leti once again completely perplexed and not remembering what just happened to them.
George and Leti are sent back to the lodge to wait for dinner while Atticus is sent to finally meet Samuel Braitwhite, and when we first see him he’s having a piece of his liver pulled out for some ungodly reason; screaming the whole time because I guess it’s more cult like to not use anesthetics. When he’s done with THAT, he waxes philosophically about a painting in the room before dismissing Atticus without ever really explaining what is going on, why he’s there, and what’s up with his father. Look, they are doing a decent job building up a sense of atmosphere and giving us an idea of the dreadful things that could be awaiting Atticus and the others, but where something like Suspiria embraces its ambiguity to tell a dream like narrative, you definitely get the sense that everything in this show is going to be important and that you need to be paying attention. I’m paying attention and I get the overall feel of this, but it all just comes too fast and doesn’t stick around enough to sink in. Remember the plot point about Leti and George not remembering the monster attacks? Well Christina explains that it’s a spell that she put on them, she snaps her fingers to undo it, we hear George and Leti scream in the distance, and that’s the last it comes up; at least as far as this episode. What did that accomplish? I GUESS we learned that Christina has powers beyond just moving stuff with her mind and that she seems willing to help Atticus out if it serves her purposes, but there just wasn’t enough build up to the moment to make it feel like it meant anything; like say if Atticus had to consider if them not knowing about the monsters was perhaps better than living with that fear and trauma. That could have been a decent thing for him to struggle with, but the spell being removed is just another thing that happens in a sea of things that are happening.
Things only get more bizarre from there which would normally be a good thing but it all goes by far too fast so I’ll try to hit the relevant points. George, Atticus, and Leti are left in their rooms and for whatever reason a spell is put on all three of them to face their inner demons. Leti has to confront her feelings for Atticus who comes to her room and reveals that he has a snake for a penis (okay…), Atticus is attacked by a female Korean soldier who he’s forced to kill which I’m guessing is something that ACTUALLY happened in the war, and George is visited by the ghost of Atticus’s mother where it’s made clear that he didn’t simply care for her as the wife of his brother. In isolation, these three scenes are pretty good as the actors get to really make the most of their moments to shine, but it’s placement in the story is just odd because it doesn’t lead to anything nor does it seem to have happened for any particular reason. After that, George and Atticus go to the Sons of Adam dinner (they’re serving pieces of Samuel’s extracted liver because of course they are) where George has put together all the pieces of this puzzle based on a book he found behind a secret bookshelf. It seems that in the Sons of Adam, the highest ranking member is always a male blood relative of Titus Braitwhite himself, and based on the letter Atticus’s father left behind about his legacy it’s clear that Atticus is the great great grandson of a child born between Titus and one of his slaves. So, after all the shenanigans about monsters, magic spells, and mind games, Atticus is there to not necessarily be the LEADER of the group, but to be a very integral part of it.
It’s at this point that Atticus and George, as well as Leti, need to find Atticus’s father and GTFO because there’s a fifty-fifty chance that Atticus is about to be a human sacrifice and they don’t want to stick around for that. They head back to the stone tower from earlier and manage to find Atticus’s father Montrose (Michael K Williams); mid-escape, but still happy enough to see them and their car even if he’s the kind of tough guy who wouldn’t admit it. Their happy-ish reunion and valiant escape is cut short however as they drive their car right into an invisible magic barrier and while still recovering from that (sadly there were no airbags back then), Samuel rolls up behind them and BANG! Shoots Leti in the stomach. BANG! He shoots George in the stomach too! This actually landed with quite a bit of impact and is perhaps the only good thing about the scattershot pacing of this episode. I genuinely have NO idea where this show is going and therefore I could buy into them killing off two major characters in one fell swoop this early into the show.
Their deaths are not yet certain however as Samuel magically fixes Leti and promises to do the same for George IF Atticus willing participates in a ceremony for the Sons of Adam. This is perhaps the best part of the episode because things do slow down a bit and the characters get to talk to each other without it having to move the plot forward at a breakneck pace. Atticus is getting prepared for the ceremony which seems to be little more than a sponge bath, and all the while he’s talking with Cynthia as the two of them realize they have a lot in common. After all, both Atticus and Cynthia have fathers who don’t respect or seem to care for them, yet both still show up when needed for their so called family. Similarly, George and Montrose have a moment where George is trying desperately to get it through Montrose’s hard head just how much Atticus is a good kid, how Montrose never treated him right, and how George himself failed to be a good uncle to the kid due to his own shameful desires for Atticus’s mother; desires by the way that may or may not mean that George is Atticus’s TRUE father, but that’s left ambiguous for the time being.
That was a pretty good stretch of the episode (as well as a good scene of Leti realizing that she had essentially been shot to death and trying to deal with that fact), but then things go from zero to sixty once again and the episode’s climax is quite a doozy! Before I start complaining about it though, I do want to talk about what works about it and that’s the monologue they play while Atticus is partaking in the ceremony. The goal of the ceremony is frankly unimportant (apparently it’ll grant eternal life to the members of the Sons of Adam or something) as the key factor is how Atticus is being used like an object, a catalyst if you will, for the advancement of people who would just as soon kill him if he wasn’t so valuable. The monologue is called Whitey on the Moon by Gill Scott-Heron where he describes all the struggles he and his community continue to go thru while the US government is putting money into NASA to put a man on the moon. While I myself am a pretty big fan of NASA and see space exploration as a worthwhile endeavor, the point is clear and couples well with the scene. These white guys with all their wealth, their power, and their exploitation of Atticus’s legacy all to put them on an even HIGHER pedestal while the rest of the world is suffering around them. Whatever this power is that the Sons of Adam are trying to extract from Atticus to give them eternal life, I have no idea if it even CAN be used for good, but like so many other advances for the one percent or even just the white majority, it comes at the expense of the lower class and people of color; ever widening the wealth gap and creating a society with the greatest riches and luxuries of the world while not taking care of its most vulnerable groups.
Okay, so the ceremony is underway, and sure enough (just like a hundred years ago when a MYSTERIOUS fire destroyed the first lodge), something goes wrong and ALL THE SONS OF ADAM ARE DEAD! That’s right! They all turn to stone and are crushed under the debris as the house begins to collapse around them. Atticus manages to escape by chasing the ghostly vision of his great great grandmother while Leti and Montrose drag George out of the building as he’s still wounded from the gunshot from earlier. Neither William nor Cynthia were at the ceremony and we don’t SEE them get crushed, so we can only assume that they managed to escape as well, but just to make sure it sinks in; everything that this episode was built around, to the lodge to the Sons of Adam, to even the village of Ardham, seems to have been conclusively ended in just one episode. More than anything else, this is why I feel things are just too truncated as this feels like the end to a much larger arc that could have had a bit of genuine impact if given room to build and to breathe. In any case, Atticus ends up being the last one to get out and finds Leti is waiting for him with a very distressed look on her face, and it seems that Uncle George did not survive his injuries. Our characters break down as they mourn the loss of George, and the episode ends with a lot of uncertainty as to what lies before them on this strange and dangerous road they’ve set out on.
Perhaps the problem is me as I was watching this episode and was trying to make sure I understood everything because I knew I was going to recap the episode later on, so maybe someone who isn’t watching it in that way will have an easier time letting the events wash over them. Then again, even if I were to do a more straightforward review just talking about the pros and cons of the episode, the convoluted nature of the story is the first thing that springs to mind, and there’s simply nothing in this show that grabbed me the same way at least a dozen things did in the last episode. Yes, I want to see spooky mansions, evil cultists, and you can even throw in a few magic spells here and there, but the way that we get it all in one fell swoop here meant that savoring any of it was really hard to do; not to mention just how much of a conclusive ending they have for so much of what they built up! I definitely want to know where we’re going next because the ending of this episode didn’t really indicate much of a direction and I’m curious if we’ll be heading back to Chicago or if Atticus will be looking for any remnants or perhaps splinter factions of the Sons of Adam; it’s all up in the air at this point. Because of how good the first episode was and how strong some moments in this one were, I’m confident that there will be more episodes of this that I will like. I just hope that they can slow things down a bit going forward. I know that I’d certainly rather wait for a second season to get where we’re going rather than try to cram it all into one!