Lovecraft Country is owned by HBO
Directed by Victoria Mahoney
We’re back with even more haunted shenanigans against the backdrop of the ACTUALLY terrifying 1950s, and after the last episode ended up being a refreshing change of pace by telling a straightforward ghost story I’m once again optimistic that this show will live up to the potential I saw in that first episode! Is this another great story that continues the upward momentum of the series, or is going to be like The X-Files where we alternate between the awesome monster of the week episodes and the less interesting government conspiracy ones? Let’s find out!!
We start the episode with Atticus’s father Montrose (Michael K Williams) who’s still dealing with the death of his brother George by crawling into a bottle, but on top of that he’s been reading a book he got from George about the Sons of Adam that contains ALL the answers that Atticus and Leti (Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett) have been looking for… and he just burns it; probably in grief but also possibly due to that whole Eldritch Horror thing that Lovecraft liked to do. Perhaps the book was so horrifying that any mortal man with a shred of conscious cannot read it without losing their own mind, but then Montrose’s motivations have ALWAYS been extremely guarded so it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on with him on an episode to episode basis.
Now the big problem I’ve had with this show is the convoluted nature of its Mythology, and I’ll give this episode credit for making at least SOME of it clearer. The Sons of Adam get their power from something called THE LOST BOOK OF NAMES, and there are two sets of deciphered pages. These are the MacGuffins that are driving the narrative throughout the episode as Atticus and Leti are looking for the set of pages owned by Titus (the guy who started the Sons of Adam and is the ancestor of Atticus) which are hidden in some sort of secret vault, while Christina (Abbey Lee) is looking for the pages stolen by Hiram (the ghost in the last episode). It’s straightforward enough that you can focus on this episode on its own like you could with the ghost story, but also mercifully has enough of the Sons of Adam stuff informing it that some of that nonsense can start to seep in and become easier to understand.
Christina goes to Leti’s house to see if she can pick up Hiram’s Orrery which is a model of a solar system and we can assume it’s the key to finding the pages Hiram stole and deciphered on his own. Apparently this was the reason she bankrolled the house for Leti, but to her disappointment the Orrery is nowhere to be found as it turns out that Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) had just… taken it? I remember she saw it at one point in the last episode during the party, but I don’t remember her thinking it was cool enough to just smuggle back to her place! In any case, Leti is no doubt perturbed by Christina’s visit and goes to see Atticus who explains that he’s looking for Titus’s pages to learn spells from it or something to try and protect everyone from Christina. So what’s his big plan for finding the pages? Go to the library and read a bunch of books apparently. I mean granted, that was probably a good idea before we could go to Wikipedia for everything, but it’s clear that the only person who may have an idea where they could be is Montrose, and Atticus is NOT looking forward to that conversation.
The daddy issues are still very strong with this guy, which is fitting because the two are exactly alike; both ornery and defiant just to try and prove how in control they are when they are so obviously not. Then again, I’m not entirely sure if I’d describe the writing here as all that great. The conversation him, Atticus, and Leti have where they try to convince him to tell them what he knows is well acted but VERY strangely motivated. Michael K Williams spends a few minutes putting on his toughest face while letting his eyes betray the fear and sadness beneath which is by no means an easy feat for an actor… but after spending that time saying he’s not going to help and not going to lead his own son to a fight he can’t win… he just decides to help them anyway almost as soon as he finishes saying otherwise. If there’s one other issue the show has other than it’s convoluted mythology, it’s how tight the editing feels at points where character motivations and actions feel compressed, and this episode is already giving me flashbacks to episode two because of that.
That being said, I’ll jump ahead and say that I really did like this episode for the most part because from here until the end it’s very easy to follow and goes in a direction I wouldn’t have expected this show to go in. Atticus, Leti, and Montrose got a museum that has a Titus Braithwhite wing because he was apparently one of those dudes who plundered Africa for its valuables, and they basically find the third act of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade right underneath it. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was expecting the show to do at this point, but I didn’t expect them to jump the horror genre completely to go to a straight up swashbuckling adventure which I found to be an absolute JOY to watch! You’ve got a disappearing narrow passage they have to cross, giant swinging blades that are STILL working somehow, and they have to navigate a cave system that’s slowly filling up with water! Considering how tongue in cheek a lot of the occult stuff has been in this show it’s not exactly a COMPLETE one-eighty in terms of tone, but I will say that the biggest strength of this show, it’s use of genre tropes to convey the horrors of racism, is a bit lacking. We get the scenes in the museum where a white lady is explaining how the noble explorers civilized the “Dark Continent” while we view their plundered treasures, but I wouldn’t say it’s any darker in tone than that one scene in Black Panther.
That’s not to say those elements are completely absent from the episode, but it’s done in a less overtly trope filled manner. Hippolyta and her daughter Diana (Jade Harris) went to the museum as well (not aware of what the other three were up to), and they have a very nice scene here where they’re in a planetarium discussing constellations and we learn that Hippolyta won a contest to name a comet, but instead of giving her credit for it they just used the name she thought of and said that a white girl came up with it which has been the case with many scientific discoveries and advances. It’s a touching scene, especially at the end where Diana shouts to the audience that her mother named the comet so that at least one group of people know the truth which hopefully will continue to the be the case in our own lives as more and more people become aware of how many people of color were responsible for technology and advances in science that we just take for granted.
While all the museum stuff is going on, Christina is still in Chicago and seems to be rattling the cages of the local authorities. It turns out that the cops who were harassing Leti in the last episode and were connected to the Hiram murders weren’t just despicable racist cops (though they are still definitely that); they were members of their own Sons of Adam Lodge, and they don’t like Christina sticking her nose in their business. She’s not particularly threatened by them however and wonders why they haven’t found Hiram’s pages or the Orrery yet, and I guess Hiram ALSO had a time machine? I don’t know, they just kind of threw that line out there so I’m assuming we’ll get an episode about the HG Wells novel soon enough. But hey, if nothing else we’re getting details about the larger story in these fun bite-sized chunks instead of a deluge of exposition taking up the entire episode.
What doesn’t exactly work as well though is the subplot involving Leti’s sister Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) which tries to split the difference between the heartfelt race focused aspects and the ridiculous Sons of Adam stuff in a way that doesn’t gel well, at least in this episode. For all I know it’s one big convoluted plot that will make sense down the road, but here it seems a bit out of nowhere. Remember the Matthew McConaughey looking dude from the first two episodes; Williams (Jordan Patrick Smith)? So he’s come to Chicago as Christinia’s protection, but he also JUST SO HAPPENS to show up at a bar where Ruby is drinking her frustrations away. She had a bad as she learned she was passed over by another black woman at getting the job in the fancy department store, and she didn’t get much in terms of tips when singing her heart out at the bar earlier in the evening. William buys her drinks which she is immediately suspicious of, but if this white dude wants to try and fail to get something from her, she’ll gladly allow him to waste his money trying to do so. She mostly talks about the inequalities built into the racist system we all live in and how she has to try a hundred times hard to get where any white dude would just fall into. All of this is fine, but then we cut to them having sex at her place which just doesn’t flow well. I get the tired trope of juxtaposing a scene two people who don’t seem to have any chemistry with them then having sex, but they didn’t seem to be hitting it off and William barely even SAID anything when she was talking to him. It just comes off as really awkward and yet another area where it feels like a corner was cut on character motivations.
Since we’re on things that don’t exactly work, let’s go ahead and jump to the end of the episode. Atticus, Leti, and Montrose are working their way thru the cave which is starting to fill to a distressing level, and the tension breaks as Atticus accuses Montrose of hiding something from them. He admits that he had a book full of Sons of Adams information, but as we saw at the beginning of the episode, he burned it to a crisp which he justifies as protecting his family. Before Atticus and Montrose can start slugging it out, Leti gets them back on track and they find, of ALL things, an elevator. Not just ANY elevator, mind you! The elevator inside of Leti’s house! Okay fine, we’ll just chalk it up to MAGIC but now I’m confused if we’re still going after Titus’s pages or if Titus and Hiram were somehow connected.
They find the vault door just beyond the elevator (I’m starting to get flashbacks to Onward) and using Atticus’s magic Adam Blood or whatever, they manage to unlock it and climb inside. Where they find themselves is in the bowels of a ship as an ocean that shouldn’t be there looms ominously just outside the windows. There are many mummified corpses strewn around the room including one that’s gripping a roll of papers. Believing it to be Titus’s missing pages, they begin to reach for it but are stopped in their tracks as the corpse holding them comes to life, going from mummy to full flesh and blood, which is where things get… complicated. The person in question is Arawak; a two spirit person of native descent. While the actor playing the role (Monique Candelaria) says that she does have a native heritage which I won’t dispute, she is a cis woman and the show portrays her as transgender; completely with a prosthetic that we see before she puts clothes on. I get why they would WANT to introduce a character like this to go along with the theme of vulnerable populations being used and abused by white supremacy’s never-ending thirst for power, but the fact that they didn’t hire a trans native actor and on top of that used prosthetic anatomy to beat you over the head with it feels a bit tacky. This however isn’t the worst of it, but we’ll get to that soon enough.
The woman doesn’t speak English but for some reason but she and Atticus are able to understand each other. She explains that she was taken by Titus as she seems to be able to read the words on the pages of the Books of Adam. She initially translated some of the words, but when she realized just how evil Titus was, she refused to continue and as punishment he took her villages, killed them, and locked them in this cage along with her. While appreciative that she’s been released, she refuses to translate for Atticus either which isn’t the end of the world for them as they’ll try and find another way to get the pages translated, but as soon as Montrose grabs the pages the windows burst in the ship and flush them out. All four of them make a mad dash back to the elevator and head back to the surface where they can regroup and figure out what to do next. However, almost as soon as Atticus and Leti leave Arawak to rest, Montrose comes in and slits her throw which is the last thing we see before the episode ends. The first LGBT character in the show that looks to have a significant role to play is dead within ten minutes of being introduced.
It had a rocky start and there is A LOT to unpack about the ending, but it went in such an unexpected direction that I genuinely enjoyed almost all of it right up until the end. I’d definitely like to see them continue to explore pulp genres outside of horror (perhaps a noire episode!?) as the creators seem to have a knack for capturing the essence of those genres and giving them a refreshing spin on them with these very interesting characters. However, I’m very ambivalent of how the show can recover from this ending; not just for its somewhat tone oblivious casting and portrayal of this character, but for how she exits the episode. I’d guess there’s a fifty-fifty chance that she’s NOT going to die here considering immortality and resurrection are both things that happen in this show, but even if that’s the case it’s just such a sour and dark note to end the episode on that seems to be there just to elicit a reaction from the audience rather than genuinely get us interested in what happens next. We’ll have to see where it goes from here, but I’m less interested in finding out than I was at any other point watching this show; even after seeing that REALLY bad second episode!