Super Recaps: Lovecraft Country – Episode 5 (Strange Case)

Lovecraft Country is owned by HBO

Directed by Victoria Mahoney

We’re back with even more of everyone’s favorite gory soap opera!  Last episode found a fun and interesting setup to carry the episode, but sooner or later they’re going to have to make the Sons of Adam stuff be the least bit interesting if it’s what will ultimately carry this show to its conclusion; not to mention how much they have to make up for the utterly dour note that the last episode ended on.  Does the show finally find its footing and give us a cohesive narrative?  Let’s find out!!

We’re going straight to the nitty gritty right off the bat; half this episode is pretty good, some of the other half involving Montrose (Michael K Williams) is pretty underwhelming, and the rest involving Leti and Atticus (Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors) is quite insufferable.  If you’re expecting any real consequences or even acknowledgement of Montrose killing the two spirit woman from the last episode (apparently her name is Yahima while Arawak is her tribe I suppose?), you’re out of luck because Montrose ALSO burned the pages from the Book of Adam they found, and they are discussed with FAR more prominence than her.  Atticus beats the living hell out of Montrose for what he did and spends the rest of the episode sulking while Leti looks concerned which is not a particularly compelling thing to sit thru; especially since the whole purpose of these pages remains vague at best.

Still, as banal as that part of the episode is, it’s more of a subplot occasionally popping its head into a much better primary plot line about Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) which focuses on what this show does best; reframing genre tropes in terms of racial issues and making it both very real and very tongue in cheek.  In case the title wasn’t a giveaway, the episode is more or less a racial exploration of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story, and though it’s not the FIRST piece of media to do so, I think it has a bit more going on under the hood than Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde.  Ruby wakes up from her night with William and finds herself in the body of a white woman (Jamie Neumann) which is not how she expected to start the day.  Convinced she’s lost her mind, she throws on a bathrobe and starts wandering the streets of her neighborhood where no one recognizes her and everyone seems slightly on edge that this random white woman is wandering down their streets.  It turns out to be a GOOD instinct because as soon as a young Black man comes up asking if he can help her, a patrol car screeches in and two cops start menacing him; threatening to beat him if he doesn’t confess to molesting her.  Realizing the terrifying power of her own whiteness, she starts pleading with the cops to let him go and that he didn’t do anything which they eventually do and they take her back to William’s house as the cops were told that she ran away from there for some arbitrary reason (she forgot her medication that morning or something).  Ruby’s not happy about this but it’s not like she has anywhere else to go (I think she’s still mad at Leti?), and as soon as she gets in the house she starts to feel VERY sick; almost like her skin is crawling off of her flesh!  As it turns out… yeah, that’s basically it.  She’s carried into the house by William and is laid on the flood (which is covered in plastic wrap of course) to writhe in pain until William comes by with a big butcher knife and carves the white skin off of Ruby who pops out and sheds it like a butterfly coming out of a very bloody cocoon!  See, THAT’S the kind of goofy nonsense that makes this show work!  You don’t see Robert Lewis Stevenson writing anything like that, do you!?  Seriously, after what I just saw, Dr. Hastie Lanyon can talk to the hand!

After a brief nap to refresh herself after being carved out of someone else’s body, William explains that he developed a potion with the help of Hiram Epstein (the ghost from the third episode) which allows people to transform into something else.  Exactly how the potion works beyond MAGIC is not explained, but the important part is that it works for a short amount of time unless you take more of the potion, and that Ruby is free do whatever she wants with it.  All William asks is the Godfather promise; someday, and that day in this case will CERTAINLY come, he will call upon Ruby to do him a favor.  Despite the horrifying nature of the process, it’s hard to ignore the very devastating fact that when living as a white woman she was treated VERY differently.  As if she was a PERSON who mattered instead of someone at best tentatively tolerated and at worst actively hunted.  With that temptation whispering in here ear, she decides to go for it and has a great day out on the town as white people treated her kindly and she simply got to ENJOY life; all while an excerpt from the poem Dark Phrases by Ntozake Shange is being read in the background.  It’s an interesting scene that highlights the weight that Black women have to carry with them by contrasting it with the freedom that White women get to live with, and while not ALL aspects of being a White women are great (especially when there are plenty of White MEN out there), this almost idyllic framing of someone just enjoying a day out of the house is a very clear condemnation of the larger issues at hand.

With all this power now at her beck and call, what does Ruby decide to do with it now that she’s had her pleasant stroll thru town?  Why, she goes to the department store of course and gets a job as Assistant Manager after a very softball interview!  Using the name Hillary Davenport, she starts her dream job and immediately starts to chat up Tamara (Sibongile Mlambo), the Black woman who got the job that Ruby had been applying for.  It seems that the whiteness has started getting to her head however (or perhaps its simple jealousy) as she seems more and more flabbergasted that this woman, who she learns didn’t even graduate high school, skipped right over her and got offered a position here.  She actually ends up spending more of her time with the other white employees who seem quite jovial, but conversations quickly turn racial which puts a damper on things for Ruby as she’s definitely feeling some way about all this, but things are still looking up for her, right?

William comes by in his sweet convertible to pick Ruby up from work; not just to give her something to brag about in front of her coworkers, but to let her know that the time has come for that favor he needs.  She will need to attend a party for the city’s police as a waitress in her original body and meet up with Christina (Abbey Lee) for further instructions.  The cops if you recall are actually one of the Lodges for the Sons of Adam, and Christina is currently feuding with them over the pages that Hiram stole and translated himself.  It turns out that William was once the rightful heir to this lodge until Captain Lancaster (Mac Brandt) tried to kill him and threw his body in the river.  William managed to survive with the help of Christina, and now they can get their revenge.  All Ruby has to do is put a magic rock with a strange symbol inside the captains’ desk.  Can’t be TOO difficult, right?  After all, now that she’s in her original body and is play acting as a servant, she’ll be all but invisible to these white dudes going on about how great it is to rule the world or whatever it is guys like this talk about.  Well you’d THINK it’d be easy, but curiosity gets the better of Ruby who starts hearing some moans from a nearby closet and finds a dude stitched up and hanging from the ceiling inside.  I GUESS he’s supposed to be a zombie or something, and the scene just kind of ends there with her hiding in the closet as Captain Lancaster and his cronies walk into the office; meaning we don’t get to see Ruby’s daring escape which is a bit disappointing.

This is perhaps as good a time as any to talk about Montrose’s storyline which is running concurrently to this one.  The last episode laid some not so subtle hints that Montrose is attracted to men, and in this episode those suspicious are confirmed as he goes to some guy’s house and wordlessly has sex with him.  Then later in the episode we see he’s backstage at a drag show with this guy and wordlessly sitting on the couch in his regular clothes as everyone else is getting ready.  THEN even later into the episode, Montrose is wordlessly standing in the room where the drag show is occurring before dancing with the guy from earlier and eventually getting into the music, albeit WORDLESSLY getting into it.  I don’t know, I mean I guess Michael K Brown does a decent job conveying his emotions without having any dialogue to say, but I guess I’m at a loss as to what we’re supposed to take away from these scenes.  There’s not really any shock value or even spectacle here if that’s what they’re going for as we’ve seen this kind of queer representation in plenty of media before as well as the clear path that we taking to get to this point with Montrose’s character, so the only thing I can think of is character development which is fine enough I suppose but I think it would have been even BETTER character development if he simply TALKED.  I get that a picture is worth a thousand words, but they showed up a lot of pictures to get across the point that Montrose is not comfortable with his sexuality and can only express himself fully when he’s within the safety of this community.  Seems pretty straightforward to me, and I don’t think it required all the screen time that it got.  That, and I’m still mad at him for killing Yahima, so maybe I’m a bit biased about it.

Anyway, back to Ruby!  She somehow managed to escape and is pretty frazzled about what she saw.  Despite the terrors she witnessed and the zombie she had to share a closet with, she does her best to work at her dream job, but the things she’s learned about magic and the horrors that come with it… well the fake skin she’s wearing isn’t fitting quite as well as it used to.  To make matters worse, she witnesses Tamara getting groped by her supervisor while hurling racial epithets, so perhaps this whole BEING WHITE thing isn’t as harmless as she wanted it to be.  Feeling a bit down and not sure what to do, she has a chat with Christine (while COMPLETELY COVERED in white lady gore) and Christine offers her a new perspective on it.  This magic that she has access to; it’s not about finding a shortcut in the system that’s already in place.  With this, she can SURPASS the system; exist outside of whatever constructs the mere mortals have to live with.  So with THAT in mind, what does Ruby plan to do?  Well she dons her White Lady suit, quits her job at the department store, and then seduces her supervisor in the back room.  THEN she ties the guy up and as her fake White Lady skin starts peeling off in front of him to reveal a Black woman, she shoves a stiletto heel right up his ass.

Okay, I was with you at first, but then… yeah, things kind of took a turn there.  In a show that’s already on pretty shaky ground with some problematic elements, having a character sexually assault someone as a way of triumphing over them (even in the context of her embracing her new powers to perpetuate the abuse in power that she’s been on there side of her whole life) is not what I’d call a classy or even well thought out decision for this show to make.  Aside from that though, the point is VERY clearly made that Ruby is embracing this new life she finds herself in, and we’ll have to see how that clashes with what her sister Leti is up to with Atticus.  Feeling good about herself, she returns to Williams home but finds something very unusual there as he seems to be writhing on the ground much like Ruby does whenever she’s about to burst out of her White Lady skin.  William does indeed burst to reveal… CHRISTINE!  Yes, as it turns out, Christine and William are the same person which is actually a pretty interesting twist!  If you look back, they were never in the same scene together in any of the episodes we’ve seen so far, and it’s clear that her gender has been a sore spot for Christine for some time now considering how much the Sons of Adam are intent on excluding her from everything, so I’ll definitely like to see where that storyline is going!

What sadly isn’t as interesting is the last thing we see in the episode which is Atticus trying to decode the text of those pages from the Book of Adam.  They caught a lucky break as Leti managed to take pictures of the pages before Montrose burned them, but trying to translate a language with very little reference material is not an easy task.  Now I’ll be honest, I’m not sure exactly what happens next.  He translates… something.  I think it’s the word DIE, but whatever it is, it has something to do with a symbol that’s not only on the pages of his notes but was also on that rock that Christine had Ruby put in the Police Captain’s drawer.  For whatever reason, Atticus is completely shaken by this and immediately runs upstairs to call the Korean woman we heard him speaking to in the first episode; Ji-Ah.  Apparently she knows something about The Sons of Adam, about Atticus’s bloodline, and whatever the heck else is going on, but we’ll have to wait for the next episode to find out what any of that means.  Hooray…

.

When I recapped the first episode of this show, I facetiously compared it to a SyFy series with a bigger budget.  While I’m still enjoying this show for what it is and this episode is not really a BAD episode, I’m starting to think that comparison was surprisingly apropos as things seem to be settling into something that resembles shows like Lost Girl more than anything else.  Now that’s not to say that the aspects of this show that made it so engaging at first are absent as the racial explorations of genre tropes is still pretty spot on, but the way that it fails in other aspects (particularly in regards to gender and sexuality) are diminishing it’s overall thematic power, and the parts that are still interesting outside of that are incredibly cheesy and deliciously sordid.  The last few episodes have done a decent job of having a rock solid main storyline that’s cluttered with much less interesting lore and some rather unfortunate implications, and while that still holds true for this episode, it’s starting to feel like diminishing returns.  I’m still very much into this show and want to know what happens next, but they’ve got to right this ship before it completely loses itself in its own confused mythology and even more confused ideas of representation.

3 out of 5

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