Super Recaps: Lovecraft Country – Episode 9 (Rewind 1921)

Lovecraft Country is owned by HBO

Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff

We’re back with more Lovecraft Country intrigue, and it has certainly been an interesting journey hasn’t it?  We’ve had great episodes, bad episodes, and all the tones that you can possibly imagine somehow crammed into this very strange tale of magic and horror wrapped in the not so strange but still horrifying exploration of racial issues in this country!  With only two episodes to go are we heading towards a climactic conclusion that will make it worth whatever stumbling we went through getting to this point, or should we expect more of the same issues that have plagued this series for some time now?  Let’s find out!!

The episode begins with Diana (Jada Harris) in a near comatose state as all the adults in her life (at least the ones that are still around) start yelling at each other about how this could have happened in the first place.  Frankly I’m not sure what they’re fighting about as ALL of them are terrible guardians with Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) having disappeared, but the more interesting revelation here is that the Evil Twins from the last episode didn’t want to kill Diana with their razor sharp nails; they just wanted to… poison her with a magic disease or something?  In any case, Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku), being the only one with any idea of what to do, calls Christina (Abbey Lee) to try and make heads or tails of this, and while she DOES have some good news, it’s mostly bad.  She can reset curse essentially; giving Diana more time before it overtakes her, but to remove the spell completely will require The Book of Names, and we learned that it was burned during the Tulsa massacre of 1921, so there’s not much hope.  Still, Christina agrees to do the reset on the condition that Atticus (Jonathan Majors) joins her in Ardham on the night of the Autumnal Equinox.  They’ve mentioned this whole Equinox things a few time and I still don’t have a clear explanation on what it is, why it’s so important, and why Christina wants to do some sort of immortality spell on that night (especially since her dad EXPLODED when he tried it back in episode 2), but Atticus agrees so I guess that’s what the tenth and final episode will all be about.  They all start putting up transmutation circles all over the place while Christina goes to run an “errand of some sort” which his actually just her transforming into William (Jordan Patrick Smith) and gloating about Captain Lancaster’s untimely demise in front of him.  No, William doesn’t go to a grave, apparently the cops are trying to Frankenstein their way out of this little fiasco, but they aren’t having any luck and Christina gets a front row view of this jerk bag breathing his last breath.  Couldn’t happen to a nice guy in my opinion, but he may end up getting the last laugh if they aren’t able to stop his curse from killing Diana.

Back at the shop, we’ve got some more drama going on as Montrose (Michael K Williams) finally reveals to Atticus that George could have been his father, but more importantly HIPPOLYTA’S BACK!!  That drama bomb is definitely going to come into play later, but hey!  Now we have an ACTUAL parental figure in the mix and on top of that Christina finishes her spell to buy Dee more time!  Speaking of Christina, she has a scene with Ruby back at her place that only further cements my feeling that these two are by far the most interesting characters in the show.  Now admittedly they don’t have as high STAKES as everyone else since they could easily just live in comfort and privilege while everyone else is constantly trying to fight off one catastrophe after another, but their interactions feel the most grounded in character and pathos; clear motivations and desires outside of just surviving to the end of the episode.  Ruby is suspicious about Christina’s motivations now that she’s planning on doing SOMETHING with Atticus and was holding Diana’s life as a bargaining chip, but Christina does her best to try and talk around the issue and make it seem like not such a big deal.  She says that she genuinely cares about Ruby and is not going to betray her, but that she is someone who takes opportunity when she sees it, and the opportunity at hand is to finish the immortality spell that her father failed to do; not to take over the world but because living forever is AWESOME!  You get to see all the movies that come out, you can buy stuff now and sell it as vintage collectables a hundred years in the future, you can even watch EVERY episode of One Piece if you want to!  Is it a risk?  I mean sure, magic is ALWAYS risky, but Christina is VERY good at what she does and I’m sure Atticus can survive without his blood, right?  It’s actually a bit ambiguous here if she plans on killing Atticus, but Ruby seems more concerned about her sister Leti (Jurnee Smollett) getting hurt and Christina agrees to that at least.  Ruby’s still suspicious and worries that she’s on hand as a Plan B for whatever Christina’s schemes are but again, Ruby is all in on the magic and the power it gives her; the freedom that allows her to the live the life she wants and at least so far it hasn’t come with any dire consequences.  It’s very compelling character work and they manage to fit it all in a three minute scene which is more than can be said for all the other characters in this show.

Now before I come off as preemptively disliking this episode, I want to point out that this may be the best episode of the series since the haunted house; even more so than episode five which had some tonal problems and a boring B story and last week’s episode which got things back on track but didn’t quite live up to the series’ potential.  They have an interesting premise that runs thru the entire episode and uses a well-worn genre trope to explore issues of race, but where some of them fell short like the rather bizarre journey that Hippolyta went on, this one manages to find the right tone and the right balance between the fantastical and the devastatingly real.  Hippolyta’s plan to save her daughter is to go back to the observatory, fix the Time Machine using her future knowledge, and use it to get back The Book of Names.  Yes, it’s Back to the Future (down to the significant presence of a photograph with three people in it) but it takes place during the Tulsa Massacre of 1921.  I’m not sure the in-universe reason why they had to go back to THAT specific date, but the point is very clear and is devastating to watch play out.  We get ahead of ourselves though.  Our main crew consisting of Atticus, Leti, Hippolyta, Montrose, and an unconscious Diana, head to the observatory and manage to fix the machine, but Hippolyta has to stay behind and keep the portal open using her sci-fi implants and sheer force of will; leaving Atticus, Montrose, and Leti to jump through and try to blend in. 

What follows is story as interesting as it is unsettling.  Even with the Tulsa Massacre gaining prominence in popular culture with its appearance in Watchmen and the connections made between it and recent brutal police action, my understanding of the event is still rather limited as I only knew a few key details but never really got a thorough understanding of its scope and impact.  Now obviously a TV show isn’t a history lesson, but the depiction of the neighborhood as a place of peace, prosperity, and hope is a powerful image and reminds us that history and progress can go BACKWARDS when bad things like this sometimes what was lost can never be brought back again.  Heck, isn’t that the whole reason we’re here in the first place; to try and cheat history for the righteous cause of bringing back something that shouldn’t have been destroyed in the first place?  Well before they GET The Book of Names they have to find it first, and that’s why Montrose is here as he lived next door to his wife’s family who has the book and he can point Leti and Atticus in the right direction.  It sounds simple enough as long as Montrose remembers where it is (I know I’d have no way of finding my childhood neighborhood if I was told to), but with this return to the past comes a lot of returned memories, and Leti and Atticus get a glimpse into the hard life that Montrose had as a child.  We see him getting terrorized and attacked by his father for what he perceives to be unmanly behavior which certainly puts a grim face to the trauma that Montrose carries now and also handed down to his son.  Atticus’s future mother Dora (Erica) runs out to break up the violent attack which works, but as soon as Baby Montrose runs off, Old Montrose slips away and goes after him.  Since they can’t just leave him behind to cause all sorts of time travel chaos, Atticus runs after him while Leti tries to figure out a way inside Dora’s family’s house and find the book. 

Well we’ve good news and bad news regarding that.  The good news is that something DOES happen to give Leti a reason to go inside the house.  The bad news, if you couldn’t guess yourself, is that a bunch of white dudes start shooting at her and the family offers her refuge during the riot.  Montrose on the other hand, with Atticus not far behind, has made it to the town square where Baby Montrose and another young man named Thomas are having a tense conversation.  Thomas was Montrose’s friend but maybe more than friends, and moments after this conversation where Montrose tries to break it off with him Old Yeller style (out of fear of getting more abuse from his father), he gets shot in the head by a white rioter.  Montrose has a once in a lifetime opportunity to try and save this poor kid and possible find a bit of redemption for his own mistakes in life, but Atticus is not willing to let him take that risk and change the future.  Montrose’s sheer anguish here is tough to watch as has been the case with Michael K Williams’s performance throughout this whole series (when he ISN’T slitting the throat of a two spirit person) and honestly it’s enough to convince Atticus to let him try… but then he doesn’t?  I’m a bit confused here as we see the white dudes roll up and start terrorizing the two boys and Montrose SEEMS to have a pass from Atticus to do something… but he doesn’t.  I guess he realized the futility of it, though we haven’t established rules here as to what IS and ISN’T possible with time travel, or perhaps he didn’t think to bring a gun and would have only gotten himself shot if he ran out there.  I don’t’ know, but we see his brother Baby George as well as Dora run up and try to fend off the mob, but it proves to be too much for them to handle.  Then Montrose remembers that some dude with a baseball bat started knocking these white people’s heads off, and that he’ll show up any minute now.

Any minute now…

ANY MINUTE NOW!

Seems a bit odd that THIS isn’t going as planned, but wait… what’s that in the ground in front of Atticus?  OH SHOOT!  The mystery man has just been identified, and it’s a butt kicking army dude from the fifties about to settle some accounts!  WHAM!  WHAM!  WHAM!!  It’s a very cathartic scene and gets at the one of the key fantasies of time travel stories.  Sure you get to see the history you weren’t a part of or get to experience things beyond your one small slice of time on this Earth, but time travel is also about FIXING THINGS, and Atticus gets a chance to save a bunch of kids from a grave injustice within a dark chapter in our history, and he gets to do so while looking like a badass! 

The catharsis ends up being bittersweet however as Leti’s storyline with the Book of Names is going on at the same time with a much sadder ending to go with it.  Leti starts to snoop around the house while everyone else is trying to fight off the white attackers, but Dora’s Granny is nobody’s fool and knows that she’s up to something!  Leti admits that she’s from the future and is here for the Book of Names which Granny takes surprisingly in stride, but it takes a bit more convincing for her to give it up.  It’s the other side of the coin with time travel stories where the people who get visited by time travelers have to come to terms with their own place in a predetermined history, and perhaps there IS a chance in changing it now that they KNOW about it, but ultimately they are simply one small piece in a much larger machine that needs to keep going.  Granny relents and gives Leti the book which she never knew the purpose of but was always told to keep it safe.  Then, in a scene that walks the line between silly and impactful, she stands there with Leti and prays as the flames from the house fire consumes her; accepting her fate TO THE EXTENT that she won’t even try to stop drop and roll.  Leti, what with the invulnerability spell that Christina put on her in the last episode, is immune it flames and gives us all a front row seat to a woman slowly burning to death; intercutting this of course with Atticus beating up white people with a bat and while Sonia Sanchez’s poem Catch The Fire is on the soundtrack.  The show is not known for subtlety with regards to its imagery and while it can skirt into eye rolling territory at times, but the episode is so striking with its setting and the deeply sad story that’s going on all around these characters that it’s hard to knock it for its more overt indulgences.

Atticus and Montrose run through the chaos on the streets to head back to the time travel portal and back to the present.  Atticus is the first to go through and finds a very tired and very distraught Hippolyta trying desperately to keep the portal open which is more than fair considering it took them ALL DAY To get back, but Montrose is in no hurry to return as he looks out on the destruction of the city and starts reciting the names of people who died during the massacre and just how awful their deaths were.  I was halfway convinced that Montrose was going to stay there instead of return, what with how much of himself was lost on this day, but if that was the plan then he changes his tune when he sees Leti walking down the street with the book in hand; shaking off the airstrikes from the planes above (yes, there were airstrikes in the Tulsa Massacre) like an obnoxiously strong breeze.  She should REALLY put a bit more pep in her step considering how much Hippolyta is struggling to keep it open, and by the time her and Montrose make it thru the portal she’s utterly exhausted and her hair has turned bright blue for some reason.  And so the episode comes to an end as everyone has made it back safe and they have the Book of Names which will hopefully cure Diana’s curse, but what challenges await them next, and did Leti and Atticus lose a part of themselves as well having experienced that fateful day firsthand?

.

I haven’t always enjoyed this series and I’m sure at some points it was my own biases and issues rather than something genuinely wrong with the show, but this is definitely one of the highlights of the show for me as it managed to tell an interesting story and convey some very rough by no doubt necessary lessons about topics that many of us are just too privileged to even be aware of.  The Tulsa Massacre is a blight on our country’s history and it’s a pain that still affects us to this day, and using that kind of suffering in the context of a time travel story… well it really calls to mind the bitterness of the joke that only white dudes can easily go back in time.  I mean I’m all for the idealism of stuff like Doctor Who which is much more open about people working together and giving representation where sometimes its lacking, but something like this to counterbalance that with a dose of reality feels really necessary for this moment in time and frankly for ALL moments in time up to this point.  Yes, some of it got goofy and I think the drama can get so heavy that it starts working to diminishing returns, but it’s an episode that’s fun when it can be and poignant when it needs to be.  Hopefully the finale can build off of the goodwill generated in this episode, but we’ll have to see what happens when they finally get back to Ardham.

4 out of 5

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