Lovecraft Country is owned by HBO
Directed by Nelson McCormick
It’s been quiet the wild ride, but it’s time for us to say goodbye to this smartly written, wackily executed, and strangely put together show. The final episode is upon us and with so much at stake for our heroes, will they manage to survive whatever challenge they face, or will this tangled web of ideas and plot threads fail to come together in a satisfying way? There’s only one way to find out, so let’s get started!!
With this being the final episode (no word yet on if this well get a second season), there’s not as much to build up and discuss as there are things to pay off and bring to a conclusion, so for this I’m going to change up the style a bit and tell you right now what I think. I’m… conflicted. Bold statement, I know, but as much as I’ve struggled to get on the same wavelength of this show in some of the previous episodes, I just feel like I’m too far out of the loop for it to work for me. How much of it is my whiteness and privilege butting up against a series primarily created and aimed at a different audience with its own perspective? How much of it is the show’s already troubled pacing and narrative coming to a head as it tries to tie everything up? Is it just a disappointing ending or one that’s SUPPOSED to leave me feeling empty and tired? I’m not sure the answer to any of those questions, but the bottom line is that from my point of view the show doesn’t end on a bang but on a squib as things definitely DO happen that wrap up the story but none of it feels particularly cathartic and it’s all muddled with the show still trying to explain itself up until the last minute. I’d be hard pressed to say if I’d be any more confused watching this episode if I HADN’T closely watched the previous ones leading up to this point because it’s lore has been a tangled mess from the beginning with the whole Sons of Adam thing being its biggest bugbear, and there’s nothing else the show has left to do but try and wrangle all of that into something watchable. Giving it as much benefit of the doubt as I can, I understand the EMOTIONAL beats of the episode, the importance of a lot of its decisions, and how it could definitely work for someone else, but for me I found the mechanics of it all poorly explained, the lessons to be somewhat suspect, and the ending particularly dour in a way that the rest of the show really hasn’t been even at its. It’s not the note that I personally would have wanted it to go out on, but perhaps what I would have wanted would have missed the point entirely.
So let’s get into it. First and foremost, they manage to cure Diana (Jada Harris) using the Book of Names, but her arm is permanently damaged from the curse. Considering that her prognosis was death before now I’d definitely call it a win, but Diana feels less so and is particularly upset with her mother Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) for leaving her the way that she did. It’s unclear exactly how much time passed between her stepping into the time portal in Episode 7 and coming back in Episode 9 (nor is it explained why she couldn’t come back to our dimension mere moments after she left since we’re dealing with TIME TRAVEL), but this is example of the execution not quite living up to the themes. There’s a genuinely good idea here about the conflict between self-fulfillment and sacrificing yourself for your family. Hippolyta, at least for a little while, chose to work on herself and become a stronger person and in doing so Diana ended up paying the price. You can’t exactly BLAME Hippolyta for it, but the cops wouldn’t have put the curse on Diana if it wasn’t for Hippolyta’s actions at the observatory and now she has to find a way to make it up to her. The problem is in HOW she makes it up to her, but we’re going to put a pin in that one because that’s tied into the end, so hold onto that!
The other thing that happens with the Book of Names is that both Atticus and Leti (Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett) fall into some sort of coma as soon as the book opens, and they find themselves… somewhere. The mechanics are very vague, but the point is not as Atticus sees Hannah (his ancestor who stole the book in the first place) and Leti sees Granny from the last episode. It’s an ABSURDLY long exposition dump and it just feels like they ran out of time to tell this story so they had the show stop, put a few characters in the Phantom Zone, and just talked until we were all caught up to speed. To try and break it down, Hannah created a spell that could “fix” everything and “save” everybody. Atticus is then sent to meet his mother where he worries about having to die (supposedly Christina will kill him in Ardham on the night of the Autumnal Equinox) to as the book predicted, and while I don’t agree with the discussion here, it’s where I start to wonder if I’m just not the kind of person meant to understand it. It’s heartbreaking to see Atticus scared about dying, but his mother telling him that it’s worth dying if it means sacrificing yourself for something important. I can understand the sentiment and there is no shortage of characters I DO like who make that kind of hard decision… but I guess the difference is that a character is being TALKED INTO IT rather than making that decision on his own. His mother says that if we’re not willing to die for a great purpose than what IS our purpose, and I’m just thinking… isn’t living enough of a purpose on its own? Isn’t being there to raise your son and love your significant other a good enough life? It especially doesn’t help that we STILL do not have a clear idea of what Christina (Abbey Lee) hopes to gain from this and if it will mean the destruction of the world or the death of anyone he cares about. If he and his family were to run away and hide, Christina couldn’t complete her immortality spell which is almost as good as outright STOPPING her, and it means that Atticus gets to live! Where I feel like perhaps I don’t get it because of who I am and my privilege it’s when his mother says that life has taught her how we believe we have a choice when we really don’t, and I guess that would definitely be true for all minorities in this country. I am at the principle of privilege because I am a white man, and I don’t have to deal with avenues being closed off, roads being inaccessible, and choices being impossible in any significant way, so perhaps this show embracing that to serve a great purpose which is what Atticus will supposedly do if he casts this spell that will “fix” everything is an empowering message for people who aren’t me, but I’m just kind of grasping at straws here to try and understand what’s going on and what the show is trying to say.
Leti and Atticus eventually learn how to cast the spell from within The Phantom Zone and when they wake up they know what they have to do which I will try to explain here. Basically, for reasons that are self-evident, the spell requires a piece of Atticus, Christina, and Titus Braithwhite; the father of Hannah’s child and man who has most assuredly been dead for over a hundred years. Atticus and Leti go back to that underground cave from the treasure hunt episode, and they summon Titus’s ghost to steal a piece of his flesh. Simple enough I suppose, but the whole scene involves lots of chanting, more than one ghost as Atticus’s mom, Hannah, and Granny appear to chant, and Atticus taking a knife to the flesh of this corporeal ghost to take a piece. Honestly considering the way this thing ends it’s not too hard to comprehend, but again the show hasn’t done a great job of explaining how its lore works and so I have no idea what the chanting is supposed to do, why they needed extra ghost help, and why Atticus being able to tear the flesh off of a ghost means he has the man’s living DNA to cast the spell. Perhaps the least of the show’s problems, but it makes it hard for me to get into the DRAMA of the scene when I don’t know the stakes, challenges, or even relative strength of those involved.
Again, this show is not without its merits but perhaps what I ended up enjoying about this show most is also what continues to prove that I’m just not the right kind of person to be commenting on it. Christina gets wind of them having the Book of Names, so she drops by to offer a deal. Give her the Book of Names, and she will go along her merry way without ever bothering them again. After all, she won’t need Atticus’s blood if she has the book, right? Well of course Christina’s offer cannot be trusted which Atticus susses out immediately, and despite getting a very clear out for himself, he tells her no, and like any white lady who doesn’t get exactly what she wants she lashes out; in this case by taking away the invulnerability spell she put on Leti. It’s a great scene that gives us a clear indication that despite whatever charms she may have or however much “above it all” she claims to be, she’s powerful, she’s dangerous, and most of all she’s selfish which feels a bit necessary to REALLY hammer home considering where this is all headed. I’m still not sure what the heck the point was for her to put herself thru Emmett Till’s death back in Episode 8, but for the most part she’s been one of the more consistently interesting characters on the show for me; due in no small part to her relationship to Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) which is ALSO really interesting in this episode. Essentially, things are coming to a head and Leti makes it clear to Ruby that she can’t sit on the fence any longer; that she’s either with her family or with Christina. Ruby, having this power that has been denied to her for so long and to be able to freely live her life the way she wants to, is far from happy about this ultimatum, and it’s especially bitter because once again Leti is coming to her asking for help; to do something FOR Leti because that’s always been the case. So what is it that Leti wants her to do? She wants Ruby to get some of Christina’s DNA; some blood, some hair, something they can use to complete the spell now that they have Titus’s flesh. The scene of Ruby back at her and Christina’s place is fantastic drama as you don’t know where things are headed or what Ruby is thinking. On the one hand, she wants what she wants and Christina has been nothing but a source of power and hope for Ruby as well as a loving companion. On the other hand, she’s greedy, ambitious, and plans on killing Atticus if not more people unless Ruby can stop her. Does she want to lean into her own selfishness, or once again choose the selfless route when her sister asks her to?
Well before we answer that question, Atticus needs to make amends with the people in his life considering its his last chance to do so, and so we get a scene between him and Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung) which… I don’t know, it feels a bit too easy I guess? I remember the way he treated her back in episode 8, and him coming back to apologize now feels a bit corny and unearned. Speaking of unearned, we learn that Ji-Ah’s mother died off screen so that’s another woman of color who gets the short end of the stick here, though I guess the fact that we’re trying to wrap everything up is more to blame than anything else. I liked her character too, but I guess we just have to barrel on through to the end, and it’s not like Ji-Ah has been in the show all that much since she had her episode so I guess we should be thankful we get at least THIS much with her. Unlike the scenes with Ruby and Christina or even Ruby and her sister, a lot of the character interactions feel really utilitarian and without much going on beneath the most basic level which is especially true with Ji-Ah who’s only known characteristics are her affection for Atticus and her half-monster status.
Still, things do pick up for a bit in what is intentionally the last bright spot in the show before things go… well where they end up going. Atticus and Leti get Baptized which I guess they are doing in lieu of a wedding to cement their bond in the eyes of God, and everyone jumps in the car to head to Ardham; including Ruby who somehow got the DNA and has chosen her sister over Christina. With all of them packed in George and Hippolyta’s car, they start singing songs with even grumpy ol’ Montrose (Michael K Williams) joining in on the cheery atmosphere. It’s a glimpse into the life that they COULD end up living if everything goes well in Ardham with family that’s not together out of blood but by choosing one another and nothing to worry about but their own happiness, and sure Ji-Ah sticks out like a sore thumb as I’m pretty sure she’s never even MET anyone in this car outside of Leti and Atticus (another reason she really shouldn’t have been sidelined so much after her one episode), but the point still comes across and is honestly where I would have liked to end the show. Just leave us there and let us all dream about how well everything turned out!!
Well that’s not the case. They eventually make it to Ardham and Atticus eats the flesh of Titus as well as the sample obtained from Christina in preparation of the spell. Atticus goes alone into the town square where a bunch of white people are waiting for him and beckon him into contraption, Leti and Ruby go to that tower thing from all the way back in Episode 2 to do… something, and everyone else just has a fight scene with a bunch more white people on the bridge and are captured pretty quickly. If that wasn’t ominous enough of a start, things start to get weird in the tower and Leti soon realizes that Ruby… is not actually Ruby; it’s Christina. Now fair enough, it’s a decent twist that I didn’t see coming which makes some amount of sense given their relationship and on top of that it creates a fair bit of jeopardy as Christina essentially short circuited the spell (the sample Atticus took wasn’t from her), but it’s just announced that Ruby is now dead. Easily the best character in the show with the most interesting relationship is just dead; much like Ji-Ah’s mother and leaving me about as deflated as when Montrose slit a two-spirit person’s throat or when Atticus shot an innocent Korean woman in the head.
It’s at this point that I completely lose track of what’s going on and why certain things were happening. It makes a bit more sense on the second watch, but there are a lot of things that happen and the staging of certain aspects of this big finale that just didn’t click for me even after trying to piece it all together. From what I can gather, I don’t THINK Christina killing Ruby was part of the plan, though it’s vague enough that I don’t know that for sure. Christina tries to cast the spell which I THINK works, but then Leti casts Hannah’s spell with the help of Ji-Ah (she uses her tails to take a bite out of Christina and feed it to Atticus) and then BOOM! Christina wakes up pinned under rocks; no longer immortal, and no longer able to use magic. The spell that Hannah created not just took away Christina’s magic; it locked magic away from every white person on the planet. Within the context of this show it makes sense because to be frank whiteness and it’s privileges have been nothing but sources of pain and terror this entire show; up to and including Christina who carried herself like someone above it all but ultimately wasn’t afraid to toss everyone under the bus if it ended up benefiting her. The power of white supremacy in and of itself has given white people the upper hand for centuries in this country, and a slight balancing of the scales in one direction isn’t a death sentence nor do I think it’ll be enough to truly end it. How exactly this would end up working out within the show’s universe is a complete mystery to me, but I doubt we’ll be getting a second season so it’s a fitting enough note to end on. Okay, well it’s not EXACTLY the note we end on. Atticus did indeed die during Christina’s spell, and we see his friends and family carry him out as we hear him speak the words he wrote to his father in a goodbye letter; wishing him the utmost happiness to make up for the grief he suffered, and to hope he will be a better grandfather than he was a father. Similarly this is one of those things that I don’t know how it would work out if this DID get a second season (we never really got into Montrose’s abusive past and I’m not entirely convinced his growth in this series is enough to truly make him a different person), but it’s the end and we’re here for poignancy which this episode and this moment certainly has.
But it’s not the end. We get ONE last scene where Christina is still struggling under the rock and Diana comes to see her. Christina begs for help, Diana says “they still haven’t learned” to herself, and then shoves off her coat to reveal… a steampunk robo-arm. She then takes said robo-arm and squeezes Christina’s throat so tight that it explodes, and THAT’S the last thing we see of this show. THE END!
There’s just something about this last stinger that hits me in such a wrong way. First and foremost, apparently THAT’S how the whole Diana/Hippolyta conflict was resolved; Hippolyta just fixed her… with SCIENCE! It feels rather ham fisted and too much of a hand wave brought about by how much they had to squeeze into this episode, and the visual looks rather ludicrous. Yes, even in THIS show with magic and monsters, a young girl with a hydraulic prosthetic is probably the most head scratching part, and I just feel like it’s too much of a dark note to end this on. We’ve already lost Atticus and Ruby, but in the end the characters are holding their head up high. This act of wonton violence just feels grimy in an episode that otherwise SEEMS to have the theme of sanctification. The baptism scene, Atticus and Leti trying to make amends to people, even the ultimate sacrifice by Atticus to save the rest of the world all put forth the idea of cleaning the slate and letting the next generation move forward unburdened, but here we see the next generation burdening themselves by spilling blood; needlessly so on top of that as Christina almost certainly would have died on her own without Diana putting the squeeze on her.
And that’s just ONE thing about this episode I could have very long winded dissections of, but I guess I’ll do my best to summarize this episode and the show in general as they actually share quite a few of the same problems. From my admittedly flawed perspective, I feel that the show overshoots its targets with a confidence that can’t help but roll my eyes at points. We could see as far back as Episode 2 that things would get overcomplicated in a way that the show either wasn’t equipped to handle or were confident that they were doing a good job of explaining it, and that’s why the show worked best when it was at its simplest. The individual self-contained stories that DIDN’T involve the fate of the world or overly complicated lore are what I will remember most about this series; from the haunted house in Episode 3 (definitely my favorite episode) to Ruby’s transformation potion and the time warp to Tulsa. Sometimes the bigger lore stuff works as I think Christina’s character does a good job of grounding the bigger picture whenever she’s on screen, and some of the character stuff fell a bit flat like the very indulgent time travel story that Hippolyta went on, but there was simply a struggle between these two warring elements that never truly got resolved and came to ahead in this episode. When it all balances out, I’m leaning towards it being a good show and I think the overall picture (at least in terms of its themes) paints a compelling picture for our times, though there’s no doubt that on an episode to episode and moment to moment basis, it’s far too wonky to live up to its potential. Still, it’s certainly appreciated that they shot for the moon even if they didn’t quite get there as that ambition is why the good aspects of this episode shine as brightly as they do.