In its second episode, our heroes Tic, George and Leti move on up to a deluxe mansion full of secrets, not to mention spells, and Lovecraft Country takes a big leap forward in establishing its mythology while dispensing with any coyness about what type of show it’s going to be. If it didn’t quite hit the heights of its premiere episode in terms of richness and moodiness, it gave us much greater insight into the characters’ headspaces and dropped any pretense of subtlety regarding its main theme of supernatural forces and white supremacy intersecting. After all, once you make the Grand Wizards of the Klan into actual wizards, you may as well go all-in on everything from witchcraft to immortality to the literal Garden of Eden. And it’s not like it was hard watching Tic literally blow them all to hell at the end with some help from his great-great-great-great grandmother (because ancestor magic trumps white power magic every time).
Still, it’s hard not to come away from this episode thinking that the show was a whole lot scarier when our heroes were being harassed and chased by a bunch of racist cops through the woods. You serve up Tony Goldwyn as racist Aryan Dumbledore and you’re definitely taking a hard left turn away from the slow burn of last episode, not to mention the relative subtlety of head-chomping forest monsters. We’re being perhaps a little hard on the episode, but there’s no denying that “evil secret society of magic” is a pretty hoary old cliche. But as we noted in last week’s review, the show gets away with indulging in fairly basic horror and adventure tropes by centering black lives in them and not shying away from how they might change with that focus. And to be fair, this episode married the history and experiences of African-Americans with those old cliches in several fairly effective ways (not least by turning a magic bloodline plot point into a reminder that African-Americans descended from enslaved people are also largely descended from their enslavers through a legacy of rape and dehumanization), but the magic spells, monsters, nightmare hallucinations, secret society, cows birthing monsters AND mystical energy portal that opens to the Garden of Eden? It’s a lot. This was like Lost going from polar bears to time travel by its second episode.
Not that the show is required to take a slow burn on any of it. We think we expected a direction slightly less bluntly overt so early (racism and Black culture representation aside, the concepts in this episode weren’t all that far from what you’d have gotten in any couple dozen episodes of Supernatural), but our expectations of what it was going to be don’t serve as criteria for whether it’s working. The stuff with Tony Goldwyn? Not so much. The stuff exploring the psyches and histories of our heroes? Now that was interesting – and necessary.
We missed the richness of scenes like last episode’s block party and the jovial, gentle intimacy of the Freeman family in their home, but that was largely the point, we think. Untethered from anything that might have lent them support or understanding, George, Leti and Tic are faced with a nightmare worse than any forest-dwelling monster: a magic-wielding Klan with a literal Grand Wizard, torturing them and holding them captive by fucking with their heads and magically locking them in. Leti is beset by an aggressively sexual version of Tic and a fear of her attraction to him. Tic is faced with the Korean woman who haunted his dreams and presumably answered the phone when he called South Korea last episode. “Something happened in the war. Something bad,” he says later by way of explanation. George is faced with Dora, Tic’s mother, with whom he had an affair that he clearly hasn’t gotten over. We learn that Leti is attracted to Tic but fearful of sex and possibly even traumatized by some association or event. We learn that Tic has secrets and they’re likely to be very dark. And we learned that George is just about the most perfect avuncular expert you’d want in a scenario like this one. He’s extremely adept at assessing a situation; like knowing when they’re being watched, or immediately pegging the food storage tower as a prison, or realizing the vision of his dead lover wasn’t real, or coming up with the plan to get them out. Years of traveling on the road specifically to weed out problematic areas and people so as to warn his own people away from them has left him with an extremely important skillset in a high-danger situation.
We should also note that, lack of block party or family scenes aside, this episode was nearly as rich with Black historical and cultural references as the first episode; the mention of Prince Hall, the founder of Black Freemasonry, the plot hinging on the history of sexual abuse against enslaved Black women, and a soundtrack with Ja’Net Dubois singing The Jeffersons theme song “Movin’ On Up,” Nina Simone’s “Blackbird,” Leon Bridges’ “River” and finally the song that gives the episode its title and supports its themes of Black people being used to support the dreams and aspirations of white power, Gil Scot-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon.” Goofy secret society part aside, there’s no denying that Lovecraft Country is a show that knows exactly what it wants to be and director/co-creator Misha Green has done an amazing job setting up the world, the aesthetic, the characters and the themes going foward.
Two final thoughts. The first: we get an explanation of who the mysterious platinum blonde woman was from last episode, but now we have way more questions. Christina Braithwhite is related to Tic, a witch, likes to pull monsters out of cows, seemingly hates her evil (now disintegrated) father, seemingly wants to help Tic for reasons unknown, has a look-alike male friend who is not her brother, and is filled with rage at the chances denied her by not being born a man. Come on, she’s totally that dude, right? They’re never in the same scene at the same time. And we don’t think for a second that she/they died in that implosion. Speaking of which …
Are we weird to think George won’t stay dead somehow? Seems like such a waste of Courtney B. Vance to have him exit so early, even if his death does make a nice sort of hero’s journey moment for Tic – especially since he has yet to figure out that his Uncle George died thinking he was Tic’s father. The show is clearly establishing a larger mythology, with the Freeman family at the center of it, so maybe it’s not so weird to hope he’ll be back…? Tell us it’s not weird. We want to believe.
[Photo Credit: Eli Joshua Ade/HBO]
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The Daily T LOunge for August 24, 2020