We’re heading into the home stretch of the first season of Lovecraft Country and our heroes are suitably exhausted. But it’s not “merely” the relentless magical attacks, monsters and mysteries besetting the Freeman and Lewis-Baptiste families that has their members making increasingly desperate decisions; it’s the pain, rage and fear of living Black in America. This has always been Lovecraft Country‘s greatest trick; the way it combines obviously dangerous supernatural horror with the sometimes more insidious horrors of living under a system of racial apartheid. This episode managed that masterfully, turning pickaninny imagery straight out of Uncle Tom’s Cabin into demonic terrors let loose by racist wizard-cops upon a young girl trying to deal with the murder of her friend Emmett Till, the death of her father at the hands of the magical Klan, and the disappearance of her mother into the folds of time and space (although she’s not clear on the particulars of the latter two). It seems almost ridiculous to even contemplate combining all of those elements into one story, but that’s what makes Lovecraft Country so engaging. It routinely manages the seemingly impossible.
It was Diana Freeman’s turn on the magical merry-go-round this time, but unlike all of the other characters who’ve had contact with the supernatural world, she is completely on her own, having no idea what’s happening to her or why. It made her scenes hard to watch, especially since everyone was off doing their own thing while she was not only dealing with demonic attacks and abusive cops, but trying to unpack her own feelings about the death of her friend. No one was there for her because they were all dealing with their own problems and attacks.
Atticus went to his father to seek his help in putting a spell of protection on him after his demonic lover Ji-Ah showed up on Leti’s doorstep to warn him of his impending death. He’s also feeling the need for protection because, as he reveals to his father, he went through a portal last week that took him to the future, where he learned that his son wrote a book called Lovecraft Country, based on his family history, including the part where Christina Braithwhite kills him in order to enact an immortality spell. Tic and Montrose bond a little over their shared anger at each other and their rather complicated history, but the spell cast by Montrose has no effect. Not immediately, anyway. Leti, in the meantime, is also off making magical deals; this time with Christina, who grants her invulnerability in exchange for the negatives of the pages from the book of spells. Christina has herself a busy little week, as she also manages to wrap herself further around Ruby, playing on her anger and exhaustion to God knows what end, while also, weirdly, paying men to enact the cruelties visited upon poor Emmett Till on her invulnerable body. In the end, the demon pickaninnies get their claws in Diana, Ruby falls deeper into the pit Christina is digging for her, Leti becomes bulletproof and Tic finds out he has his own personal Shoggoth bodyguard.
Whew! Got all that? Want us to explain anything? Well, tough. Because we don’t know either. We can admire what the show is managing to do while at the same time being of the opinion that it’s trying to do too much. The scenes with Diana and the final showdown between the cops and the Shoggoth were thrilling and terrifying, but the rest of the episode showed the same character strain the series has suffered from throughout its first season. Characters do things that must have seemed clear to the writers, but don’t always come off all that explicable to the audience. We get that Ruby’s angry and exhausted. We do not get how that translates to that, frankly disturbing, sex scene between her and William/Christina or why she’d even stick around after the latter’s deception was made clear to her. The show has a tendency to play with queerness and gender non-conformity like toys or worse, concepts it hasn’t seen fit to unpack or explore in a meaningful or realistic way. What does it mean that a gay man killed an intersex person and learned to accept his queerness by hanging out with drag queens? What does it mean that Ruby and Christina are in a sexual relationship? What does it mean that Christina can so easily switch genders but won’t have sex with Ruby unless she’s in her male form? We keep waiting for a moment where these ideas are explored more, but it never comes.
Similarly, we just don’t get why Leti is so mad at Tic or why she’d make that deal with Christina. It was great to see several characters come clean with each other so that they’re all more or less on the same page, but then they all immediately came up with new secrets to keep from each other, leaving us to wonder if secrets and lies are all the show has to keep the story running.
Still, there’s no denying that when it comes to delivering the truly thrilling or chilling moments, Lovecraft Country still knows how to deliver. The interpersonal stuff doesn’t always scan but the fireworks displays are always first rate. Now can Hippolyta please come home and save her daughter?
[Photo Credit: Eli Joshua Ade/HBO]