Each week Jayson will recap the events of the latest episode of Lovecraft Country and take a closer look at the shows themes and overall goo.
The beginning of this week's episode of Lovecraft Country couldn’t have been more different than the premier. Yet, we still are immediately drawn to another time in place. We arrived at the mansion at the end of last week and here we are; Leti and George enraptured in their new digs to an almost musical dance rendition to Ja’Net DuBois’s Moving on Up, the theme song from The Jeffersons TV show.
I marveled last week at how stunning the unexpected musical choices were in the first episode and the trend does not end here. It’s a great way to kick off this episode, adding a much needed moment of levity after the blood soaked bedlam of the end of last episode and we really need it in this episode as things are about to happen. Fast.
The reprieve doesn’t last long. After Leti marvels at her new dresses and Uncle George is swept up in his amazing library we find ourselves with Atticus reliving the events in the cabin in waves of disturbing flashbacks making us wonder what allows the other two to be able to revel in the present. Perhaps it’s simply that George has all those marvelous books at his fingertips -- Blackwood, Hodgson and Clark Ashton Smith -- and Leti is allowed to relish looking absolutely stunning in her new outfit that seems tailor made for her.
It’s from here we get a brief tour of the magnificent Ardham Lodge. (Viewers of The Haunting of Hill House [Flanagan, 2018] might recognize the exterior). We learn more about the history of the group from William (Jordan Patrick Smith), the Nordic looking fellow who answered the door at the end of our last episode. This scene lets us in on a few things. We learn that Atticus (Tic) has been informed his father is away in Boston and they are all awaiting his return as he has gone to see a lawyer with Miss Braithwaite two nights ago. But our group is also under strict orders to be treated like family.
We learn that this is the second estate owned by the Braithwhites and is actually a duplicate of the original which burned down in 1833. The original owner was Titus Braithwhite, a distant cousin of the current owner Samuel Braithwhite, who gained his wealth through “shipping,” a term Leti immediately reminds us is just a dog whistle for slavery. William tells us Titus was known for being a notoriously kind slave owner. The group doesn’t seem moved. We also learn that the fire killed everyone inside, nearly everyone.
Our group moves outside to enjoy a sumptuous lunch and we have our confirmation that Leti and George really do not have a memory of what transpired at that blood drenched cabin in the woods. George and Tic find themselves fighting over what to do, scared out of their wits. Should they act nice? Should they run or fight and assume the worst? When they begin to get loud they recognize they are being watched. A ruthless reminder of even here, where they are supposed to be treated as family, there is a hierarchy.
They decide to go into the village near the house and explore. They briefly meet up with William again and find George’s wagon there. Mostly intact, which serves to cast doubt on Atticus’s account and whether or not blood sucking blob monsters actually exist.
As our heroes move into the village proper, we are treated to a variety of simple white townsfolk playing, doing chores and kids around the maypole twirling ribbons as Tic hears a whistle reminiscent of the one he heard in the forest which called off the shoggoth. He races off to see if he can locate the monsters’ master and instead we find a authoritative young woman Dell (Jamie Neumann) holding two menacing, growling and intimidating German Shepherds in front of a giant stone tower which the group immediately pegs as the likely holding spot for Montrose.
When pressed that the dogs need to be on leashes by George she fires right back with the racism. “The dogs aren’t the ones that need to be on a leash.” The group inquires about the contents of the tower and are shown what appears to be a slaughter house inside. Dell continues to lob cheesecloth-thinly veiled racial threats at the group before stating, “Head back to the lodge before it gets dark.” This throwback to the sundown county chase also isn’t lost on them as they make their way back and find themselves in the dark, in the woods, surrounded by shoggoth in what seems like honestly a pretty dark scene.
Quickly, we find ourselves also face to face with Christina on horseback who uses a whistle to send the shoggoth running. It seems the Braithwhites are using them as a sort of guard dog protection for Ardham. It also seems that the charm is still on George and Leti as they are immediately confused why they are dirty all of a sudden.
Our group is led to the manor and Tic is introduced to Samuel Braithwhite, the current patriarch of the estate who appears to be having his liver removed without anesthesia. All this while his baby girl Christine is drinking a brandy. Oh yeah, and also we learn Samuel Braithwhite is played by Tony fucking Goldwyn wearing a really insane bleach hair and a disgustingly smug face that has the perfect effect of making you want to throw something at the screen every time he’s in a scene.
Samuel immediately begins talking about Adam and Eve and man and hierarchies using the painting The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man to illustrate that Adam named all the creatures and gave them shape and form and how the hierarchy was more pure. It’s always about how the past was better, with guys like this.
We also see here George discovering there is a secret entrance through the bookshelf in his room. By pulling The House on the Borderland by the previously mentioned William Hope Hodgson -- strangely out of place between Animal Farm and Wuthering Heights -- George finds himself in a whole other even more impressive library. Also conveniently laid out for him, a journal entitled, “The Order of the Ancient Dawn.” You might wonder why George was placed in a room with a secret entrance that gives him access to all the secrets of the ancient organization. It might be a convenient plot device, or it could be the group has a secret ally.
Speaking of, we find Christina in the hallway trying to sell herself as a friend to Tic who smartly questions her motivations. He calls the group we now know are wizards. the KKK which she balks at basically stating that they are too low class, either purposefully or unknowingly missing the point. However she does relent on removing the memory loss charm for George and Leti, even as the result seems to include holding them each in their rooms and an even worse fate we will get to in a minute.
First we are treated to something truly bizarre and a seemingly out of the left field moment for the show. As villagers look on with dewey-eyed wonder, Christina pulls a baby shoggoth out of a cow and nuzzles it before giving it a solid full lipped smacker on its slimy newborn skin. YUCK. The bystander asks her if she’s done this before. And she says “No.” What in the ever loving fuck!?
Well we are back in the manor with Leti and Tic together in her room. Filled with religious imagery including a stained glass window depicting a different sort of Adam and Eve than we saw previously. Here Eve is splayed out with her legs spread and Adam appears to be readying himself to penetrate with his...snake dick? OK then.
This leads us into Leti telling us about her lack of religion, which is a complete departure from her very religious character in the book. The show seems to be trying to tell us in this episode about the uses, abuses and power that religion has over people as either a guide or an excuse to abuse or abandon others. Not for the first or last time in this episode, Jurnee Smollett is KILLING it in this episode as Leti. Her vulnerability is on full display here.
But just as we are getting into it the show takes us on a very confusing transition around the outside of the house and all around to the other side, despite previously being shown that they were just across the hallway; where we see Tic still in his own room. An incredibly confusing turn of events that the audience probably needed a little more room to breath with especially as very quickly he is taking fire from a Korean woman who charges out of a cabinet in his room seeking to murder him.
It becomes very clear here that each of our protagonists are fighting some magic illusion in each of their rooms. Leti is struggling with her attraction and perhaps concerns about sin with Atticus. Atticus faces his wartime trauma. Uncle George has a romantic dance with a woman who turns out to be Dora, Atticus’s mother. These all end in different ways. Atticus choking his attacker to death, George disbelieving in Dora and Leti being attacked by the phantom Atticus’s snake penis. Yup. That happened.
This really feels like the show’s first misstep in my opinion as there is some interesting character building here and absolute phenomenal acting, however it’s also a lot of time spent in action when we could use some more room for this episode to breathe. There’s a lot going on, and the audience could really use a couple more moments to soak it all in.
Nevertheless all three emerge relatively unscathed if not traumatized as we are introduced to the all white members of what we can now refer to as The Sons of Adam. This coincides with a really powerful moment with the three in the hallway as they escape their illusions, George reminding Atticus and Leti of their humanity.
“Don’t let them question yourself. They want to make us crazy, terrorize us, make us scared.”
A lot of the racism has been more subdued and less on full display than the horribly shocking moments of Episode 1, but this is a really great powerful reminder of what these characters have to live with every day of their life even when they aren’t imprisoned by a magical white kabal.
Which is a great interlude into what happens next, as George and Tic attend a dinner; one in which they are served the chopped up pieces of Samuel Braithewhite’s liver which we saw extracted earlier. This leads to George standing up and addressing the historical racism of secret societies. Including the fact that he had to join the Prince Hall Freemasons as the regular Freemasons don’t accept blacks.
And neither does the Sons of Adam. Normally that is. Unless one of them happens to be a direct blood relative of Titus Braithwhite as Atticus is. You see when William told us how “kind” Titus was, that was really a euphemism for rape, which actually leaves every member of the room as technically below the hierarchy of Atticus who immediately uses his position to kick everyone out of the room except Samuel.
After a brief interrogation scene with Samuel, a person who seems only to care about the rules when they benefit him, George and Tic head back to the tower to confirm Montrose was there. They uncover his flask as Dell bursts in, cocking a shotgun, immediately prepared with some more racist beast comparisons. But that’s also put to rest quickly as Leti shows up heroically again and knocks her out with a shovel.
The show then comes back to The Count of Monte Cristo as George uncovers that Montrose (Michael K. Williams) has tunneled his way out to the surface. The group rushes out to meet him as in a beautiful shot he emerges from the ground, shackled and reaching up to the heavens in glory all set to Nina Simone’s Blackbird. This is a singular, striking moment in a sea of a lot of fast moving parts.
This introduction to Montrose though quickly shifts as he lays into our heroes who (maybe a little too coincidentally) are standing right behind where he comes out of the ground.
“Boy we ain’t spoken in over five years and you fight me on everything. Obviously I didn’t think you were stupid enough to show up because I wrote a letter under duress.”
George immediately feels compelled to come to Atticus’s defense and among the arguing, Leti has to be the voice of reason urging them into the Bentley she has absconded with from the garage.
We get a chance for George to fill us in on some exposition as he discusses the goals of the Sons of Adam: to reach Eden through the Titus’s bloodline by using Atticus as the key so Samuel can achieve immortality. As a nice nod to Lovecraftian lore, Montrose asks about the Necronomicon which allows George to fill the audience in the difference between the Book of Names and the Book of the Dead.
This comes to a dead stop. Literally. As the Bentley crushes into a force field which sends our heroes flying, we witness Leti take a direct gunshot to the stomach from Samuel. He then asks Atticus to choose between who will be shot next, Montrose or his Uncle, and it’s George that takes the bullet. This is all set to the show's most surprising musical decision so far and maybe the most on the nose considering what's happening; Marilyn Manson’s "Killing Strangers."
We fade into a scene of a nude Atticus being sponged down and preparing for the ritual. This is perhaps the most cogent scene for explaining the themes of this episode as Christina and Atticus talk candidly about the hierarchies that leaves them both on the outside in different ways. Christina gives him a ring, which she laments no matter how hard she works she’d never get whereas Atticus has it, simply for being a man. Even a black man, as he reminds her. And yet, it isn’t Christina preparing herself to be sacrificed.
Here we see that Leti has miraculously been cured and Christina reminds Atticus that Samuel’s magic can cure George as well if he goes through the sacrifice willingly. This is perhaps particularly cruel considering we quickly learn that she has handed him the ring that will disrupt the entire ritual and perhaps doom Uncle George.
Last week we got a haunting reminder of the American Dream being built on the backs of black people in the use of James Baldwin. This week employees Gil Scott-Heron’s Whitey on the Moon in a stunning mixture of pulp special effects. As power and electricity tear Atticus apart, Scott-Heron laments his sister is being bit by a rat while white people are walking on the moon. It’s daring, beautiful and shocking all at once and it has to make you wonder whether they can maintain the impact of this formal technique for the next 8 episodes.
While all this happens, we learn that Uncle George who lay on the bed bleeding out, believes he may actually be Atticus’s father, a notion he and Montrose have discussed before. This adds a little weight to the dancing illusion scene earlier. Williams and Vance are outdoing themselves as they grapple with all the emotions that lead them to this moment. It makes what might seem like a contrived moment simply devastating especially as they find themselves in a crumbling, ruinous mansion as history repeats itself.
The ring Christina gave Atticus destroys all of Samuel’s plans as a fire ignites, the Sons of Adam are turned to stone, and Atticus flees the ruins with images of his great-great-great-great grandmother pregnant at the door. In a final shocking moment we are left with what appears to be a dead Uncle George being cradled by his brother in the back seat of the wagon.
Could the show have really killed off Courtney B. Vance the second episode into this limited series? I think so actually. There are going to be a lot of book readers who will be confused by this but there’s a few ways the show could potentially handle it, such as changing the entire structure of the future stories which the show has now made abundantly clear it is not afraid to do. Sometimes to its benefit, sometimes to its detriment.
Overall this was a jam packed 48 minutes of television and non-book readers are definitely going to wonder why this all feels so rushed. The key here is that this isn’t the 2nd part to a 10 part show, but the 2nd part and finale to one story which will shift to focus on other characters in related adventures.
I’m looking forward to seeing how we take this next story considering the bold changes and dramatic shifts this series seems to be willing to take. See you next week as the adventure continues in Lovecraft Country.