Last week, HBO’s Lovecraft Country kicked off with about the best possible pilot episode you could ask for. It also concluded with Atticus, Leti, and George surviving a squad of racist police officers and a horde of surprisingly nimble shoggoths before arriving at a giant mansion.
This week, Atticus continues the search for his father while pondering how and why he was already expected in Ardham.
Memory of Madness
The episode opens with George and Leti enjoying the luxurious accommodations provided to them. George gleefully pours over the massive library in his room while Leti tries on the extensive selection of fine clothing in hers. Both of them also appear happy and refreshed after what was arguably the the most terrifying night imaginable.
Meanwhile, Atticus sits quietly in his room, unable to shake the horrors of the prior evening.
*Side Note: I’m not sure there’s anything more jarring than the strains of Ja’Net DuBois’ iconic ‘“Movin’ On Up” being immediately followed by a flashback of a dude getting his head bitten off by a shoggoth.*
Later, the trio are summoned out of their rooms by an alarm bell. William (the creepy pale dude who greeted them at the door last episode) informs the group that it’s time for lunch out on the veranda.
On the way there, Atticus demands to know when his father will return. William politely-yet-firmly replies that he’d been informed by a “Ms. Braithwhite” that Montrose departed to Boston with a lawyer two nights prior and left no indication about the time of his return. Ms. Braithwhite, on the other hand, had fully expected Atticus, George, and Leti to arrive and had instructed William to treat them like family until Montrose’s return.
They walk by a large portrait of a man dressed like a valet for the Illuminati, who William informs them was Titus Braithwhite. He’d used money made in the shipping business to build the estate/lodge, which served as a place to dine with his other rich friends in private. When Leti points out that “shipping” is a code word for “slaves,” William is quick to retort that Titus was known for being “notoriously kind” to the people he owned.
William then reveals that the house they’re standing in is actually a replica of the original, which burned down in a fire during the autumnal equinox of 1833. The fire killed Titus and everyone inside except for one person, who William doesn’t name (ugh).
When they reach the veranda, William informs the group that the current Braithwhite patriarch (Samuel) has called a lodge member meeting/dinner that evening, which they are all invited–and expected–to attend. He also confirms Atticus’ suspicions that the silver Bentley parked out front does indeed belong to Ms. Braithwhite, who is named Christina and happens to be a very close personal friend of his.
After William departs, Atticus expresses his misgivings about their situation to George. In a world where white people normally didn’t want black people anywhere near their homes, these extremely wealthy/weird ones seem to be doing everything possible to make them stay.
Their ominous speculation is interrupted when Leti rings a bell for the house butler to bring some salt and pepper. When Atticus asks how she can eat after what they saw last night, Leti realizes that she doesn’t remember anything about the shoggoth attack…and neither does George.
As if that weren’t creepy enough, George also realizes that William is watching them from one of the lodge’s many windows.
After lunch, the group heads down to the garage and finds George’s previously crashed car clean and good as new–except for the busted out windows from their escape in Simmonsville. William appears out of nowhere and informs them that he discovered the car in the nearby woods, drove it back just as he found it, and had one of the butlers clean out the blood in the front seat.
Having heard enough sketchy strangeness, Atticus storms out toward the village adjacent to the lodge (Ardham proper) to look for his father. The other two follow him at a distance, allowing Leti to express her concern that Atticus’ monster memory is a symptom of post-war PTSD. George gently reminds her that as crazy as his story sounds, neither of them can remember anything about last night, either.
Atticus overhears them and angrily declares that what he saw was real. He also points out how bizarre it is that the lodge happened to have a shelf full of George’s favorite books and a closet of full beautiful clothes in Leti’s size. Before they can admit he’s right, Atticus hears the same whistle that called off the shoggoths from somewhere in the village. He runs toward it, eventually coming upon a giant stone tower guarded by a redneck-looking woman (Dell) and two very angry German shepherds.
Dell refuses to answer Atticus’ question about the whistle, but does answer George’s about the structure, which is where the village keeps its food. She quickly pivots her explanation into an opportunity to ever-so-subtly explain how the black bears in the surrounding woods are a problem before telling the group they should get back to the lodge before sundown.
The group turns around and pretends to head back, each one of them realizing they found where Montrose Freeman is being held.
Gods and dogs
As the sun sets over the surrounding forest, Atticus, Leti, and George begin planning how to free Montrose and escape from the lodge. George suddenly stops and recalls a story Atticus’ mother told him about Hanna, one of her ancestors who was an escape slave. She’d managed to flee her master’s house when it caught fire and burned to the ground. From there, he points out that a master who was known for being “notoriously kind” to female slaves was also likely to have impregnated them.
Just as Atticus begins grasping the potential implications of this, a pair of shoggoths burrow up from the ground and prepare to attack them. Thankfully, they stop when Christina Braithwhite appears on horseback and blows her whistle, causing them to run off. She then instructs Dell (who was apparently following them) and her dogs to escort the group back to the lodge. Leti and George instantly realize they just forgot what happened (with regard to the monsters) while Atticus still remembers everything.
Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Back at the lodge, Atticus is led into a room with Samuel Braithwhite, who is in the middle of some type of surgery without the benefit of anesthetic. Once the hooded surgeon and Samuel’s screaming are finished, he gets up and comments to Christina how Atticus is darker than he expected. With that uncomfortably racist introduction out of the way, he shows his guest a painting based on the Bible verse Genesis 2:19 where Adam begins naming all God’s creatures. Samuel shares the artist’s belief that Adam wasn’t just assigning names–he was partaking in creation. In that time, everything had its proper place and the world was perfect.
At this point, Christina jumps in to casually explain how Eve allegedly destroyed it all, causing the world to descend into its current state of chaos. She also admits to not believing anything in Genesis happened in the literal sense. Samuel hesitantly agrees, but still believes that the parable is a useful one. In this case, he has spent years searching for a way to become Adam and make the world perfect–something Christina believes Atticus can help him with, but Samuel remains deeply skeptical.
Atticus powers right through the weirdness and asks if they can tell him where his father is so he can leave. Samuel refuses, explaining that he doesn’t want him to see Montrose until after a ceremony being conducted the next day at dawn.
Meanwhile, George notices a book out of place on the shelf in his room. When he pulls it, a secret door opens leading to a massive library. He looks around a bit before noticing a book on one of the tables entitled Bylaws and Precepts of the Order of the Ancient Dawn.
Christina leads a despondent Atticus out of her father’s room. She refuses to answer his questions about Montrose, but is coy when he asks about William, implying that the man is a little more than a friend and a bit less than a lover. She also advises Atticus that they should become friends/allies before her father’s powerful friends arrive.
Atticus starts to head into his room, then turns around and demands that she make a show of good faith by lifting whatever spell she cast on Leti and George to make them forget the shoggoths. Christina explains that the spell isn’t targeted–it works on everyone who sees their guard dogs and isn’t family (DUN DUN DUN). Regardless, she still agrees to his wish, causing Leti and George to begin screaming from their rooms. He tries to go to them, but is blocked from leaving by an invisible barrier.
After Atticus’ door closes on its own, a young boy runs in and tells Christina that “it’s time.” Her icy demeanor melts into concerned anticipation as she runs out to a barn where a cow is giving birth. She thanks the vet for summoning her, then kneels down, reaches into the animal’s birth canal, and pulls out a disgustingly adorable baby shoggoth. She lovingly cuddles the squirming creature and informs the happy farmers around her that this is her first time assisting with a birth.
Back inside the lodge, Leti attempts to break out of her room when she’s surprised by the appearance of Atticus. She tells him that she remembers the shoggoths and pleads with him to help her find a way out. Instead, Atticus coaxes her to sit on the bed with him. After Leti calms down a bit, she notices a nearby painting featuring a man with a snake in place of a penis who is about to rape a woman laying in front of him.
The image rattles Leti even more, but Atticus reminds her how brave she was last night when she ran from the cabin to the car. Leti then reveals that the prayer she’d been reciting beforehand (Psalm 23) was the first time she’d said it since she was abandoned by her mother as a little girl.
Atticus promises that he will never abandon her and the two begin to kiss.
Meanwhile, the real Atticus (!) continues searching for a way to escape his spell-locked room. After tapping out “Wizards” to George in Morse code, he’s attacked by the woman he called last episode in South Korea (Ji-ah). After stabbing and nearly killing him, Atticus manages to pin Ji-ah to the floor and chokes her to death.
While the two struggle, George’s room is visited by Atticus’ deceased mother, Dora. When he plainly states that her presence is impossible, she asks him to dance with her anyway. He obliges and the two lovingly sway in each other arms. They also reminisce about their time together when they were young, which apparently involved much more than close friendship. When Dora goes in to kiss him, however, George resists, insisting that she’s not real and causing her to disappear.
Back over in Leti’s room, things with Not Atticus begin to heat up. Leti asks him to stop when he starts to take off his clothes, but Not Atticus refuses. Instead, he unzips his pants to reveal a giant snake. Not a euphemism, but an actual–and very angry–snake. Leti jumps back and grabs a conveniently place letter opener, which she uses to ward off Not Atticus and his reptilian manhood.
Outside the three rooms, Christina and members of Samuel’s club gleefully watch the traumatic proceedings through mystical one-way portals. A few of the men snidely remark on the woman’s presence in their group while also discussing the possibility that Samuel might finally pull of his grand plan now that he has access to one of Titus’ blood relatives.
Dinner and Determination
When Atticus, George, and Leti are finally allowed to exit their rooms, they’re all visibly shaken. William greets them and announces that Atticus and George are expected in 15 minutes for a formal dinner (no women allowed).
After he leaves, Atticus begins to talk about something he’s ashamed of from his time in Korea, but George stops him. He brings the group together, assuring them that they are stronger together than whatever evil magic is being used to mess with them. He also reveals that he may have found a way to escape.
Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Later, Atticus and George arrive to dinner surrounded by confused and annoyed old white men. William seats them at a special table and reminds the pair that just because nobody wants them there doesn’t mean they’re not supposed be.
The mood goes from awkward to downright terrifying when Samuel Braithwhite walks in decked out in his cult robes. He gives a speech about how awesome they’re group is and how tomorrow will be the dawning of a new era. It’s all pretty run-of-the-mill cult stuff until he has the kitchen staff serve each guest with a small piece of himself, much like Adam gave a piece of himself to create Eve.
Atticus wisely advises his uncle not to eat it.
George takes his advice, instead serving the rest of the group with verbal ass whoopings. He stands up and announces that he found the Order of Ancient Dawn bylaws, which reveals that direct descendants of Titus Braithwhite are placed above all others, even if they’re not white. It also provides them with the ability to give other members orders, which Atticus uses to command everyone to leave except Samuel, who he orders to reveal where his father is.
Samuel smugly replies that he’s not beholden to the order’s traditions like the others, but he does believe Atticus’ “tainted” blood holds the key for him to complete his task. He also warns the men not to confuse Atticus’ usefulness with being indispensable.
Deal with the Devil
Following what must have been the most awkward dessert serving imaginable, Atticus and George run back to the stone tower in Ardham to look for Montrose. They head down to the basement level and find Montrose’s flask, confirming he’s there. Unfortunately, Dell is also there and gets the drop on them. Just as she’s about to shoot the two men, Leti shows up and knocks her out.
George begins looking around the cell, eventually pulling away one of the rocks and revealing a tunnel Montrose had already been working on. After heading outside, they find he’s already dug his way up and out of the ground despite being handcuffed. Instead of being happy to see them, however, Montrose chastises the group for being there while also revealing that he was forced to write the letter to Atticus.
Before their bickering can get any worse, Leti commands the group to get into the car they stole and get the hell out of there. On their way over the bridge out of Ardham, George tells them about what he read in the Order of the Ancient Dawn’s book. In addition to being obsessed with immortality, the fire that killed Titus was caused when he tried to do the same thing Samuel planned to attempt at dawn.
George’s revelations and their car’s progress are brought to a sudden halt when it smashes into an invisible barrier at the end of the bridge.
As the group struggles to remove themselves from the vehicle, Samuel and Christina pull up behind them and get out. Samuel coldly shoots Leti, who dies in Atticus arms. He then tells his distant relative that he’ll have a choice in who survives this ordeal before shooting George, as well.
Having been forced/coerced into participating in the ceremony, Atticus stands naked while women bathe and prepare him. Christina comes in and explains that Samuel hopes to open a portal to the Garden of Eden, step through, and gain eternal life–all of which will be possible thanks to a spell that requires Atticus’ blood.
When Atticus points out how poorly that worked out for Titus, Christina states her belief that her father has determination and additional time to learn how to craft a far stronger/more stable spell.
In the next room, Montrose tends to George’s gunshot wound while Leti awakens from the dead. Christina promises Atticus that Samuel will heal his uncle as well if he participates in the ceremony. She also expresses her anger over the fact she’s not allowed to be a member of the Sons of Adam despite all the work she’s done. Meanwhile, Atticus gets to become one simply for being a man born into their bloodline.
She finishes her diatribe by telling him that they should be the ones creating their own destinies before giving him a Sons of Adam ring and walking away.
Meanwhile, Leti (understandably) freaks out over her return from the dead while George encourages Montrose to take her and his son and escape. When he refuses to leave without him, George begins reminiscing about what a kind and loving kid Montrose used to be before their father beat the tenderness out of him. He begs his brother to show Atticus the love he deserves, prompting Montrose to say that he doesn’t need advice when it comes to raising his son.
George counters by saying that Atticus might not actually be his. Montrose angrily reminds him they settled that issue a long time ago and to shut up about it. George apologizes, but says he feels compelled to speak now that Montrose might be all Atticus has left.
Speaking of poor Atticus, he’s brought into a chamber with a large wooden gateway, a bunch of Telsa coils, and a cabal of hooded weirdos. A strange and painful glow surrounds him as Samuel begins casting his spell (accompanied perfectly by Gil Scott-Heron’s poem ‘“Whitey on the Moon.”) As Atticus screams in pain, the glow stretches out from him into the portal, causing flowers and plant life to spring up around it.
At the same time time, the ring Christina gave him begins to emit a dark mist doesn’t appear to play nicely well with Samuel’s spell. Atticus looks up at the structure and sees an image of his ancestor Hanna. As the building around him begins to shake, Atticus cries out, causing a blast of energy that destabilizes the lodge even more while also turning Samuel and his cohorts into stone and ash.
With the spell now broken, Atticus chases the image of Hanna through the mansion to safety seconds before it collapses. When he runs outside, he’s greeted by a distraught Leti, who wordlessly tells him that they didn’t all make it out.
Atticus forces himself over George’s car, where he finds his father crying as he holds the body of his brother.
When you’re telling a story that involves Lovecraftian elements, things are going to get weird. Maybe not snake penis weird, but certainly a departure from your standard narrative fare.
Unfortunately, the powerful and character driven core of “Whitey’s on the Moon” gets muddled a bit by the episode’s more outlandish elements along with some of its bizarre story decisions. Considering how organically we eased into the weird fiction elements of Lovecraft Country last week (after the opening dream of course), this story feels like far too great a leap.
It wasn’t just the weird stuff, either. An ancient order casting spells and creating interdimensional portals is definitely out there, but it actually works pretty well within the narrative. What threw me were some of the smaller moments–like Christina randomly assisting with the birth of baby shoggoth before popping right back into her icy demeanor (and never mentioning/revisiting the moment again).
The episode also suffers from some technical issues, especially in the special effects department. While some scenes were on par with last week’s stellar work (like the aforementioned shoggoth birth), others looked pretty rough. The first shoggoth attack, snake penis, and Eden Portal in particular were dangerously close to Xena: Warrior Princess territory.
All that being said, “Whitey’s On the Moon” is still wonderfully engaging, providing enough scares and intrigue to keep things interesting from start to finish. It’s also boosted by some incredible individual performances and an ensemble cast that works together like they’ve been on the same show for multiple seasons.
Jonathan Majors (Atticus) continues to prove he’s a star while carrying the lead role with ease. Jurnee Smollett is predictably incredible, this time showing off a vulnerable side to her character that’s heartbreakingly authentic.
Abby Lee also deserves credit for providing Christina with a sympathetic layer to a character who could’ve easily been completely evil/unlikable. On the other side of the same coin, Michael K. Williams gives Montrose an edge that makes it hard to know how to feel about him, but impossible not to enjoy his performance.
Just like last week, however, my favorite part of the episode was Courtney Vance’s portrayal of George. He and showrunner Misha Green have turned him from a character I didn’t even remember from the Lovecraft Country novel into the glue that holds the show together. Because of this, his death will likely be the only time I compare the television series unfavorably to its source material.
While I appreciate the incredible moment his passing created (and the great performance it drew from Jonathan Majors), his departure leaves a giant hole in our collective hearts. It also removes a key component in the cast’s chemistry, which is a major reason the show is so good.
Fortunately, I can also confirm that George’s death is utilized in a way that drives the narrative forward…although next week’s episode is so terrifying that you might be too busy gripping your armrest to notice.