Last week on Lovecraft Country, Atticus succeeds in finding his father and escaping the machinations of Samuel Braithwhite. Unfortunately, the journey also cost them the life of his (and our) beloved Uncle George.
Tonight, we take a look at how life for Atticus, Leti, and Montrose has changed since that fateful encounter in Ardham.
Staking Claim (Day 1)
The episode opens with Leti sitting despondently in a lively church service. As the congregation sings and dances with joy, a single tear rolls down her cheek.
We then cut to the credits followed by a title card informing us of a group of black people who moved into a house located in a neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago. Three people went missing inside the house and were never seen again.
As weird/scary as that sounds, you have no idea how messed up the story is about to get.
Days/weeks following the church service (and the ordeal in Ardham), Leti excitedly reveals to her half-sister Ruby that she bought a house. As if that weren’t surprising enough, she also plans to pay back all her sibling’s help over the years by making her part owner in what will eventually be an upscale boarding house.
Ruby is understandably skeptical, both of the rundown property and where Leti got the money to purchase it. She also reminds her that there was a riot in a nearby neighborhood because a black couple moved in. Multiple black people coming in and out of their place would likely cause some caucasian heads to explode.
Leti still manages to convince her sister to move in, become part owner, and help get the place ready. She then excitedly shows off the malfunctioning elevator, which nearly decapitates her.
Meanwhile, Hippolyata Freeman gets ready for the day while her nephew (Atticus) makes breakfast for her and Diana. She opens a dresser drawer, pulls out a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (George’s favorite book), and begins tearing the pages out of it.
She then goes out to the kitchen, where things are in that awful state of guarded normalcy in the weeks following the death of a loved one. From the the extra place setting Diana accidentally sets to Atticus and Hippolyta’s awkward interactions, it’s clear that they are not okay despite everyone putting on a brave face.
Atticus tells his aunt that the printer called about the new edition of the guidebook, which is a month overdue. She painfully declares her intention to get it submitted that day, but Atticus already did it for her. She’s appreciative, but clearly unhappy at not being able to proof and read her husband’s final work.
After breakfast, Atticus goes over to Montrose’s place, where he finds his father drunk and passed out on the floor. He fills a glass of water and says “I got you kid” before throwing it in the man’s face. While his father angrily awakens, Atticus recalls a story George used to tell about a time when he and Montrose were surrounded by angry white kids. Just as they were about to get beaten to death, a mysterious stranger with a baseball bat showed up, swinging it like Jackie Robinson and clocking them all across the head. All he said after saving their lives was “I got you kid” before walking away (which helps that insane dream sequence from the first episode make a little bit more sense).
Atticus then reveals his concern that he’s worn out his welcome at Hippolyta’s. He asks Montrose if he can stay with him for a few nights, which he gruffly agrees to.
He then tells his father how it felt staying at Hippolyta’s home, especially when she and Diana don’t know what really happened to George. He doesn’t feel right about lying to them, but Montrose insists they stick to their cover story that George was killed by Sheriff Hunt in Ardham. When Atticus insists that they at least consider telling the truth, Montrose snaps and nearly lashes out at his son, causing him to leave.
Klaxon Klan (Day 2)
The next day, Leti excitedly photographs everyone moving into her and Ruby’s new boarding house. Her joy turns to shock when Atticus shows up to check in on her for the first time since George’s funeral three weeks ago. He also informs her that he’s decided to move back to Florida.
Leti offers Atticus one of her rooms so he can stay–at least for the upcoming housewarming party–but he politely declines. As the pair embrace and say goodbye, the air is filled with the sound of car horns. Everyone walks outside to find a line of vehicles parked outside, all with their horns pressed down by bricks that have been tied to their steering wheels. Two police officers drive by and smile approvingly at the smirking white men standing in front of the cars.
Attics takes in the scene and decides he might stick around for a while after all.
Heat from Below (Day 5)
Leti must sleep like a rock. Not even the horns blaring outside or a mutilated ghost creeping next to the bed are able to rouse her. When the ghost whips her covers off, however, Leti finally rouses. She doesn’t see the ghost, but does notice that the air conditioning is busted and goes down to the basement to fix it.
After getting the boiler under control (and noticing that someone has clearly messed with it), she’s startled by a loud noise. I personally would have run away screaming at this point, but Leti decides to investigate. She follows the noise to a hidden subbasement door, which is being slammed from below by an unseen force accompanied by menacing whispers.
That’s enough to make her run away screaming (which helped me feel a little better) and gets Atticus to help her check it out.
When the pair find a completely empty subbasement, Atticus says he believes Leti about what she heard–especially after the otherworldly weirdness they experienced in Ardham. In this case, however, he doesn’t think there’s anything supernatural involved. It was likely the people who messed with boiler combined with the stress caused by the car horns and having to keep their experiences in Ardham a secret.
He offers to nail down the basement windows and keep watch for a couple nights. When Leti thanks him and grabs his hand, Atticus gingerly pulls away while suggesting the subbasement would make a perfect darkroom.
House Fire (Day 8)
On the evening of Leti and Ruby’s house party, we’re treated to an beautiful single take shot of the sisters entertaining their many guests. Am I a total sucker for single take shots? Absolutely. But this one is really great, especially when you combine it with Ruby and her band blowing the roof off the place.
Leti heads into the dining room to find Hippolyta doling out all the food she hasn’t been able to eat now that every person who visits feels the need to bring sympathy dishes. She also expresses how Atticus simultaneously annoyed her and reminded her of George during his stay.
Meanwhile, Diana and some of the other kids are playing with a ouija board in the house’s attic–a scenario which is all but guaranteed to end badly. Sure enough, one of the kids asks who they’re talking to and gets an ominous response: George is dead.
Despite the other kids’ assurances that the planchette moved of its own accord, Diana assumes they’ve played a horribly cruel prank and storms out.
When Hippolyata goes looking for her daughter, the house itself appears to direct her into one of the upstairs rooms, instead. Upon entering it, she discovers a beautiful golden orrery (a fancy mechanical model of the solar system).
Back downstairs, the party is still jumping and thankfully devoid of supernatural weirdness (for now). Good old fashion human weirdness, on the other hand, is on full display thanks to Atticus. After watching Leti dance intimately with another man, he becomes both heartsick and jealous. This leads him to follow her into the bathroom, where the two passionately kiss before roughly making love.
There was also a ghost spying on Leti before Atticus walked in, but we’ll revisit that later.
After they’re finished, Atticus notices that Leti is bleeding, which she explains as being an unexpected start to her period (Hint: It’s not). Atticus then gets redressed and heads back to the party. Leti stays in the bathroom and begins to cry, the encounter clearly having impacted her beyond just being a casual hookup.
Later, the party is brought to a screeching halt when someone burns a cross on the front lawn.
Already in a weird place after her sexual encounter with Atticus, the sight causes Leti to reach her breaking point. While Atticus and a few other men arm themselves to defend the house, she grabs a baseball bat, storms outside, and begins busting up the unoccupied cars whose horns have been going nonstop the last five days.
In a series full of great moments for the character, this one might be her best so far.
As sirens begin wailing in the distance, Leti flips the bat aways and puts her hands up, ready for the prompt/inevitable arrival of a police force that’s definitely not there because of the burning cross.
Leti is put in a paddy wagon alone with a police captain, who smugly asks what civil rights group she’s with while going over her prior record. When she asks if his department has gotten any of the 21 harassment reports she’s filed since moving into the house, he and his officers transparently play dumb.
Things get exponentially weirder and more terrifying when the captain asks if she’s noticed anything strange in her new home, which is known as the Winthrop house. He also asks if anyone told her to buy it. When Leti refuses to answer, the captain grabs onto a handle while the officer driving the van swerves, causing her to be flung painfully from one side of the vehicle to the other.
Despite bleeding from a nasty head wound, Leti continues to remain silent. The captain states that she has no idea what happened in the Winthrop house before telling her that they found the body parts of eight black people (obviously not the term he used) buried in the subbasement–and that if history is any indication, she won’t last very long in the Winthrop house, either.
Hidden Rooms and Open Secrets (Day 9)
Being battered and bruised by the police isn’t going to slow Leti Lewis down from doing what she wants to do. In this case, she took Atticus’ advice and turned the subbasement into a darkroom. That doesn’t make the space feel any less creepy, though.
Things get even creepier when she observes a strange mark on all of her developing photos. She also notices that they appear to be in a deliberate pattern. After laying all the photos down on the floor, the marks form a drawing of a face that comes to life and demands she get out of its house. After taking a second to appropriately scream/freak out, she heads upstairs and frantically begins checking the house’s other pictures for any marks.
Meanwhile, Ruby tries to convince their boarding residents to stay, but no one wants to now that the police and their white neighbors are likely to target the house even more.
When Ruby tells her sister that they need to find another way to keep up with the house payments, Leti slips and says that she still has some of the money their mother left them…the same mother whose funeral she didn’t even attend.
As you can probably imagine, this pisses Ruby off for a number of reasons. It also makes Leti’s gesture (buying the house for both of them) look like a way to assuage her guilt over getting an inheritance that should have at least been split with her two half-siblings.
Meanwhile, Montrose makes a visit to George’s old shop, which Hipployta is running by herself now. The meeting goes from friendly to awkward/intense when Hippolyta says she knows that he and Atticus aren’t telling her the truth about how George died.
Montrose is taken aback, but maintains that her husband/his brother was killed by Sheriff Hunt.
Dead Man Walking (Day 10)
Atticus finds Leti sitting at a booth in a local bar and pouring over books and notes, all in an effort to understand how/why her house is haunted.
She explains that the Winthrop house was previously owned by a man named Hiram Epstein, a scientist at the University of Chicago who was fired for conducting unethical experiments. She also found a newspaper clipping about the police captain (Lancaster) who’d told her about the eight bodies found under the Winthrop house and had been some decidedly pointed questions. In the picture accompanying the article, Lancaster is standing next to Epstein.
Lancaster’s name also came up in a number of articles listing him as the lead detective in multiple missing person cases for black people from Chicago’s South Side. This leads Leti to believe that he was actually supplying Epstein with test subjects. She then reveals that her latest batch of photos had developed with eight phantom facial images–all of them strongly resembling people who’d been reported missing.
Atticus appears to believe her, but also suggests moving out rather than waiting to see if her theory about house being haunted is correct.
After taking a moment to consider things, Leti informs Atticus that their time together at the house warming party was the first time she’d ever had sex. He tries to apologize, but she assures him that she didn’t regret it. She needed to feel something, especially after what they went through in Ardham, which included her dying and coming back to life.
Leti also expresses her frustration that they don’t talk about what happened. She thought the world was one way and it turned out to be something completely different–but that’s not going to stop her figuring things out and staking her claim.
Later that night, she and Atticus bring a spirit medium to the house. After sacrificing a goat on the front porch (ugh), she begins marking the home with its blood while searching for the haunted spirits’ energy. She eventually discovers it in the subbasement (duh) and has Leti and Atticus join hands with her to perform a cleansing ritual/prayer.
Predictably, things get weird before going terribly, terribly wrong.
After the standard light flickering and object levitation, the spirit medium becomes possessed by the spirit of Hiram Epstein and attacks Leti. Atticus leaps to her defense only to be nearly choked to death before Epstein’s spirit transfers from the medium to him.
A possessed Atticus stalks toward Leti, she calls out to his eight victims, imploring their spirits to help her cast out the evil scientist who butchered them. Eight horrifically mutilated ghosts appear, all of them joining hands and continuing the medium’s prayer with Leti.
Epstein’s spirit is eventually forced from Atticus body. As the ghosts of his victims surround him, their wounds begin to heal while his form disintegrates into ethereal ash. With a final command from Leti to “get the **** out of my house,” Epstein vanishes for good while his victims are finally able to rest in peace.
While all this is going on, the Klu Klux Klaxon boys break into the house, which kills them one by one via a combination of infrastructure malfunctions and restless spirits. In a particularly gruesome scene, one of the men is decapitated by the same elevator that almost got Leti at the beginning of the episode.
Days later, Leti is being interviewed by a reporter about the odds she overcame to provide affordable housing for black residents in a mostly white neighborhood.
As the pair take the now working elevator back downstairs, the reporter asks her off the record if she knows anything about three of her neighbors who went missing. Leti responds that she hadn’t heard anything.
After the pair disembark, the elevator descends on its own and takes us along for the ride, far down past the basement and a series of glowing glyphs that run deep into the earth. When the door opens again, we see the bodies of the dead neighbors lying at the start of a long tunnel filled with skeletons.
Meanwhile, Atticus stakes out the real estate office that sold Leti the Wintrhop house, where he sees Christina Braithwhite pull up in her silver Bentley and walk inside. He follows her in and quickly deduces two things:
- Christina bought out the realtor (who is in he process of leaving).
- Leti’s “inheritence” actually came from her.
Atticus also reveals that he remembers seeing the name “Winthrop” carved on one of Samuel Braithwhite’s paintings. Christina explains that Horatio Winthrop was a founding member of the Sons of Adam, but was banished from the order after stealing pages from their sacred text (The Book of Names) and starting a new sect, of which Hiram Epstein was a follower/believer.
Atticus interrupts Christina’s history lesson by pulling out a gun, intent on killing her to ensure that she stays away from his family and loves ones for good. When he tries to shoot Christina, however, his body is put into a state of paralysis.
Christina languidly continues, explaining that most practitioners of magic only ever create/conjure one spell in their lifetime. Her father was able to make himself invulnerable, a protection he’d been required to remove when he attempted opening a portal to the Garden of Eden. Every spell the Sons of Adam have created came from just one deciphered chapter of the Book of Names. The book is gone now and Titus Braithwhite (the family patriarch) locked his pages in a boobytrapped vault only he can access (which all but guarantees it will show up later in the season). But if Horatio Winthrop’s stolen pages were ever found, the language of Adam (which is needed to open a door to the Garden of Eden) could finally be decoded in its entirety.
Christina releases her hold on Atticus and gives him her card, asking him to contact her if he would ever like to learn more about their family legacy. She also admonishes him for ever thinking he could kill someone as powerful as her.
After last week’s bizarre/tragic adventure, a chilling haunted house episode was a refreshing change of pace–especially with Leti overcoming the odds and keeping her home.
Jurnee Smollett can always be counted on for a great performance, but her work this time was absolutely brilliant. My favorite aspect was her ability to make Leti admirably brave while also being utterly/believably terrified. She also masterfully parlays the character’s vulnerability into fuel for righteous moments of resolve and defiance.
When she’s faced with monsters, evil spirits, heartbreak, or a gun to her head, Leti gets just as scared as any of us would be. It’s how she chooses to fight back that makes her such an amazing character.
She also has fantastic chemistry with Jonathan Majors, which makes me hopeful that the cast cohesion we saw in the series’ first two episodes will continue to be one of its strength despite the departure of Uncle George/Courtney Vance.
From a technical standpoint, ‘Holy Ghost’ is all types of gorgeous. I already mentioned the single take party scene, but the whole episode is filled with beautiful shots.
And then you have the music, which continues to be one of the series’ high points. From the pulpy incidental score to the blues-infused soundtrack, you won’t find another show on television pumping out better tunes…although as much as I enjoy the Lovecraft Country Spotify channel, I really wish there was a way to listen to Wunmi Mosaku’s incredible covers/performances, too.
Speaking of Mosaku, her impressive depth of talent was on full display this week. In addition to getting her raucous version Roy Brown’s “Boogie at Midnight” stuck in my head for eternity, she provides Ruby with an unexpectedly powerful performance. I may be 100% Team Leti, but that dressing down she gave her sister was brutally on point.
About the only part of the episode I didn’t like was the massive exposition dump Christina Braithwhite gave at the end.
So much about the scene was good, especially the horrifying tension that built as Braithwhite opened the windows to reveal Atticus pointing a gun at her. I also enjoyed how serenely chilling Abby Lee was as she explained why the Winthrop house was so important to her cause.
Unfortunately, her explanation just kept going and going to the point that it become borderline ridiculous. I know “show don’t tell” is one of the most cliche bits of storytelling critique out there, but it feels substantially valid in this case.
To the episode’s credit, however, they at least wrapped the exposition in a thrilling/intense scene that demanded every bit of the audience’s focus.
I also wish we’d dealt a bit more with the fallout from Uncle George’s death, but the time lapse combined with the seeds planted for its future repercussions handled that extremely well. It also gave the episode enough room to breathe a great haunted house story into our living rooms. Additionally, the specter of racism was once again a monster in and of itself, this time with a cathartically satisfying comeuppance that was sorely needed after last week’s heartbreaking loss.
“Holy Ghost” isn’t quite as perfect as the series’ pilot episode, but it’s still a superb hour of television. It retained the Lovecraft Country‘s complex themes, but delivered them via a classic ghost story. It also managed to expand the show’s growing mythology and added even more depth to its incredible cast of characters.
I wasn’t sure I could still be as crazy about Lovecraft Country after Uncle George’s departure. Just like the ghosts in the Winthrop house, I should have known not to bet against Letitia Lewis.