Last week’s chilling episode of Lovecraft Country concluded with some major revelations about the house Leti bought and its ties to the Braithwhite family’s quest to decipher the language of Adam.
We also learned that Christina Braithwhite has no intention of letting her father’s death (which she may very well have caused) keep her from continuing Samuel Braithwhite’s quest for power. Unfortunately for Atticus, her mission looks to includes a significant amount of supernatural intrusion in his life.
The episode opens with Montrose crying over his past while drinking himself into a stupor. He eventually takes the copy of the Order of the Ancient Dawn’s bylaws that George gave him and burns it.
The next day, Christina Braithwhite zips through the suburbs of Chicago in her silver Bentley before stopping in front of the recently de-haunted Winthrop house. When Leti opens the door and asks “What the f*** are you doing here?”, Christina attempts to walk right inside uninvited. She’s stopped in her tracks by an invisible barrier created by the priestess from the last episode (much to Leti and the audience’s delight).
After taking a moment to recover, Christina asks who she hired to get rid of Hiram [Winthrop]. Leti immediately deduces that Christina was the one who provided the “inheritance” money from her mother and steered her toward buying the Winthrop house.
When she asks what the Braithwhite scion wants with the house (and what it has to do with Atticus), Christina deflects, explaining that Atticus is only important because other men have positioned things that way. She then reveals that Atticus showed up at the realtors office that morning and tried to shoot her. If he isn’t careful, he’ll end up getting Leti killed…again.
Christina also explains that she doesn’t actually want the Winthrop house–just Hiram’s orrery (a fancy solar system model), which she assumes is locked away somewhere inside. Leti replies by telling Christina that although she may have supplied the money for the house, her name is on the deed…which means she needs to leave.
As far as Hiram’s orrery is concerned, it’s actually in the possession of Hippolyta Freeman, who found it in a room at Leti’s housewarming party.
While keeping things running at her and George’s shop, she takes a moment to call her father and talk with one of her employees about the mechanical model, which is definitely not based on our solar system.
Research and Regret
Leti heads down the public library and confronts Atticus about his attempt to kill Christina. She’s also more than a little pissed that he figured out where the money for the Winthrop house came from, but didn’t feel it was necessary to tell her.
Atticus counters that he didn’t want to scare Leti, which lands about as well as you’d expect with the woman who’s taken on violent racists, monsters, and evil spirits. He also reveals that Christina is virtually unkillable. It’s also likely she used him as a trojan horse to destroy Samuel Braithwhite and his cultists during the ceremony at the lodge. Before Leti interrupted him, he’d been searching for a way to stop Christina from putting her and his family in danger. The first step would be finding the two sets of deciphered pages from the lost Book of Names, which might help him learn the language of Adam and cast a spell to protect his loved ones.
Leti concludes that Hiram’s orrery is likely the key to finding his set of pages (which she can’t find due to it being in Hippolyta’s possession). The other is in Titus’ booby trapped vault, which Atticus’ blood may allow him to access if he can figure out where it is. Unfortunately, that likely means taking a return trip to Ardham.
Leti suggests they ask his father for help since he’s likely been doing the same research, but Atticus refuses, insisting that he doesn’t want him or her involved. After she leaves, Atticus goes through his books’ checkout cards and sees Montrose’s name on all of them, proving that Leti was right.
That night, Atticus meets Leti and Montrose at Sam’s bar. When Montrose begins chastising his son, Leti insists that they have to find a way to defend themselves–especially if Christina Braithwhite felt bold enough to show up at her house. Montrose counters by asking if they want the “other 34” lodges gunning after them in addition to Braithwhite’s, revealing that he knows far more about the Order of the Ancient Dawn than he’s ever let on.
Despite having vital knowledge that could help them, Montrose refuses to take part in something that might get both of them killed. After Atticus leaves, Leti tells Montrose that she can see where his son gets his stubborn streak before calling him an a-----e and leaving, as well.
Before she can reach the bar’s exit, however, he hesitantly reveals that he might know where they can find Titus’ vault.
The next day, Christina is gleefully playing hide-and-seek with children in the street when she’s approached by a pair of police officers. They take her to a run down building, which turns out to have an opulent interior that also serves as a headquarters for the Order of the Ancient Dawn. She’s brought into Captain Lancaster’s office, who angrily asks why she’s visiting his city unannounced.
After checking on a man moaning in pain from inside a nearby the closet (!), she explains that she went to see Hiram to ask him for his orrery–which is apparently the key to unlocking his time machine(!). She then taunts Lancaster for allowing black residents to move into the Winthrop house in “his” city. He furiously reminds her that the Winthrop house is the Order’s property and that no woman (especially her) will ever be a member–even if she manages to find Hiram’s stolen pages.
Christina responds to Lancaster’s tirade with a smug glare.
The next day, Atticus and Leti pack the car for their trip with Montrose. Things get exponentially more complicated when Montrose reveals that Hippolyta and Diana will be joining them for what they think is a road trip to the Boston Museum of Natural History (which is also where Titus’ vault is located).
Montrose explains to his agitated companions that he didn’t exactly have a choice in the matter, especially since they’re traveling in Hippolyta’s car.
As if things weren’t awkward/complicated enough, the trip is interrupted five seconds in by Atticus’ douchebag former classmate Tree. When he asks for a ride to help save him some bus fare to Philadelphia, Hippolyta gladly agrees.
Meanwhile, Ruby shows up at Marshall Field and Company to apply for a job. She walks in and is immediately taken aback at the sight of another black woman already working the sales floor. She then goes to talks with the employee, who reveals that she was just hired the day before and had applied on a whim.
Understandably pissed off and disappointed, Ruby leaves the store.
After arriving at the Boston Museum of Natural History, Diana and Hippolyta head to a space exhibit, allowing the others to determine their next steps. While Montrose meets with his security guard contact, Leti and Atticus decide to explore the building’s “Titus Braithwhite Wing” and search the the vault’s entrance. Leti also shut downs Tree by revealing how Atticus told her about his claim that they used to sleep together in high school.
While Leti walks through the collection of artifacts Titus Braithwhite was “given”, Tree confronts a disinterested Atticus about his bro code betrayal. He then heavily implies that Montrose and Sam (the bartender) might be romantically involved.
Atticus is still reeling from the news when his father informs him that the security guard will be able to let them inside the museum for two hours that night until the next shift change. When he asks if they found the vault yet, Atticus and Leti turn their gazes toward a bizarre monument to Titus Braithwhite sitting in the center of the room.
Over in the planetarium, Hippolyta points out a comet that she named, but did not get credit for. Diana loudly proclaims the hidden news to everyone around them.
That night, the trio make it into the museum and begin looking for a way into the vault. Montrose quickly deduces that the answer is provided by moonlight, which bounces off multiple points before resting on the tooth of one of the monument’s alligators. Leti pulls it, which opens a doorway leading down into a hidden cavern.
Atticus goes down first, finding three tunnels along with an ominous warning about “rising tides”. He also discovers that they’ll need a map located in one of the nearby exhibits, which Leti takes over Montrose’s protests. Once all three of them make it down into the cavern, Leti and Montrose use the history of Titus’ raids to determine which of the three tunnels to explore. Atticus is unsure of their choice, but follows them anyway.
After walking for approximately 20 minutes, they come to a giant chasm with an old rotten plank running across it. The other side is almost completely shrouded in darkness.
While Atticus ties a rope around each of them, Montrose assures Leti of her safety with a made up story about the special unbreakable knot his family has passed down for generations. She then steps out onto the plank, making it approximately halfway across before a giant pendulum swings across and almost knocks her over. Atticus quickly makes his way across the plank and unties her knot, allowing her to make it past the blade.
Meanwhile, Montrose notices the plank on his end is disappearing. Atticus comes back for his father, convincing him to jump into his arms. The pair manage to keep their balance and make it past the pendulum to Leti. Unfortunately, the disintegrating plank leads them to a locked door covered in hieroglyphic symbols. As the plank disintegrates a few feet from where they stand Montrose shouts out the combination based on an inscription in the Order of the Ancient Dawn by laws. Leti pushes the corresponding symbols, which opens the door and allows the trio to fall safely into a slightly flooded tunnel.
The group soon realizes that the water around them is rising with the tide, meaning they have less than an hour to find Titus’ pages and escape. After it reaches waist-level, Montrose and Atticus begin to argue, which leads to Montrose admitting that George gave him the Order of the Ancient Dawn bylaws. He also admits to burning/destroying them, which he justifies as honoring his brother’s dying wish to protect their family.
While all this is going on, Leti crosses paths with the floating corpse of one of her neighbors who’d gone missing (and had actually been killed by the Winthrop house back in Chicago). This spurs the group onward until they find the elevator from inside the Winthrop house. Atticus insists they go in, but Leti refuses, reminding him that Montrose was kidnapped and she died. They are in just as much danger as he is and shouldn’t be sidelined due to his misplaced desire to be a hero.
Later, Montrose makes a heartfelt plea with Atticus to smooth things out with the woman he loves. It’s a surprisingly tender moment that is interrupted when Leti discovers the vault. They also find an arm sticking out of the lock, which Atticus assumes was the “wrong key” before putting on the ring Christina gave him at the lodge sticking his own arm inside it.
After painfully extracting a sample of Atticus’s blood, a series of glyphs above begin to glow and a trap door opens above them, dropping a ladder down into the water. The group climbs it up into an attic, which features a moldering banquet table/room surrounded by the skeletal remains of Native Americans.
Leti notices one of the bodies draped over a nearby desk with a set of pages clasped in its hand. When Atticus reaches out to take them, however, the body roars and begins to reform into a person who is both man and woman. She begins speaking an unknown language which Atticus can somehow understand, explaining that Titus found her and learned of her ability to decipher the pages. He promised to reunite her with her people if she helped him–a promise kept by killing her tribe/family and locking her inside an attic with their corpses.
Atticus assures her that he is not a monster like Titus. He also explains that they need her help stopping Titus’ ancestors from hurting others like he did to her family. She refuses, explaining that although she doesn’t not hold him responsible for the sins of his forefathers, she also does not know his spirit.
Having heard enough, Montrose snatches the pages from the desk, which causes the glass windows surrounding the attic to break. Atticus convinces the woman to escape with them as water quickly floods the room. After nearly losing the pages, the group piles into the completely submerged elevator and takes it up out of the water. Upon reaching a pocket of breathable air (which is also somehow in the Winthrop house back in Chicago), Atticus and Leti share a passionate kiss.
Their romantic moment is cut short when the Native American woman begins screaming at a supernaturally high pitch, forcing Atticus to knock her unconscious.
Bargain with the Devil
That night, a pair of men staking out Christina Braithwhite’s Chicago residence watch her arrive home. After she heads inside, William Braithwhite comes back out. He then approaches the vehicle and easily beats the hell out of them before requesting that they send along a warning to Lancaster that Christina doesn’t like to be followed.
He then heads to Sam’s bar, where Ruby is playing and definitely not sounding her best. After angrily dismissing the unresponsive crowd, she heads to bar, where William offers to buy her a drink. He also offers an opportunity to change her life forever. When Ruby dismisses him, he assures her that it’s a promise he can definitely keep. Despite remaining skeptical/annoyed, she decides to indulge William as long he continues buying her drinks.
As the night wears on, Ruby tells William about her anger and disappointment over everything–the way Leti lied to her, the fact Marshall Fields and Company won’t ever hire more than one black person, how she missed her window to be that one person while living with Leti, etc.
Ruby then tells William that he won’t be taking her home before promptly going home with him, where the two make passionate love.
On the way back to Chicago, Diana asks her mother how Atticus, Leti, and Montrose made it back to Chicago without a car. After admitting that she doesn’t know, Hippolyta notices that Diana coloring in her late father’s atlas, which she found in the car’s glove compartment…and which happens to have some markings he made near the area they just visited.
She turns the car around and heads toward a place labeled as “Devon County,” determined to finally get some answers about her husband’s death.
Back in Chicago, the Native American woman uses gestures to silently explain to Atticus that Titus turned her into a siren so she couldn’t help anyone else decipher his pages. After he assures his father that he’ll figure it out, Montrose tells his son how proud he is of the good and brave man he’s become.
After Atticus leaves, Montrose goes into the room where the woman is resting and apologizes before slitting her throat.
If you were hoping for an episode that combined the insane weirdness of the second one with classic story feel of the third, then ‘A History of Violence’ is definitely your jam.
Those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s on Indiana Jones tales couldn’t help but enjoy the trip into Titus’ vault: Historical-based puzzles, supernatural booby traps, ancient curses…all it was missing was a John Williams score and some Nazi cannon fodder.
While I still miss Uncle George terribly, I found myself enjoying the Atticus/Leti/Montrose trio much more than I expected–especially when Montrose finally began opening up to his son. To be fair, it shouldn’t be a surprise watching Michael K. Williams turn a hard-edged character into someone you can’t help becoming attached to. In addition to his great individual performance, Williams works incredibly well with with Jonathan Majors, who continues to be a great series lead.
And then you have that kiss between Atticus and Leti, which was such a great and beautifully shot moment. It also followed one of many great moments of Leti badassery. One of the reason these sequences continue to be so enjoyable (aside from Jurnee Smollett’s outstanding work) is how they’re developed and executed. Leti doesn’t just transform into Wonder Woman every time a terrifying obstacle stands in her way. She freaks out like any of us would, but it’s balanced/countered by a rare strain of fire and determination that organically strengthens with every trail she faces.
We also got to see much more of Leti’s sister Ruby, which in turn allowed Wunmi Mosaku to show even more of her character’s depth and range. It’s oddly fitting that the episode featuring her worst musical performance (by design) was her strongest acting job thus far.
Christina Braithwhite deserves a big shout out as well, both for actress Abby Lee and showrunner Misha Green (along with Wes Taylor who co-wrote the episode). It would have been easy to write/play Christina as a caricature of evil fueled by class and racism. Instead, Green’s decision to gender swap the role from the novel adds a whole new/different layer to the story. She’s still unquestionably villainous, but she’s also fighting against a different type of systematic oppression simply for being a woman. Combine that with Lee’s superbly determined portrayal, it makes Christina an infinitely more interesting (and unexpectedly sympathetic) character.
Even if you’re one of those people who whines and stomps their feet every time a role is adapted from its source material with a different race/gender, it’s hard to deny this one has been a success.
From a story standpoint, “A History of Violence” was highly enjoyable on a visceral level. Unfortunately, the series continues to add tantalizing plot threads at a faster rate than the narrative can solidify behind them.
I love the idea of the Winthrop house somehow being connected to Titus’ vault almost 1,000 miles away…or Hiram Winthrop’s orrery of an unknown solar system being the key to a time machine…or some random dude being locked in Captain Lancaster’s closet and Christina acting like that’s a normal thing….etc.
Just like the shoggoth birth in episode two, it’s all fascinating stuff. At some point, though, these fascinating threads must pull together in a way that turns them from interesting possibilities into a coherently overarching story. We’re certainly nowhere near Lost territory yet, but I am starting to get a bit nervous.
On the positive side of things, both Montrose’s betrayal and Hippolyta’s decision to investigate George’s death were some truly inspired hooks. Montrose’s betrayal makes sense with everything he’s said about wanting to keep Atticus away from this mystical quest/battle, but it was still shocking to see him take such a horrifically cruel step to do so–especially when it followed a genuinely touching moment with his son.
While I’m sure the fallout from Montrose’s actions will reverberate throughout the rest of the series, Hippolyta’s story is one I hope we spend at least one full episode on. Maybe it’s due to her being George’s wife (or because Aunjanue Ellis is just that good of an actress), but I’ve been all types of desperate to see her do what she did this episode since she started tearing pages from that Dracula paperback.
And if she happens to find a way via magic and/or time travel to bring George back, then I won’t mind that one bit.