Last week’s episode of Lovecraft Country concluded with a multitude of tantalizing cliffhangers:
- Montrose slit the throat of the Native American (Yamiha) woman he, Atticus, and Leti rescued from Titus’ vault.
- Hippolyta and Diana embarked on a journey to learn what really happened to George.
- Ruby went home with William Braithwhite and got it on.
Of those three plot lines, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the last one holds the least amount of potential intrigue. This week, however, it’s where we start the story, which ends being all types of crazy.
The episode opens with Dell (the redneck dog owner from Episode 2) waking up in a luxurious bed. After stretching and catching sight of her hands, the woman freaks out and stumbles to the floor. She then forces her bizarrely uncooperative legs toward a mirror, where she repeatedly slaps at her face while commanding herself to wake up.
“Dell” also refers to herself as Ruby, which makes it a pretty safe bet that William practiced some magic on Ms. Baptiste after their rendezvous the night before.
She puts on a bathrobe and rushes outside, eventually wandering into a black neighborhood. After attempting to tell a local business owner who she is, Ruby collides with a young black boy attempting to help her. This immediately brings a police car screaming onto the scene, causing both of them to raise their hands. Two white officers get out and begin roughly interrogating the boy while checking to make sure Ruby is okay. They’re just about to start beating up the poor kid when Ruby vehemently insists he was only trying to help her.
After letting the boy go, the officers gingerly escort Ruby into their squad car to take her “somewhere safe.” Turns out that William was the one who called them, telling the officers that his “wife” had wandered off and was acting erratically due to a severe mental condition.
As the officers continue to ignore her pleas to be released, Ruby suddenly feels a sharp pain surging throughout her body. The sensation intensifies after they drop her off at William’s residence, where he carries her inside and lays her down on a tarp. He then takes a knife and cuts into her undulating body, tearing away the white skin she found herself in that morning.
Charges and Changes
Back at the Winthrop house, Atticus and Leti are surprised to find Montrose still in the room where Yamiha was staying. When Montrose declares the woman is “gone,” Leti thinks he means that she left. Atticus, on the other hand, gets what his father really meant and begins beating the hell out of him.
After Leti and some of her boarding residents pull him off, Atticus storms downstairs to her darkroom and begins furiously searching to see if she took pictures of Titus’ pages (which he assumes Montrose destroyed). Leti follows Atticus into the subbasement and demands that he calm down.
Her words don’t have much of an impact, but a sharp glare with a baseball bat in her hand does, causing him to leave.
Back at William’s place, Ruby wakes up in her own skin to him explaining his fascination with the possibility of humans being able to shed their original skin like caterpillars. He eventually found a way to do make this happen via a mix of science and magic…and with the assistance of one Dr. Hiram Epstein.
After explaining that the potion’s effects are temporary (and listening to Ruby’s recounting of her experience), William tells her that she’s free to go and do as she pleases. Ruby initially decides to get the hell out of there, but decides instead to try living in the skin of a white woman again–this time with some foreknowledge of what’s about to transpire.
That afternoon, Ruby (in her white/Dell appearance) enjoys an afternoon in the city free of lingering/malicious stares and overt discrimination. As a passage from Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf plays, Ruby enjoys a few hours of peace and acceptance she has never been able to find in her own skin.
That night, Leti visits Atticus at Hippolyta’s shop and informs him that she did take pictures of Titus’ pages. He thanks her, both for ensuring the page’s contents were available and for stopping him from killing his father. He also admits that killing Montrose was something he often thought about after his father beat him as a child. That type of viciousness was something he hoped would never take hold inside him, but he found it during the war.
Leti tells Atticus that seeing that side of him scares her. He asks her not to be, leading them to into a warm embrace that quickly evolves into a love making session far more steamy/passionate than their brief encounter in a bathroom from a few days ago.
Benefits of Change
William arrives home to find Ruby singing and taking a relaxing bath in his tub. Despite thoroughly enjoying herself that afternoon, she knows he must have an ulterior motive for sharing his magic with her. William denies her accusation before completely proving her correct by asking for a “small” unnamed favor at some point in the future. In the meantime, she is free to enjoy the use of his potion (and his home) whenever and however she sees fit.
He then asks why she didn’t use any of the money he left her on the nightstand. Ruby explains that it wasn’t necessary–being a white woman was the only currency required to fully enjoy her day.
She often wonders if it’s harder being a woman or being black. With the help of William’s potion, she intends to find out if changing one of those factors can truly make her life better.
The next day, Ruby dons her white skin and heads over to Marshall Fields. Unlike her previous visits, she’s able to walk right in and get an interview with Paul, the store’s manager. Paul is extremely impressed with “Hillary Davenport’s” resume along with her story about why she wants to work there.
After asking if she’s okay working with “colordds,” he offers her an assistant manager position. Ruby happily accepts, but her joy is tempered by William’s potion painfully wearing off at the worst possible moment. She manages to flee Paul’s office moments before shedding her white skin.
That night, a physically and emotionally battered Montrose visits Sam. The bartender tries to talk with him about what happened, but Montrose has no desire for words. Instead, he immediately takes Sam into his arms and roughly makes love to him.
The next day, Ruby/Hillary is greeted at Marshal Fields by Paul, who wishes her luck on her first shift an assistant manager. After he leaves, she makes a beeline for the black employee she met earlier (Tamara) and assures the woman that she belongs there. Ruby’s kindness dissipates a bit when she learns that Tamara doesn’t have anywhere near the education or skills that she does.
Later, Ruby enjoys an impromptu fashion show in the break room with some of the other store’s employees. After marveling at her “colored” dance moves, one of the employees begins trashing Tamara. Ruby joins in on bad mouthing how unqualified she is, but stops when the employee says Tamara is unqualified by default simply because she’s black.
Another employee then suggests that since Ruby seems comfortable around Tamara, she should ask her to take them on a tour of Chicago’s South Side. The employee also refers to their potential outing as a “safari”, which makes Ruby even more uncomfortable/angry.
At the end of the the day, Ruby walks outside to find William waiting for her. After explaining to her impressed co-workers that he’s her husband, William informs Ruby that it’s time to make good on his favor: She needs to attend a party at the Order of the Ancient Dawn headquarters disguised as one of the serves. The rest of the details will be provided by Christina at the location.
That night, Ruby walks around the party filled with rich and important looking white men, including Captain Lancaster. When she goes back into the kitchen to refill her tray, Christina appears and instructs her to place a strange looking stone in Lancaster’s office.
Ruby initially refuses to get herself involved with anything having to do with the police. Christina pushes back, explaining that Lancaster tried to kill William due to him being the rightful heir to the lodge. He shot him in the back and dumped him in the river, but he somehow survived. With Ruby’s help, he can finally take what’s rightfully his and have his revenge….and if she really cares at all about him, she’ll do it.
Ruby successfully sneaks into Lancaster’s office and places the stone inside his desk. She also hears a man moaning in pain from a nearby closet and goes to investigate. Sure enough, she finds a mutilated dude tied up and hanging inside it. Unfortunately, Lancaster and two of his buddies pick that exact moment to walk inside the office, which forces Ruby to hide inside with him.
As Lancaster rants and raves over having to gladhand with all the other lodge members, Ruby struggles to keep Mutilated Dude quiet. Fortunately for her, no one seems to be alarmed about the moaning coming from the closet. The most it elicits is a laugh followed by one of the men asking if the man has revealed the location of “the loot he stole.”
Lancaster’s associates also don’t seem alarmed when he changes shirts in front of them, reveals that he has the skin of a black man sewn onto most of his torso.
The next day, Ruby (in her Hillary disguise) takes out the prior night’s horror on Tamara. She eventually goes on a rant about how black people need to worker harder than white people and how crazy white people can be, which causes Paul to come over and make sure everything is okay.
Ruby saves face by telling Paul that Tamara has offered to take them and her co-workers on a visit to Chicago’s South Side.
That night, Tamara and Ruby/Hillary sit uncomfortably in Sam’s bar while Paul and their 3 co-workers enjoy the great music and dancing. Instead of taking another vial of William’s potion to maintain her white form, Ruby heads outside and smashes it, disgusted at the company she’s part of in her Hillary persona.
After shedding her white skin, Ruby observes Paul aggressively making a move on Tamara. When she rejects him and runs off, he calls her a racial slur before slipping back into his own metaphorical skin of an upstanding family man and store manager.
Meanwhile, Sam takes Montrose backstage at a drag show he’s performing in and puts makeup over some of the bruises Atticus gave him. The other dancers give Sam a hard time for being with a man who hasn’t even kissed him on the lips yet (or publicly declared their love), but he easily brushes them off.
At the drag show, Montrose watches Sam win with a dance dedicated to him. Afterward, he coaxes his reluctant lover to finally let go and dance a bit himself. Montrose does, his morose demeanor transforming into a joyful acceptance of who he is.
He completes his metamorphosis by finding Sam, pulling him into his arms, and sharing their first real (and very passionate) kiss together.
Back at Leti’s place, Atticus falls asleep while attempting to translate Titus’ pages. He has a nightmare about chasing his ancestor through Samuel’s burning lodge, which ends with her staring at him as he catches on fire and begins roasting alive.
After waking up, he explains to Leti that the ring Christina gave him has his initials in the language of Adam, which provided a starting point for the translation. Leti says this would all be much easier if Montrose hadn’t let Yahima go, but holding her captive would have made them no better than Titus.
Atticus then reveals that Montrose actually killed Yahima, which causes Leti to question if they should even be messing with all this evil mystical stuff. Atticus tries to explain that it’s not inherently evil, especially when they’re trying to use it for protection. Leti counters by pointing out the horrible things Montrose has done in the name of protecting his son.
Later, Leti tells Atticus that she’s been trying to pray for him, but doesn’t have the faith to believe it’ll do any good. She also doesn’t know if what they’re searching for is worth all the trouble and pain it’s caused them.
When the conversation turns to their relationship, Leti says that the last time she thought they were going somewhere, he was ready to sneak off to Florida. Atticus responds by telling her about a woman he had relationship with in Korea (Ji-Ah) that ended “in a strange way.” He isn’t sure if he loved her because he never had a good example of what a loving relationship looked like growing up.
Leti explains that her situation was the polar opposite of his parents’ cold yet enduring marriage. Her mother (and later Ruby) was always falling for a new guy. She didn’t want to be with a man who didn’t think that the love two people shared was something special that should be cherished
Atticus responds by assuring her that what they have is special to him.
Skin in the Game
Ruby heads home and waits for William while she contemplates ever taking his potion again. When Christina arrives instead, she demands to know why both she and William are constantly going in and out of the house’s basement
Christina ignores the question, instead trying to empathize with Ruby’s clear disillusionment over the things she’d seen during her time as Hillary. Ruby points out that Christina’s plight as a woman in a man’s world is nothing compared to being a black woman in a white man’s universe.
Christina counters that William’s invitation to try the potion wasn’t simply a chance to sample what it’s like to be white. It was her opportunity to sample the power of magic, which can provide its user the freedom to do whatever they want.
The next day, Ruby dons her Hillary skin and heads down to Marshall Fields, where she tells Paul she’s resigning. When the stunned manager asks why, Ruby/Hillary says it’s because she’s finds herself irresistibly attracted to him. Quitting is the only way she can legally unentangle herself from being his subordinate, thereby allowing herself to give into her carnal desires.
Hillary begins to seduce Paul, who is timid at first, but quickly succumbs to her advances. Hillary/Ruby engages her former boss in some rough foreplay before throwing him to the ground and sodomizing him with a stiletto heel, all while her white skin sheds onto the floor around them.
Before leaving, she turns Paul over to make sure he knows that a black woman was the one who fooled and violated him.
Ruby then heads over to William’s place to find him coming out of the basement. She asks him what’s down there, but he’s unable to answer on account of his body pulsating and ripping itself apart. A few painful/blood seconds later, she’s shocked to find Christina standing in front of her.
Meanwhile, Atticus discovers something in his translation work that makes him completely freak out. He grabs a phone and calls Ji-Ah in South Korea, demanding she tell him how she knew. Ji-Ah responds by asking if he believes her now and admonishing him for not listening to her.
Atticus responds by asking “Well…are you?” When Ji-Ah hangs up, the camera pans down to the translation in Atticus’ hand, which spells out D-I-E.
In case you somehow missed it, this episode was all about the different skins people wear to cover their true selves.
Most folks had already guessed Christina and William were the same person. I don’t have any scientific proof to back that up, but I do have a sense of relief about never having to see another post on Facebook about this “mind blowing” theory. That being said, it was still an exceptionally executed reveal, both from a story and technical/FX standpoint.
The episode also provided Jordan Patrick Smith some more substantial screen time, which he made excellent use of. In fact, “Strange Case” gave quite a bit of screen time to characters whose stories deserved some more exploration.
Michael K Williams barely said two words, but still managed to convey a wonderfully powerful performance. Although it doesn’t excuse the pain Montrose caused his son over the years, his repressive struggle helps give it a great deal more context.
As nice as his breakthrough moment was, however, the dude brutally murdered poor Yahima. If there’s any path to redemption from that, we’re still nowhere near it.
Wunmi Mosaku gave yet another great performance as Ruby. Jamie Neumann also deserves credit for playing her “Hillary Davenport” counterpart with just enough of Ruby’s spirit/mannerism to make it believable without turning into the bizarre parody many body swap stories devolve into.
Speaking of devolving, the FX on those transformations were fantastic. Lovecraft Country has been pretty hit-or-miss with the CGI, but they’ve nailed the practical effects work–especially the gory stuff–every single time.
Despite Atticus and Leti’s story not being the central plot line, it still had a beautifully warm impact. These are both damaged people with good hearts and troubled pasts. Their histories still aren’t 100% clear (especially Atticus’), but we finally got to see them confront those parts of themselves via moving forward together.
As far as the narrative is concerned, “Strange Case” felt very similar to the third episode (“Holy Ghost”): A gripping story of social injustice packaged within a great horror tale…although in this case it was definitely more on the science fiction/fantasy side of things. The episode was about as good as you could ask for until things got a little wonky at the end.
While I appreciate them picking up the storyline about what happened between Atticus and Ji-Ah in Korea, it was an odd way to end the hour. It also didn’t make much sense. In a show that has typically operated on a very high level, having “D-I-E” spelled out in a secret language seems like a weird thing to freak out Atticus considering everything he’s already been through. Perhaps it will make more sense in context, but for now it just feels random.
While I’m sure we all wanted to see Paul get his comeuppance, I’m not sure watching him get sexually violated with a shoe was the way to do it. Maybe I’m too sensitive (or weird), but it would have been much more cathartic to watch him get beaten to within an inch of his life.
I also wish we’d gotten to see more of Ruby’s reaction to things, especially the revelation that William and Christina are the same person. That scene was one of many instances where the episode cut away from her during something that begged for more screen time–or at least an explanation:
- Escaping from the closet/lodge.
- Explaining to Paul why she ran off right after getting the assistant manager position.
- Explaining to Paul and her co-workers where she disappeared to after leaving the bar.
I was about to put “investigating whatever Lancaster and his associates were discussing,” but skipping that part is understandable. I’d be distracted too if I was locked in a closet with Mutilated Dude. As far as the other stuff, though, it made another otherwise tight hour of television have some shaky moments.
All that being said, “Strange Case” is still an entertaining and powerful episode. We were once again treated to a classic tale with a powerful message that also contributed to the series overarching narrative/mythology. As has become the expectation on Lovecraft Country, both the individual and ensemble performances were superb. It’s a real treat watching a cast where anyone can take center stage or fill a room together and still maintain such an exceptional level of work.
Let’s hope next week’s episode features Hippolyta and Diana taking center stage on a journey to find out what happened to George.