Last week’s episode of Lovecraft Country once again concluded with a series of revelations:
- Christina and William Braithwhite are the same person (duh).
- Lancaster is even more twisted/evil than we realized.
- Something Atticus deciphered in the language of Adam made him call Ji-Ah in South Korea, who is apparently much more involved and/or aware of his current predicament than we previously knew.
This week, we finally get to explore that last item a bit.
The episode opens in Deagu, South Korea in fall of 1949. Ji-Ah (Atticus’ ex-girlfriend) is sitting in a theater watching Meet Me in St. Louis. The only other people are a couple that’s far more interested in making out than watching Judy Garland on the big screen. Ji-Ah, on the other hand is completely enthralled, indulging in a daydream of her singing and belting out ‘“The Trolley Song“. In reality, however, she grows increasingly morose.
Back at home, Ji-Ah hums to herself while preparing to help soak/prepare cabbage to make kimchi with her mother (Soon Hee). Things between the pair seem warm/friendly until Soon Hee chastises Ji-Ah for not bringing home enough men. I initially thought the use of the word “men” over “man” was some type of translation error. You’ll soon learn that this was was 100% purposeful.
Later, Ji-Ah attends a class at nursing school. She looks wistfully at her classmates fawning over the romantic prowess of a fellow nursing student named Young-ja.
At a speed dating event that night, we see that Ji-Ah is the complete opposite when it comes to flirting. Despite being all types of beautiful, interesting, and kind, the poor woman has worse game than I did in middle school. When she finally appears to connect with someone, the man instead chooses to pair off with someone else…who turns out to be Young-ja.
Young-ja invites Ji-Ah to join her “dull as ditchwater” match for coffee, but she politely rejects the third wheel offer. Instead, she laments how disappointed her mom will be that she failed to bring a man home that evening. Young-ja takes Ji-Ah’s hand and implores her not to conform her life to Soon Hee’s wishes and fears.
Ji-Ah appears genuinely touched by Young-Ja’s words and interacting with her. She changes her mind and decides to tag along to the dabang/coffee house.
After drinking and listening to a band play by herself for a while, Ji-Ah eventually catches the eye of a man at the dabang and takes him home. She leads him into her bedroom and somehow lights a multitude of candles all at once. That probably should have been the dude’s cue to get the hell out of there, but he’s understandably transfixed by the sight of Ji-Ah undressing.
As the couple begins having sex, nine furry/spiked tails emerge from Ji-Ah’s orifices. The tails puncture the man and lift him up into the air. While he screams in pain, Ji-Ah absorbs his memories along with his soul. The process comes to an abrupt end when he explodes, spraying blood all over the room.
Seconds after the violent/lethal copulation is over, Soon Hee walks in. Instead of completely freaking out, she informs her daughter that she still must absorb 10 souls. A bloodied and exhausted Ji-Ah meekly agrees to continue collecting them.
During the summer of 1950, Ji-Ah is enjoying a showing of Easter Parade at the theater when the ground begins to shake. The audience runs outside to find American tanks rolling through the streets. The soldiers implore the South Korean people to join them in fighting their communist neighbors to the north while littering the street with propaganda pamphlets.
They also tell the people not to be afraid, which is a hard message to sell when you’re barreling down main street in a convoy of war machines.
Back at home, Ji-Ah uses the pamphlets to light the stove. She’s also surprised when Soon Hee whips up a special dinner for her birthday, which Ji-Ah appears to have completely forgotten about. Things once again grow tense between the two when she mentions that one of the ingredients Soon Hee used (anchovies) were her husband’s favorite. She knows this due to absorbing the memories of every man she’s killed, which included him
Soon Hee becomes angry, but only because Ji-Ah spoke of the deceased spouse who she clearly despises. She repeats her demands for Ji-Ah to bring home more men, pointing out that the influx of American soldiers should provide her with plenty of chances to do so.
It’s at this point we learn that Ji-Ah is not technically Soon Hee’s daughter…at least with regard to her soul. She is presently inhabited by the spirit of a kumiho, a mythical nine-tailed fox who does all the nasty stuff we saw earlier. The spirit was summoned by Soon Hee through a mudang (basically a shaman) to kill her husband (we’ll find out why later). After absorbing 100 souls, the kumiho will supposedly leave Ji-Ah’s body along with all the memories it absorbed during its murder spree. Ji-Ah is currently stuck at 98 souls, however, thus Soon Hee’s demands she go after the newly arrived American soldiers.
Got all that? Good, because we gotta keep moving.
Back at the hospital, Ji-Ah is in the middle of a crazy trauma surgery wave when one of the American soldiers lashes out at her. Young-ja quickly sedates him and checks on her before getting asked out by one of the orderlies…or so it seems
Later that night, Ji-Ah and Young-ja take a stroll through the city. Ji-Ah reveals that she knows her friend and the man she spoke with are communist sympathizers, but won’t betray their secret on account of being “different” herself. She also laments how badly her mother wants her to change. Young-ja once again implores Ji-Ah to break free of her mother’s expectations. Although Young-ja has no earthly idea how messed up those expectations actually are, the message still rings true.
Their conversation is interrupted when a mob chases down a communist sympathizer and hangs him in the streets. Young-ja angrily points out how the American soldiers did nothing while the man was murdered, but Ji-Ah is distracted by the site of a potential uniform-clad victim making eyes at her.
When we next see Ji-Ah, she and her mother are cleaning the blood from her latest erotic execution. (At least we didn’t have to watch it this time). Soon Hee is excited that her daughter only has one soul left until she can become fully human again. Ji-Ah tamps down on the good vibes by stating that Soon Hee’s husband “loved” her while he was sexually abusing her. She then asks why it was right to summon a kumiho into her daughter to kill him if she was only going to turn around and have her kill 100 others.
At this point, Soon Hee finally acknowledges that the kumiho is not actually her daughter–at least not yet. Unfortunately for her, the kumiho decides to take Young-ja’s advice and refuses to take the last soul. Rejoining the human race doesn’t seem terribly appealing in light of all the awfulness she’s observed in her victim’s memories.
Soon Hee demands the kumiho finish repaying the mudang’s price while insisting that she is still her daughter. Ji-Ah coldly replies that she only acts like her daughter based on the memories she absorbed from Soon Hee’s husband. She also bluntly states that he picked her to be his wife because she had a young daughter out of wedlock. Her status as a pariah would make her subservient to him, which in turn would allow the man to do whatever he wanted to his stepdaughter.
History of Violence
Ji-Ah, Young-ja, and a group of nurses are brought to an American military base. After making them all get on their knees, a sergeant reveals that someone from their shift group has been leaking information to the North Koreans. He then asks one of the nurses directly if it was her. Despite vehemently denying the accusation, he executes the woman on the spot.
The sergeant attempts to do the same to another nurse, but his gun jams. He calls over a private to do the job who turns out to be Atticus Freeman. I was really hoping he’d refuse, but Atticus obeys the order and shoots the woman immediately. He then turns to shoot Ji-Ah, but Young-ja jumps in front of her and confesses to being the spy. The sergeant pistol whips Young-ja and drags her away to be executed while Ji-Ah and the rest of the nurses look on in stunned/horrified silence.
As summer turns into fall, Ji-Ah watches her world get turned upside down by the war. The theater she used to visit is also shut down on account of it (allegedly) being owned by a communist sympathizer.
Back at the hospital, things have become even more awful with the growing influx of wounded soldiers. While tending to one with burns all over his body, Ji-Ah looks over and sees Atticus in one of the nearby beds. She decides to kill him, but not until he’s well enough to be properly seduced and have his soul taken.
For now, she watches Atticus writhe in pain while struggling to read due to his facial injuries and broken glasses.
The next day, Ji-Ah tells Soon Hee that she has changed her mind and intends to make Atticus her 100th soul. When she returns to the hospital, he asks her to finish reading The Count of Monte Cristo to him. He was only a few chapters from the end before his injuries and broken glasses made it too difficult to continue the book.
Instead of reading it, she attempts to spoil the book and criticizes the plot. Atticus counters by revealing that the spoilers she told were based on what transpired in the 1934 film adaptation. He encourages her to find out with him if she likes the book better, but she blows him off.
A few days (?) later, a recovering Atticus is sitting outside when a ball the nurses are throwing to each other rolls in his direction. He uses the opportunity to introduce her to a fellow enlisted friend and flirt a bit. When the conversation turns to movies, she laments not being able to see them anymore since the theater shut down. Atticus empathizes with how nice it is to escape from the world into a story.
As their conversation progresses, Ji-Ah is surprised to learn how Atticus and his Japanese-American friend are discriminated against in their own country. She’s even more shocked that Atticus volunteered to fight in the war. He explains that after a life spent trying to escape his world through books, he decided to leave his world altogether.
Now he’s right back to books again.
That night, Ji-Ah reads the final chapters of The Count of Monte Cristo to a grateful Atticus. When she finishes, he tells her it was his father’s favorite book–likely because it features a man overcoming oppression to get his revenge.
The pair then talk about how both their parents want them to be something they are not. Atticus tells Ji-Ah that he likes who she is (smooooooth), but the war has turned him into exactly the type of person his father was trying to turn him into. Ji-Ah responds with some advice Young-ja once gave her about not letting others’ fear shape who they are. Atticus agrees and says he would like to meet the person who told her that (oof).
Feels Like the First Time
At some point after Atticus recovers, Ji-Ah goes to his base to meet him for a night on the town. Instead, his friend leads her to a tent where he’s set up a projector to see one of the movies she missed when the theater shut down.
*Side Note: If you haven’t figured it out yet, I don’t like this episode very much. This moment was really great though.*
Ji-Ah is also blown away by the gesture. She takes Atticus back to her home, but appears to be genuinely interested in making love rather than murder. Any chance of her killing him is wiped away when he nervously confesses to being a virgin. He also expresses how special Ji-Ah is to him. Despite all the horrible things he’s done during the war, she makes him feel like he can be a good person again.
As the two begin to have sex, Ji-Ah becomes fearful that she’ll accidentally kill Atticus and orders him to leave.
After Soon Hee angrily watches the 100th potential soul depart their home, Ji-Ah explains that until meeting Atticus, the kumiho version of her had never felt human emotions before (???). She obviously can’t kill the man now that she’s in love with him. She also can’t really kill anyone at this point. It’s the kumiho who is in love, not Ji-Ah.
Soon Hee points out that it’s pretty messed up she caught feelings for the guy responsible for getting her best friend killed and spits on her.
The next day, Ji-Ah stands outside Atticus’ base and waits for him to come out and talk. When he tries to get her kicked out, she reveals that he played a part in getting her best friend killed. She also confesses to initially wanting/planning to kill him, but developing real feelings that she’d never experienced before.
Ji-Ah then explains that they’ve both done monstrous things (without going into too much detail on her end), but they can both save each other with the love that’s formed between them.
That night, the couple passionately consummates their relationship without any murder tails or blood explosions.
As you might imagine, Soon Hee is all types of cross with the kumiho inhabiting her daughter. After devouring 99 souls, she ends up falling in love with the dude who killed her best friend. Now she’s steadfastly refusing to pay the price required to reverse the mudang’s spell.
Ji-Ah tries to plead her case, pointing out that if Young-ja and Atticus can love her, than so can she…which is weird, right? I mean, if the kumiho isn’t actually her daughter, then why would she want anything from this woman who has made her do all types of awful stuff?
But I digress…Soon Hee coldly responds to Ji-Ah’s plea by declaring that Atticus won’t love her anymore once he learns what she truly is.
Tail End of Things
By the winter of 1950, Atticus and Ji-Ah have become an adoring couple. Atticus also learns that he’s earned enough time served to return to the United States. He offers to stay, but Ji-Ah says she can’t ask him to do that.
When he ask her instead to come with him instead, Ji-Ah responds that there is far too much he doesn’t know about her. Atticus predictably counters by declaring that there’s nothing she could say to diminish how much he loves her. That statement is put to the test when they begin having sex and her tails come out. As they attach themselves to him, she sees flashes of Atticus’ past along with some extremely vague-yet-concerning images of his future.
Ji-Ah is able to force her tails to release Atticus before killing him, but not before terrifying her lover and causing him to flee. This sequence also reveals that when Atticus told Leti how the relationship between him and Ji-Ah ended “strangely,” he was grossly underselling things.
That night, Soon Hee comes home to find her pseudo daughter in tears. Instead of berating Ji-Ah for being a selfish monster again time, she comforts her.
The next day, Soon Hee and Ji-Ah go to visit the mudang who summoned kumiho. When the mudang points out that they have not yet met the price for Ji-Ah’s soul to be restored, Soon Hee offers to pay the final portion (or whatever price is necessary) in exchange for her daughter’s return.
When the mudang one again asks why they have visited her with 99 of the 100 required souls already taken, Ji-Ah explains that she witnessed things in Atticus’ future unlike anything she’d seen before. She wants to know if they are true…and if Atticus will die. The mudang expresses disdain for the kumiho’s concern with mortal matters, but checks anyway, revealing (vaguely) that much more death and darkness are yet to come.
From a technical/production standpoint, there was a ton to like about “Meet Me In Deagu”. The cinematography is some of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen, which is really saying something on this show. Jamie Chung (Ji-Ah) is phenomenal. She carries the episode brilliantly and her on screen chemistry with Jonathan Majors was superb. The episode also delves into some fascinating aspects of Korean folklore that were almost as much fun to search/research as they were to explore on screen.
Unfortunately, the story itself was a bit of a mess.
The script did a good job weaving much of the necessary mythological exposition into the narrative, but it still made things clunky at times. That part wasn’t too bad, though. What got me was how such a bizarrely framed tale could still play out in such a cliched manner.
Perhaps I’m just missing something obvious, but I honestly don’t understand Soon Hee’s rationale for summoning an evil spirit into her daughter to kill her husband. Saying that she didn’t have it in her to kill the man is a stretch, especially when she had no problem damning the very daughter she wanted to protect to such an awful fate.
It could be argued that Soon Hee selfishly wanted revenge against her husband more than on behalf of her daughter, but that doesn’t square with how badly she wanted Ji-Ah’s spirit to return.
Speaking of Ji-Ah, we kept being told what a soulless monster she was, but never really saw that. She felt passionately about things and had people she truly cared about throughout the entire episode. By the time we got to the inevitable “in love with the mark” trope, it was painfully obvious what was going to happen even without foreknowledge of Atticus’ involvement.
It also doesn’t make sense that after months of being intimate together, Ji-Ah would suddenly lose control of her tails–especially after Atticus reaffirmed his love/commitment to her. I guess you could say she was upset at the prospect of him (or her) leaving South Korea, but that flimsy reasoning at best.
Add in the vague/open-ended conclusion, and this was time I found myself more excited for the preview of next’s week’s episode compared to what I’d just watched. While I truly appreciate shows like Lovecraft Country who swing for the fences instead of playing it safe, this one was a beautiful miss.