Last week’s episode of Lovecraft Country took us on a crazy adventure through time and space with Hippolyta Freeman. It also ended with Atticus in possession of a book that’s also entitled Lovecraft Country and written by the late George Freeman (or so it appears).
Meanwhile, Ruby has learned quite a bit about the mystical war Atticus and Leti are involved in thanks to Christina, who’s making some major moves of her own.
The episode opens with people lining up to mourn and pay their respects to Emmett Till, who also went by the nickname Bobo. This confirms that Diana’s friend who we saw back in Episode 3–and who got an ominous response from the ouija board about his upcoming trip to Mississippi–was the same person.
Unlike Watchmen‘s references to the Tulsa Massacre, Till’s tragic/infuriating murder was something I definitely learned about in school. After the boy’s horribly mutilated body was returned to his home in Chicago, Till’s mother held a public funeral service with an open casket. The sight of what had been done to him (and that the men who did it were acquitted of all charges) became a major inflection point in the burgeoning U.S. Civil Rights movement.
For Diana Freeman, however, the grief is primarily felt over the loss of her best friend. Combined with George’s death and Hippolyta being gone without any recent contact, the poor girl has justifiably reached her breaking point.
Ruby isn’t sure it was a good idea to bring Diana to the funeral, but Montrose thinks George would have wanted her to be there. He also considers the pain resulting from a good friend’s murder to be a rite of passage for black people in America.
While Leti and Atticus are debating if they should tell Diana about Hippolyta, she decides to run from the crowd and the crushing despair. After walking through the mournfully quiet city, she comes across two girls laughing and eating ice cream. Diana takes her anger out on them, throwing rocks and declaring that there’s nothing to be happy about right now.
This statement turns out to be chillingly prophetic when Lancaster and one of his cronies corner her in a nearby alley. After demanding she identify herself, Lancaster holds up a comic she drew that was found with the dead police officer Hippolyta shot back in Kansas. They aggressively interrogate her about it, but Diana legitimately has no idea where her mother is or how the comic got soaked in the officer’s blood.
Things get even worse when the accompanying officer begins choking and holding her in place between two symbols he drew in chalk on the ground. Lancaster begins chanting something in an eldritch language before spitting on his hand and marking the girl’s forehead with his saliva. Just when it appears she’s about to be killed, the officer throws Diana to the ground and they both walk away. As Diana flees, the eyes on a Cream of Wheat ad follow her.
She makes it home only to be accosted by Montrose for running off. She fires back at him that he isn’t her (recently deceased) father before demanding to know if her mother is dead, too.
Montrose tells her that Hippolyta is on a guide trip, which he might genuinely believe. As far as Diana is concerned, though, everyone is lying to her. After yelling at Montrose some more, she runs into her room, locks the door, and begins vigorously washing/scrubbing where Lancaster wiped his spit on her forehead.
Montrose tries to reason with her through the door, explaining that his best friend was murdered by white people back when he was a kid, too. Diana responds by turning on the radio and changing into sneakers to escape the house. Just as she’s about to leave, she notices that the cover to her copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin has changed. Instead Topsy and Eva sweetly holding hands, it now features a demonically transformed Topsy grabbing Eva by the face and shoving her into a mirror.
As if that weren’t terrifying enough, the radio changes on its own to a recording of “Stop Dat Knocking” (an old minstrel show tune) with unsettling emphasis placed on the lyrics declaring “let me in.” The book then falls to the floor on its own. When you factor in Montrose’s yelling, it’s more than enough to convince her to flee out the window.
Montrose manages to open the door just as his niece is leaving. When he picks up the book, we see that the cover has gone back to its original image.
Meanwhile, Diana’s travels eventually take her to a nearby train station. While she waits on the platform, a demonic version of Topsy along with a twin sister named Bopsy appear and begin gesticulating/dancing toward her. When no one around her reacts, Diana realizes that she’s the only one who can see the two little girls/demons, who are continuing to get closer. She manages to escape through a turnstile just as one of their clawed hands reaches out to grab her.
Instead of looking for Diana like he said he would, Atticus goes to meet Christina inside a nearby mausoleum for her ancestors. He asks her to teach him how to cast a protection spell in exchange for the key from Hippolyta’s orrery. For maybe the first time ever, Christina shows a brief flash of excitement before explaining that what Atticus really needs/wants is an incantation, which requires “energy, intention, and a body” to work.
She then shows him how to trace the required glyphs for the incantation before wishing her cousin good luck in his endeavors. As she’s about to leave, Atticus mentions that he knows something big is going to happen on the autumnal equinox. Christina responds that it will be the day she achieves what no one in the Order of the Ancient Dawn ever could: Immortality.
Dread and Desire
Ruby heads back to Christina’s house on the Northside. When she struggles to get the gate open, a white man begins accosting her. Thankfully, William shows up just in time to defuse things. He then comforts Ruby before leading her inside and drawing her a warm bath.
One thing leads to another and the two start getting intimate. Before things can go too far, however, Ruby takes a dose of the metamorphosis potion that changes her appearance to that of Dell/Hillary Davenport. She then has passionate sex with William that ends with her exploding back into her original skin.
Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Later, Ruby comes downstairs to see that William has changed back into Christina. After graphically describing the manner in which Emmett Till was murdered, Ruby asks if she cares. When Christina implies that she doesn’t, Ruby says that she wants her to feel the pain, fear, and anger the boy’s slaying caused. She also wants Christina to feel alone and guilty like she does for seeking comfort with her/William instead of mourning Emmett’s death with her community.
Ruby then admits that she took the potion before having sex because on today of all days, she “did not want to be a black woman ****ing a white man.”
Christina responds to this by admitting that she doesn’t care about Emmett Till, nor does she care about the two men who got away with murdering him. She goes a step further and states her belief that Ruby doesn’t care as much as she says she does, either. The real reason she took the potion was that even on a day like this, she couldn’t hide from being a woman who “wanted what she wanted.”
Christina then walks out of the room, leaving Ruby stunned and the audience (or at least me) a tad confused.
Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Leti runs back to her house to see if Diana went there. Instead of finding her, she discovers Atticus’ ex sitting patiently in the living room. Atticus arrives at the house later for what might be the most awkward meeting in human history.
After revealing what she is (a kumiho) and describing what she does in clinically brutal detail, Ji-Ah explains that she saw Atticus’ future back when things ended “strangely” between them…and it ends with his untimely death. Unfortunately, she’s not able to give Atticus an exact time or method by which he’ll be killed. When he asks why she even came then, Leti quickly deduces that it’s because she truly loved him before storming off.
Atticus tells Ji-Ah that what they had wasn’t real and that he isn’t dying. He then commands her to leave before following after Leti to explain things. She’s extremely pissed, but not due to jealousy (mostly). After everything they’ve been through together, she can’t believe Atticus would withhold a mystical being prophesying his demise. When Atticus explains that he thought he was protecting everyone by staying quiet, Leti points out that everyone else has been dying except him.
Atticus responds to this brutal observation by preparing to go cast the protection spell Christina showed him. When he tells Leti what he’s doing (and who gave him the info), she begs him not to trust her. Even if he’s made up his mind, they are in this together now. He doesn’t get to make these decisions or take these risks alone anymore. Atticus responds by declaring that he’s doing this for both them and their future before departing.
Diana gets to the Winthrop House just as Leti is leaving. While asking where Atticus is, Bopsy pops up and begins dancing toward her. She tries to warn Leti (who can’t even see the demon), but finds herself unable to speak.
After Leti tells her to go inside to get some water, Diana flees toward the house and spots Hippolyta’s car parked behind a bush. She runs over and begins going through the contents in the backseat. Before she can find anything, Topsy pops up, scaring the hell out of her (and me).
Diana gets back on her bike and flees. After riding well into the night (and barely avoiding the demon twins again), she manages to find Lancaster and track him back to the Order of the Ancient Dawn headquarters. She walks right in like a boss and demands he tell her if Hippolyta is dead. When he casually responds with “probably,” Diana follows up by asking what happens if the demons he summoned catch her.
Instead of answering directly, Lancaster offers to remove the curse if she brings him Hippolyta’s orrery. Diana responds by spitting on him followed by a hearty “F*** you, pig.” One of his officers begins to chase after her, but Lancaster stops him, saying that she’ll be dead soon anyway. They’ll just go to the Winthrop House and take the orrery by force, instead.
Reconciling the Future
As the city of Chicago experiences a rolling blackout, Atticus heads back toward Diana’s house. He finds Montrose sitting outside and having a drink. After he admits that Diana managed to sneak out under his watch, Atticus abruptly changes the subject by asking if he ever cheated on his mom. Montrose assures him that he never acted on any of his desires until after she was gone.
This is enough to get Atticus to sit with his father, who tells him about a time when he was a boy and the pastor of his church was caught with another man. The police came and took him to a mental institution, where he was given a lobotomy. That was when Montrose made the decision not to live his life as a gay man. He goes onto explain that his and Dora’s love might not have been romantic, but it still there, born of a shared desire to have a family.
Atticus responds to this by revealing that he knows Leti is pregnant with his son. Turns out he was also sucked through the portal in Kansas. Instead of traveling through multiple dimensions, however, he was sent to the future. While there, a hooded person with a robotic arm gave him a copy of the book Lovecraft Country, which was written by George Freeman…his son (!!!).
Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Meanwhile, Leti goes to church to ask for guidance and pray for Atticus’ safety. She’s interrupted by a visit from Christina, who she’d asked to meet her there. After a bit of theological banter, Leti offers negatives of Titus’ pages in exchange for a protection spell over Atticus. Christina refuses, offering to give her one instead. Leti initially declines, but reconsiders after thinking about her unborn child.
Christina takes the negatives and gives Leti the mark of cain, her father’s invulnerability spell which can also be used to heal someone.
Back at Montrose’s apartment, Atticus explains that the book is largely based off the events that have actually happened to them, but with slight differences. Some of those include Christina being a man (permanently), George Freeman surviving Ardham, and Diana being a boy named Horace.
*Side Note: These exact same difference are found in the actual Lovecraft Country novel by Matt Ruff. Maybe I’m just a sucker for meta stuff, but I love this.*
He also explains that the story ends with Christina (Caleb in the book) sacrificing him on the autumnal equinox to become immortal, which is in five days. Atticus understands that casting a spell is dangerous, but he has to take any chance he can for the sake of his son. Montrose responds by declaring his full intention (a key spell casting component) to do whatever he can to save both his son and grandson–even if it kills him.
*Side Note: Damn it Montrose, stop making me like you again*
After Atticus draws a glyph in his own blood on the floor, Montrose reads the incantation (and crosses himself for good measure). Once the ritual is completed, however, nothing good or bad appears to have happened.
Elsewhere, Christina hires two men to brutalize and killer her in the same manner Emmett Till was. After they tie her to a cotton gin fan and toss her into the river, she remerges seconds later physically unscathed. As the Mark of Cain begins to reform across her stomach, she starts to cry hysterically.
It also looked (and maybe sounded?) like she did an incantation before getting beaten to remove her invulnerability, although I’m not sure. While it’s obvious Christina did this in an effort to gain some sort of empathy/understanding of what Ruby spoke of, her reaction is more than a little perplexing.
Diana manages to escape the demon twins on her bike again and heads to her parents’ shop, where she locks and barricades everything except for one entrance. While waiting for her supernatural pursuers’ to arrive, she begins drawing pictures of them in the hopes that someone will be able to help with the terror she’s magically unable to speak of.
When the twins do show up, Bopsy immediately goes inside and begins dancing and twitching her way toward Diana. Topsy follows close behind, breaking the fourth wall and sticking her tongue out at us before heading inside, as well.
Diana begins swinging a heavy piece of metal at them, but the twins get back up every time she knocks them down. Montrose eventually arrives to find his niece screaming and swinging at nothing but air. When he runs over and grabs her, wounds open up across Diana’s arms as the twins’ claws begin cutting into her.
Leti works in her darkroom developing pictures of her and Atticus. She feels guilty about not taking pictures of Emmett’s funeral, but Ruby assures her that she shouldn’t ever feel bad about doing what’s best for her. After Leti tells her she’s pregnant, Ruby confesses to knowing all about the mystical shenanigans that have been going on. She also tells her sister about her dealings with William/Christina Braithwhite.
Leti tries to warn Ruby from dealing with Christina, but she refuses, explaining that she’s learning magic so that she can finally take charge of her own life.
The sisters’ argument is interrupted when Lancaster shows up with an army of cops and a B.S. warrant to search the house. He tries to walk inside, but is stopped by the protection spell Leti and Atticus put on it back in Episode 3. Having been stopped in a way that revealed his ties to magic, Lancaster angrily storms off only to have his men open fire moments later.
While Ruby and the boarding house residents take cover, Leti quickly realizes that the protection spell has made her bullet proof. She sits up and watches with annoyed fury as the cops outside continue shooting up her house. Her nonchalant disdain quickly morphs into panic, however, when Atticus shows up and the cops turn their guns toward him.
Atticus freezes and puts his hands in the air, but it doesn’t matter. As she runs outside in a futile attempt to shield him, the cop closest to him fires. Just before the bullet reaches him, it’s stopped by a GIANT FREAKING SHOGGOTH BURSTING UP OUT OF THE STREET!!!
Ahem…sorry, I got a little excited there.
Anyway, the Shoggoth immediately charges toward the officers and goes to work slaughtering them in the most gruesome/awesome ways imaginable. After taking down and mutilating Lancaster, the beast roars and stalks over toward Atticus and Leti.
Atticus puts Leti behind him and raises a hand in a heroic-yet-futile attempt to shield his love and the mother of his unborn child from certain death. Instead of them both being ripped to shreds, though, the beast gently puts its head against Atticus’ palm.
It appears the spell worked after all.
Can we all agree to call Atticus’ shoggoth Sprinkles? Okay, glad we all agree.
Good lord that was a crazy good episode. It had all the bizarre/weird fiction elements of the last two, but with a much clearer narrative focus. We also finally got some answers that tied the series’ whole mythology together in a way even us book readers weren’t expecting.
First off, though, we need to talk about how great Jada Harris was as Diana. In a series filled with some of the best actors working right now, she came in and carried the lead on this episode like an old pro. All the high intensity emotions could have been easily overplayed, but Harris performed them with a genuine and understated presence that made the episode’s already chilling script even more effective.
Her exemplary performance is even better when you consider how great Michael K Williams (Montrose) and Jonathan Majors (Atticus) were in their scenes together.
While Majors’ outstanding work is are something we expect every week, he’s also playing an extremely likable character. As far as Montrose is concerned, Williams continues adding layers to someone who puts our emotions and sympathies through a constant rollercoaster. He also manages to make Montrose’s good/kind moments feel organic and believably connected to his abrasive personality.
Jurnee Smollett gives another fantastic performance, especially during her scenes with Atticus and Ji-Ah. Getting to watch her cut loose reminded me how much we’ve missed her having significant screen time during the last two episodes.
I also loved her scene with Abbey Lee (Christina), who has impressed me more and more as the series goes on. You never know what you’re going to get when someone makes the jump to acting from another entertainment profession like music, sports, or (in her case) modeling–and even when they do a good job, it’s often secondary to the level of success they achieved in their first career.
While there’s no doubt that Lee is otherworldly gorgeous, this episode makes the strongest case yet that acting might be her true calling.
Unfortunately, the subplot involving Christina/William and Ruby also carried some of the few elements that didn’t quite land with me. Don’t get me wrong: Lee, Wunmi Mosaku (Ruby), and Jordan Patrick Smith (William) kill every scene they’re in. But between Christina’s odd reaction to her self-arranged beating and her bizarre speech to Ruby, moments that should have been poignant/powerful felt more confusing than anything else.
Also, I’m not a prude or anything, but that scene with Dell/Ruby exploding out of her skin during sex was more than a little unsettling…although Alice Smith’s Cover of “I Put a Spell on You” was all types of great, as were the metamorphosis effects.
In fact, all the production aspects this time around were all top notch. In a series that has been very hit or miss on special effects from week to week, tonight’s hour nailed it. The appearance/attack by Sprinkles might look like the obvious standout, but the makeup and visual/sound editing work with Bopsy and Topsy made me the most scared I’ve felt watching a television show in years.
Sprinkles still has my heart, though.
From a narrative standpoint, we got a potent mix of historically-based fiction, straight up horror, and weird fiction/fantasy to create one hell of a great tale. Maybe some folks will roll their eyes at the meta use of Lovecraft Country‘s real life novel counterpart, but I loved it. Reactions to book-to-screen adaptations will always be present, but showrunner Mischa Green managed to rope that element right into her already highly engrossing story.
With only two episodes left, there are a wealth of possibilities where the story can go. Considering the fantastic team behind this series, the uncertain future can at least be counted on to give us a great finish.