Last week’s episode of Lovecraft Country ended with Atticus being saved from a police slaying by a spell summoned shoggoth we’ve dubbed Sprinkles. It was an awesome and striking final sequence, but there was A LOT more that happened leading up to it:
- Christina acquired two crucial components in her quest to become immortal: The orrery key and Titus’ pages from the lost Book of Names.
- Leti gave Christina negatives of Titus’s pages in exchange for casting a protection spell on her.
- Atticus gave Christina the orrery key in exchange for teaching him a protection spell that summoned Sprinkles the Shoggoth to protect him (yes, we’re still going with that name).
- It became abundantly clear that the spell Christina plans to use to become immortal will involve sacrificing Atticus.
- Ruby knows about magic and is all about learning how to wield it.
- Lancaster put a curse on Diana that led to her being hunted by demonic twins no one else can see–and they caught her.
- Hippolyta is still missing.
- Atticus was given a book from the future written by his adult son called Lovecraft Country. It spells out a very similar tale to the one he’s lived through thus far…and things do not end well for him.
Got all that? Then let’s dive in to this week’s tale.
The episode opens with Atticus, Leti, Ruby, and Montrose all trying to figure out what to do about poor Diana, who’s got a nasty looking cursed wound courtesy of Topsy and and Bopsy. Atticus suggests calling in Christina, explaining that she’ll help them because he can give her Titus’ pages. Upon hearing this, Leti reluctantly reveals that she already handed over her negatives of the pages in exchange for a protection spell.
Despite knowing that she’s pregnant with Atticus’ son, Montrose still completely goes off on her. After everyone calms down, Ruby says she can get Christina to help.
Christina arrives and explains that with the lost Book of Names, the curse can only be lifted by Lancaster. The group informs her that Lancaster is dead due to a gas explosion outside Leti’s house (HA!).
Christina then reveals that she can do a restoration spell which would reset Diana’s curse, but the girl will still die eventually if they don’t find a way to permanently remove it. When Atticus tells her to do it anyway, Christina says she will, but on one condition: He must willingly travel back with her to Ardham on the autumnal equinox. Atticus agrees.
Before departing to take care of some “personal business,” Christina instructs the group to draw some glyphs around the house and get Diana’s temperature down as close to normal as possible. She also tells them that they’ll need the blood of Diana’s closest relative, which Atticus points out would be Montrose since Hippolyta is still missing.
Casting Out the Poison
Back at the Order of Ancient Dawn headquarters, Lancaster screams in pain as his nipples explode (seriously). Like we saw back in Episode 5, the police captain’s body is a mix of his own flesh sewn into the torso of a black man. Unfortunately for him, things don’t appear to be holding together so well since Sprinkles’ attack.
The two Ancient Dawn members attending to the captain are perplexed as to why their spell–which had worked so many times before–isn’t taking. They also fret over the fact that they can’t kidnap and butcher another black man due to how difficult it would be cover up.
Their frustrated efforts are interrupted by the arrival of William Braithwhite, who waltzes into the office with a gigantic grin on his face. As the stunned officers stare at who they thought was a dead man, William walks over and takes the stone out of Lancaster’s desk that he/Christina had Ruby place there (back in Episode 5).
He then leans down and taunts Lancaster, who correctly surmises that William isn’t who he appears to be. Lancaster pleads for Christina to help him, but she refuses, instead watching with rapturous joy as the man who killed her lover bleeds to death.
*Side Note: I’m assuming that it was the rune which caused Lancaster’s rejuvenation not to work, but perhaps being mauled by Atticus’ mystically summoned guardian played a part, as well. Otherwise, it would be more than a little odd for two loyal men to just sit there and watch a dead man hold an object of some obvious importance while pontificating over their leader’s pain/passing.*
Back at Hippolyta’s shop, Montrose confesses to Atticus that he might actually be Diana’s closest blood relative due to the strong possibility of him being George’s son.
As you might imagine, this revelation hits Atticus hard. His anger first manifests over the thought that his mother cheated on his father. Montrose explains that he, Dora, and George weren’t just growing up–they also survived the Tulsa Massacre together. That time of experience creates an unbreakable bond that remains strong no matter how its tested.
Atticus then points out how many times he ran away to George’s shop and watched him work, all the while wishing his uncle was actually his father. Now it turns out that might have truly been the case.
Before things can get any more painful, Leti arrives and announces that Christina has returned to perform the spell. Before anyone can leave the room, Hippolyta appears and asks what’s wrong with her daughter.
She joins the group upstairs with Diana, who’s curse appearance has taken on the horrifying pickaninny caricature of her demonic attackers. After Christina cuts Hippolyta’s hand, she sprinkles her blood on the girl and begins an incantation.
Diana wakes up and begins to scream in rage/agony. Maggots and a host of flies then burst forth from her arm, which quickly returns to normal along with the rest of her appearance.
Following the ritual, Ruby departs with Christina. Leti follows them outside and implores her sister not to trust her. Ruby counters by pointing out that in addition to saving Diana, Christina also brought Leti back to life and recently made her invulnerable. Meanwhile, she’s sticking with a team that includes Montrose, the dude who was about to knock her head off earlier in the episode.
*Side Note: We all know Christina is evil, but you’ve gotta hand it to Ruby here for making a good point.*
To Leti’s credit, she responds by saying that if Atticus has to go to Ardham with Christina willingly, then it’s very likely her spell will kill him. Ruby is clearly troubled by this possibility, but is unable to say or do anything in response except get in Christina’s car and leave.
Back inside the shop, Hippolyta packs Diana into her car while asking Atticus and Montrose for information about the magical origins (and potential cure) to her daughter’s curse. She then describes her plan to go back to the observatory and use the multi-dimension/time machine to open a portal to Tulsa before the Book of Names was destroyed, thus giving them what Christina said they’d need to permanently remove the curse.
You’d think the purple glowing lights on Hippolyta’s wrists (along with all the crazy stuff they’ve been through) would make Montrose at least a little more receptive to her plan. Instead, he says that she sounds “crazy”. Hippolyta responds to her a-----e brother-in-law by explaining that she lived in an alternate version of our universe for the equivalent of 200 years, thus giving her the infinite wisdom she’ll now utilize to save her daughter.
She then instructs Montrose and the rest of the group to “get in the f***ing car” so they can help her make it happen.
Over at Christina’s place, Ruby asks about Dell, the woman whose appearance she took on after drinking the metamorphosis potion. Christina explains that Dell was a groundskeeper at her deceased father’s estate. She was put into a coma when Leti hit her over the head with a shovel back in Episode 2.
Ruby then asks if she only helped Diana in an effort to get to Atticus. Christina admits that she saw an opportunity (and took it), but that she helped because Ruby asked her to.
When Ruby asks if she plans on killing Atticus, Christina reluctantly admits that she is. His blood is a key component of her spell to become immortal–and she needs all of it. She then explains that unlike her father and his cronies, she doesn’t look at magic as yet another form of power to wield over others. She wants to experience all it has to offer for an eternity. Every step on her path to attaining this goal was meticulously planned…except for the feelings she’s developed for Ruby.
After considering things for a painful moment, Ruby makes Christina promise that she won’t harm Leti. She then goes over and shuts off Dell’s life support, explaining that when she used to imagine herself being white, she always saw herself as a redhead.
Christina responds to her friend/lover’s full turn to her side of things with a wicked smile.
Past and Future Revisited
Hippolyta, Atticus, Leti, and Montrose arrive with Diana at the observatory in Kentucky…which has to be a mistake, right? Back in Episode 7, Hippolyta’s map clearly said Kansas, which is the also the same state the the coordinates on the orrery led to. Is there some sort of multiverse weirdness afoot that I missed, or did someone on the show’s production team make a graphic for the wrong state that starts with the letter ‘K?’
Whatever the case, Montrose is scared out of his mind about returning to the years of childhood in Tulsa, which he attempts to numb with some of George’s homemade moonshine.
Meanwhile, Atticus assists Hippolyta with making repairs to the dimensional portal/time machine. As the two work, Montrose comes inside and helps Leti take care of Diana, who is still asleep. Leti takes the opportunity to try and explain why she accepted the invulnerability spell from Christina, but Montrose reveals that he already knows she’s pregnant. Atticus told him after being sucked into the portal along with Hippolyta, where he learned about his and Leti’s future son.
He also explains that Atticus knows he’ll die during Christina’s spell on the autumnal equinox, hence his anger at her for handing over the pages. Leti immediately feels terrible, but is also overwhelmed by the knowledge that she is going to have a boy.
Before their discussion can become any more emotional/intense, Hippolyta gets the machine working. She uses the purple glyphs on her wrist to jack into the device, effectively making herself its motherboard. She then asks Montrose for a picture of him, his father (Verton), and George from his childhood to triangulate their destination: Their earth’s Tulsa, 1921.
Hippolyta instructs the trio not to do anything that could change their future (and to get over whatever they’ve all been fighting about) before opening the portal.
Atticus and Leti jump through immediately, but Montrose hesitates, terrified of going back in time to his traumatic past. He eventually jumps through anyway, placing all three of them inside a hotel room in 1921 Tulsa.
While Montrose gazes out a window at the beautiful Black Wall Street below them, Atticus pokes his head out into the hallway, where two high school girls are lamenting the fact that their school dance was just canceled. Montrose immediately realizes that the girls were referring to Booker T. Washington High School, which was forced to cancel its prom hours before the Tulsa Race Massacre began…the same night Atticus’ mother’s home was burned down with her whole family–and the Book of Names–still inside.
Courage & Fear
After finding some era-appropriate clothing, the trio heads out to get to Dora’s home before the massacre begins. On their way there, Montrose sees a landmark where he personally experienced a violent attack and freezes.
Atticus recognizes his father is drunk and chastises him for being so weak while undertaking such an important endeavor for Diana. It’s yet another moment in a very long list of ones that have made him resent the man–a feeling made even worse by the recent revelation that George might have been his biological father all along.
As far as Atticus is concerned, there is no familial relationship between him and Montrose once this journey is over.
The group eventually finds Montrose and Dora’s homes, which sat right next to each other. Their plan is to send Leti in as a diversion while Atticus sneaks in the back, but that gets delayed when young Montrose is thrown outside by his father (Verton). As the man begins mercilessly beating his son, Montrose explains that his father caught him trying on George’s prom jacket and admiring George’s corsage on himself. He also tellingly states that he deserved to be beaten.
Atticus observes the proceedings with a mix of anxiety and understanding.
Just when it appears that none of them can take watching it anymore, young Dora comes outside and puts herself between Montrose and Verton. George comes out and implores her not to interfere, but she refuses to budge. Thankfully, Dora’s father (Gilbert) comes out and puts a stop to things, allowing young Montrose to run off.
When young George sheepishly tries to put on Dora’s corsage, she chastises him for not standing up for his brother. Montrose points out to Atticus and Leti that his young wife was wrong–George stood up for him more than anyone ever saw or knew.
Just as Dora decides to forgive George, one of her sisters comes out and informs them that their prom has been canceled. Now with some unexpected time on their hands, the disappointed pair decide to go look for Montrose.
As the kids begin to leave, Atticus and Leti decide to approach Dora’s house. When they turn around, however, they see that Montrose is gone.
Atticus immediately deduces/assumes that Montrose is headed to the park where he and George were attacked as children to warn him. You don’t have to live in an era when the Back to the Future films came out to realize that’s a big time traveling no-no. The park is also 20 minutes away, meaning that Atticus will need to head off Montrose while Leti tries to get the Book of Names back on her own.
After hot wiring a car for him to use, she suggests that they name their baby George–the first time it’s been acknowledged between them that they are having a child together.
As day turns to night, Leti is accosted by a group of armed white men in a car. She takes off, but one of them manages to shoot her. Thankfully, all the bullet does is knock her down thanks to Christina’s invulnerability spell. She then gets an assist from Verton and Gilbert, who step outside with shotguns and ward off her attackers.
The two men lead Leti into Dora’s home, where the others have just received word escalating violence at the town courthouse stemming from the false charges/arrest of Dick Rowland. As Verton demands to know where the men who were chasing Leti came from, one of the women (Atticus’ great grandmother) looks at her shoes and can immediately tell something’s up.
When Leti is unable to answer, Verton decides to go look for Dora and his boys. Gilbert and the rest of Dora’s family stay behind, forcing Leti to painfully remain quiet so as not to disturb the future. She also agrees to stay with them in the hopes that she’ll be able to find the Book of Names.
Meanwhile, Atticus tracks down Montrose, who it turns out not trying to warn George. He was actually there for Thomas, a gay friend who he’d had growing up. After telling him they couldn’t be friends anymore because “he’s a f----t,” the pair were swarmed by a mob of armed attackers. Montrose and Thomas immediately grabbed hands. Despite being born out of heart wrenching fear, it was still the first time the pair had ever expressed any form of public physical affection born.
One of the men responded to this sight by calling Thomas a racial and homophobic slur before shooting him in the head.
Until that day in this very moment, Montrose had pushed the boy’s memory completely from his mind. Now, however, he sees no possible way to stand by and watch Thomas get killed in front of him again.
Atticus physically holds him back, explaining that if Montrose and Dora don’t get together, then he won’t exist…which isn’t necessarily true since it’s likely that George is is biological father.
Whatever the case, Montrose states his belief that saving Thomas won’t change anything important. After all, he was just first in a long list of sacrifices he made to be Atticus’ father, which is the only thing he ever wanted to be. That can’t change. Montrose knows his past self will still do anything necessary to make sure Atticus is his son.
Genuinely moved by his father’s words, Atticus tearfully tells Montrose that he better be sure about his theory before stepping out of his way.
While hiding out in an upstairs rooms, Dora’s sister tells Leti how scared she is. She also confesses to having a bad fight with Dora right before she left due to her having a crush on George. As if that weren’t painful enough, she also asks Leti for assurances that everything will be okay. Leti lies and tells her that it will.
When they hear shots coming from outside, Leti tells the girl to go check on her family. She then begins looking for the Book of names. Her search is interrupted by Atticus’ grandmother (Hattie), who demands at gunpoint that she reveal who she is, where she came from, and what she’s looking for.
Leti hurriedly explains that she’s her great grandson’s girlfriend from the future and that they need the Book of Names to save his cousin. When the woman expresses some justifiable skepticism, Leti proves her case by drawing the birthmark Hattie shares with her great grandson along with the rest of Dora’s family.
Hattie accepts Leti’s story, but also realizes it means that she and everyone else won’t make it out of the house alive. She attempts to leave and save her family, but decides to stay when Leti explains that her doing so will mean that Atticus–and the baby growing inside her–might never exist.
After closing the door on her family’s screams, she opens a compartment in the wall, takes out the Book of Names, and hands it over to Leti. Hattie then explains that when her great great grandson is born, he will be her “faith turned flesh.”
Right after saying this, a molotov cocktail crashes through the window and sets the room ablaze. When Hattie implores Leti to leave, she explains that the fire can’t hurt her due to Christina’s invulnerability spell. Instead, Leti stays with Atticus’ great great grandmother, holding her hand and praying with her as she burns to death.
Back at the park, Montrose is unable to make himself step in before a mob of white attackers shoot Thomas dead. He and Atticus continue to watch as Dora and George arrive to defend him.
In the story Montrose always told about this incident, a stranger with a baseball bat came out of nowhere and whooped all his attackers (who only had one gun, but plenty of blunt objects and pent up hate/aggression). After saving the three of them, he said “I got you, kid,” before disappearing again.
This time, however, the mysterious savior isn’t showing up. The two men begin to panic when Atticus looks down and sees a baseball bat lying at his feet. Realizing that his destiny has always led to this moment, he picks up the bat and goes to work saving the childhood versions of his father, uncle, and mother. After awesomely beating back all of their attackers, he tells young Montrose “I got you, kid,” and walks away.
Fire Walk With Me
While Tulsa burns, Montrose and Atticus make it back to the hotel room only to find that something is wrong with the portal. Atticus jumps through and discovers that Hippolyta is beginning to break down under the strain of keeping it open. Moments after pleading with her to hold strong, the portal closes.
Back in the past, Montrose turns and gives his beautiful city a eulogy as he’s forced to watch it be destroyed for a second time. Behind him, the portal reopens thanks to the efforts of Hippolyta, who screams in agony as electricity flows her body and she levitates off the floor.
Montrose looks outside and sees Leti walking down main street with the Book of Names clutched in both arms. Her path and her body are unaffected by the surrounding flames or the biplanes dropping molotov cocktails from above.
*Side Note: This made for a gorgeous/dramatic shot, but Leti really should be moving faster considering what Hippolyta is going through to keep the portal open.*
Back in the present, Hipplolyta’s mouth begins to foam as she pushes herself past her limit to keep the portal open. Her hair also turns bright blue, giving her the appearance of the hero (Orinthya Blue) from her daughter’s comics.
Just when it appears she can’t hold on any longer, Atticus and Leti jump through the portal. When Hippolyta groggily asks if they got the book, Atticus triumphantly informs her that they did.
Meanwhile, Leti looks on with sadness at the events she helped put into motion that will end with her lover’s death.
I love good fixed timeline/single continuum time travel story.
I’ve included a handy time travel narrative chart below, but what this basically means is that characters traveling through time cannot change anything because their journey has already been factored into history. While this might seem unreasonably rigid compared to dynamic timelines (Back to the Future) or multiverse possibilities (Marvel and DC universes), it can actually spawn some wonderful narrative creativity.
In this instance, Atticus ends up being the mysterious stranger who saved Montrose and George before uttering “I got you, kid.” This incident has been referenced repeatedly since Lovecraft Country‘s trippy (and awesome) opening dream sequence.
Seeing it come to fruition in this way–and with even more emotional weight behind it than we realized–was wonderful. Sure, you could maybe argue that adding Thomas and his death in at this point is a cheat, but I don’t think so. It’s completely understandable that Montrose would mentally block (or simply never reveal) something so traumatic from a part of his childhood he continued to fiercely hide well into adulthood.
This moment also provided us with a genuine breakthrough between Atticus and Montrose, which…damn it….also made me like Montrose. I still want to hate him for a lot of reasons (murdering Yamiha, the way he treated Sam, the emotional and physical abuse he put Montrose through, etc.). It was impossible not to feel at least some sympathy for him after getting a glimpse into his childhood, but that still doesn’t excuse his actions.
But then we got that speech about cutting all the soft parts of himself away and how all he ever wanted was to be Atticus’ father. The words were powerful enough on their own, but Michael K Williams took it to a whole different level. If there were any doubts about him getting an Emmy nomination next year, those were permanently erased during Lovecraft Country‘s journey to 1921 Tulsa.
Speaking of that setting, I love how HBO used this trip to show us what a beautiful place and people our country lost on that awful day in history. Watchmen‘s depiction of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre may have been more visceral, but seeing the city in its prime before watching it be destroyed was even more impactful (and depressing).
It also provided the backdrop for some truly inspired performances. I’ve already mentioned how Michael K. Williams owned the screen, but Jurnee Smollett (Leti) and Jonathan Majors (Atticus) were at the top of their games, as well. Smollett’s scene with Regina Taylor (Hattie) was surprisingly poignant considering how removed Atticus’ grandmother was from the rest of the story. It made me wish we could’ve seen these two incredible actresses in more scenes together, but the few minutes they did share were spectacular.
The scene also provided yet another ‘fixed timeline’ explanation for why the book didn’t actually burn up in Tulsa. It was clearly immune to the fire (like Leti), but had always been destined to disappear with her through time, anyway.
All that being said, I still had trouble accepting that Hattie would allow her entire family to burn to death based on the word of a convincing time traveler. Don’t get me wrong; Taylor sold the hell out of it. But when you step back and look at things, it’s hard to believe that the mere possibility of wiping out Atticus and her great grandson’s existence was worth letting the rest of her family die–especially if you consider that Atticus (and his son) may have been destined to be born, anyway.
It was almost as frustrating as Atticus declaring he wouldn’t exist without Montrose getting together with Dora, which makes little sense now that it’s been all but confirmed George was his biological father.
Also, I know it was a great shot, but it still bothered me watching Leti the former track star do that dramatic slow walk while Hippolyta put her mind and body through the ringer to keep the portal open. I realize Leti didn’t know that was happening, but it still seemed weird for her to stroll through the carnage like that. A slow mo run would have arguably been just as effective.
Speaking of Hippolyta, it was so, so great to have her (and Aunjanue Ellis) back…although it would have been nice to know why she wasn’t able to help her daughter when Topsy and Bopsy were after her. We know Hippolyta had already returned thanks to Diana finding her car at the Winthrop house. Why it was parked there instead of her apartment/store, however, I couldn’t tell you.
I also couldn’t tell you why the observatory was listed as being in Kentucky instead of Kansas. Perhaps it’s a hint about our story now taking place in a different timeline/dimension rather than a production mistake. If that’s the case, then it’s handling caused significantly more confusion than intrigue.
Jumping back to the beginning of the episode, Ruby absolutely broke my heart. Sadly, the groundwork for her turn to siding with Christina had been brilliantly set for a while now.
What I’m still struggling with is the way she went so far over–to the point of turning off Dell’s life support. Even at her most angry and brutal (like with the store manager in Episode 5), I never thought Ruby would flippantly kill someone for her own gain.
Also, as I mentioned before, I hate the way Atticus’ summoning of Sprinkles the Shoggoth was hand waived away so easily. A gas leak? Seriously?
Even the most inept racists cops in the world aren’t going to believe that’s what happened to a large portion of their mutilated department–especially when many of them are likely members of the Order of the Ancient Dawn. I get that people forget about seeing the creature due to Christina’s spell, but that’s still a stretch.
And where did Sprinkles go after bending down for pets from Atticus? I know I sound facetious here, but I really do want to know. Our main character/hero had control of an invincible monster and it just…what? Burrowed back underground? Made a bed for itself in the woods? Went to live on a farm to run and play with other shoggoths? How does something that huge/awesome just disappear after such a loud and public appearance?
Despite those issues, though, the penultimate chapter of Lovecraft Country’s first season was still one heck of a good ride.
Time travel episodes are often where shows trip and fall flat on their faces. In this instance, however, showrunner Mischa Green and writers Jonathan Kidd and Sonya Winton crafted a thrilling narrative that was made even better because of its challenging framework.
Am I biased because they used my personal favorite narrative time travel rules? Absolutely. But there’s no denying that it worked out beautifully.
Add in Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s fantastic directing, and it’s going to be hard to top the last two episodes in the season (series?) finale. If I were a betting man, however, I’d wager a large sum of money on Misha Green & Co. pulling it off.