“I’ve got to face this new world head on and stake my claim in it.”
After the explosive and climatic events in Ardham last week, the gang are all back together in Chicago (minus one Uncle George). Atticus is staying with his Aunt, Montrose has fallen back off the wagon, and Leti has purchased a big, spooky home. From racist neighbours, to evil cops turning a blind eye, as well as ghosts haunting this new home, there is danger coming at them on all sides. But after watching Leti with that baseball bat, you realise that its the white supremacists and supernatural villains who might need to call for backup.
Episode 3 of Lovecraft Country confirms what I’d been speculating; that this show is following an anthology-style format. Things are carried over between episodes, and there is an overarching plot, but it’s sticking firmly to a “monster of the week”. This is the same way the book was structured and I’m glad to see them sticking with it. It means the show can go to some very strange places and introduce some very surreal concepts and it won’t feel too out of the blue. These elements are just part of the world the character inhabit. It also means that the next episodes could literally go anywhere. And this episode takes advantage of that and delivers a full-on haunted house story.
Leti has been left a house. A massive, creepy house that reminds me of the first season of American Horror Story. The plan is to make it a boarding house, a safe haven for Black folks in the area. Ruby isn’t a fan, and she reminds Leti about all the violence perpetuated against Black residents, not to mention the home is slap bang in the middle of Whitesville USA. This episode really delves into the differences between the two sisters (and the ghost of a mother that exists between them). Ruby is determined to get a job in a department store, the kind of job that white women get all the time. She thinks that with some determination and hard work she’ll get it, and that these two qualities are absent in her race as a whole. On the other hand, Leti is determined to fight the status quo, to not be defined by these white ideals. She wants something to give her life purpose, not a glamorous job that would help her fit into the mould that society has carved out for her. Ruby’s story is a sad one, as she dreams of a better life but fails to acknowledge the changes needed. It’s difficult to pinpoint if these feelings are a direct result of the oppressive whiteness forced upon her, or traits she’s taken from her recently deceased mother.
It doesn’t take long for Ruby’s predictions about the white neighbours to come true. A bunch of square-jawed greasy white guys decide to torture the household with constant car horns, barraging them with noise (a tactic Tic compares to his own military actions in Korea). But this isn’t enough for the racist thugs, and it doesn’t take long for them to resort to the old burning cross on the lawn routine. But Leti decides that she isn’t going to take this any longer, grabs a baseball bat, and starts smashing the shit out of all their perfectly shined and expensive cars. When the police roll up, you can guess what’s going to happen next. Despite the clear abuse Leti and her tenants have been suffering at the hands of these racists, it is her alone that ends up in the back of a police wagon. The abuse she suffers at the hands of this twisted police captain is hard to watch. As a woman of colour there’s nothing she can do to stop it. She’s helpless in the face of these very real attacks and abuses. As the other episodes have shown, dealing with magic and the supernatural might be tough and deadly, but it’s nothing in comparison to a thug with a badge.
Alongside this story of Leti and her neighbours, we start seeing evidence that the big house is haunted. And I don’t mean the odd door shutting on it’s own, or things moving around, I’m talking half-dead men in the mirror and disembodied arms on the bed sheets. The investigation into these occurrences is excellent, as Leti pieces together the secret history of the house and the awful things that have taken place there. In Lovecraft’s work, this act of investigation against a mounting sense of unfathomable horror is in almost every story, and the role-playing game is basically built around this premise. Hell, in a white-centric story, you can almost imagine the protagonists calling in the help of four investigators, and you can envision the Call of Cthulhu scenario that might result from this premise. And the reveal is as Lovecraftian as it gets. A doctor (who is not a million miles away from Herbert West) has been experimenting on Black residents of the city. The idea of experimentation on African Americans (and other oppressed groups) is something that goes back hundreds of years, and still receives little attention outside of a few key studies.
Both of these enemies come to face Leti and Tic in the final part of the episode. For the white boys looking to assault their Black neighbours, things end in a gloriously gross fashion. One, upon looking into the elevator shaft, has his head ripped from his shoulders in one of the more gory scenes I’ve seen on TV. And I’m glad that Lovecraft Country isn’t shying away from these gruesome death scenes and gore. For one, I’m glad we’re all in agreement that these racists are irredeemable and deserve the most ridiculous and gratifying death scenes imaginable. But also, over the top blood and gore has always been a hallmark of pulp fiction and it fits in very nicely with the tone of the show, which is contrasting the outrageously supernatural with the all too real reality of the United States of America. As for the ghosts haunting the home, Leti helps to free them. She calls them by their names, gives them the agency that was robbed from them by a cruel oppressor, and they rise up and take him down.
In the last few minutes, we discover that it was Christina Braithwaite was Leti’s mysterious benefactor, gifting her the haunted home for her own purposes. The house belonged to Horatio Winthrop, a name eagle-eyed viewers probably spotted last week on the border of the painting of the Garden of Eden. She explains that Winthrop was an acolyte of the Sons of Adam but made off with a few pages from the Book of Names decades earlier. The malevolent force haunting Leti’s home was a previous follower of his. Before the episode is done, is seems that Christina has roped Atticus and family in once again.
Holy Ghost was a tour de force for Jurnee Smollett. I’ve been singing her praises since the show aired, but this episode gave her the room to really show off. She is wonderful here, with her air of confidence and bravado on the outside hiding some deep insecurities within. Her and Jonathan Majors make a fantastic duo and it looks like thy’ll be sticking together a little while longer. It seems like Atticus won’t be getting back to Florida any time soon.