“Wake up, Ruby! Wake up!”
The show takes another step up this week as it delves into full-on (and horrific) body horror. Ruby makes a deal with the devil in order to live the life of a successful white woman, and she comes out of ‘Strange Case’ as an entirely different person – though it has nothing to do with her skin colour. Elsewhere, Tic and Leti get closer than ever in the aftermath of Montrose’s terrible decision.
We knew from last week that William was offering Ruby some kind of deal, and I had a feeling that it would come with some sort of drawback – because if it seems too good to be true, then it definitely is. The offer to let Ruby see the world through the eyes of a white woman is obviously tempting for someone like Ruby, who has struggled her entire life to get the same opportunities as everyone else. In fact, when interviewing for a job in her white guise as ‘Hilary’, her qualifications allow her to jump straight up to assistant manager, something that would be impossible in her true form. It’s a clear demonstration of how unfair the world is for Black folks, and how utterly ridiculous the barriers are that have been put in their way. Another really uncomfortable moment is when Ruby (as Hilary) bumps into a Black boy, and the police start harassing him. I guess it’s not subtle, but the racism of these people back then wasn’t subtle either. It was in your face and inescapable.
The true horror comes from the transformations themselves. I was searching my memories last night, trying to think of any TV show (or film) that has done something this outright disgusting. Except for The Walking Dead (and ever then the gore isn’t this insane), Lovecraft Country has raised the bar. When returning to her true form, Ruby literally breaks free from her white skin. Pieces of flesh and guts fall to the floor with wet slops as the white skin twists, splits, and rends. It’s like a butterfly escaping from a cocoon of human flesh, and the show doesn’t shy away from this comparison. And it’s worth mentioning how astounding the special effects are here. This episode covers some really uneasy ground, and these queasy transformations really sealed it. And as a fan of horror and gore, it’s great to see things like this on my TV screen. Lovecraft Country continues to surprise.
But Ruby soon becomes a different person, thanks in part to her new freedom afforded her by Hilary’s white skin. After seeing her new colleagues and the world at large hate, insult, and fetishize her friends and family, it all becomes too much. The final straw is her boss – a man straight from a Norman Rockwell painting – who attempts to force himself on her only Black coworker. They treat the Black community like trash, or as some weird and wonderful experience – usually a sexual one. There’s nothing in between. Ruby has had enough, and takes out her anger on her boss in a wince-inducing scene involving a stiletto and some well-placed Cardi B. Now, I don’t think this scene is an example of the age-old “rape as revenge” trope. I truly believe Ruby has crossed a line, an become something darker. It mirrors the experience of Tic and Leti, who are seeking out magic in attempt to protect themselves and their loved ones. Ruby is using her newfound magic to destroy and harm. And this ties back into what we’ve seen of Ruby so far. She has frequently criticised her own race, wanting more and feeling that those around her weren’t doing enough to achieve it. Along with the revelation that her new friend William is Christina (called it!), Ruby has the power and the means to cook up a whole lot more trouble.
Elsewhere, Motrose is confronted by his decision to kill Yahima. The anger and aggression that Tic has tried so hard to bury comes out and he brutally attacks his father. I love Michael K Williams, but it’s difficult to disagree with Tic’s decision here. The man has perhaps cost them everything, and murdered an innocent person in the process. But things get even harder to digest this episode, as we spend a lot of time with Montrose after this fight, and see him struggling to come to terms with his own identity. Montrose is gay, but is obviously not all that comfortable with the fact. In a number of really beautiful scenes, we see him becoming more open and finally embracing his partner in public. It is a really gorgeous scene, but the shadow of his brutal murder of a trans person hangs over every moment. And having some (possibly) trans black characters and drag performers does allay some of the issues around the show’s treatment of Yahima, it doesn’t redeem Montrose. The man doesn’t deserve redemption, no matter his reasons and personal struggles.
Tic and Leti get hot and heavy this episode, once the fires around Montrose die down. If nothing else, it’s just good to see a more healthy relationship in the midst of all this supernatural horror. And the two of them coming together means they can finally start cracking down on understanding the craziness they’re a part of. The pages may have been destroyed, but Leti had the foresight to take pictures of them. They spend the majority of the episode trying to crack the puzzle and work out what they say. It’s in the last few minutes that Tic realises that the letters he’s studying read “D.I.E”. On top of this, he connects something back to the woman he knew and loved during his time in Korea. In a move away from the source material, next week’s episode is taking us back to Korea to finally piece together what exactly happened.
Overall, it’s a brutal and shocking episode, with some of the craziest scenes of blood and gore I’ve seen. But, in a way, that’s all window dressing. The heart of the episode is in Ruby’s desire to finally be treated equally, and her revenge when she sees just how messed up the other side really are. Only time will tell if there’s any coming back for her.
Possible Future Spoilers: It’s worth noting that the woman Ruby transformed into was the woman with the dogs from Ardham. In the book, the comatose body of “Hilary” is kept in the basement of the house and her blood is the potion that Ruby has been consuming. It seems likely that this is the secret Christina/William is keeping hidden.