Episode six of Lovecraft Country takes us to South Korea on the eve of war. ‘Meet Me In Daegu” is interesting for a lot of reasons, but for me the most striking thing is that this episode uses nothing from the book on which the series is based. The other episodes have made some pretty significant departures from the source material, but this episode is the first one to move away from it completely. The book and its loose pulp story probably mean that no one is going to be too upset by the detour, and it allows the show to do some really crazy thing.
Enter Ji-Ah, a nurse in Korea who also happens to be a kumiho, a nine-tailed fox spirit who kills its victims in the most gross way possible. It’s basically what we’ve come to expect from this show.
We’ve met Ji-Ah a couple of times in the previous episodes. She was the mysterious “Princess of Mars” in Tic’s dream, she appeared to him (and fought him) back at the Braithwhaite manor, and Tic has spoke to her on the phone. As we know from the end of last episode, she warned Tic that he was going to die. And we know he loved her deeply. But Tic doesn’t make an appearance straight away in this episode – and when he does it’s not how you’d expect. This hour belongs to Jaime Chung’s Ji-Ah.
We learn that she is struggling to bring a man home, something her mother is demanding she do. Like the rest of the show, this ties into the idea of the pressures being put on people to conform. African Americans are put in boxes and expected to act in certain ways, behaving how they’re told. For Ji-Ah and her mother, they need a man to restore honour to the family. Though it soon becomes clear that it’s not in the way you’d expect. Ji-Ah isn’t looking for a man to marry, or to provide her mother with grandchildren. She wants a man to seduce and then kill, stealing their soul in the process. ‘Meet Me In Daegu’ jumps right into some really crazy Korean magic and folklore. Ji-Ah is a kumiho, summoned by her mother in the wake of childhood sexual abuse, who replaced the original Ji-Ah and killed her rapist father. Now she needs to collect one hundred souls, and she’ll be free and the original Ji-Ah will return. The problem is, Ji-Ah doesn’t see herself as a monster.
Ji-Ah spends her days watching movies in Daegu’s only cinema, dreaming that she’s dancing down the aisle and singling along with Judy Garland or Audrey Hepburn. Like we’ve seen with Atticus, she uses these films to disappear from the world in the same way he uses books. She’s faced with unimaginable horror every day, just as Tic faced with his own abusive father. So it’s not a surprise that they will eventually hit it off. But upon Tic’s arrival into the episode, a love story is the last thing this episode feels like.
It doesn’t take long for Ji-Ah to be dragged back to reality, with the coming of the Korean War. Enter the US Army, who aren’t the friendliest bunch. They watch, laughing as suspected communists are hung in the street. They rape women and drag them out into the middle of nowhere for “interrogations” when they suspect a communist is among them. Ji-Ah and her colleagues at the hospital find themselves in the middle of one of these interrogations, as each of them as executed until one of them admits to being the communist spy. And helping o when his commander’s gun jams is Atticus, stepping up to the plate to execute an unarmed civilian without batting an eye.
I’ve seen some people be a little unsure with this decision, of having Atticus commit such atrocities. But that’s the crux of the episode. It asks us what exactly it means to be a monster. Ji-Ah and Tic have both committed heinous acts. She has murdered 99 men and he has taken part in an unknown amount of war crimes. But the episode wants us to remember that even though both of these people might look evil, they don’t consider themselves monsters. Neither takes pleasure in the acts, they’re just products of their environment. Atticus has been broken down and disillusioned by a pointless war that he joined to escape violence at home, and Ji-Ah has been summoned against her will and has no choice but to kill.
When Atticus is wheeled onto her ward with injuries, she decides that he will be her hundredth soul. She’ll befriend him, seduce him, and finally kill him in revenge for what he did. But the pair soon begin bonding, firstly over their love of fiction and then as they realise that they’re not so different. Ji-Ah feels like an outcast, but Atticus explains how he feels the exact same way back at home. She realises that the war has torn him to pieces in the same way her own condition has done to her. These people might have done some messed up things, but people are more than their worst actions. After a tearful exchange where they both lay all of their cards on the table, she begins to control her powers and the pair share a beautiful, if tragically brief, romance. But things go awry as she accidentally unleashes her powers upon him. But instead of seeing his past and absorbing his memories, as she had done with her other victims, she sees his future. She sees a sign of things to come and it scares her so much that she’s able to snap out of it and throw him loose. What exactly she sees is unclear. Whatever it is, it spells disaster for Atticus.
In the closing minutes of the episode, Ji-Ah and her mother return to the mystical Mudang shaman who summoned her. It seems that Ji-Ah’s part in this story is far from complete, but I haven’t the faintest idea where it will go from here, or what information she can offer Atticus to help him avoid the fate she saw.
‘Meet Me In Daegu’ is a tremendous episode, feeling like a self-contained love story while also fleshing out Lovecraft Country‘s world of dark magic. Jamie Chung is really exceptional here as the tragic Ji-Ah, as is Jonathan Majors, who offers us another side of Atticus, one that helps us to understand the stoic character we’ve come to know. On top of all that, the effects and gore in this episode is honestly some of the nastiest I’ve ever seen on screen. I’m not sure if it was the hairy tentacles, the way they sprouted from her eyes, or the sound effects, but it left me suitable uncomfortable.
It’s also a really great look at a different culture, and I commend the showrunners for having so much of this episode in subtitled Korean. I know very little about the Korean war, so for me this felt a lot like the scenes in Tulsa in HBO’s Watchmen, shedding light on a time in history I was unfamiliar with. It’s a really fantastic, beautiful, heartbreaking episode. That just so happens to have tentacles shooting from nine orifices at once. It’s Lovecraft Country in a nutshell.