If you thought last week’s episode was weird, buckle up. This week, the show takes a science fiction turn as Hippolyta becomes the discoverer that she’s always known she could be. I’d love to see someone’s face as they flicked over to this episode, without having any idea what the show was about. It’s bizarre and beautiful, and is Lovecraft Country at its finest.
With every week that goes by, I feel less and less qualified to talk about Lovecraft Country. The series is phenomenal, but I have begun to question what exactly I can offer to the discourse around the Black experience. I can discuss how it relates to the book, or talk about it’s pulp trimmings, but that’s all set dressing for the real meat of this show. This episode, ‘I Am’, saw Hippolyta take centre stage. And it was a beautiful, gorgeous look at her as a Black woman in 1950s America. But it made me realise that I can understand it, and relate to elements of it, but I’ll never get it in the same way as someone who has witnessed this sort of treatment first hand. But on the other hand, that’s the beauty of the show. It’s showing people a whole different world and a range of experiences that they might otherwise not be aware of. Sure, we all know the history. Some people probably studied Jim Crow era America at school. But seeing it laid out here in full colour is a completely different matter. Like Watchmen before it, Lovecraft Country should be required viewing – and America in 2020 could really do with it.
Hippolyta wasn’t going to just sit around forever. She knows there’s something iffy about George’s death, and that Tic, Leti, and newly returned Montrose are not telling the whole truth. In this episode, she begins to scratch the surface and understand a little more about the Sons of Adam, following the trail back to the destroyed Braithwaite manor. The whole family has been roped in now, and things are coming together. But Hippolyta’s journey this episode is more self contained than that. Using the stolen orrery, she locates a spooky and seemingly abandoned observatory in the arse-end of nowhere. With some technical know-how, she gets the weird machine inside working – Hippolyta proves herself to be the cleverest member of the family in this episode, solving scientific problems that would stump even the best scientists of her day. Things take a turn for the worst when some police officers come to investigate, holding her at gunpoint. Tic gets there just in time, but not before the machine comes alive, opening portals to other worlds (and sucking in one of the cops). The remaining officer is fatally shot by Hippolyta before she is pulled into a portal and disappears.
She finds herself on an alien world, somewhere that’s clearly not earth or any planet we’ve discovered. Suddenly, two figures zap her away to a ship. One of the figures, a woman with a ginormous afro, tells Hippolyta that she is not imprisoned, that she can do what she wants, and demands to know who she is. Once she’s accepted her new surroundings, Hippolyta realises that she can in fact be who she wants. Her first wish; to be dancing on stage in Paris with Josephine Baker. From there, she’s in combat in with warrior women (and Sue from Veep), before going toe to toe with a bunch of confederate soldiers. Then she’s back in bed with George, before zipping around a 1950s LSD trip inspired by her daughter’s Orynthia Blue comic.
Each of these segments is visually stunning, and wonderfully scripted. Each interaction gives her the chance to analyse herself and understand what it is she wants. It’s in the tearful reunion with George where she confesses that she feels small, like she’s shrinking. Here is a woman who is by all accounts a genius, relegated to a role of housewife, just so her husband has someone safe to return home to. It’s not George’s fault, these are the roles that have been thrust upon them both. But that doesn’t make it right. As she says: “All those years I thought I had everything I ever wanted, only to come here and discover that all I ever was was the exact kind of Negro woman white folks wanted me to be. I feel like they just found a smart way to lynch me without me noticing a noose.“
Inside Hippolyta is a free-spirit dancing in Paris, a warrior women fighting for her rights, a loving wife that wants more from her life, and an intrepid explorer who’d give nothing to explore the stars.
‘I Am’ demonstrates what can happen when women are allowed to live their lives, to break free from the roles imposed on them by society and the people around them, people who, like George, just don’t know better. Ultimately, when given the choice to remain or return home, Hippolyta chooses to return to Diana. She’s a dancer in Paris, a warrior leading the charge, an interplanetary explorer, and a devoted wife. But she’s also a mother. And her daughter needs her. She says “That Hippolyta, she was so small.” And that Hippolyta is gone, replaced by a woman who has been allowed to explore the absolute limits of her potential. And I guess the message of the episode is just that. Imagine what would be possible if everyone was allowed to truly excel to the very limits of their abilities and beyond. It’s a hopeful message.
It’s easy to forget in all the craziness that there are in fact other things happening. First there is Montrose. His secret is revealed to Tic and Leti, and Tic doesn’t take it well. He calls his father a f*ggot before storming out. Combined with his murder of a Korean nurse in the last episode, Tic is becoming a very morally grey protagonist. But at the same time, it makes sense. It’s the 1950s, if he’d turned around and accepted his father, that would have felt jarringly unrealistic. And more importantly, he’s just discovered that the man that beat him and taunted him to stop him being “soft”, was really just doing it to hide his own feelings and insecurities. The anger was justified, even if the word wasn’t. And I feel for Montrose’s struggle, I really. But that doesn’t excuse his shitty behaviour thus far.
Tic spends the rest of the episode investigating his mother’s side of the family – after discovering he and Leti had experienced the same dream featuring the his distant relative and the Book of Names. For him, it all leads back to Tulsa, which it seems was the real catalyst for the events of the series. The Book of Names was supposedly burned up in the 1921 riots, and we know that Montrose was in Tulsa also. Just as this almost forgotten tragedy has shaped the world and race relations today, it put into the motion the events of the story taking place in the 1950s. Seeing as episode nine of the series is titled “Rewind 1921” – the same year as the massacre – expect to see more of Tulsa before the series is through.
And it’s worth mentioning the other part of Tic’s story this episode. When things settle and the portals close, he’s left with a copy of a book. The title? Lovecraft Country, written by Uncle George. This is a very crazy meta nod to the audience, and reminds me Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, where the protagonists discover they are in a book written by Stephen King, and then go and meet the author (it gets very weird, but I very highly recommend it). Only time will tell if Lovecraft Country decides to get that weird, but I’m not putting anything past this show.
There’s more family drama elsewhere, of the more pleasant variety, as Ruby and Leti reconcile after their argument. All the right words are spoken, and they seem friendly again, but they are both hiding incredibly important things from one another. Ruby and Christina’s skin-changing exploits are directly connected to Leti and Tic’s search for the pages (now “the whole damn book”). And Ruby spies Leti talking to Tic about the orerry, so she knows her sister is hiding something. They’re going to have to communicate before the series is through. Only time will tell if they decide to work together to foil whatever Christina is planning.
Like the other episodes, it is the self-contained plot that really deserves praise this week. The decision to have the show follow the anthology-style format of the book was a great choice. It does make the overarching plot a little tricky to keep straight at times, but I’m confident they’ll wrap it up effectively. But on its own, ‘I Am’ is a really wonderful episode and makes for an excellent follow-up to last week’s near-perfect episode.