The real-life 1921 massacre in Tulsa took centre stage in this week’s episode. Thanks to the recently discovered time machine – and newly-returned Hippolyta’s knowledge – Tic, Leti, and Montrose journey back to Tulsa to retrieve the Book of Names on the night it is destroyed.
After her run in with Topsy in the last episode, Dee is dying. Seemingly rotting away thanks to the nasty-looking scratch on her arm, the family reluctantly decide to seek Christina’s help. She can’t save the girl without the Book of Names, but she performs a restoration spell, delaying the inevitable. The price? Atticus must accompany her willingly back to Ardham for the Autumnal Equinox. The “willingly” part suggests that it is something Atticus won’t be returning from. But they have no choice but to agree. Once Dee is safe for a little while longer, they journey back to the observatory to use the time machine once again. This time they plan to use it a bit more exactly, and jump back to 1921. With Hippolyta’s return from her 500 year journey on a parallel earth, where she could be who she wanted and do anything, she has the skills to do it.
The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre is something that most people don’t know about, especially outside of the States. Hell, like many, my first knowledge of the event was in the pilot episode of last years’ excellent Watchmen miniseries. The attack on the wealthiest Black community in the country took the lives of countless people, anywhere from 30 to 300 deaths – the toll is still debated. In terms of the show, Montrose lost a lot of loved ones that day, more than he had perhaps let on (more on that below). Going back to Tulsa on the night of the massacre is tragic for our characters. They are forbidden by the unwritten but accepted rules of time travel to not interfere, or else risk changing the outcome and the future. I’m a real sucker for time travel, and seeing it used here with such emotional weight was really impressive. The idea of being there, within arm’s reach of saving someone, but being forced to let them die, is really heartbreaking.
And when they arrive, things are fine. Tulsa is a fantastic place, and there are few hints at the powder keg that is about to be set off. But it’s clear that Montrose is uncomfortable being there. After weeks of posturing and trying to act tough, seeing Michael K. Williams finally give in to the fear and guilt is sad to see, but vital for the character. He experienced the massacre first hand, and witnessed a boy he was in love with die right before his eyes. This trauma, combined with abuse at the hands of his own father, pushed him to be the angry, closed off man that we see. He’s had hide his sexuality for years, as it was simply easier to bury it than dig up the heartbreak he suffered on that night. It also explains – though doesn’t excuse – his violent parenting of Tic.
So Montrose has the chance to save his childhood sweetheart, Tom. But as Tic explains, as much as he may want to do it, he can’t risk messing up the timeline, wiping Tic and his unborn son out of existence. Despite their differences, and despite some contention about whether Montrose is his true father, the pair are forced to watch as a gang of white thugs barrel down upon Montrose and Tom. There’s nothing they can do except watch. Soon after the killing, young George and Tic’s mother arrive to help. Montrose and Tic both know the story from this point. The white gang attack, but are dispatched by a strange wielding a baseball bat. The pair wait to see this hero that they have both spent so long thinking about, but he never arrives. You probably realise where it’s going, but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling when it dawns on Tic that he is the mysterious stranger, the man that saved the lived of three Black children in Tulsa in 1921. He picks up the bat and goes to town on the racist thugs, in one of the series’ most satisfying moments.
Elsewhere, Leti has been given the task of retrieving the book of names. She is set on by a truckload of thugs, though she luckily has the invulnerability spell. She ends up in the house of Tic’s family, who have barricaded themselves in to fight off the incoming horde of attackers. As the family is busy, Let begins her search for the Book of Names. But Tic’s great grandmother Hattie finds her rifling through the drawers. I love how in this scene, with no time to spare and no way of lying, Leti just comes on out and explains the situation. She is from the future, here to save the book before it burns up. Hattie puts two and two together, and realises that her family are not getting out of the house alive.
She has the choice to warn her family, or trust this stranger and secure the life of her family to come. Hattie accepts her circumstances and allows Leti to have the book. I think the way she is so quick to believe is a testament to her faith, as we soon learn she is a devoutly religious woman. Upon learning about Leti’s pregnancy, with her great-great granchild, Hattie declares “When my great-great grandson is born, he will be my faith turned into flesh.” She explains that the book is protected by a spell, and that she had been instructed to guard it but not open it. Her and Leti hold hands and begin to pray as the fire engulfs them both. It’s a tragic scene as Hattie burns, but also a powerful one, as we understand the weight of her sacrifice and the love she holds for her family, even those yet to be born.
The gang just about manages to escape Tulsa. Hippolyta, who remained behind keeping the portal open, is almost killed by the process. Her hair turns blue and she is fried within an inch of her life, but they got the book. They can save Diana. Ultimately, it’s all about what we’re willing to do for our family. As we’ve seen, Montrose is willing to kill, Atticus is facing death for his own child, Ruby bargains for Leti’s life, and Hippolyta risks it all for Diana. And I think with this power, by working together, they stand a chance of outwitting Christina and her plans for immortality. We’ll just have to wait and see if anyone dies in the process.
Next week, the Freeman family head back to Ardham for the final episode, as Atticus puts his life on the line.