This Lovecraft Country review contains spoilers.
Lovecraft Country Episode 3
Leti sits in church, and stares into nothing, as the congregation worships exuberantly around her. “Which angels gave you their wings? Which skies have you flown? And when you reached the heavens, who was there to catch you when you fell?” The spoken-word poem, performed by Precious Ebony for Nike’s #betrue campaign provides an evocative soundtrack to the dissonant scene.
Last week’s installment, “Whitey’s On The Moon,” was such an enormous episode, it’s hard to believe that it’s just the second installment of the season. The amount of information it contained, both in the exposition and in the little details that only began to unveil themselves this week, is enough to fill an entire season. But Lovecraft Country isn’t short on ideas, and that is abundantly clear in this week’s episode “Holy Ghost,” a striking classic haunted house entree seasoned with Lovecraft Country’s signature flavor: a pinch of racism.
Tic has been staying at Uncle George’s with Hippolyta and Dana, but he senses his welcome has expired. Hippolyta has a strong sense that the story she’s being told about her husband’s death isn’t the full story, which is true. Tic asks Montrose if he can crash there, but they get into it almost immediately; they disagree on whether Hippolyta should know about magic. Tic wants to tell her, Montrose does not. “You want us to tell them wizards are real. That white people got magic on their side. Hippolyta can’t do shit. We can’t do shit.”
This argument is one of the classic hero conundrums: do we tell our loved ones the truth or do we keep them in the dark? Time and again, superheroes have to weigh the benefits and risks of people in their lives knowing about their secret identities, and usually it comes down to what keeps them safest. In the world that’s been established in Lovecraft Country ignorance has a cost, and keeping people from the truth might leave them susceptible to harm. But awareness doesn’t necessarily mean preparedness, and knowing might be overwhelming. I have a lot more faith in Hippolyta than Montrose seems to. And I have no doubt, this conversation will remain relevant throughout the season.
On the Northside, Leti convinces her sister Ruby to move into the house she just bought, and to rent the extra rooms to other Black folks. Ruby is hesitant because she doesn’t necessarily trust Leti, and she doesn’t want to be a pioneer, at least when it comes to where she lives. When she accepts, it’s because she believes Leti is trying to repair their relationship, and to do something selfless. When Leti accidentally reveals she bought the house with money their mother left for her, it just fractures their relationship further. Ruby, like Hippolyta, does not have the broader understanding of what Leti (and Tic, Montrose, and George) went through, but she is in their proximity, which makes her (and Hippolyta) vulnerable. I look forward to how that will be explored in the episodes to come.
The first sign that something is amiss at the house, outside of the fact that it looks like the textbook definition of a haunted house, is when Leti is showing Ruby the elevator and it drops from an upper floor, seemingly intent on removing a head. Later, Leti has her covers yanked off by something she can’t see, but that we viewers can see is a grotesque, feminine figure. Then, when Leti goes to check on the furnace in the basement, something rattles the floor trying to escape the sub-basement.
As you can imagine, a house full of negroes does not go over well with the white neighbors. During a housewarming party, someone burns a cross on the yard, and we see a return of Letitia Fucking Lewis, who grabs a bat and goes ham on the neighbors’ cars that have been parked out front and have been honking incessantly for a week. Earlier, Tic and Montross recount a story Uncle George would frequently tell about a time the brothers Freeman were surrounded by white boys and were saved by a stranger with a bat swing like 42. This contextualizes the appearance of the baseball hero in Tic’s dream in episode one. And it, perhaps, cues the audience to the fact that Leti’s outburst is a heroic act. While in police custody, we learn she has an extensive record. Leti is about that life.
After swerving the police car so Leti could be brutally tossed about, Officer Lancaster grills her about the Winthrop house, asks if anything weird has been going on, asks who told her to buy it, and tells her about the eight dead negro (hard-r) bodies they found there. When she gets home, she is aggressed by the spirit of racist Frankenstein: Hiram Epstein. She learns the names and faces of the missing Black folks he experimented on. She tells Tic, “I thought the world was one way, and I found it isn’t. It terrifies me. But I can’t live in fear, I won’t. I gotta face this world head on and stake my claim in it.” Because Leti is About. That. Life.
Leti brings in a medium to purge the house of his evil spirit. In the basement, the source of the spiritual energy, they begin to chant. It starts working, but Hiram sets off the sprinklers, which washes away their protective marks, and he possesses the medium, then Tic. When Hiram starts coming for Leti, she calls the names of the Eight, asks them to “help me cast him out.” She tells them, “You’re not dead yet, you can still fight!” and they clasp hands in a circle around Tic—and Hiram—and continue to chant. As they chant, their mutilated bodies give way to their rightful forms, and in a final “fuck you,” as Hiram exits this earthly plane, Leti yells “get the fuck out of my house!!!” 👏🏾 While all that is happening, three white boys break into the house. Two are killed by steam from a radiator, and the other is decapitated by the elevator, as the universe demands.
The disembodied spirits of Epstein’s victims, trapped in the place of their torturer and death, and stuck in their desecrated forms, are heartbreaking to see. But the purging of Hiram and his evil, and the restoration of the Eight’s true forms, their full and whole spiritual selves, is powerful and affecting. This scene is one of my favorites, and Jurnee Smollet is absolutely riveting in it.
Later, Tic sees Christina Braithwhite enter the realtor’s office—she paid him to lead Leti to the Winthrop house. He follows behind her, closes the blinds, and pulls a gun on her. But he can’t pull the trigger. She tells Tic her father’s claim to fame is invulnerability. “He thought if you couldn’t be harmed, you could live forever.” Having established she cannot be easily killed, she tells Tic about Horatio Winthrop and the pages he stole from the Book of Names, and tells Tic to get in touch when he’s ready to learn more about “our” family history. She ends with, “Tic really, you have to be smarter than this. You know you can’t just go around killing white women.” This is a reversal of the power dynamic in the previous episode. Outside of the Sons of Adam boy’s club, Christina is a white woman, and Tic, a Black man, is at her mercy.
At the end of the episode, the Winthrop House elevator descends several feet below ground, passing Language of Adam symbols, and lands in front of a corridor where we see the three fresh bodies alongside dozens of other long-dead skeletons. Ardham Lodge may be gone, but the Sons of Adam are not. Lovecraft Country gives us an arousing semi-self-contained story within its larger arc, which is a satisfying small triumph amidst the ever-expanding principle narrative.