Lovecraft Country Episode 5 Review: Strange Case

Ruby learns that magic is real and revels in the power of transformation in this week’s episode of Lovecraft Country.

Lovecraft Country Episode 5 Strange Case
Photo: HBO

This Lovecraft Country review contains spoilers.

Lovecraft Country Episode 5

A white woman (Jamie Neumann) wakes up in an unfamiliar place and doesn’t recognize herself in the mirror. She runs away looking for help, and in her distress, bumps into a Black boy. Black folks on the street look on in horror as cops threaten the boy for “assaulting” the woman. She assures them the boy was only helping. She’s shocked at white strangers’ concern for her, and Black folks’ fear of her, and realizes how powerful the weapon of white femininity is. Cops take her back to William, who cuts Ruby out of the white body while explaining to her that magic is real.

We’ve only spent a little bit of time with Ruby over the past four episodes of Lovecraft Country, but she’s made an impression even with her limited screen time. From the jump, she’s established herself as a woman on a mission. In the series premiere, she tells Leti that she’s been applying at department stores for years. In last week’s episode she goes to apply once more, only to find there is already a colored girl, Tamara (Sibongile Mlambo), working there. Ruby knows, like we all know, that there is only so much room for us. There is a reason tokenism is such a well known and well-worn trope. Ruby has been taking classes to build her resume and applying at Marshall Fields, only to miss an opportunity by one day, and worse, to lose the opportunity to someone who applied “on a whim.”

It takes very little convincing for Ruby to take the potion and transform again, this time enjoying the treatment being a white woman affords her. It’s fun, if uncomfortable to watch, Ruby navigate in her new body. She ultimately decides to utilize her alternate form to seize opportunities denied her otherwise. In her white body, she is immediately hired at Marshall Fields as Assistant Manager, a higher position than the job she applies for. At work, Ruby —as her alter-ego Hillary Davenport— disparages Tamara. Ruby has done everything right. She works hard, she’s always learning, and she makes no trouble. Ruby operates from a place where Black folks have to be twice as good as any white person. She can’t help but be critical of Tamara because her entire life is proof that being “as good” is not good enough.

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This is some of my favorite storytelling so far in Lovecraft Country. I love the examination of privilege, femininity, and respectability, and how Ruby is allowed to examine these things from different positions of power. I also love that Ruby is allowed to be angry, and to have complicated feelings about Tamara, even if that manifests in ways that aren’t necessarily likable. Hillary tells her white coworkers that Tamara will take them to a southside bar after work. After some drinks, Ruby goes outside and witnesses Paul, her manager, attempt to assault Tamara.

Ruby is angry at so many things, and it’s hard to know where to focus that ire. Her conversation with Christina offers some clarity. “You misunderstood William’s invitation. It wasn’t an invitation to be white. It was an invitation to do whatever the fuck you want. That’s the currency of magic, unmitigated freedom.” With that in mind, Hillary tenders her resignation, pretends to seduce Paul, then finds a creative place to repeatedly thrust a stiletto heel. Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” plays as Ruby lets her white woman facade fall in pieces around them. She tells Paul, “I wanted you to know a n****r bitch did this to you,” echoing his words to Tamara from the night before. Christina asks who Ruby really is uninterrupted and we get a glimpse of the answer: someone unfuckwittable.

Later, Ruby confronts William, but he begins to writhe in pain. Christina crawls her way out of his skin, in a metamorphosis like Ruby’s. I am interested in an exploration of their attraction, and sexuality, and how those are complicated by changing physical forms and shifting dynamics of power. I also look forward to the dynamics between Leti, Ruby, and Christina when their relationships to one another are revealed.

This episode gives us Montrose at the beginning of a transformation of his own. When Tic discovers his father killed Yahima and destroyed the pages, he savagely beats him, stopping only through intervention— which legitimately scares Leti. Montrose, swollen and dejected, seeks solace in Sammy’s carnal embrace, confirming, definitively, that he is a queer man. At a drag ball, a la Pose, Montrose sulks before being pulled into reluctant dances with some of the queens. Then he begins to dance more freely, swaying and spinning joyously. The queens surround him and physically lift him up. This visual metaphor is a beautiful and affirming scene to watch. This is perhaps the first time Montrose allows himself to be fully free, and wholly embraced. He kisses Sammy publicly, passionately, and unreservedly. Montrose is changed.

Tic dreams about his escape from Ardham lodge, except in his dream, his ancestor isn’t smiling. Hanna says something, and Tic catches fire, then he wakes up. Despite Montrose’s best (worst) efforts, Tic is able to decipher some of The Language of Adam, and what he discovers leads him back to Korea. He dials the number for Ji-ah, presumably, and her answer to his question suggests she’s connected to his magical life. We know that his relationship with her was weird, and that he sees her both as a positive entity (the red princess from his dream) and a negative one (the soldier he fought in Ardham lodge). She is clearly important, perhaps a member of another lodge, and I hope her formal introduction the story broadens the magical world even further.

This episode of Lovecraft Country is about metamorphosis, about transformation of the body and spirit, and it is a fantastic piece about identity. It empowers Black women, and queer Black men, and introduces more layered storytelling for all of its characters. This episode does not, however, make amends for Yahima’s death, and it remains to be seen whether the character will return or be given the narrative space they deserve.

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Additional thoughts:

  • How much control is Christina exerting in everyone’s lives? Did she manufacture Ruby’s Very Bad Day to take advantage? And is there significance to the form she chose for Ruby (miss “blacks are smart, but not that smart” from episode two)?
  • Christina tells Ruby about Hiram’s magical doorways, which answers the question of how a tunnel in Boston led to Leti’s basement in Chicago. The answer to most of these questions is “magic” and I think everyone needs to be on board with that at this point.
  • William picking “Hillary” up in his expensive white convertible is a flex and I wish it had been Ruby in her own body, stunting on these white women. I am not entirely sure if I am for the Ruby/William pairing, but if they’re going to do it, Ruby should thrive in it.
  • Tic and Leti’s relationship feels more solid in this episode and I hope that stops being a point of conflict between them, they have enough demons to fight… Literally, probably.


4.5 out of 5