HBO’s Lovecraft Country
1×03: “Holy Ghost”
Directed by Daniel Sackheim
Written by Misha Green
* For a recap & review of “Whitey’s on the Moon,” click here.
* For a recap & review of “A History of Violence,” click here.
In 1955, a group of Black people moved to a house on the North Side in Chicago. Ten days later three people went missing inside the house. Never heard from again. Back to Leti, trying to make amends with her sister Ruby. She wants to pay Ruby back. She bought an old Victorian house that is, indeed, a mess, but she’s hoping to fix it up. The place is an obviously haunted house. It has to be! Leti wants to make a “safe haven” for Black people, turn the old wreck into a boarding house. Ruby advises it could be trouble with white people. Yet Leti pushes for her sister to move in, not only for the sake of helping with a potential business but to give them a chance to bond again like siblings. Barely five minutes and Leti’s almost decapitated by the house’s elevator— good sign!
Poor Hippolyta’s left without George, as is Diana. Not only that, they’ve got little to no real info about what actually occurred in Ardham. Atticus is around trying to help them from day to day. He and Hippolyta seem somewhat at odds. Probably because she doesn’t understand what happened to her husband. Seeing her tear apart Dracula is a powerful, sad moment. Meanwhile, Montrose is getting by in his own way. His son comes to see him, fearing he’s worn out the welcome with Hippolyta. Dad will put him up for a few days at least. Even if he wants Atticus to keep quiet about their experience in Ardham.
Montrose has good taste in music, though. He throws on a record of Marian Anderson playing Schubert, another great piece of Black culture: Marian dealt with a good deal of racism, eventually leading to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt inviting her to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during Easter Sunday 1939 to an integrated crowd of 75,000 people and millions on the radio. Lovecraft Country does a lot of excellent explicit and subtle work celebrating Black people that compliments it’s overarching themes.
Leti’s getting her renovation on to “God’s Been Good to Me” by the Mighty Walker Brothers. She’s doing her best to employ all Black people, from furniture movers to elevator repairmen, doing all she can to uplift her community from within. A particularly noble effort for a young Black woman in her time. When Atticus turns up it’s a bit of a reminder of what happened. Clearly she’s been trying to forget, or at least push it to the back of her consciousness. Atticus is getting ready to go back to Florida now that things have calmed down. He’s still there when a bunch of white dickheads stop by outside, sounding their car horns, and white cops drive by doing nothing at all. Atticus figures he should stay, for another little while.
And WHO is that creeping at the edge of Leti’s bed? A dream? Or, worse?
Better still, the boiler downstairs is nearly ready to explode. Did the knob come off on its own? Or did someone tamper with it? While Leti’s down there fixing things she hears something. She look around in the dark, finding a bear trap, an anatomical medical mannequin, lots of cobwebs, and something nearly popping out of the floor. She rushes to get Atticus and they head further into the basement, finding only a bare concrete room. He believes that Leti heard something. He knows “the stress” of what went on in Ardham and how it’s hard to keep such a big secret. Very sinister how the heat and noise the whites are causing is reminiscent of what Atticus remembers the military doing in Korea.
While Leti’s throwing a big party one night, a bunch of young Black kids are playing with a Ouija board together. Things are fine until the lights begin to flicker and the music from upstairs slows down, sounding creepy. None of the kids want to continue, yet the planchette goes on moving. And it really upsets Diana after referencing her father’s death, but the others claim the planchette was moving on its own. Hippolyta’s elsewhere in the house looking for her daughter. Instead she finds a room with a strange contraption in it. She’s amazed at its sight. Downstairs, Atticus comes by in full soldier’s getup, keeping watch on the house and simultaneously pining silently for Leti. They soon are upstairs, pulling each other’s clothes off. It ends abruptly, and Leti seems unsure of herself, or what she wants.
Then the party’s interrupted by a burning cross on the lawn.
What does Leti do? She grabs a baseball bat and takes it to the white cars, knocking the bricks tied to the horns and smashing up windshields. She’s protected by Atticus and a few other Black men with firearms. Maybe the BEST sequence on any television show in 2020 so far, all set to “Take It Back” by Dorinda Clark-Cole. They get the weapons out of there fast before the cops arrive, then Leti, Atticus, and the others kneel down waiting to get arrested. One of the cops is alone with Leti, saying racist shit and denying they’ve received any complaints from her about her white neighbours. He asks if “anything strange” has happened in that house. Then the other cop swerves around, beating the shit out of Leti with every turn. The cop in the back warns her of horrific things that have happened in her house.
When Leti sets up a dark room for her photography in the house’s basement she notices strange markings on her photographs. They seem to form a collage. She puts them all together on the floor and they suddenly form a scary face that emerges from the floor, yelling at her: “Get out of my house.” She runs upstairs looking for another photo, and Ruby’s busy worrying about the racists on their block. She accidentally reveals their mother left her money, which she used to buy the place. It comes as a shock to Ruby, feeling resentful of Leti for getting the inheritance. Another wedge driven between the two of them.
Montrose is trying to give Hippolyta a hand down at the bookstore. They’re both grieving, though he knows the truth about George’s death and she remains cut off from that truth. She’s too smart to know there isn’t more to the story. Across town, Leti’s digging into the history of the Winthrop House. She finds out the previous owner was a man called Hiram Epstein, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago who got fired for “unethical experimental practices.” She believes it was human experimentation, due to the eight bodies being found in the basement according to the cop. And the cop may well be connected to the house. Was he bringing “test subjects” to Epstein? Leti’s also got some creepy photos where faces of Black people who disappeared from Southside Chicago are bleeding through into pictures she’s taken at the house. She knows the souls of those Black folk want out, away from the lair of their murderer. Oh, and remember Leti hooking up with Atticus at the party? She was a virgin prior to that. That plus their trip to Ardham makes for a touchy emotional state, obviously. She can’t shake Ardham. Who could?
Thus, a little spiritual magic to try and cleanse the house. A woman drops by to do what may be hoodoo, first cutting a goat’s throat on the porch and marking Atticus and Leti with blood on their forehead. They all go downstairs in the dark room, forming a circle together holding hands. The woman calls out to the other side, hoping to cleanse the bad spirits from that place. She recites a few words, as upstairs a trio of white men break in. The dark room seems to shake while she speaks.
And the white guys find themselves in the wrong damn house when a terrifying man’s body with a baby’s head comes crying out of the darkness, covered in blood, stitched together like Victor Frankenstein’s creation. They’re caught between it and a steaming hot radiator while their other friend is decapitated by the elevator that nearly took Leti’s head off earlier.
When the recitations are over, the woman, Leti, and Atticus are about to leave the basement. But the sprinkler system goes off. They try to get out and the door to the dark room won’t open. Then the woman is possessed by an evil spirit and she attacks Leti before trying to choke Atticus to death. Leti yells out to one of the spirits, Lucy, and it eventually lets Atticus go. But then Atticus starts getting possessed by the house’s owner, cursing at Leti to get out. All the Black ghosts appear together now, crawling out of the shadows. Leti recites the woman’s words as the victims join her, and in a few moments the spirits start to exorcise the real demon, Epstein. The Black ghosts start to return to normal, from their butchered states, and Epstein washes away in a whirlwind like ash.
However, the house probably isn’t fully cleansed just yet.
I mean, there are corpses. More than one, too.
Atticus meets again with none other than Christina Braithwhite at the realtor’s office where Leti purchased her house. He knows it was Christina who gave Leti all that money as a supposed inheritance from her mother. He saw the name Winthrop on Christina’s father’s painting— Horatio Winthrop was in the Sons of Adam until he rob pages from the Book of Names, trying to create his own magic. Atticus tries to shoot Christina dead, hoping that’ll keep the rest of his family safe. But the gun won’t fire. Christina goes on to talk about her father’s magic works and the Sons. She talks about the pages from the Book of Names being locked away in a vault where Titus put them. She wants Atticus to help her, though he’s not exactly willing right now. Will that change?
I’ve been on the fence about Lovecraft Country. I wanted to love it so much right off the bat, and I did enjoy the first couple episodes. But it’s felt, up until now, that there’s a lot of wasted potential in its story outside of the monsters and the horror. In this episode it feels like the series has hit its stride, particularly with Leti’s story playing out here so fiercely.