HBO’s Lovecraft Country
1×04: “A History of Violence”
Directed by Victoria Mahoney
Written by Misha Green
* For a recap & review of “Holy Ghost,” click here.
* For a recap & review of “Strange Case,” click here.
The nuclear arms race between America and the Soviet Union has begun. At home, Montrose is going insane, reading through the precepts and laws of the Order of the Ancient Dawn. He’s not right. Is there something possessing him? He lights the book on fire and says, in a demonic-sounding voice: “Smells like Tulsa.” A reference to the Tulsa race massacre? Oh, my. (Is Titus inside Montrose?)
At the house, Leti receives a visit from Christina, who can’t seem to get through the door because of the bloody markings on the frame. The rich white lady tells Leti about Atticus showing up to try and shoot her. She wants Hiram’s orrery, the thing we saw Hippolyta looking at in the last episode. Speaking of Hippolyta, she’s got the thing with her at the bookstore. Diana and her friend Bobo are off hanging out while her mother’s trying to figure out how to fix the orrery.
Leti confronts Atticus about his foolish attempt to murder Christina. He explains the woman “can‘t be killed,” that some sort of spell’s keeping her from dying. He thinks Christina used him as a “Trojan horse” to kill her father, too. Leti’s still pissed at him. But Atticus is working to figure out how to beat her. He’s digging into the Book of Names, trying to find out the location of Titus’s vault.
Against Atticus’s wishes Leti goes to Montrose and then gets them together at a bar. Dad isn’t happy. He keeps on warning his son not to get into this “grand wizardry shit.” And he already knows the danger of white people, as should Atticus and Leti. Yet there’s something more to what’s going on with Montrose, it isn’t only the fact he’s attempting to protect his son, no matter how contentious their relationship. Though when Atticus is gone Montrose tells Leti he thinks he knows where to locate the vault. Of course they all end up going for a road trip. And ALL means everybody, even Hippolyta and Diana, though they don’t know the real purpose of the trip.
Weird Christina is playing with kids in the street when a couple of cops turn up. They take her to see Captain Seamus Lancaster. He’s angry she showed up without notice. We find out the orrery is the key to unlocking Winthrop’s “time machine,” apparently. There are creepy things going on in the Captain’s office, as well. Looks like all kinds of whites are gunning for those pages. They may all be on the same side, but they’re clearly not in it together, judging from Seamus’s misogynistic tone.
In Boston, Atticus and the family go to the museum, where the entrance to Titus’s vault is supposed to be— that is, if they can find it. Titus was on the board of the museum and put his vault there, it could be somewhere in any of the galleries. That’s a lot of looking. A security guard there knows Montrose, so that may give them a better shot at finding it later that night. And what about Tree? What’s he suggesting about Montrose and his security guard pal?
That evening, Atticus, Montrose, and Leti are let in back of the museum. Atticus has found something he’s sure is a door, right in one of the monuments. He and Leti look around then Montrose suggests they turn off their flashlights. Moonlight shines through one window and bounces around reflecting back onto the monument. Leti touches the place where it lands and it opens a secret passageway behind the monument leading downward by rope. Looks like the trio’s going on a true archaeological adventure! They’re getting all different kinds of the Lovecraft experience. Atticus goes down and finds three tunnels. Nobody’s waiting. Leti and Montrose join Atticus down there. Montrose figures they go west. Leti thinks they should go north because of a renovation done in 1810, and Montrose agrees because Titus established the Sons of Adam in 1813.
Ruby’s not having a great day. First she sees she probably has no chance of getting a department store job because another Black girl just got the job. A sad time for Black people, and most certainly Black women. Later at the bar she’s playing the beautiful blues and nobody really seems to care. Even sadder. Then when she goes for a drink she finds the eerie William waiting for her with an offer to change her life. Uh oh. They wind up going home together and things get beyond erotic. But I’m worried for her.
Under the museum, the crew find a skinny plank of wood leading across a huge cavernous gap. They tie Leti with rope and she goes across first. Montrose assures Leti with a quick story about a “special fucking knot” to calm her, though there’s no being calm when you’ve got to walk a tiny board over a drop that goes who knows HOW far deep into the earth. Leti nearly runs into a booby trap, prompting Atticus to run out after her. They time it right and Leti makes a jump past the trap. Perfect time for the plank to begin disappearing into thin air. That means Montrose has to jump for it, and he makes it. They each get past the trap, too. Then they make a run for it, reaching a stone wall. They’ve got to figure out a combination to the wall’s tiles before the plank is gone. It’s a Garden of Eden puzzle that Montrose helps them solve, just in the nick of time.
“Beware all ye who tread the path.
Ever the tide shall rise.”
Further on, they go through cave knee deep in water. They have only an hour or so before they’ll drown when the tide rises. An hour to find the pages and get out. They go deeper and things between Montrose and Atticus deteriorate. The son thinks something’s up, especially after his father solved the puzzle. Montrose tells him George gave him the Order’s book before he died and that he burned it to protect his family. Is that really it? Or is something more going on? They get interrupted by a floating, bloated corpse. Leti says it looks like one of her missing neighbours… one of the ones who died in the house.
Eventually the trio come to an elevator. Atticus wants the other two to take the elevator back up, but Leti tells him: “You‘re not the centre of the fucking universe.” She chastises him for acting like these events are only happening to him. They’re all in this together, unfortunately. At least they’re together. Leti finds a potential door to the vault— another puzzle-like thing, and this one has a rotting arm connected to it. They manage to free the arm, then Atticus takes the ring off it, puts the thing on, and places his hand inside the hole where the arm was once. Something latches onto his arm, and the blood flows. However, the blood is what unlocks it, and then Atticus gets his arm back. Behind them, a trap door releases from the ceiling with a ladder to climb.
When they go up, they discover a the inside of a ship and a banquet-like setting with a bunch of corpses sitting around a table together. There’s even a corpse breastfeeding a baby corpse. There’s an office nearby, where they find a corpse holding what look to be the missing pages. Atticus reaches to take them and the corpse comes alive suddenly! It lurches back to life, slowly becoming human again, taking the form of a “two–spirit” woman called Yahima (Monique Candelaria) with markings all over her body. Titus, ever the colonialist, took the woman under pretence of using her to translate stuff in the pages. He killed her people and imprisoned her. She refuses to help with the pages. When Montrose takes them, water starts bursting through the windows, precipitating a flood. This force them on the run again, jumping for the water. They nearly lose the pages when Leti manages to snag them. They get to safety, for now, and Atticus smooches Leti. Then Yahima lets loose a horrifying scream until Atticus knocks her out. She was turned into a siren by Titus to try preventing her escape.
On the road, Poor Hippolyta’s left in the dark again. She and Diana are driving back to Chicago when she notices her daughter with one of George’s maps. The one with Devon County and all the other sinister little things marked on it. Now she’s starting to get a bit more of an idea what may be going on in the wake of George’s death.
But what’s going on with Montrose?
He goes to see Yahima and cuts her throat. It has to be Titus. It must.
What a wild adventure episode! Something great about the series is how Black people are finally getting the big pop culture chance to have these kinds of stories told from their own distinct perspective. Such a fascinating show that took me a few episodes to really love. Now I’m excited for every coming episode, to see what they have in store for us next.
One criticism: not sure they had to show Yahima naked in order for us to comprehend that she’s two-spirit. I’m not offended or grossed out. I just think it’s a bit exploitative. Especially considering Yahima gets her throat cut in the same episode. I don’t know the actress who portrays Yahima, but if she isn’t two-spirit that’s also a highly questionable choice in Lovecraft Country, a series trying to undo damaging perspectives.