HBO’s Lovecraft Country
1×06: “Meet Me in Daegu”
Directed by Helen Shaver
Written by Misha Green & Kevin Lau
* For a recap & review of “Strange Case,” click here.
* For a recap & review of “I Am.,” click here.
We see Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung) watching Meet Me in St. Louis starring Judy Garland. She sees she’s all alone in the theatre, so she sings and dances along while there’s nobody around to watch. We also see a very unsettling look in her eyes. Later we see we’re in Daegu, South Korea in 1949. It seems her family was disgraced, and the family’s fate fell upon Ji-Ah. She was busy trying to get through nursing school. Her mother’s solution? Ji-Ah should “bring home men.” So she went to what was basically speed dating in the late ’40s for Koreans. She met a guy who liked Judy Garland movies. But that didn’t go as well as hoped. Although she and another young woman named Young-Ja (Prisca Kim) seem to get a bit closer.
That night, Ji-Ah went out for drinks with the rest of the women and some of their matches. She met Byung-Ho (James Kyson) and they wound up going to bed together. While he was having a great time she didn’t much seem to care, a relatively blank stare in her eyes. When Byung-Ho orgasmed he felt a strange, tentacled thing penetrate him. Then it was everywhere, coming out of her orifices and into his until she had her fill. Then she tore him apart, spilling bloody everywhere. Mother appeared afterwards to tell her: “Ten more.” What the hell’s going on here?
Of course this is not even a year before the Korean War would break out.
American soldiers started rolling through South Korean streets, claiming they were there to “fight for your freedom.” They even had the gall to interrupt a Judy Garland picture! However, this probably provided new opportunities for Ji-Ah and her mother. She wasn’t as thrilled about that. Her mother encouraged her that the soldiers have it coming. They only needed two more souls. Mother is actually mother to Ji-Ah in a more spiritual sense. She conjured Ji-Ah, who’d take 100 souls. Meanwhile, Ji-Ah was at the hospital working on the many wounded soldiers, not to mention dealing with their racism.
And then there was the anger towards Chinese communists.
So much hatred, so much violence.
We find out the reason why Mother summoned Ji-Ah was because her husband clearly raped their daughter. She had no other recourse available to her. Ji-Ah couldn’t understand because she’s incapable of understanding love. She refused to take another soul. She hated seeing the lifetimes of so many awful men. Ji-Ah is what’s known as a kumiho, which comes from Chinese folklore and myths. Mother needed Ji-Ah to become human because her daughter’s memories are buried in the kumiho, and they’d “come flooding back.” Otherwise they’d be lost forever in there. Then Ji-Ah snapped on the woman, saying awful things from the memories of both the daughter and husband.
One day a bunch of nurses were being accused of helping the Communists. American soldiers narrowed the “Communist spy” down to their particular shift. They questioned the women and then shot one of them right in the forehead immediately. After that, Private Atticus Freeman was called out to put a bullet in the head of another woman. When Atticus was about to pull the trigger on Ji-Ah it forced Young-Ja to admit being the spy. They carried Young-Ja off, knocked unconscious, and sent her to some awful, unknown fate. What we’re seeing is that though Atticus is a hero in the main narrative of Lovecraft Country, he’s not the hero in everybody’s narrative. This doesn’t quite undo the Indigenous/two-spirit erasure, nor does it quite fix the frankly homophobic imagery brought up in the previous episode. Yet we’re getting to see that though the Black characters here get retribution to offset the legacy of Lovecraft, they aren’t being displayed as picture perfect people, either. Atticus has done bad things in the name of the U.S. military, clearly, but that doesn’t excuse his treatment as a Black man in America, either.
When Atticus wound up in the hospital he was watched over by the nurses on Ji-Ah’s shift. She saw him lying in bed one night trying to read. He got frustrated, breaking down in pain and tears. Doesn’t mean she had any sympathy for him. In fact, she told Mother that she’ll take her last soul, and it was going to be Atticus. The next day at the hospital, she and Atticus wound up talking a little as she made up his bed. He eventually asked if she’d read him the last few chapters of The Count of Monte Cristo because his glasses were smashed. Ji-Ah instead just explained how it ends, commenting: “Interesting premise told poorly.” Later, she got a lesson about how Black and Asian people are treated in America.
Against all odds it seems that Ji-Ah started to form a connection to Atticus. She even went ahead and read him the rest of the Dumas novel. They talked about him and his father’s relationship, as well as a somewhat veiled brief mention of Ji-Ah’s relationship with her ‘mother.’ It must’ve been tough for Ji-Ah to start feeling close to someone who killed her friend. And to think, Atticus wasn’t drafted, he volunteered to go to war. Hard to make a case for him that he was forced into the eventual role of cold-blooded killer.
After Atticus healed up he had Ji-Ah sneaked onto the base, fronting as a “comfort woman.” It was, in reality, a romantic gesture on his part. He was able to make them their own private screening room date to watch a Judy Garland picture together. This took them back to bed together, where Atticus revealed he was a virgin. And he felt guilt for the terrible things he’d done, feeling better when he was with Ji-Ah. When they started to have sex again, Ji-Ah felt the horrifying urge in her rising, and she told Atticus to leave. Obviously Mother wasn’t pleased, calling Ji-Ah a “monster.”
Ji-Ah went the next day to the base and confronted Atticus about killing Young-Ja. He rationalised it as doing his job. He saw it as a betrayal, but she told him: “You‘re the monster.” She revealed she planned on killing him then he helped save her through his affection; a truly bittersweet thing to occur. It was obviously hard for her to accept. She told Atticus they don’t have to be monsters simply because they’ve done monstrous things. Isn’t that just a cop out? Aren’t certain monstrous things simply off limits? Atticus signed up for war, he wasn’t drafted, whereas Ji-Ah’s a mythic creature who was summoned out of the darkness to do someone’s bidding. Not quite analogous. After all’s said and done, Ji-Ah slept with Atticus and she didn’t consume him. And she went home to a disappointed Mother.
The day eventually came when Atticus could go home.
He asked Ji-Ah to go with him. She was worried about her secrets. He was willing to not worry about that, even if he had no clue just how dangerous those secrets were, and what they could do. When they had sex again those strange tails came out again. They latched onto Atticus. Ji-Ah saw his memories, all the horrible things he’s done at war. She managed not to kill him. She then saw bits and pieces of what look like his future, of Leti, and nasty things back in America. Atticus was terrified, yet she tried to warn him: “If you go home, you will die.” But he ran out of there as quick as possible, his first encounter with weird, scary things that we now see are becoming commonplace in his life.
Great use of Judy Garland from one of her audio tapes she recorded while gathering material for a book she never ended up writing (starts somewhere around 2:28). Mother and Ji-Ah go to the mudang who helped bring the latter to life. Ji-Ah explains seeing Atticus’s death, that she’d never seen anything like that before. She wondered if it would come true. The mudang told her it was meaningless to be concerned with the world of mortals, and there will be many, many more deaths to see.
A better episode, as far as problematic nonsense goes, than the last couple. Lovecraft Country confuses me because the pacing has been very strange. I want to love this show because of the Black representation and taking these characters, in the 1940s/50s, on wild pulp adventures. Yet there’s also confusing: what political work does this show think it’s doing? We’ll see how things continue to play out. Right now, I’m teetering on the edge. This episode at least tips me in the best direction. Still unsure about the show’s predilection for male anal violation, considering the high heel last episode and the first guy Ji-Ah takes home in this one. Weird.