Welcome back to Lovecraft Country S1E2. Last week’s explosive debut left our three friends at the door of a very large mansion lodge, with a very white man at the door. “Whitey’s On The Moon” (named after the poem by the brilliant Gil Scott Heron, which we hear spoken during the episode), is strange in that it feels like a season finale, but we’ve only just begun. Many of the secrets of the mansion and the Braithwhite family who reside within are given up without too much resistance, which makes you wonder what more there is to come. I think we could be in for one hell of a ride. So let’s go and separate fact from weird fiction!
A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey’s on the moon)
In the lodge Leti, Uncle George and Tic each have a room adorned with some of their favourite things. For Leti, it is clothing: beautiful gowns that fit perfectly, with skirts that swoosh satisfyingly as she dances. For George, it is books: all the rare books that he could ever wish to read, right there for him to indulge in. But Tic is wise. He knows this isn’t real and seems to be immune to the spell the others are under. It is clear that this entertainment is to keep them quiet in their rooms. Leti’s final choice of clothing for the day is a strange one. She wears jodhpurs, a shirt, waistcoat, riding jacket and neck scarf as if she’s about to go hunting foxes on horseback—clothing that whitewashes her. The look on Tic’s face when he sees her suggests he thinks the same.
The man who welcomed them into the lodge introduces himself as William (played by Jordan Patrick Smith). There is something inhuman about him as if he’s manufactured somehow, though it could just be his pure whiteness (which probably means he was genetically built, because who really is pure white?) William tells the gang the history of the mansion: Samuel Braithwhite owns the property, before that his distant cousin (note, not great-great-grandfather or a direct descendant), Titus Braithwhite, who built the mansion at Ardham. He was a slave trader, though apparently treated the people who worked for him well—or at least indulged himself in them. Titus was killed in a fire on the Autumnal Equinox of 1833. Everyone in the house died, except for one person—Tic’s great-great-great-great-grandmother, which makes Tic a direct descendant. The Autumnal Equinox falls on 22nd/23rd September in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the day but twice a year that the hours of daylight and nighttime are almost equal—a perfect balance of light and dark.
I can’t pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still.
(while Whitey’s on the moon)
In Matt Ruff’s novel Lovecraft Country (which I have not read for the record, so my predictions/thoughts on the story are purely what my mind conjures up), Samuel Braithwhite has a son called Caleb, but it appears that this has been changed a little for the show. Instead, he has a daughter, Christina Braithwhite, the stunning blonde young woman who helped Tic, Leti and George out in Episode 1. While you might expect William and Christina to be siblings, William tells them that she is a close personal friend. Later on, Christina says this information is correct, and they are not in a relationship. Samuel Braithwaite’s child being a woman allows for the writers to give Christina an understanding of persecution, and empathy for the Tic and his friends. While her white privilege is immense, she has zero male privilege. Being female prevents her from entering the lodge ceremonies her father conducts, and even Tic and George are permitted there, which begs the question: do wealthy white men hate people of colour or women more? It is something that hits a nerve with Christina, who is open with Tic about her differing opinions to her father. She and Tic appear to have friendship blossoming, but it is hard to tell at this point if she is a genuine ally, or if she’s luring him into a false sense of security—we all saw Jordan Peele’s, Get Out and know that the pretty white girl cannot be trusted; in fact, she might be the worst of all.
Over breakfast, it becomes clear that neither Leti nor George can remember anything about the monsters—the shoggoths with all the eyes—from the night before. They do remember the monsters in the form of the local sheriff’s department, however, but not what happened to them, which allows Tic to exclaim, “I shot the sheriff!” which is just perfect. Leti does not remember saving the day or driving the car into the Evil Dead cabin. After their vehicle, Woody, turns up all brand new I must admit I did think to myself, “oh no, we’re not going to have another show where you’re not quite sure if the main protagonist is telling the truth or losing their mind are we?”, but we were being led down the garden path. Leti and George do wonder about Tic’s mental state post the Korean War, but it’s nipped in the bud quickly. Not just for Leti and George, but us the audience. What we see is precisely what is happening—it may seem ludicrous, and it is. This is a fantasy TV show with some fantastical monsters, both human and otherwordly. The metaphors are not often subtle but just roll with it.
The man jus’ upped my rent las’ night.
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
In both Episode 1 “Sundown” and this episode, German Shepherd dogs have been kept by some of the most outspokenly racist people: the gang that tried to shoot our friends out of town during the car chase, and now an unpleasant woman guarding a tall stone tower in the village of Ardham. German Shepherds are often used as police dogs in modern times. But prior to that, they were bred to serve in the military, which they did beginning in 1914, World War I, and in World War II. After WWII, due to lack of interest and budget issues, the military cancelled and closed most of the War Dog Programs. Only one War Dog platoon served in the Korean War, and on December 7th, 1951, the responsibility for dog training was transferred to the Military Police Corps. I may be way off the mark here, but it is curious to me that these people all use the same breed of dog, which are trained to attack black people. Are their handlers more than just the small-minded people they appear to be? We all know that racism is systemic, that it breeds from inside institutions such as the military, police, government, even schools. Are the dogs in these towns ex-military or police dogs? There is a reasonable probability that the dogs that fought for their country in war are now being used to fight a war on people of colour.
When George asks the woman with the dogs (Jamie Neumann) if the tower is a jail, she laughs and shows them that inside is where they keep their meat. They are wise enough to notice that there is a basement—likely the place where Montrose is being held. The woman tells them to head off back to the lodge before the sun goes down. Twilight arrives as they walk back through the woods, and George recollects something Tic’s mother told him about her ancestry. Hanna had been a slave at Ardham lodge but had escaped when it burned down in the fire. She was pregnant with Titus Braithwaite’s child, through rape. Once again, as the darkness falls, the shoggoths arrive to grab some dinner. Christina Braithwhite comes to their rescue once again, sending her pet monsters back underground. Leti and George immediately forget what just happened, but Christina’s spell doesn’t work on Tic, presumably because of his bloodline.
I wonder why he’s uppi’ me?
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon?)
I wuz already payin’ ‘im fifty a week.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Back at the lodge, Tic is taken to a lab where Samuel Braithwhite lays on a slab wailing as a cloaked figure rummages around in his stomach, pulling what looks like his liver out with his bare hands. Christina pours a drink casually as if she’s used to this kind of silliness from her father.
In his room, George thinks over what just happened in the woods, then notices a book on the shelf: The House on the Borderland and Other Novels. The House on the Borderland was written by William Hope Hodgson, a British fantasist and supernatural horror writer. The novel is a hallucinatory account of a recluse’s stay at a remote house where he falls in love, and his experiences of supernatural creatures and otherworldly dimensions. Intriguingly, the recluse dies in the house and turns to dust after the house collapses—a prophecy for what is to come for Ardham lodge and its master later on.
The book was originally published in 1908 in London, but Its most popular version was by Arkham House Press, Sauk City, Wisconsin, in 1946. Yes, Arkham House really did exist, and it did publish Lovecraft’s work, among other weird fiction by other authors. The publishing house was founded in 1939 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei to preserve in hardcover the best fiction of Lovecraft. The company’s name is derived from Lovecraft’s fictional New England city, Arkham. Lovecraft was greatly inspired by William Hope Hodgson’s novels when he discovered them in 1934 and praised The House on the Borderland and other works by Hodgson at length in his 28,000-word essay, “Supernatural Horror in Literature” first written in 1927, then revised in 1934 with the addition of Hope Hodgson’s work.
George pulls the book from the shelf and a secret room is revealed. A vast library of books greets him as he looks around in wonder, but one alone sits on a table with a magnifying glass: By-Laws and Precepts of the Order of the Ancient Dawn. This book is fictional, created by Matt Ruff for Lovecraft Country. Just like his inspiration, Ruff adopts the same intertextual tactics in his writing. If Lovecraft wrote pulp, Ruff writes meta-pulp or even meta-meta-pulp.
Taxes takin’ my whole damn check,
Junkies makin’ me a nervous wreck,
The price of food is goin’ up,
An’ as if all that shit wuzn’t enough:
A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Meanwhile, Samuel Braithwhite isn’t messing about pretending he’s not a complete bastard. A painting on his wall represents the verse of the Bible Genesis 2:19, which Christina listlessly quotes. Clearly it is something she has been taught over and over.
And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: and whatever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
Once again, Christina seems not to be impressed with her father’s views on the hierarchy of life. Samuel believes that the world was a better place when white men were top of the pile, with women and beasts below them. The irony, of course, is that Samuel believes that the world isn’t like that anymore, and he wants it back to how it was. Blind to his own privilege; he can’t bear for people of colour or women to take even a slither of the white male pie. Anything but full power over everyone and everything is a threat to their very existence. And what do scared white men do? They bully those they believe to be lesser than themselves, thinking it makes them look powerful. It doesn’t. Donald Trump is a textbook example of this, to an embarrassing degree.
Christina escorts Tic back to his room, and he persuades her to release his friends from the spell she has put them under—the one that makes them forget her pets, the shoggoths. Tic wanted to know where his father was being kept, but she couldn’t tell him. Eager to prove she is a friend, we hear the screams of Leti down the hallway as she begins to remember everything. But Tic is trapped now. The emblem of the Order of the Ancient Dawn is scratched into the doorway, and an invisible barrier keeps him locked inside.
Her face an’ arm began to swell.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Was all that money I made las’ year
(for Whitey on the moon?)
In their rooms, Leti, Tic and George all experience an unwelcome trip down memory lane. Presumably, this is Christina up to some wizardry as she reveals their innermost secrets, shame and regrets. Leti’s demon comes in the form of Tic; a man she is clearly attracted to. He listens intently and comforts her as she tells him about when she was little, and her mother never returned home. Unaware that this is not the real Tic, Leti and the faux Tic begin kissing. The real Tic sends a message to George via morse code, and the message reads, “Wizards”.
Tic’s demon comes in the form of a female Korean soldier (Jamie Chung). The pair fight, he calls her name (Ji-ah) begging her to stop, but she is on a mission to take him out. In the end, he has no option but to kill her before she kills him. That doesn’t stop him from hating himself for what he did. There is more to reveal about this woman and Tic’s relationship with her. Did he kill her for real? Or was this the woman he loved set upon him like a rabid dog, forcing him to carry out her murder? Even if this was all an elaborate magic trick, it is cruel, to say the least.
George has the sweetest demon, but even she isn’t quite what she seems. Dora was perhaps George’s girlfriend at one point when he and Montrose were young and in Tulsa. But George is fully aware that his vision isn’t real because Dora is dead. The couple dance and reminisce, with Dora’s ghost finally trying to persuade George to fly with his children. After their traumatic memories end, George says it doesn’t matter who he saw, that they were just trying to get in their heads. But if you look back at the family picture of Tic and his parents, you will notice that Dora is Tic’s mother. This implies heavily that Montrose is not Tic’s real father, and that George is. George later has a conversation with his brother that alludes to this so perhaps this is why Montrose acts the way he does towards Tic? Tellingly though, Montrose doesn’t want Tic to know; he must love him enough not to want to lose him, even if his wife did cheat on him with his brother. Of course, we don’t know the full story yet and Montrose and George don’t appear to have any beef with each other. The Freeman brothers are keeping something from Atticus, most likely to protect him.
Leti and faux Tic get hot and heavy but she wants to stop. He doesn’t want to stop, and this is where her demon rears his ugly face, (and his ugly snake as he opens his pants). Each of their demons was trying to lure them to their deaths. Ji-ah was hell-bent on killing Tic in combat. Dora tried to entice George to his demise by the power of nostalgic seduction. Leti having Tic as her demon is curious, as the others were visited by people they most likely had painful memories about. There is no way in hell that Letitia “f*cking” Lewis would be hanging out with Tic if he had tried to rape her in real life, so this intrigues me. Is Leti haunted by a man who attacked her in the past? And now she finds it difficult to trust any guy? That would make perfect sense to me.
The trauma of our heroes was all played out as entertainment to a group of pig-headed white men in stupid tuxedos, ready for the Ceremony of the Sons of Adam that Samuel Braithwhite has planned. Christina watches with a quizzical look as if she’s just learned something significant or she has a trick up her sleeve. Whichever it is, I feel that she and William are in it together. They both appear to want to help the gang, but somehow I don’t feel its for their sake, but more for their own.
How come there ain’t no money here?
(Hmm! Whitey’s on the moon)
Y’know I jus’ ’bout had my fill
(of Whitey on the moon)
George and Tic are invited to the black-tie ceremonial dinner where Samuel offers all in attendance a sliver of his liver (or whatever that was). How kind. It is especially satisfying to see George totally mic drop Samuel, making him fully aware that he read the By-Laws of the Order of the Ancient Dawn that was conveniently left on the library table, most likely by Christina, as even though William gave a wry smile when he heard George’s speech, he probably knew it was Christina’s mischief. She wasn’t allowed in there herself, it being a ‘Men Only’ dinner. I often wonder, do men enjoy these men only things? The thought of a woman only event fills me with utter dread.
Brilliantly, Tic, as a blood relative to Titus Braithewhite, gets to order the flock of gammon out of the dinner, and they serve their racist cult master so obediently that they do get up and go. It’s a beautiful moment. Tic, Leti and George flee the building and head straight to the stone tower to save Montrose. But he’s not there. Nope, he’s already escaped his prison, just like in his favourite story, The Count of Monte Cristo.
You would think that Montrose would be happy to see his son, his brother and a beautiful young woman turn up to save him, but no. He shouts at Tic for responding to his letter which he thought was obviously written under duress. Bit harsh. Montrose seems to be one of those fathers who shows his love and care through anger and annoyance as if he should ‘man up’ and teach him about life the hard way. This never works, you know, for either party.
The four try to escape Ardham in the silver car belonging to Christina, but they don’t get far. On the bridge out of town, a spell has been cast that smashes the car to a pulp. (I was right about that car smash last week!) As the crew stagger out of the vehicle, Samuel and Christina emerge from their car. Without hesitation, Samuel shoots Leti in the stomach as she steps out. She appears to die in Tic’s arms, and as George steps in, Samuel asks Tic to choose as to who he should save. Tic looks at George, and Samuel shoots him too but promises him he will bring them back as long as he goes through with the ceremony, which of course he will for the people he loves.
Leti awakes severely traumatised by the experience and flees to the bathroom to cry with fear. Did she witness something while she was “dead”? I mean, of course what she has been through before being shot was pretty damn awful, but this is not how we have seen her behave before. She always puts on a brave face, but that cannot last. I hope she comes out of this stronger than ever before.
Knowing that Samuel is a man of his word, Tic goes through the Sons of Adam’s ritual, which actually works…at least to begin with. Grass and flowers blossom underneath Samuel’s feet as he chants; it looks like he really is going to create a new Eden. What Samuel didn’t make allowances for is that something stronger than the blood of Titus Braithwhite was coursing through Tic’s veins; the blood of his great-great-great-great grandmother, Hanna (Joaquina Kalukango). A woman who was strong enough to survive slavery, a woman strong enough to withstand being raped by her slave master, a woman strong enough to carry and love the child born to her as a result of that rape. And the spirit of she, the sole survivor of the fire that destroyed Titus and his mansion, is still strong enough to empower her descendant almost two centuries later. Her ghost stands proudly looking at Tic as he battles the Order of the Ancient Dawn, making the house crumble around them and finally turn the cult worshippers and Samuel into dust, blowing in the wind.
While watching, it suddenly occurred to me how my mind has been trained over the years to think of the colour black as negative, bad, and something to be afraid of. As electricity powers through Tic’s body, bright golden and white light shines from him, but when Hanna appears to Tic, a black dusty mist comes and takes over Tic’s body, dissolving the Ancient Dawn ring which was placed on his finger, and smothering his body. In any other show or film, we would know that this black energy, for want of a better word, was something evil, sent to destroy the good people of the light. It does precisely that in this scene, but this black power is here to save our friends, give them strength. It is not a threat, it is just a colour.
It is glorious and powerful, but it is not the end. They have triumphed here, but there is a price to pay for not completing Samuel’s demands. George’s life was not spared. Montrose sits in the back of Woody the car in silence, a single tear rolling down his cheek as he holds his brother’s body in his arms. Leti leads Tic to his uncle and breaks down. The acting in this scene really got me, I must admit.
I think I’ll sen’ these doctor bills,
(to Whitey on the moon)
As I said at the beginning of this article, “Whitey on The Moon” felt like a finale, so what could possibly be in store for us next? The posters for Lovecraft Country make more sense to me now. They feature just Tic and Leti as warriors on the road. After Uncle George’s murder, it feels like they are going to go on a revenge rampage, and I cannot wait. George was a wonderful character, and I am sad that he is gone so soon. If he is?
Did Christina and William flee the house before it collapsed? I think that is pretty likely. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of them. Could they help bring George back to life? Christina became a sort of Danaerys Targaryen figure in this episode. But instead of dragons, she is Mother of Shoggoths, having delivered one from an unfortunate looking cow. What could be her aim in breeding these creatures? They haven’t been trained just to hunt people of colour; they happily chow down on racists too, so are her desires more about gaining personal power than putting the world to rights? She is her father’s daughter. Or perhaps her father’s son? We haven’t seen Christina and William together once yet—strange for such close friends. She could disguise herself pretty easily with magic I’d guess, and I bet she would find it a lot easier to get to the top just by being a man.
No doubt we will find out if I’m barking up completely the wrong tree very soon! See you next week for more Lovecraft Country.