Hello there. It’s me again, harping on about S1E3 of Lovecraft Country this time. I think this is my favourite episode so far, yet also an episode that made me question how I feel about this show. It’s almost a Jekyll and Hyde character in that it is fantastical and absurd at times, but with a powerful, deep core. I mean, it’s not exactly a new concept to have shows that highlight very serious issues, dressed up as ghosts and monsters—Buffy The Vampire Slayer is a perfect example of that. But it’s a strange one. Buffy was aimed at teenagers (even though adults probably loved it just as much), and their moral tales usually focused on relationships, grief, sexuality, friendships and family. While Lovecraft Country does all that too, its storytelling is much more grown-up and the underlying thread is America’s long legacy of racism, slavery, and barbarism towards people of colour. All of which still exist today and is excruciatingly poignant right now.
I argue with myself over whether the ludicrous moments dumb down the message the show is blatantly selling, or if the absurdity drums it into you so hard you just can’t forget. Perhaps that is the genius of the show? The younger generations will watch it—it’s got gore and sex and monsters, what’s not to like? And not just younger generations. After Watchmen revealed to many that the Tulsa Massacre really did happen and it wasn’t all just for show, people began to read up and learn about this dark side of American history. Lovecraft Country is a history lesson for everyone. A secret that has been kept away from the classroom is now being taught across the airwaves, and it is perfect timing. Schools are out; kids are at home and at this point in time we need everyone to take notice of what is happening to black people out there right now, and how it has always been this way for them. Things have to change.
I wondered how on earth the story could go on after Episode 2, and the surprise ending of George (Courtney B. Vance). He truly is gone, and we are back in Chicago now with a grieving Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) who is being taken care of by Tic, much to her annoyance. He reminds her of George, and it’s too much to bare right now. Besides, she doesn’t trust that Tic (Jonathan Majors) or Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams) have told her the truth about what happened to her husband, and her hunch is right. Despite seeing his bullet wounds, she doesn’t quite buy the story that a Sheriff in a sundown town was responsible, and that said Sheriff came to a grizzly end at the hands of Tic and Montrose as revenge. Hippolyta is no fool. She’s been held back, lied to and gaslighted by men long enough to know something is going on. She would likely be a brilliant asset to the men if only they would listen and take her seriously.
However, “Holy Ghost” was the Leti show. I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much. Jurnee Smollett is a wonderful actress; I could watch her for hours. And I do! In the few weeks that have passed since George’s death and all the hoo-hah in Ardham, Leti has bought a house. Albeit a shack of a building, but huge! It appears that her deceased mother left Leti some money in her will. This surprised not only Leti, but her sister Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) who was not left anything and neither was her brother. It caused a showdown between Leti and Ruby, with the latter giving her sister a hurtful character assassination, accusing her of being selfish, flaky and irresponsible. You can’t really argue with Ruby, she and her brother both lent money to their little sister, but when Leti came into her own, she didn’t share it with her siblings or even pay them back what they were owed. It’s hurtful for Ruby that their mother would leave only Leti money when Leti wouldn’t even use the same family name. Leti is a Lewis, Ruby and Marvin are Baptistes.
But Leti didn’t just buy the property to give herself a home; she bought it to turn into a boarding house for black people to be safe and for a place where she could bond with her sister. Leti’s true and generous nature clear for all to see, but there is something dubious about that house. It sits right in the middle of an affluent white neighbourhood, and the whites are not happy about her and her friends moving in. Within days they pitch up signposts in their carefully manicured lawns making their feelings very clear, and then park up vehicles outside the house with bricks tied to the horn—I was annoyed listening to it for a matter of minutes. Leti and her friends put up with it for days, by playing music to drown it out. It’s funny when you think about it; those racist idiots would put themselves through the hell of listening to a car horn 24/7, just to try and drive black people away.
Tensions are certainly brewing though. Racist police drive by and do nothing to diffuse the situation, rather biding their time for the inevitable moment that the black people retaliate to take action against them.
Tic goes to see Leti for the first time since the Ardham incident. There is clearly some sexual tension between them now. He’s about to leave to return home to Florida but she asks him to stay. After Leti get spooked by something banging in the basement (not to mention the white mob outside), he decides to stay and keep her and the house safe.
Very creepy things start happening in the house. The elevator flies down the shaft at a million miles per hour nearly taking Leti’s head off. Then while she’s sleeping a horrific spectre of an old black woman pulls the sheets off her. The ghost is horribly disfigured; she had an obviously traumatic death. Tic and Leti don’t find anything down in the basement, but it is the perfect place to have a darkroom—perfect for Leti as she’s a photographer.
Not one to be rattled by bangs in the night or beeping cars, Letitia “f*cking” Lewis, holds a big housewarming party, which definitely does not help neighbourhood relations, but you know why shouldn’t she? She’s the property owner, not doing anything illegal, just having fun with friends. Tic turns up to the party looking dashing in his military uniform and becomes visibly jealous when he sees Leti dancing provocatively with another man. She knows he’s watching and she wants a reaction and that’s exactly what she gets. They bump into each other upstairs, and he takes her into the bathroom, where they passionately embrace and have sex for the first time. For Leti, it is her very first time and she bleeds afterwards, then apologises to Tic for not realising she got her period. She later admits it to Tic over dinner that she was a virgin.
I wonder if she had wanted it to happen that way, passionate yes, but quick and without preparation or foreplay. I feel that for Leti that may have been the first time she allowed someone to have sex with her, but not the first time a man had been inside her. Contrary to the belief of some people, it’s not actually that common for a woman to bleed after sex for the first time. It can happen of course, but chances are that the hymen is broken much earlier through sports or physical activity of any kind. So I may be looking too deep into this, but I think she really did have her period. And, it may just have given Leti a clean slate to consider Tic her first, which he was as she chose him to be.
Hippolyta is at the party and comes across a room, the door opens by itself, leading her to find a beautiful solar system display. At her home she has a telescope in her room, so I think she must have a thing about space. If you remember back to Episode 1, Diana (Jada Harris) drew a comic strip of her mother as a space hero. I have a feeling that Diane is going to come into her own soon, this young girl has a gift I reckon. She is also at the party with friends but hiding out doing a Ouija board. At first they all just play with it pushing the guide around, but then something really does take control. It appears to be George from beyond the grave reaching out to Diana, but then it turns angry, telling them to get out of his house.
The party is in full swing when the white folk set a burning cross in Leti’s front garden. It’s a step too far and Leti snaps, storms out into the street in her party frock and heels with a baseball bat, and smashes up the cars lining the street, swinging the bricks away from the horns, finally bringing peace to the streets. Knowing full well she’s going to be in trouble for this, Leti gets on her knees with her hands in the air waiting for the police to come.
In the back of the police truck, a white male police officer belittles and verbally abuses her, and also lets her into a little secret. Eight bodies of black people had been found below the basement of her new house, once owned by Horatio Winthrop, which is why it was so run down—no-one wanted it, not with all its ghosts. Once she is released from custody Leti begins investigating the history of her home and found that indeed there had been a number of black people murdered at the property by an astrophysicist who carried out experiments on these poor people; men, women and children. These people were likely supplied by the police officer who arrested Leti, and why he was so interested in how she came to by the house.
In a newspaper clipping, it reads that the famed scientist Hiram Epstein (raises eyebrows at the surname) had been fired by the University for his controversial theories, harassment and illegal experiments. Epstein was a naturalist scientist, meaning that he did not believe in God, gods, the supernatural or spiritual world. That’s all fine of course unless you are a racist and believe that black people are inferior to white people and use science to try and prove it. Since the second half of the 20th century, scientific racism has been criticised as obsolete and discredited, yet has persistently been used to support or validate racist world-views, based upon belief in the existence and significance of racial categories and a hierarchy of superior and inferior races. In 1950, UNESCO‘s early antiracist statement “The Race Question” reported:
“The biological fact of race and the myth of ‘race’ should be distinguished. For all practical social purposes ‘race’ is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth. The myth of ‘race’ has created an enormous amount of human and social damage. In recent years, it has taken a heavy toll in human lives, and caused untold suffering.”
Racist scientists had to hide their controversial experiments, so it is not as absurd as you might think that someone like this Epstein character would kidnap black people and carry out horrific acts upon them. America has an appalling history of carrying out experiments on their people without their knowledge or consent, and black and poor people were often the unknowing guinea pigs.
In 1932 The Tuskegee Syphilis Study began and continued for 40 years. 600 black men were part of the study and 200 of them diagnosed with syphilis were never told of their illness, were denied treatment, and instead used as human guinea pigs. The men passed on the disease to their wives and children in some cases. In order to track the disease’s full progression, researchers provided no effective care as the men died, went blind or insane or experienced other severe health problems due to their untreated syphilis.
In the summer of 1989, construction workers unearthed 10,000 bones from a basement belonging to the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. Many of the bones showed signs of dissection. Forensic investigators quickly discovered they were the legacy of five decades of grave robbing intended to provide medical students before and after the Civil War with cadavers for anatomical lessons. Most were stolen from Cedar Grove Cemetery, reserved for Augusta’s impoverished and black residents, where there was no fence, and where poor blacks were buried in plain pine coffins—nice and easy to break into. It’s ironic isn’t it, that white racist scientists went out of their way to try and prove that biologically and intellectually black people were inferior to white people, yet they chose to experiment on black people knowing that underneath the skin they were just the same as them.
These stories, and countless more, likely inspired the tale of the bodies in Leti’s basement. With Leti growing ever concerned about the ghosts in her house, she invites a psychic to her property to exorcise the house. The woman slits the throat of a goat, (as you do), wipes the blood in a cross on Leti and Tic’s foreheads and the three of them join hands to contact the lost souls.
They get way more than they bargained for when not only the psychic but Tic too gets possessed by the evil spirit in the house. Leti is fierce though and conjures up the ghosts of the kidnapped and murdered experimental subjects, revealing the horrors of what happened to them. Honestly, this is where I struggled a bit as it looked silly to me—the baby head on the adult basketball player in particular. It all went a little bit Beetlejuice there for a moment. But some of the other ghosts are upsetting to see: the disembowelled mother with her dead foetus in her arms, the boy child, a woman with an arm missing, one poor creature even had half its head sliced off. It’s gross and grim and while I’m not sure about the whole baby head on an adult thing, the other horrors likely did happen. Just think about that for a second.
I don’t know if Leti wielded this kind of strength before or if it was an after-effect of her death and resurrection, but she was able to conjure up and join forces with the spirits by calling their names; giving them back their identities in a powerful moment. Together they pull the ghost of the evil scientist (did we know he was dead?) from Tic and banish him from her house, setting the tortured souls free. I have to admit I am still a little confused by what exactly happened here, but it appears that Hiram Epstein had been proven wrong about there being no such thing as the supernatural by becoming a ghost himself. With this dark past exorcised from the building, Leti is now able to set up a real sanctuary for people in the black community most in need.
It is August 2020, and without a doubt, this has been one of the weirdest years in recent history. As I write America is going through yet another catastrophe on the streets after an unarmed black male (Jacob Blake) was shot seven times in the back at close range by a white police officer in front of his children. Blake is now paralysed, probably for life. Once again, protests have broken out on the streets. In Kenosha, a 17-year-old white male openly carrying a rifle killed two protestors on the streets while allegedly defending a gas station from being damaged. Nothing that happens in Lovecraft Country is farfetched (except maybe the ghosts and monsters), the human atrocities are very real. They are happening now because it seems that still, black lives don’t matter to many white people. It’s a white people problem, and if shows like this help us see that, then I’m all for it.
Three white men who have been harassing Leti and her housemates break into the property and come to a sticky end at the bottom of the elevator shaft. We see the skeletons of many more people lying deep down underground. Magic symbols appear on the walls, scratches of sorts, like the ones we saw glowing on the doorways in Episode 2, presumably made by Christina Braithwhite. Tic is on the ball enough to realise that there was something odd about how the house came into Leti’s life and went to visit the Lawyer who contacted her about the inheritance her mother had left her. It just so happens that Christina Braithwhite was there as the black realtist Jerome Jackson was packing up his stuff from the makeshift office that Christina had set up. It was she that left the money for Leti, not her mother.
Horatio Winthrop was a founding member of The Sons of Adam, but was banished after stealing pages from The Book of Names. He was the original owner of Leti’s house. So what exactly is Christina up to? Why did she want Leti to have the house? Did she underestimate her and think the house and the ghosts would destroy Leti? Leti has died once already and it would be pretty easy for Christina to get rid of her with magic, but she chooses not to. Is Leti also part of the legacy belonging to Tic and his family? Tic threatens Christina with a gun to her head, but he is no match for her. The magic she wields is strong and she chooses not to punish Tic for his threats. She needs him, and I suspect she needs Leti too and this is all part of their training or perhaps grooming for whatever her plans for them might be.
We didn’t see much of Montrose this episode. He spent his time grieving for his brother at the bottom of a bottle. Hippolyta did visit him to make it clear that she knows there is more to her husband’s death, but Montrose will not give anything away.
The secrets of Tic’s legacy still loom large, and Christina’s intentions are still very muddy—while she appears to be friendly enough and sometimes on Tic’s side, has she inherited megalomania from her father and seeks pure white power? Or will she surprise me by doing whatever it is for the greater good?
We shall find out more next week in Lovecraft Country. Let me know your thoughts on the episode in the comments.
All images courtesy of HBO