Hello friends and welcome back to Lovecraft Country S1E4, curiously named “A History of Violence”. I am not entirely sure who that statement refers to. It could be any of our heroes I suppose, but it reads as a court report or newspaper article on someone incarcerated for their crimes. It does perhaps plant the seed in your mind that maybe not everyone we think can be trusted, should be. David Cronenberg’s 2005 movie of the same name is about a small-town diner owner thrust into the spotlight after confronting two robbers, killing them both. It turns out that he has a dark past; he is a professional hitman with ties to the Irish mob and he’d kept this secret from his family the whole time.
Once again, the show takes a wildly different turn to the week before. Last week Leti was haunted by ghosts of a racist past, but what she doesn’t know is that her in-house elevator (and the very dark secrets of systemic racism) goes a lot deeper down into the caverns beneath her home and way back in history. This week, we’re on an adventure. A real Indiana Jones/Goonies/A Night At The Museum style adventure! Once again splicing factual history and pure fantasy into one story. It still doesn’t feel quite right to me, but I think that’s my issue. My logical brain and my creative brain keep having a row about it.
We begin this episode with a distraught Montrose grieving the loss of his brother. He wails as he drinks in his apartment, remembering words between them before George’s death. Is this more than just grief though? Is guilt the real reason why his soul is so tortured? George gave him the book, By-Laws and Precepts of the Order of the Ancient Dawn, before he died and he reads a passage that tells of the creation of man. It is very straight to the point:
Same as ever then. Women blamed for everything by men. Montrose, in drunken anguish, burns the book, which isn’t very helpful. Why did he destroy something that could help them? It seems he is trying to keep secrets hidden.
Meanwhile, Christina Braithwhite is back on the scene and blatantly drives to Leti’s house, tries to get in the front door, but is stopped by the protective spell that the psychic/exorcist placed on the house last week. Surely only spirits would be blocked from entering? But on the surface at least, Christina seems human. We know she is a sorceress, but perhaps she is something more than magic? Is she from another planet?
Christina asks Leti who evicted Hiram (Epstein) the ghost of the evil scientist, leading Leti to quickly work out that it was Christina who gave her the money for the house, and not her mother from beyond the grave. Christina wants something from the house (I am not entirely sure why she didn’t just buy the house herself), an orrery (a mechanical model of the Solar System that illustrates or predicts the relative positions and motions of the planets and moons) but as revealed last week, Hippolyta has taken it into her custody. She’s very fond of all things space-related after all.
At the bookstore that she and George owned, Hippolyta studies the orrery and talks to her father on the phone about the Solar System on this model having two suns. Clearly, it is not the model of the Solar System we live in. The orrery doesn’t work, but there must be a way to get it started, there will be a key in some shape or form no doubt.
Leti is not happy at all with Tic for trying to shoot Christina in broad daylight, which was a very silly thing to do. As Christina said, he may be borne of legacy, but that doesn’t mean he can get away with murder. Nor is she happy that he was going to leave for Florida without telling anyone. He has changed his mind about leaving anyway, now the information that Christina dangled in front of his nose like a carrot puts him on the trail of some missing pages of the Book of Names—pages yet undeciphered that could be a very big deal. Titus Braithewhite stored them in a vault somewhere deep underground. Tic believes that his blood could help him access the vault and that if he could learn the Language of Adam, he could start casting some spells of his own. It really is amazing how much they’ve figured out from so little information.
Now call me a sceptic, but when it comes to magic and spells, people tend to get a bit greedy. Even the most righteous have fallen to the temptation of power. I am not convinced that Tic should be chasing after the missing pages, but he’s never going to listen to me. Or his father, who tries to put him off initially, but gives in without too much hesitation after Leti calls him an asshole. Now, Montrose Freeman knew of his wife’s connection to the Braithwhites long before Tic and Leti did. He has a lot of knowledge stored, as records in the library book tickets confirm. He’s read up on it all and could save them a lot of time chasing their tails. So why doesn’t he want to help? Is Tic just a pawn being played by Christina to get whatever it is she wants? Is Montrose after the same thing?
There’s a young boy in the library (who could be a young Atticus), who keeps telling Tic and Leti to be quiet. Like Tic, his head is stuck in a fantasy book: Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne. So far of all the books we have seen in each episode, there has been a thematic link. It’s no different here. In Jules Verne’s story, a gang of explorers travel to the centre of the earth via a volcano in Iceland, after cracking the code of a runic script along with the name of a 16th-century Icelandic alchemist. The code translates as the following:
Go down into the crater of Snaefells Jökull, which Scartaris’s shadow caresses just before the calends of July, O daring traveler, and you’ll make it to the center of the earth. I’ve done so. — Arne Saknussemm
In Lovecraft Country, Montrose has indeed already learned that the missing pages are likely to be found in a vault in a museum in Boston, about 15 hours drive from Chicago. So Tic, Leti and Montrose get Woody (the car) ready for another long journey. However, Hippolyta is not going to be left behind this time. She’s still very suspicious about what happened to George so decides to join them on their trip, using the Boston Museum’s Astronomy exhibits as an excuse. Diana has to tag along too, and even Tree (Deron J. Powell)—who up to this point has mostly been seen hanging out at Sam’s bar, and grinning inanely at Ruby as she sings (if he were a cartoon, he’d have hearts popping out of his eyes)—tags along on his way to Philadelphia. Later on, he tells Leti he’s called Tree because most men have two legs, but he’s got ‘tree’ (three) clearly referring to the size of his penis. Leti replies that she should already know that as they slept together in high school, putting him firmly in his place about the rumour he spread about her. We know that Leti was telling the truth when she told Tic he was her first. Knowing that Tree is a trouble-causer, should we read any deeper into what he said about Sammy and Montrose spending a lot of time together, implying that Tic’s father might be gay? It will be interesting to see how homophobic discrimination would play out within the Freeman family. Can we expect some hypocrisy from Tic?
Speaking of Ruby; Leti’s sister plucks up the courage to apply for a job at a department store in the city, only to find that a black girl is already working there. She was hired the day before, and Ruby knows full well that her chance has gone. They already have their “token coloured girl” on the counter; they won’t hire any more than they have to, as long as they appear to be progressive that store has done all it needs to. The girl is young with a life of work ahead of her. If only Ruby had gone in one day earlier, it could have been her. It’s quite the blow to Ruby who feels her chances of being anything more than a factory worker and bar singer have run out.
In Boston, things do seem to be much less discriminatory than in the small towns of the Midwest. The museum is free for both black and white people to mingle together. Eyes are not raised at the gang’s presence in the museum, and the security guards are black men, but this doesn’t mean that racism doesn’t exist in Boston. It’s just not as blatant.
Our friends split into groups, with Hippolyta and Diana going to the Astronomy exhibition and Tree going off to find dinosaurs. The museum is quite like the centre of the earth in that respect. As in Jules Verne’s book, treasures are to be found inside, whether it’s dinosaur bones or the relics of ancient civilisations. Leti, Tic and Montrose head to the Titus Braithwhite wing and mull over the collection which is full of items given to Titus from tribes that he travelled to during his voyages. It seems strange that these tribes would give him their treasures seeing that he hated people who weren’t white. I suspect they were acquired rather than gifted.
Tic, Leti and Montrose break into the Braithwhite wing of the museum after dark, and this is where things get a little confusing time-wise. Where did Tree go? Didn’t they tell Hippolyta and Diana where they were going? Anyway, Tic’s love for adventure stories certainly helps him figure out how to open the door to mysterious caverns below. The moon shines through an arched window directly onto the stone crocodile encased tomb, reflecting light onto Titus’ voyager map, which in turn shines a light on the crocodile’s tooth which opens the door. Lucky there was no cloud that night, eh!
Much like the heroes of Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Tic, Leti and Montrose lower themselves, not into a volcano, but through a hole into a cavern with many tunnels. From here on in the story goes full Indiana Jones/Goonies. It’s fun for sure, but kind of baffling. I’m starting to wonder if this is all just a fantasy. In the initial few minutes of Episode 1, we saw Tic dreaming of Cthulhu, war and beautiful alien women. Could all this be a dream too?
Our friends have to walk the slimmest and tallest plank of wood (that would have been one hell of a tree!) that reaches from one side of the cavern to the next. As they make their way across, it turns to sawdust, emptiness chasing after them in the dark until they just about reach the other side and manage to solve the puzzle to enter the door they’ve arrived at. It is fortunate that Montrose read the By-Laws of the Ancient Dawn before he burned it, or the three of them would be dropped into the black nothingness below. On the other side, they’re met with more caves, the seawater rising, giving them only an hour to find the vault and find the missing pages. I don’t even think they considered having to find the way out on top. After a spat between Tic and Montrose, one of Leti’s dead neighbours floats by in the water.
Sorcery must be at play here. The gang have travelled all the way to Boston from Chicago, the best part of 1000 miles and a 15-hour car ride away, only to find themselves underneath Leti’s house. They don’t know that yet, and the waiting elevator doesn’t give it away. Bet they wished they’d known that though; the trip would have been quicker and a lot less deadly.
They finally reach the door to the vault, and as expected, Tic’s blood is the key. A rope ladder drops from above leading our friends into a room above where the skeletons of tribal leaders and their family sit. If you don’t think of One-Eyed Wille from The Goonies during this scene, we can’t be friends. At a desk sits the corpse of a woman holding a scroll. As Tic reaches for the papers, the corpse reanimates, rapidly returning to life as the person she was before she rotted down there. She is a spirit, both male and female (yes this episode has its own Sleepaway Camp moment). Over one hundred years earlier, Titus went looking for those who could read the scriptures and found Yahima (Monique Candelaria). She did decipher some of the text for him, but when she realised he was just greedy and hungry for more power, she refused to do anymore.
Titus promised to return Yahima to her people which he did, but then he killed them all and left her there to rot with them. Impressively, Tic can understand every word Yahima says, despite her language being unknown. He asks the spirit for help, but she will not. She cannot trust him. He is an heir to her captor after all, and they’ve only just met to be fair. Montrose snatches the papers from her hand, which breaks the windows of the room they are in allowing water to gush in, plunging them all deep into the depths below. They make it to the elevator, Leti swims and grabs the scroll in the nick of time, and the four get away in the incredible waterproof elevator. Tic, who never has the right words to say, grabs Leti’s face and kisses her passionately. With that, Yahima lets out an almighty shriek.
Titus cast a spell on her, leaving her unable to speak if she ever escaped the vault. Yahima finally has her freedom, but she’s in a whole new prison. Tic can’t break the spell yet, but he is determined to. He’ll work it out and teach her English. Sadly, Tic will never get the chance, as Montrose visits her room, whispers “sorry” in her ear then slashes her throat, leaving her secrets to die with her.
Why did Montrose kill her? He clearly knows significantly more than he’s letting on. He had been trying to track his wife’s legacy for years before all this happened. Is he power-hungry? Does he want to keep whatever the scrolls have to offer for himself? Or is this just Montrose’s way of protecting his son? Is he protecting him from the truth that he is not really Tic’s father? Was George Tic’s real dad or perhaps someone else entirely—someone he doesn’t want to know?
As surprising as it was that Montrose killed the siren, it was Christina and William that piqued my interest this week.
Christina plays hide and seek in the street with a gang of white kids. She’s like a child herself running around outside and tells a boy that it’s her first time playing hide and seek, she doesn’t know the rules. Is this because she had a strange magical upbringing? Or did she even have a childhood? Is she human at all?
We still haven’t seen Christina and William together. Are they the same person? We saw Christina arrive home, tailed by undercover police officers (sent by the Chief, who does not seem to be happy that Christina is in town). It could appear that Christina arrived home and then sent William out to get rid of the cops. I don’t buy that though; I reckon she shapeshifts into William to get stuff done that only men can. Which, if accurate, makes my next point more curious.
William visits the bar that Ruby is singing at and makes it very clear he is interested in her. Despite her initial misgivings, he does manage to seduce her. Marilyn Manson’s version of “I Put a Spell On You” (a brilliantly sexy cover) plays as the pair get heated and have sex on the stairs of the house he (presumably) shares with Christina. Did he actually put a spell on her? If so that might also allude to William really being Christina, unless he has magical power too.
During the throes of passion, Ruby cuts her hand on an ornament that gets smashed, and William sucks the blood from her hand. If there was anything this wealthy, blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy could do to convince Ruby that he isn’t a racist this would be it. Just what are they after from Leti and her family?
William has scars of a rams head with curling horns tattooed into his chest. Is this a Sons of Adam thing? Or does William belong to another Lodge perhaps? I wonder if Christina has the same scars. We haven’t seen enough of her flesh to know yet.
There is something distinctly unhuman about both Christina and William, something alien even. We saw that Christina had been involved in delivering a Shoggoth baby from an earthly cow. Could she herself be a mix of both human and alien?
Among the influences on Misha Green, Jordan Peele, and J.J. Abrams who created Lovecraft Country for television, was the book Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler, which tells the story of a bond between an alien race and humans. The insect-like aliens impregnate human males on a foreign planet. That is something to keep in mind about the Braithwhites for sure.
I will see you for Episode 5, this time next week. Anything I missed in this episode? Let me know in the comments or on social media.
All images courtesy of HBO