Lovecraft Country S1E8: “Jig-a-Bobo” and Diana’s Topsy-Turvy World
On August 28th 1955, 14-year-old Emmett “Bobo” Till was kidnapped from his Great Uncle’s house in Mississippi by the husband of a white grocery store owner, Carolyn Bryant, and his half-brother. Till had arrived in the neighbourhood just one week earlier on vacation. He had lived with his mother Mamie in Chicago up to then. I can only imagine the regret she must have felt allowing him to go to the Delta, as she would never see him alive again.
Bryant had accused Till of flirting with her when he went into the store; something that just didn’t happen in the South—any suggestion of a black man having sexual relations with a white woman was totally reprehensible. In Till’s case, he wasn’t used to such segregation, as in Chicago things weren’t quite that bad. Till may have made some suggestive remarks, he may have wolf-whistled. He definitely did not touch Carolyn. Nevertheless, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam decided the boy needed to be punished for his actions. They took him from his Great Uncle’s home in the early hours of August 28, drove him from Money to Drew in Mississippi and in a barn they lynched him.
Till’s body was discovered—swollen and disfigured—by two boys fishing in the Tallahatchie River, three days after Till’s abduction and murder. He had been shot in the head, one of his eyes was out of its socket. He had been beaten badly and to top it all off, he had his body weighted by an industrial fan blade that was tied with barbed wire around his neck. His clothes had been removed, the only thing that could identify him was his silver ring with the initials “L. T” and “May 25, 1943” etched into it.
Mamie Till Bradley fought to have her son’s body returned to Chicago rather than quickly buried in Mississippi. She bravely insisted that her son should have an open casket so that everyone could see what those men did to him. She herself had viewed his body to make a positive identification and commented that the smell of his decomposing body in the extreme heat that August was noticeable two blocks away. As the show depicted, tens of thousands of people paid their respects to Till and lined up to see his body outside the mortuary and attended his funeral.
The image below was published in the black newspaper The Chicago Defender and caused waves across America. Till’s murder is counted as a major reason for the start of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s.
It is at Emmett Till’s funeral that Lovecraft Country Episode 8 begins. Leti, Atticus, Ruby, Diana and Montrose all attend to pay their respects. Diana was Emmett’s best friend and we saw him in the earlier episode “Holy Ghost”, playing the Ouija board at Leti’s party. Retrospectively watching him just living his life, with a cheeky smile, completely unaware that his life is about to be horrifically cut short, is heartbreaking. He asks the spirits if he will have a good time on his trip, the lights flicker and the planchette moves violently to ‘No’. The brutality of this crime and his loss, paired with the disappearance of her mother, and death of her father have meant the last few weeks have been traumatic to say the least for Diana, but the horror had only just begun. “Jig-a-Bobo” is the best episode yet—powerful, appalling and downright terrifying.
Needing to escape the intensity of the funeral gathering, Diana wanders the Chicago streets. The evil Captain Lancaster comes across her, has her pinned against a wall demanding to know where her mother is, for he wants her for the murder of his police officer back in Episode 7, Hippolyta’s story. Diana doesn’t know about any of this of course, and her wails of “I can’t breathe” as the white police officer held her down really hit home just how little has changed in America when it comes to police brutality against African Americans, even over 65 years.
Lancaster casts a spell on Diana, spitting on her forehead, cursing her with insanity. The hallucinations begin immediately and are creepy as hell—Diana’s world is turned Topsy-Turvy.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an anti-slavery novel by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe. The book which was published in 1852, changed attitudes toward African Americans and slavery in the U.S. In the story, Eva, a young and wealthy white girl, is saved from drowning by Uncle Tom, a black slave. She encourages her father to buy Tom and he becomes their head Coachman. Eva also befriends Topsy, a young slave girl who has had no education and doesn’t know of her mother, when her birthday is, or about God. She believed she just “growed”. In the early to mid 19th century, Topsy dolls and Topsy-Turvy dolls were produced and were later marketed as Topsy and Eva dolls.
It is said that these dolls were created to prepare black girls to look after both a black and a white baby as they would do as a slave to the white families they worked for. All I know is they are creepy as hell, and even more so when the depictions of Topsy come to life from the book in Diana’s bathroom. Very reminiscent of the doppelganger family in Jordan Peele’s Us they move uncannily, dancing too quickly, too flexibly, like demented rag dolls. Clearly influenced by the caricatures of black children, dubbed ‘pickaninnies’ or ‘jigaboos’ (as the episode title alludes to) depicted with exaggerated racial features. The lips are often clown-like due to how red and thick they are. The subjects are often shown in ragged, if any, clothing. The children’s hair is usually in ratty braids, matted or simply neglected.
This derogatory and mocking imagery was harmful because they propagated a negative image of black children and advanced the idea that they were different. The art style depicts them as animalistic, foolish and dirty. What is interesting to me specifically about these two girls stalking Diana, is that one has painted light skin. If little white children had been depicted in books, advertisements, toys and so on, as unkempt, feral and less than human, they too should have been feared, but of course that would never happen because they are white and white people thought/think they are superior. Likewise, using a black girl with ‘white face’ nods to the grotesque Minstrel shows of the time. The song that plays whenever the girls are present is “Stop Dat Knocking”, which was written and composed in 1847 and performed at Minstrel shows regularly.
Diana is the only person who can see these freakish spectres as they hunt her through the streets of Chicago, clawing ever closer.
So now we know what year it is in Lovecraft Country, at least in this reality. It is August 1955 and the Korean War ended two years earlier. Today is a bad day for Tic as an old flame has arrived in town…Ji-ah the Kumiho spirit. Unfortunately for Tic, she got to Leti before him and now Leti, who is pregnant with Tic’s child, knows all about their strange relationship and her prophecy of Tic’s death.
At the height of Leti’s rage about Tic not telling her about his impending death, Tic admits that he has asked Christina for help in exchange for the key to Hiram’s machine. It perhaps seems a foolish thing for Tic to do; giving her all that power, but he saw what happened to Hippolyta. Perhaps he expects Christina to be whisked away never to be seen again too. Christina shows him a protection spell, which doesn’t seem to be a fair exchange, but Christina isn’t really interested in protecting her cousin; it is Leti, and the child she is carrying that is important to her. Before she leaves Tic mentions the Autumnal Equinox (22/23 September) which stops her dead in her tracks. He asks her what is going to happen and she tells him truthfully of her plan to achieve what no-one of the Order of the Dawn, not even Titus Braithwhite did: immortality.
Christina’s relationship with Ruby is still going strong despite their morphing of race and sex. As William, Christina seduces Ruby, but today Ruby can’t be herself. She takes the potion which turns her into Dell, but it’s not long before the white skin rips off at the heights of passion. I have to say the special effects in these sequences is excellent work. Later Ruby breaks down to Christina—back in her own skin—about how she couldn’t bear to be a black woman having sex with a white man today, on this awful day that Emmett Till was laid to rest. Ruby asks her if she cares about what happened to Till, and Christina admits that no, she does not. She doesn’t care that his murderers will never be brought to justice either (an all-white jury found them not guilty then a year later they admitted the murder but were not able to be tried again due to double-jeopardy laws). She then puts it to Ruby that she doesn’t really care either. That today of all days, she was still a woman who wanted what she wanted. This is where Ruby’s real guilt lies—in the fact that she did want to be with a white man today despite the terrible things white men had done to a defenceless little boy, and all the things white people had done to oppress, segregate and abuse African American’s for centuries.
The Topsy-Turvy girls, as I’ll call them, continue to hunt Diana, following her to Leti’s house in broad daylight. In the street Diana tries to tell Leti that there is something behind her but her voice is taken away, preventing her from speaking. I have watched this creepy scene twice now and twice I have jumped out of my skin at the same place. Woody (the car) is hidden amongst overgrowth at Leti’s house, further proving to Diane that her mother is missing, presumed dead.
The Chicago streets were almost silent as stores shut down for Emmett. Tic comes across his father sitting on the kerbside drinking. He asks him if he cheated on his mother. He didn’t; he had desires but never acted on them. Tic tells Montrose that Leti is pregnant with his son—she hasn’t told him yet. Tic has seen the future as he also went through the portal at the observatory, albeit very briefly. The book he brought back, Lovecraft Country, was written by George Freeman, but not the OG George we assumed. This was Leti and Tic’s son George, all grown up, from the future, there to help save his father’s life with his words. The book was handed to him by a woman in a hood with a robotic arm, who then pushed him back through the portal. This sounds like it could have been Seraphina (was the hood actually hair?!) though really it could be anyone—if anyone loses an arm in the next two episodes that might give us the answer.
Tic tells his father that it is their family story, though some details are different. This is a really nice touch as gives us an explanation for the changes in the series from the original novel. As I said last week, I love a good meta ending. In the book (both in the show and in real life) Christina is a man, George survives Ardham and Diana is a boy named Horace. Given these significant changes, we can expect differences between the ending of this series and the book too. I don’t know what happens in the novel, and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone if I did, plus it’s likely to be a different ending anyway. At the end of Tic’s copy of the book, he is sacrificed by Christina so that she can become immortal. Yet, despite this, I can’t help but feel they are missing Christina’s point. She is fiercely feminist and her battle lies with the patriarchy. I am still not totally sure if she is a true friend or foe even at this late stage of the game, and even with just two episodes left, I cannot predict what will happen at all.
Tic and Montrose have no idea that Hiram’s machine didn’t just take them back or forward in time, but to other duplicate worlds in which we live our lives, making slightly different decisions, each new choice creating another reality. That could easily explain the differences between the Freeman families story in the book and their experiences in the world we are watching. Lovecraft Country could teach Tic what he needs to do or perhaps not to do to survive. Montrose vows to do whatever he can to save his son and grandson and they get to work on the protection spell Christina has given Tic.
Alarm bells ring here for me as Montrose tells Tic that he has dyslexia. It’s a bit of a bombshell to drop when you’re just about to read an incantation spell that could save your son’s life. But Tic seems not to realise the jeopardy here. I am not totally convinced that Montrose is telling the truth anyhow. We know he is keeping a secret, but we don’t know why. Did he fake dyslexia as an excuse to get the spell wrong? If this is the case, he must know something pretty big to choose not to protect his only son.
In despair at learning that her true love Tic is likely to die soon, Leti summons Christina to meet her at church and offers the photo negatives of the missing pages of the Book of Names if she will make Tic invulnerable. Christina refuses but says that she will do that for her, not him. Presumably put there from when Leti was resurrected from the dead, the Mark of Cain blisters and bubbles on her skin as Christina recants magic. She tells Leti that she was the first to realise that her father’s invulnerability spell could be used to heal someone.
Meanwhile, Diana—who is a complete badass—storms into Captain Lancaster’s office at the precinct to demand answers about her mother. He tells he will remove the curse if she brings him the orrery from Leti’s house. She refuses, tells him to “f*ck off pig” and spits on his chest. With dignity she glides out of his office, the words said by 11-year-old Naomi Wadler at the March For Our Lives event on March 24 2018, accompany her. Total same energy:
“I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news. I represent the African American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.
It is my privilege to be here today. I am, indeed, full of privilege. My voice has been heard. I am here to acknowledge their stories, to say they matter, to say their names because I can, and I was asked to be.
For far too long these names, these black girls and women have been just numbers. I’m here to say ‘NEVER AGAIN’ for those girls, too. I am here to say that everyone should value those girls too.
People have said that I am too young to have these thoughts on my own. People have said that I am a tool of some nameless adult. It’s not true.
My friends and I might still be 11 and we might still be in elementary school, but we know. We know life isn’t equal for everyone and we know what is right and wrong. We also know that we stand in the shadow of the Capital and we know that we have seven short years until we too have the right to vote.
So, I am here today to honour the words of Toni Morrison. ‘If there’s a book that you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.’
I urge everyone here and everyone who hears my voice to join me in telling the stories that aren’t told. To honour the girls, the women of colour who are murdered at disproportionate rates in this nation. I urge each of you to help me write the narrative for this world and understand so that these girls are never forgotten.
Thank you.” – Extract from speech by Naomi Wadler at March For Our Lives
In perhaps the most poignant moment of Lovecraft Country so far, we see Christina standing on a boardwalk at night, alongside a river. Two men that she has hired for this reason beat her brutally then shoot her twice, before tying her neck with barbed wire and attaching it to an industrial fan which the men throw into the water, dragging her body down with it. This is exactly what happened to Emmett Till when he was just 14—just think about that for a second. Christina is resurrected quickly, healed by the Mark of Cain on her own body, so why did she do this? Did she take on board what Ruby said to her about never being able to understand how it feels to be an African American? Putting herself in Emmett’s shoes may have given her insight into the horror of what the boy felt. But even then she couldn’t truly experience the fear the boy must have had. She knew this was coming, Emmett didn’t have a clue.
It makes me wonder about Christina’s supposed quest for immortality. If she can survive a brutal murder already, then surely she is already as immortal as she needs to be? No, I am sure there is something more that Christina wants—perhaps the opposite of immortality, to be a mortal?
In Leti’s darkroom, Ruby admits her relationship with Christina. Ruby seems to be naively smitten with the promise of better things for her, not seeing the bigger picture. Captain Lancaster arrives with a warrant but can’t get through the door because of the protection spell guarding it. Now knowing that Lancaster is involved with magic, he decides to spray the house with bullets instead. They bounce off Leti as the Mark of Cain has her covered and she’s not the only one protected from monsters.
Tic arrives home to find the cops shooting the place out, then turn their guns on him. One pulls the trigger but before the bullet can reach him, one of Christina’s pet Shoggoths arrives to take them all down. It is a massacre that the cops don’t stand a chance to win. It even appears that Lancaster has been ripped to shreds by the beast. Could that really be the end of him?
Of all the horrible things to happen this episode, however, it is the moment that the Topsy-Turvy girls catch up with Diana that shook me the most. Lured to her parent’s bookstore, she tries her best to fight them off. Montrose sees her battling with nothing and holds her back, unwittingly gifting Diana to the spectres who slash at her with their creepily long fingernails, slashing her wrist and her neck. Will Diana survive this? Can Hippolyta return home to save her baby?
With just two episodes to go the story really could go anywhere. The Autumnal Equinox is just five days away, so the clock is ticking for Tic. He should perhaps take comfort in the fact that he has some mighty women around him, including Christina, who may have just saved his life. Did the protection spell work on Tic? Or did Christina train her pets to keep Tic alive, not because she cares for him, but because she needs him for her plans?
I’ll see you next week for Lovecraft Country Episode 9.