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Lovecraft Country: Episode 8 Review

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The eighth episode of Lovecraft Country opens on a scene of real-life horror. It’s a sweltering hot day in Chicago, as a mass of parishioners gather from across the city to pay respects to a boy whom many of them never knew in life, but to his close friends simply went by the name “Bobo.” Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” can be heard playing over the scene, and what a cruel summer it is, as people can be seen filing out of the building, visibly weeping and some even vomiting from what they’ve just witnessed. The stench of sweat and death chokes the air. “Jig-A-Bobo” is a story about loss and grief, horror and hatred, hope and reconciliation. It’s a story about the ways people come together and how they break apart. It’s an episode cast in the long shadow of Emmett Till’s murder, a murder which continues to loom over the collective conscience of America through the many reincarnations of it we see in our present day.It’s been a week since Hippolyta’s fateful trip to Mayfield and subsequent disappearance at the end of last week’s episode, and the series’ attention naturally turns to her daughter Diana, Atticus’ cousin, to serve as this week’s point-of-view protagonist. While for the most part relegated to the sidelines for the majority of Lovecraft Country’s most pivotal moments, Jada Harris’ performance as Diana— “Dee”— has always been a bright spot whenever her character has made an appearance: Talented, sensitive, intuitive— the spitting image of her father and mother. And that’s precisely what makes this week’s episode in particular so devastating, for how it dispenses, albeit only momentarily, with its pulp horror fiction trappings to lay attention to the brand of intimate horror that has the power to shape a young person for the rest of their life.

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Dee has suffered and lost more than most of the rest of Lovecraft Country’s main cast have ever, and endured more than what any young woman her age ought to. Her father, dead; her mother, vanished; and now her dear friend Bobo, lynched in such a way so heinous as to deny him any semblance of dignity or humanity in death. “Ain’t no getting around this,” Montrose tells Ruby as they wait in line to view Till’s body. “[It’s] every negro’s rite of passage in this country, child or not.” Harris is heartbreaking in this episode, convincingly portraying the struggles of a girl saddled with both an unspeakable amount of grief, but assailed by predatory forces both mundane and supernatural that would just as soon claim her own life as they would the lives of everyone she knows and loves.

Stricken with anguish, Dee escapes from the crowd of parishioners and the attention of her elders to be alone with her grief. Fuming and helpless with impotent rage, Dee walks down the same street we last saw in episode five, “Strange Case,” before promptly being cornered and interrogated by Police Captain Lancaster (Mac Brandt) as to the whereabouts of her mother. Frustrated and seeking retribution for the destruction of Hiram’s machine, Lancaster hexes Dee— cursing her to be hounded by two malevolent, homicidal apparitions patterned after “pickaninny” caricatures who are invisible to everyone else around her until her dying breath.

The image of the pickaninny and its adjacent cousin, the “Jim Crow” character invented by minstrel performer Thomas “Dartmouth” Rice, was created in part out of retaliation for the Confederacy’s defeat at the American Civil War, an aesthetic designed to stigmatize and infantilize an entire race of people as a means of reassuring white audiences of their own assumptions of superiority. Lovecraft Country’s take on the stereotype is the most explicitly Jordan Peele-esque creative decision of the series thus far, transforming the caricature into a pair of antagonists that feel like a hellacious mash-up of the Grady twins from The Shining, Freddy Kruger, the creature from David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 horror film It Follows, and the Tethered from 2019’s Us. The result is deeply unsettling, with Dee scrambling to find a solution for her curse all while being stalked by two leering, Chelsea smiling murderers maniacally dancing and gyrating in step to a warped version of A. F. Winnemore’s 1847 minstrel song “Stop Dat Knocking.” It’s an intense, episode-spanning cat-and-mouse game whose conclusion is sure to stay with viewers long after the credits roll.We, the audience, never see Emmett Till’s body. But Ruby does. The experience of witnessing Bobo’s body shakes her so thoroughly to her core that, at a loss for what to do, she returns to the last place where she knew some semblance of comfort and freedom: Christina’s home. Imbibing the serum that endows her with whiteness, Ruby and Christina— in the form of William— embrace one another in an act of carnal passion whose subsequent climax rivals that of American Gods’ Bilquis love scene for the ghastliest literal depiction of the expression “La petite mort” ever put to television.

Sex and death are two of the most powerful motivating forces of human life and, as a black woman occupying the form of a white woman, Ruby throws herself desperately into an embrace of the former as a means of escaping her grief and fear of the latter. It’s a powerful scene, one made all the more so for the tense post-coitus confrontation between the two where Ruby pointedly asks Christina if she at all cares, or even feels a semblance of the pain and anger Ruby feels for what happened to Emmett Till. Christina’s answer is as predictable as it is bracing, not only how openly she flaunts her callous indifference for Till’s death, but for how it surgically pierces the veil of Ruby’s preconceptions about herself and her own desires like a serrated knife through tissue paper. In the end, Ruby is once again left alone with no-one but herself, speechless with frustration and fuming sorrow.

Last week, we saw a collection of the many lies Lovecraft Country’s characters tell each other, and themselves, in order to esca[e the pain that comes with truth. In this week’s episode, we finally see those lies laid bare, starting with Atticus and Leti. It was only a matter of time before Leti learned about Atticus and Ji-ah’s relationship, but the way in which she does leaves little to no room for Atticus to come out the other side looking like an honest partner. Leti knows love when she sees it from across the table, Ji-ah attempts to relate the premonition of Atticus’ death she experienced the last time they were together. The subsequent barrage of character beats that follows, from Atticus callously rebuffing Ji-ah’s act of love, to Leti and him shouting each other down, to Atticus stubbornly storming off to “fix” the situation on his own in spite of Leti’s wishes, is as heartbreaking as it is a much-needed moment of transparency between all three of the characters present. When Atticus tells Leti through tears that they are surrounded by monsters, and that he has no choice but to do what he is doing in the interest of securing their future together, you can tell he’s that he’s not really talking about Christina Braithwaite, or even the Order of the Ancient Dawn— he’s talking about a world that would just as soon as take the life of a black boy from his family and loved ones as it would then attempt to convince those who would mourn his death that his life never mattered to begin with.The fear of bringing a life into this world is what ultimately brings Atticus and Montrose back together. After last week’s episode, it’d have been entirely reasonable to believe that the emotional gulf between Atticus and his father was irreconcilable. Too much has been said between the two, two much pain has been transacted. Atticus can’t even stand to accept a small conciliatory gesture from his father in the form of a cup of water on a hot summer day. It’s not the bond between a father and son that brings the two together. It’s a bond between a father and a father-to-be. We finally learn that the copy of “Lovecraft Country” that Atticus was holding after he fell out of the rift generated by Hiram’s machine is from the future, and that the person who wrote that book was not Atticus’s uncle, but his son: George Freeman, named for the uncle who loved Atticus like his own son.

Every adaptation in some form or another exists in conversation with its source material. What makes Lovecraft Country’s particular example significant in this case is that it contextualizes the actual text itself as a material artifact in the series’ narrative. “It’s our family story,” Atticus tells Montrose back at his apartment. “Some of the details are different; Christina’s a man, Uncle George survives Ardham, and Dee’s a boy— named Horace.” It’s an moment of textual, existential, and emotional reflexivity, both for the characters on-screen and the audience watching it, one that not only convinces Montrose to help his son cast a spell to protect him and their family from the threats soon to come, but convinces Atticus in turn to accept that help.

While the spell itself appears unsuccessful, the scene of Atticus and Montrose attempting to conjure it together is an endearing and intimate one, made all the more so for its mention of Montrose’s dyslexia— a character detail that was introduced fairly early on in the original novel, but only now revealed in the HBO series. Atticus asks if Montrose is keeping any other secrets from him, and for a moment we can see Montrose pause to search his feelings, as if deliberating whether or not to tell his son the truth about his “uncle” George, only to decide against it. Even with all that’s already transpired between them, there are still some things that are just better left unsaid. For now, at least.

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The penultimate scene of “Jig-A-Bobo” is one of the most harrowing in the entire episode. Christina Braithwhite has proven herself to be a devious, deliberate, and acutely decisive antagonist throughout the entirety of Lovecraft Country so far. As she tells Atticus earlier in the episode, magic isn’t just about the words, it’s about the intention behind them. It’s a discipline she’s honed over the course of a lifetime. So what exactly was her intention in recreating the murder of Emmett Till? We watch as Christina, standing on a pier dock, is subjected to a rough equivalent of the type of barbarity Till was subjected to in the final moments of his life: beaten, shot to death, lynched with barbed wire tied to a cotton gin fan and dragged into a lake— before promptly being resurrected by her Mark of Cain, crawling back onto the pier and gasping for breath amid fits of weeping.

Why did she do this, when a couple hours ago she told Ruby to her face that she couldn’t have cared less about Emmett’s life or death? For that matter, why did Captain Lancaster go to the trouble of cursing Dee, when he could have just as easily killed her himself and disposed of her body right there on the spot? The answer to both questions is likely the same reason why Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam lynched Emmett Till on little more than the baseless accusation of having whistled at a white woman— which is simply: because they could. Christina is an insatiable seeker of knowledge, be it forbidden or carnal, believing that no earthly or unearthly experience should be denied to her. “Most men with God complexes want to live in heaven and not hell,” she tells Leti earlier on in the episode. “Failing to understand that God is both.” Christina’s ambition and drive is what makes her the most immediate threat to the continued safety of Atticus and his family, and if what we’ve seen and learned throughout this episode is true, her ultimate aim is now finally within reach.

The shootout at Leti’s house is an appropriately explosive finale to an emotional powderkeg of an episode. Having earlier been endowed with her own Mark of Cain by Christina in exchange for the photos of Titus’ pages from the Book of Names, Leti is shielded from the bullets fired by Lancaster and his men, watching helplessly through tears as the home she worked so tirelessly to build is ventilated in a hail of gunfire. Atticus, however, is not so fortunate. Happening upon the scene of the raid and helpless to stop it, an officer spots him and fires his gun prematurely. Just as the bullet reaches striking distance of Atticus, a Shoggoth erupts from the depths of the asphalt, shielding its master with a guttural roar. It’s an impressive action sequence and one of the series’ most thrilling capstones, as the creature proceeds to ferociously lay waste to the entire squad of police officers, flinging their battered bodies and squad cars to and fro with reckless abandon. The spell worked, Atticus and his family are safe for now; but at what cost? Whether he intended to or not, Atticus has just declared open war on the Chicago branch of the Order of the Ancient Dawn. The wolves are at the door; there is no turning back now.

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