Christina’s ritual is a success, but only temporarily. To fully cure Dee of the curse placed on her by Captain Lancaster, Atticus and co. will need the Book of Names— long since destroyed in the fires that decimated Greenwood on the night of the Tulsa Massacre. With no other recourse, the group journey to Hiram’s observatory in order to travel back in time and retrieve it. The scene of Hippolyta repairing Hiram’s machine and tearing a rift through space-time back to the eve of the Tulsa Massacre feels like a story beat straight out of Bioshock: Infinite, sans the ham-handed jingoistic stereotypes, as Atticus, Leti, and Montrose make the quantum leap backward in time in their quest to save Dee’s life. As was briefly mentioned in our review of Lovecraft Country’s sixth episode, the depiction of the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 in episode 1 of HBO’s Watchmen series was, for many viewers, their first introduction to that historic and horrifying event, and Lovecraft Country attempts to top that depiction by not only thrusting its cast and audience into the maw of the fray, but immersing them in the magnitude of what happened in order to understand the fullness of what was lost in the carnage and fires of that terrible night.
While Atticus and Leti certainly lead as the two most prominent protagonists of the series, the star of “Rewind 1921” is undoubtedly Montrose. After all that Montrose has been through throughout the course of the series—- being kidnapped by the Braithwhites in order to lure his son to Ardham, facing monstrous demons and life-threatening situations beyond his imagination— Atticus’ father is now forced to relive the one of the most traumatic and consequential moments of his entire life.
As Atticus, Leti, and Montrose pass through the streets of downtown Greenwood, we see Montrose walk as if he’s experiencing an out-of-body euphoria of indescribable relief and guilt. Here he is, with over a lifetime’s worth of knowledge and experience and the power to resolve his most deep-seated regrets, and he’s somehow still incapable of doing anything about them or even protecting his loved ones from harm. Michael K. Williams’ performance is captivating, convincingly portraying a man stumbling through his own history and pained by the reopening of emotional wounds he had suppressed in order to heal. Majors, to his credit, is an equally compelling partner to Williams in these scenes, as a son exasperated and resentful towards an emotionally absent father who, as it turns out, may not even be his real father to begin with.
The scene outside of Montrose and George’s childhood home, as Atticus, Leti, and Montrose watch as a younger version of Montrose is beaten and whipped by Atticus’ grandfather, is a bracing one to stomach. As we witness the scene a young man being publicly brutalized and shamed by his father for his supposed effeminacy, and the older version of that same man meekly attempting to reason with himself and others as to why he deserved to be beaten, we see the roots of Montrose and Atticus’ own tortured relationship laid bare. After all that has happened, all that’s been said and done between them, the act of witnessing his own father being beaten by his grandfather may be the only thing that could compel Atticus to reluctantly sympathize with Montrose in spite of the years of abuse between them. There is more sorrow and pain present in that one scene alone than what can be adequately conveyed in words, and it’s a tremendous emotional lynchpin not just for this week’s episode, but for the entire series as a whole.
There’s a wealth of little nuances peppered throughout the episode that bring the longstanding tragedy of Montrose and Atticus’ situation into salient focus. From the single teardrop that streams down Atticus’ cheek as he watches his mother walk back inside her family home, to Montrose recounting one of the greatest regrets of his life to his son as they watch the story play out before their very eyes, to Montrose tearfully confessing to Atticus that, although he long ago acknowledged the possibility that Atticus might not be his biological son, there is nothing Montrose wanted more in his life than to be his father. It’s a genuinely beautiful scene, the latest in a long line of terrific performances between two actors operating at the height of their craft, capped by a climactic revelation that brings a familial story of perseverance, defiance, and salvation in the face of unremitting American horror full circle.To her credit, Jurnee Smollett is no slouch in this episode either. While Majors and Williams carry the bulk of the emotional weight in “Rewind 1921,” Leti bears the burden of her own emotional journey through not only the open admission of her pregnancy to Atticus, but her impassioned plea to his maternal great-grandmother to entrust her with the Book of Names. “When my great, great-grandson is born,” Atticus’ great-grandmother says as she hands Leti the book, “He will be my faith turned flesh.” Leti’s survival, and the survival of her child, means much more than either of their lives; it is the endurance of a hope entrusted to her by generations spurned and forgotten by the annals of history, beating forward undeterred by the senseless violence that surrounds her.
As Leti walks through the decimated streets of Greenwood, impervious to the flames lapping at her heels, Sonia Sanchez’s 1994 poem “Catch the Fire” can be heard playing over the scene. It’s a powerful piece punctuating an equally powerful moment, as Atticus and co. manage to safely escape the onslaught and return to their own time. With the Book of Names now safely in hand, Dee’s survival can be secured, and the final, fateful confrontation with Christina Braithwhite is nearly at hand.