‘Lovecraft Country’ Debuts Haunting New Episode (TV REVIEW)

Rating: B+

“Holy Ghost”

One of the bigger lingering questions I’ve had surrounding Lovecraft Country was how the series was going to handle the book’s framework. Matt Ruff’s original novel was something of an anthology, telling several stories surrounding the same group of people, each with a Lovecraftian bent.

This is something that H.P. Lovecraft himself did quite well. We tend to think of the shared universe approach to storytelling as something new and novel, but part of the lasting appeal of the Lovecraft is deciphering all the hidden connections between his stories and his characters and how those work together to create a larger mythos.

That’s nothing new these days; Marvel has created a billion dollar a year empire based on that conceit, and so it’s something we’re all well familiar with. Lovecraft was a bit of a pioneer in that regard (although arguments can be made that this type of storytelling is as old as storytelling itself, but I digress) which explains Ruff’s thematic framework for his novel. Whether that would work as well on television as it did there, however, remained a big question mark.

And now we know. With episode three, “Holy Ghost,” we’ve gotten our first glimpse at what this series is, ultimately, going to look like. In terms of internal logic, the episode is set about month after the events of “Whitey’s on the Moon.” Tic’s family is still reeling from the death of Uncle George, and Tic himself hasn’t been able to leave Chicago to head back to his life in Florida.

But that’s not the focus here. This episode aims its lens directly at Leti, who has become a pioneer and bought a house in a white neighborhood on the north side. Her plan is to establish a boarding house for the Black community to help people both get on their feet and better themselves. Her white neighbors, of course, have things to say about that.

What was brilliant about this story in the series was seeing how there really is nowhere to turn for Tic, Leti, and their families. Any trip outside of their set neighborhoods is inviting danger or even death at the hands of White America. It’s enough to wonder why they even need to worry about monsters in the series at all, except they handle them both so well.

In this case, Leti’s new house is haunted. Even with as played out as haunted house stories are becoming, showing Misha Green manages to give us a ghost story with power and resonance with relevance to the larger themes of the series. The ghosts that haunt her are the spirits of African Americans murdered by a white man, whose spirit also haunts the home and is none too happy with her presence.

The real tension of the episode comes via the harassment they endure from their neighbors, however. It starts early, with three young white men who tie bricks to their car horns and leave them parked outside the house. Much of the episode features the continuous honking in the background, giving neither the characters nor the audience any real respite or chance to relax.

It’s another genius way the show puts us into the shoes of its characters. If we’re annoyed by the honking in the background, how must they feel? This, by the way, was a tactic frequently used in the 50s and 60s. Even if there wasn’t a law against an African American family living in a particular neighborhood, neighbors sure could make it untenable for them to live there. And police would rarely intervene.

Which they didn’t here. Not until Leti had finally had enough, however. Even with the incessant honking, she and her tenants were making do. They even throw what looks to be a pretty spectacular party. At least, it is until someone ignites a cross on their front lawn. Even with all the creepy ghost imagery in the episode up to this point, this was one of the scariest moments of the episode. It also led to its most badass.

Finally fed up, Leti grabs a baseball bat and trashes the everloving fuck out of the cars parked in front of her house, removing the bricks in the process. Jurnee Smollett has been consistently bad as hell through this season’s three episodes, but she was downright magnificent and powerful here. It was impossible not to cheer, even as the sirens from the cops that were inevitably coming got louder and closer. She knew what was coming. We all did. But when all you have are tiny moments of justice, you cling to it where you can.

Well, “justice” is, I guess, a loose concept here. It’s not just that Leti was arrested. It’s not just that her complaints were ignored. It’s certainly not just that the cops are joining in on the terrorist campaign to get her to sell the house and leave the neighborhood, even if that means slamming her around in the back of the car. Leti, like so many members of the Black community, can’t get real justice.

Which ties in directly to the haunting. There was no justice for the souls of the men and women murdered in that house by its previous owners. Not until Leti came, anyway. She’s the type of woman who takes what’s hers and won’t let anyone stop her. Not even a ghost. Or many ghosts.

The exorcism scene was, thus far, the scariest “traditional” horror scene that Lovecraft Country has given us thus far. Watching Tic become possessed, and the effects the show used to show it, were genuinely terrifying. Added to that was the repetition of, “Get the fuck out of my house, bitch.” The whole thing was a skin crawling nightmare. It was made even more beautiful as the ghosts of the dead African Americans joined hands with Leti, not to run her off, but to help her. Together, they had the power to remove the maliciously racist presence haunting her.

It was a beautiful moment, one that served to right the wrong that no one in charge felt needed righting. It also tied in wonderfully with the larger explorations of the series. In the end, time and again, we’ve seen how powerful the Black men and women of this series are when they come together. From destroying the Braithewhite compound to exorcising malevolent ghosts, it’s in their unity that they find power.

And, incidentally, the anthological nature of the story definitely translates well to the screen. In truth, Ruff’s novel was always going to be a hard one to adapt, but Green has shown us all how it’s done. For those wondering about the central mystery introduced in the first two episodes, don’t worry. Ruff tied up all loose ends in his novel and the show is clearly great hands.

Lovecraft Country airs Sunday nights on HBO.

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