Well that escalated quickly.
Welcome back to Lovecraft Country. We’re diving into the second episode in our recap and review series. Did the second episode live up to the pilot? Let’s find out.
The story so far…
In “Whitey’s on the Moon,” Tic, Leti, and George find themselves in the comfort on the gigantic Braithewhite lodge. Leti and George are quick to succumb to the material pleasures (accompanied by Ja’Net DuBois “Movin’ On Up”). Tic is less inclined and more suspicious, particularly given he seems to be the only one with a recollection of the Shoggoth attack the night before.
The trio is guided by and managed by William. He tries to pacify them until a specific event, but Tic’s compulsion to uncover his father’s location makes that difficult. Tic, Leti, and George visit the village of Ardham to find Montrose, Tic’s father, but Tic’s increasingly erratic behavior alarms his companions. Their memory loss only makes it appear that Tic is suffering from PTSD from his time in Korea. Following the sound of a whistle like the one heard in the woods, the trio stumbles onto a stone tower where it is obvious Montrose is being held. They are confronted, however, by a tiny, racist dog-keeper who manages to force them out of the area.
On their return from the village, George recalls something Tic’s mother had mentioned, about her ancestor, Hannah, who escaped her master’s home during a fire. The Braithwhite Lodge is a replica of the old lodge which burned down, and the ancestral Titus Braithwhite, a slave owner, is the likely source of Atticus’ own birthright to the Braithwhite family. After this revelation, they are saved from another Shoggoth attack by none other than Christina Braithwhite, who has bailed out the crew several times.
As the trio awaits the part in the planned event concerning the Order of the Ancient Dawn, who George learns about when he finds his way into a massive library, they are beset by psychological tortures and observed by the old, white members of the order in the lodge. George and Atticus are later invited to a dinner to celebrate the upcoming ritual Samuel Braithwhite has planned. There George and Atticus, having pieced together Atticus’ role in the ritual to open a portal to Eden, exert Atticus’s authority as the repository of the ancestral Braithwhite’s power as a direct descendent of Titus.
Able to get to the stone silo and rescue Montrose, finally, the mission almost goes south until Leti saves them from the dog-keeper. They then uncover Montrose’s secret escape tunnel, meeting him outside. The reunion isn’t happy as Montrose is a difficult father and explains he wrote his letter out of duress. In the escape from Ardham over the bridge, they smash into an invisible force field, wrecking the car the procured for the escape.
There, Leti and George are shot by Samuel who forces Tic to comply with the ritual. Christina, in the preparation for the ritual, commiserates with Tic and gives him a ring that seems to have been tampered with. The ritual itself channels energy through Tic’s body and opens a gateway, not to Eden, but what might be the past. Tic sees his ancestor, Hannah fully pregnant, and the ritual backfires, destroying Titus and the other members of the Order of the Dawn before collapsing the entire lodge. Atticus makes it out by following the path and vision of his ancestor, Hannah, who seems to be holding a special book.
Regrettably, however, George succumbs to his gunshot during the escape from the lodge and lies dead in the back of the car, cradled by Montrose.
How it worked out…
The second episode continues the “fun” streak established in the first episode but delivers little in the way of horror which might be disappointing for some Lovecraft fans. We get moments of full-on Magick including spells, rituals, and runic markings. It does establish fun mysticism in the show and though we do not spend a lot of time in Ardham, the village itself felt sufficiently time-locked. There is a lot of cool stuff referenced or caught in fleeting glimpses in the episode but little in the way of establishing mood or tension. Everything was so breezy and quick that ultimately the episode suffered. There was a lot that happened in this episode but by the end, I just felt like I had been denied a solid three or four-episode arc. The pacing of this hour was bizarre to me mashing in what seems to be what might account for an entire half-season in some other show to about one hour of run time.
The end result is not entirely pleasant. The reference to other chapters of the Order is a good sign, but to just kind of blow through the setting and some creepy intrigue seems to be a symptom of the Bad Robot-style of production. I mentioned last week that there was an Abramsification of Lovecraft and sadly the second episode seems to have doubled down on it. Thankfully, the show’s addressing of race and racism continues to be the strong-point.
Lovecraft’s work really only succeeds due to sustained tension. In that regard, Lovecraft Country is succeeding strictly because of how it is handling the anxieties around being black. Every interaction between Tic’s group and the white residents of Ardham carries that tension that grows and becomes horrifying. The monsters and magick end up as just fun window dressing, but it comes off as cartoonish than mysterious and mind-blowing.
The introduction of Michael Kenneth Williams and seeming departure Courtney B. Vance feels like a strange turn. Tic already has enough to deal with, killing off his uncle (and possible father) in order to bring in his emotionally distant father (who is possibly not his real father) just feels pointless. In a series driven so heavily by men of color, it feels needlessly cruel to eliminate one of the characters so suddenly. At least Game of Thrones used Sean Bean for a whole season. Courtney B. Vance gets dropped in episode two. There is probably a larger plan involved in George’s fate and we’ll probably be seeing him again in the season, but not having read the book and watching the show as a casual viewer, I can’t help but feel annoyed at what seems like an unnecessary death. I am looking forward to Michael Kenneth Williams in the weeks ahead, though.
Too bad it came at the cost of a such a strong character.
The reliance on CGI in the first two episodes is a problem as the artificiality of the show proves to be a bit too much in week two. Dodgy CGI involving a groin-snake and sweeping camera moves around the Braithwhite estate detracted from, rather than enhanced the story being told. CGI on a TV budget can look good, but the second episode missed the mark, wildly, seemingly pouring most resources into the Shoggoths and Tic’s dream sequence in episode one. The ritual sequence and subsequent destruction of the estate failed to impress.
The second episode stumbles with the monsters and mayhem but continues to handle the anxiety and trauma of the Jim Crow south with panache. At this point though, the series may be Lovecraft in name only. I rate Lovecraft Country‘s second episode “Whitey’s on the Moon” three Cthulhus.(3 / 5)
A lot of biblical references this week among other references to the Lovecraft canon and other literary works.
- Montrose directly mentions the Necronomicon before he is corrected by George.
- I am unsure how inspired by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (and Alastair Crowley) the show’s Order of the Ancient Dawn is inspired by, but given the pageantry, I’d argue this is very much a direct reference.
- Yes, that was a Wicker Man in Ardham.
- The Jeffersons theme still slaps. The show’s usage of anachronistic music is a wonderful touch. Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey’s on the Moon” punctuates the ritual scene. Quite a fitting mashup and brilliant, biting satire. Marilyn Manson’s “Killing Strangers” also really sells the trauma at the bridge.
- A reference to The Count of Monte Cristo is made when Tic’s Trio uncovers Montrose’s escape tunnel from the stone silo in Ardham. George references it directly.
- The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson is mentioned directly by George as he is dancing with the illusion of Dora. It also seems to have inspired the plot of this episode.
- Weird fiction authors mentioned/referenced in this episode include Algernon Blackwood and Clark Ashton Smith.
- The biblical allusion to the snake and Eve shouldn’t be hard to miss, particularly when one interprets the snake as a phallic symbol as many scholars have.
- The biblical verse Genesis 2:19 drives part of the plot. It is also the title of a painting in the show by “Joseph Tannhauser,” but in reality, the painting is “The Naming of the Animals” by John Miles.
Do you think I might have been too harsh with Lovecraft Country? Let us know in the comments.