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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.

Atticus meets Christina’s father, Samuel Braithwhite

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.

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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.

Magickal sigils mark the invisible barrier out of Ardham

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.

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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.

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3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)
Christina’s ring seems to have tampered with Samuel’s ritual

Miskatonic Musings

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.

David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

Movies n TV

Fallout, The Beginning

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We’ve now reached the end of Fallout, season one. As I mentioned during the last review, I was heartily concerned that this show, like so many others, was going to drop the ball at the finale and ruin an entire season.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. This episode was everything it needed to be and more.

Let’s discuss.

The story

We begin our story with Maximus returning to the Brotherhood of Steel compound. He has a head, which he is claiming is the real head of Wilzig.

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I don’t know why he thought that was going to work.

Of course, it doesn’t. The elder cleric is about to kill Maximus until Dane says that they hurt their foot.

Because of this, the Brotherhood is sent out to get the head. Or rather, what’s inside of it. They head to the city run by Moldaver. This happens to be the same place Lucy and The Ghoul are headed.

Still from Amazon Prime's Fallout.

There, Lucy does manage to find her father. What she ends up finding is so much more than she wanted to find.

What worked

The first thing I have to discuss is how seamlessly the storylines of the series combined.

Each of our four main characters has been on their own journey. Lucy is trying to save her father. Maximus wants to become a knight. The Ghoul wants to find his family. Norm wants to know what’s going on in Vault 31.

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I sure wasn’t expecting all of these stories to come together in the way that they did. And to preserve the ending, I don’t dare say more. I will only say that yes, all four stories tie in perfectly with one another. By the end, two characters end up having the very same goal.

As I hinted before, I did not see the twist ending coming.

Ella Purnell in Fallout.

Yes, we might have guessed some things from the last episode. We of course guessed that Lucy’s dad was involved in some nefarious and probably sci-fi way. But the way this story twists at the end is nothing short of serpent-like. Which is why I cannot go into too much detail here. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to experience it blind.

Finally, I can give the Fallout season finale the most important praise I can ever give a finale. It did its number one job, getting us excited for season two. We have answers, but now we have new and more exciting questions. And even better, we have a desire to see vengeance done.

What didn’t work

Now that the season is done, though, I can bring up something that bothered me through all eight episodes.

I don’t buy Lucy and Maximus’s relationship.

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Maybe because it’s rushed. Maybe because the two actors don’t have a lot of chemistry. Maybe it’s because I’m not sure even now either character could tell you a single thing about the other. There is just no spark between the two. So their love story feels tacked on. I honestly feel like their love story could have been removed from the show entirely and it would have no negative impact.

I also didn’t buy Dane’s confession. This is a minor spoiler, but it comes up early in the episode. Dane confesses that they hurt their foot so that they wouldn’t have to go into the wastelands.

And at first, I kept expecting Maximus to thank them later. I honestly thought that they were just lying to save Maximus’s life. But no, as it turns out, they were not.

But it just doesn’t make sense. The motivations don’t jive. I honestly think it would have been better for the story if they had lied to save Maximus’s life.

At least then there’d be one other Brother of Steel who had some nobility.

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In the end, this first season of Fallout was everything I could ask for. So far as I can tell, it was everything fans of the Fallout franchise could ask for. There wasn’t a bad episode in the bunch. Honestly, the only real complaint I had was that the season was so short.

I’ll be counting down the days to season two, and I hope you’ll be joining me then. Because war, war never changes.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If you like my work, you can check out my latest science fiction/horror novel, Nova, launching on May 17th. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon.

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Fallout, The Radio

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Episode seven of Amazon’s Fallout is the penultimate episode. This is often when a series goes off the rails and starts to mess things up. After being burned so often recently, I was apprehensive when this episode began.

Thankfully, this was a fear that did not come to pass. And so far, Fallout’s finale is doing just fine.

Lana the dog in Fallout.

The story

A lot happened in this episode, so we’re just going to skim over some of the more important storylines. We’ll start with Lucy and Maximus, in Vault 4. Lucy has discovered what she believes is a secret collection of monsters. But of course, it turns out that it’s simply people that the vault dwellers discovered and are trying to help heal. But her meddling around was enough for them to kick her out of the vault. With two weeks’ worth of food and water, of course.

But Maximus assumes they’re going to do something much worse. And so he steals their power coil to fight through the perfectly innocent people and save Lucy.

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Meanwhile, we dive further into The Ghoul’s past, when he was still Western star Cooper.

After attending a Communist meeting, he’s approached by Lee Moldaver. She suggests that Vault Tech is hiding something, something terrible. And she tells Cooper that his wife Barbara knows more about this than she’s letting on. Moldaver gets Cooper to bug Barbara’s Pip Boy, and listen in on an important meeting.

Poor Cooper hears far more than he wants to.

War, war never changes.

What worked

I would like to first point out that this was one of the funniest episodes so far. I mean, it got incredibly tragic and sad by the end. But it also had some great laugh-out-loud moments. This should be a surprise to no one, with such an array of comedians guest starring. Chris Parnell was in the last episode as well but is now joined by the incredibly funny Fred Armisen as DJ Carl. This is of course not his first foray into the funny and spooky world, as he also played Uncle Fester in Wednesday.

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Most of what makes this episode funny is the character’s understated and deadpan responses to wild situations. When Maximus returns the energy coil and is greeted by a simple thank you. When Thaddeus gets an arrow through his neck, and slowly realizes that hey, he might be a ghoul. These were hilarious because they could have been truly dark moments. But because this world is so dark, and the characters have already been through so much, they’re simply done. They take all of this in stride because of course that’s what’s happening. It’s par for the course for them.

Aaron Moten and Ella Purnell in Fallout.

On the other hand, we’ve finally seen the full extent of The Ghoul/Cooper’s past. And it’s so much worse than we could have imagined. I assumed that he’d lost his beloved wife and daughter in the atomic blasts two hundred years ago, somehow not dying with them and instead turning into a literal and figurative monster. The truth is so much worse. I’ll do my best not to spoil the ending. But I will say this. There is nothing more painful than mourning someone and hating them at the same time. And it’s easy to see how Cooper turned into The Ghoul. That sort of pain could drive anyone mad.

This balance between comedy and tragedy is one of the reasons why this episode worked so well. It’s one of the reasons why the series is working so well. It manages to combine the core tenets of theater in a way that never compromises the strengths of either. The eventual downfall of Thaddeus is a great example of this because it’s both tragic and funny. We’ve seen what happens to ghouls, and it’s a horrible end. But as he’s hardly been a sympathetic character, we can all get a good laugh at his predicament as well.

The sheer amount of good old-fashioned gore doesn’t hurt either, of course.

What didn’t work

All that being said, there was one thing that bothered me about this episode. And it was the reveal of Vault 4’s big secret.

Honestly, I was expecting the Vault 4 storyline to go way darker. I wanted it to go way darker. While I’ve never played these games myself, I know enough about the story to say that these vaults are not the bastions of safety and morality that they have so far been portrayed as. And while that has certainly been alluded to, we haven’t seen it.

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We haven’t seen the depravity in these vaults. And it’s there. But maybe we just haven’t gotten to it yet.

In the end, The Radio did exactly what it needed to do. It set us up to have most of our questions answered in the season finale. And I can’t wait to see how it all ends.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you like my work, you can check out my latest science fiction/horror novel, Nova, launching on May 17th. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon.

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Fallout, The Trap

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Amazon Prime’s Fallout has continued to be a suspenseful delight. And with the last episode’s dramatic cliffhanger, I was certainly looking forward to this one.

Thankfully, it did not disappoint.

The story

We start our story with Lucy and Maximus waking up in a decontamination room in Vault 4. They’re welcomed guests, once they’re done with decontamination.

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Vault 4 at first seems very much like Vault 33 to Lucy. She’s surprised, however, to find that a lot of people who live there are actually from the surface. And the people who live in this vault are, well, a bit mutated. Their overseer, named Benjamin and played by the hilarious Chris Parnell, has just one eye in the middle of his face. Some people have extra limbs or missing ones. And yet it’s clear that everyone’s living together in peace and companionship.

At least, that’s what it’s supposed to look like. There is, after all, the matter of the weird cult the surface dwellers seem to have formed. And, the small matter of the vault level no one is supposed to go to. It should come as no surprise that, of course, that’s exactly where Lucy finds herself before the episode is over.

Ella Purnell in Fallout.

Of course, this episode wouldn’t be complete without checking in with the Ghoul. And his part of the story is, honestly, more compelling.

We see him apprehended by people referring to themselves as The Government. And while he appears to be a prisoner, it’s clear soon enough that he’s the one in charge.

Far more compelling are his flashbacks to his past. While his wife, Barb, is starting to be more secretive, he learns more than he wants to about Vault Tec. He also learns that the Communist party in Hollywood might know more about what Barb does for a living than he does. And it’s clear soon that she never wanted him to know.

For good reason.

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What worked

I first want to draw attention to the excellent way we are learning about the Ghoul. As we learn more and more about his past, we can see how he’s become the monster he is today. It’s clear that once upon a time he had everything he could want. A lovely home, a family he lived for, and a successful career. And he lost all of that, even his dog. And with those losses, he lost his humanity in more ways than one.

But I also think we’re seeing signs that his humanity at least isn’t as lost as he thought it was.

On a lighter note, I loved Maximus’s response to the vault. While he’s apprehensive at first, he is swept away by the welcome basket. He’s lived his whole life hungry, barely surviving, and suddenly he has food. Good food. Caviar and oysters. He has a warm robe and TV and a safe place to exist. It must have been like stepping into a fairy tale for him. And while it wasn’t exactly helpful for Lucy, it’s completely relatable that he decided to sink into a chair and have a snack in front of the TV for a while.

What didn’t work

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While this episode was mostly good, I do have one complaint. When Lucy is first meeting with Overseer Benjamin, we see him accidentally drinking a cup of coffee that has gotten moldy.

Chris Parnell in Fallout.

Now, this makes perfect sense in our world to convey someone too busy and forgetful to clean up old mugs. But it’s hard to fathom someone living in a Vault in which every resource is carefully monitored, letting something like coffee go bad. It’s a small detail, and it was funny. Also more relatable than I’d like to admit. But in this instance, in this world, it was jarring.

So far this season has been intense. There’s a lot of intrigue and mystery. There’s a lot of high emotions. And there’s a lot on the line for everyone. Maybe, for one character, more than we’ve ever realized before.

Good thing we still have two episodes to discover what’s happening.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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If you like my work, you can check out my latest science fiction/horror novel, Nova, launching on May 17th. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon.

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