After last week’s relative stumble, can Lovecraft Country pick up the pieces and slow its pace? Is the show still burning the candle with a flamethrower, or has it shifted to something a little more moody?
The story so far…
“Holy Ghost” opens with a dire warning that in 1955, three people will disappear from the recently-purchased house of Leticia Lewis, and with that Lovecraft Country turns into a haunted house story for the duration of an episode. Throughout the episode title cards updating the timeline over the course of days suggest something awful approaches.
Leti, as with the other Ardham survivors, has a lot to work through. We open the episode with her in church, but while those around her take in the joy and comfort of God she can only shed tears. That changes, however, when she reveals to her sister Ruby that she purchased a run-down old house in a white neighborhood and plans to turn it into a boarding house. Leti throws herself into different things to come to terms with what bothers her, her boarding house, trying to reconnect to her sister, her photography, celebration, sex with Atticus, and rage against white agitators in the neighborhood, but none of it helps.
It takes a truly selfless action, motivated by ghostly encounters, to find a form of salvation that has escaped her since the flight from Ardham. At her lowest point, separated from her sister (again), her tenants, and still dealing with the guilt of surviving when George died, she turns her attention to the evil in the house, in the form of a cultist doctor’s ghost, and hopes to put the spirits of the 8 murdered black people to rest. She finds that salvation, by the end of the episode and finds a renewed home.
Let’s extended focus leaves a little less room for the rest of the cast in the aftermath of Montrose’s rescue, but we get snippets of life after the death of George. Hippolyta takes out her frustrations on Atticus, whose well meaning attempts to help her and Dee just rub her the wrong way. She event turns to destruction, tearing the pages from George’s favorite book, Dracula. Her discovery of an astronomical model within a locked room of Leti’s house, however, might mean something. After all, Hippoltya had an interest in the stars and we see the model is curiously absent later, when two of the white neighbors break into the house to inflict harm.
Atticus is feeling lost and with fewer answers than he had hoped. He intends to head back to Florida, but is convinced to stay long enough to help ensure that Leti’s house remains safe from the white neighbors. He tries to connect with Montrose who would rather drink, and their discussion is cut short by a violent outburst on the part of Montrose over the topic of keeping the truth of George’s murder secret. He eventually aids Leti in the process of exorcising the house through a Voudou ritual at one point becoming a vessel for the sinister spirit within. Tic’s final moments of the episode have him confront Christina Braithwhite, who arranged the entire scheme of putting the house in the possession of Leti. Atticus nearly killer her, but her formidable powers prevent that, and she lectures him on the dangers of killing white women and offers him a task, to track down missing pages from The Book of Names.
How it worked out…
Lovecraft Country is a show of tremendous potential, but I am becoming concerned that it may not live up to it. I’ve given up, at this point, on the idea of being scared of otherworldly creatures and concepts in the show. The horror of the specter of racism is enough in that regard. Yet, for a ghost story there should be some material that is unnerving, correct? Nothing about “Holy Ghost” struck me as remotely scary outside of the inhumanity of man. Though, maybe that is the point.
Ghost stories are a particularly favorite genre of horror for me. I adore ghost stories but came out of “Holy Ghost” rather passive about the hour run-time. This might be best blamed on the pacing of the show which, continuing the precedent of episode two, feels like sprinting through a story rather than letting it play out. The show has the challenge of juggling the ongoing stories of the characters while establishing the anthologized storylines that the characters weave in and out of. In that regard, you would think it would make sense to give those elements room to develop, but that does not seem to be the approach for Lovecraft Country.
That being said, the ghost story present in the episode isn’t bad at all, and it plays pretty well with the show’s exploration of racism and the abuse of black bodies (quite literally). It’s just that there is no tension in the episode actually connected to the ghost story at all, and what would normally make for a full movie or a couple of episodes end sup getting handled int he span of about 40 or so minutes. We see the signs of a haunting, the major encounter, the research, and the exorcism – all in one episode. It feels a little much, especially when the show also tries to tackle the trauma and grief of George’s death as well. With the limited time the show can spend with different characters and plotlines the developments are admirable, but also a little perfunctory, less full explorations and more like checkmarks on an outline.
Lovecraft Country is burning through multiple episodes of storytelling to diminishing results. Despite a strong foundation, mood and tension have given way to a breathlessly paced ghost story where little seems to haunt.
I give the third episode, “Holy Ghost,” four Cthulhus. I gave this one a little bit of a ghostly-bump simply because the bones are solid. I don’t know what possessed me.(4 / 5)
As always, there is a wealth of references to uncover in an episode of Lovecraft Country.
- Jurnee Smollett leads the charge this week with an episode that gives her a great range of emotion and is worthy of notice in any list of great actresses.
- One of the boys playing with the Quija board may be referencing the real-life Emmett Till, which is another example of the profound horror Lovecraft Country evokes best.
- We see Dracula and The Count of Monte Christo again. I’m definitely curious about Montrose’s record collection.
- So what was with the ghosts? Well, the previous owner of the house, Hiram Epstein, was engaged with his own experiments to reach the Garden of Eden, but he used kidnapped black people from Chicago to do so. The ghosts as they are seen throughout the episode bear the scars of those experiments which seem to have something to do with time travel. So now you know why the basketball player had a baby’s head.
- The poem in the opening sequence at the church? It came from a 2017 Nike ad featuring Leiomy Maldonando.
- While Lovecraft didn’t write about ghosts often in his stories, but there are some significant ones, such as “The Mound,” a novella he ghostwrote. The further irony is that the story was published posthumously.
- Lovecraft also wrote a great deal on supernatural horror, such in his essay, “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” which shares some thoughts on ghosts.
- The show continues to use a great mix of contemporary and anacrhonistic music. Let’s close out this review with my favorite song from the episode, “Good Rockin’ Daddy” by Etta James:
What did you think of the third episode of Lovecraft Country? Let us know in the comments.
And yes, I did update the title graphic for the reviews, thanks for noticing.