This week we return to serialization in Lovecraft Country after the brief sojourn into haunted house territory. Unfortunately though, narrative shortcuts and sloppy attention to detail doom this Goonies-lite exploration episode.
Read on, if “ye” dare.
The story so far…
Our A-plot this episode, “A History of Violence,” focuses on Atticus, Leti, and Montrose on a trip to Boston to seek out the missing pages of the Book of Names. Atticus is convinced he can re-purpose the magic in those pages to project everyone in his life. Leti expresses intense frustration at Atticus’s compartmentalizing of information after Christina Braithwhite pays her a visit. Lastly, Montrose, drunk and reeling, studies the book of information from the cult given to him by a dying George and then proceeds to burn the book, hoping to protect Atticus and the others.
Atticus, Leti, and Montrose travel to Boston in the woody, joined by Hippolyta, Diana, and Tree. Later that night, Tic’s Trio returns to the museum, let in by a guard who also seems to be a contact of Montrose’s, and they uncover the hidden series of chambers and tunnels seemingly constructed by Titus Braithwhite. The Trio encounters a number of challenges and traps and also somehow find themselves just under Leti’s recently acquired haunted house in Chicago until uncovering a ship of corpses and an undead Arawak guardian, Yahima, who happens to be an intersex “two-spirit.” They discover that they were being compelled to translate the pages by Titus, and their people were killed to force the issue. Tic’s Trio manages to retrieve the missing pages, escape the flooded tunnels, and find refuge in Leti’s home with Yahima in two.
Then Montrose slashes the throat of Yahima is a dazzlingly self-destructive choice.
The rest of the episode revolves around the other women of the show. Hippolyta has clearly taken the orrery from Leti’s house, the same orrery that Christina Braithwhite seems to be seeking in the episode. The orrery also seems to model a distant solar system. Hippolyta and Diana share a cute moment in a star-dome, where Hippolyta reveals she had discovered and named a comet, but the credit was given to a white girl. Later the pair are returning home to Chicago, confused at how Tic’s Trio got there without them. Hippolyta notices that Diana is drawing on George’s atlas, noticed the route to Devon County, where Ardham is found, is marked, and decides to head that way for answers.
Christina, trying to meet her own magical goals attempts to strong-arm Leti but is kept at bay by the magical energies of Leti’s house. Christina drops that Atticus attempted to kill her, as asks Leti for the orrery in the house. Christina spends time in the neighborhood, waiting on the orrery or some other purpose, and is targeted by the same cops who went after Leti last episode. It becomes clear that these cops are tied to another one of the many (maybe even 35?!) magical lodges. This time, however, Christina vanishes and is instead saved by her servant, William. Could Christina and William be one-in-the-same? That might complicate the next bit.
Meanwhile, Ruby, Leti’s half-sister, makes the unfortunate discovery the department store position she craved was filled by another woman. Ruby goes to Sammy’s bar to let off her blues in some fantastic singing that doesn’t seem to inspire many reactions. She then gets introduced to William who seems to promise her the world before seducing her.
Magic has its price, however. Let’s hope the price is not too steep for Ruby.
How it worked out…
It takes about 15 or so hours to travel from Chicago by Boston, according to Google maps. I only mention this because, within the span of two hours, Tic, Leti, and Montrose somehow manage to use an underground passage from a museum in Boston and arrive at the secret tunnel beneath Leti’s new house. Spatial anomalies are fine and welcome in creating unsettling weirdness in Lovecraftian works, but the key is that it needs to be established first. There is no indication that the laws of time and space are warping around Tic and company in the tunnel, all that there is is the rising tide. So unless there was some sort of time and space shenanigans that were established prior to their arrival at Leti’s elevator then the episode absolutely went off the rails, very badly.
It might seem a bit cynical and unfair of me to latch onto a continuity error such as this, but it is a perfect example of some of the narrative leaps that “A History of Violence” took. So many puzzling choices just to set up circumstances in non-organic ways. Why does Montrose burn the book? Because it makes it easier to set him up to tag along. Why is everyone pissed off at an obviously traumatized Atticus for trying to protect their lives? What happened to Tree? Does the hidden trigger in the museum ever get activated when someone is cleaning the alligator statue?
Even worse, the strength of the show, the themes of the existential horror faced by people of color, was largely absent. We get references to colonialism, Hippolyta being unable to take credit for the cosmic object she saw, and a made-up story about a knot. We do get something with Rose, but it’s all a set-up for next week’s episode.
Instead, we end up with a lukewarm riff on Journey to the Center of the Earth only even more nonsensical than that pulp adventure. Solid performances across the cast can’t even really save it, either. We’re now just mostly hitting the same notes on the characters with a slight thawing of the relationship between Atticus and Montrose.
Lovecraft Country‘s adventurous return to serialization moves the story forward, technically, but seems to be mostly moving pieces around to get the players where they need to be for something more significant to come. Sloppy attention to detail, however, sinks what could have been a fun romp. There is little terror, Lovecraftian or otherwise, to be had, however.
I give the fourth episode, “A History of Violence” two and a half Cthulhus.(2.5 / 5)
What do we have of note in this edition of the Miskatonic Musings?
- Of course, the Freemans were never enslaved. It’s in the name… Free Man.
- We also see a little bit more of the kid who we assume will be history’s very own Emmett Till.
- Speaking of tragedy, Montrose references Tulsa as he burns the cult’s book.
- Yahima Maraokoti is said to be from Guyana and is a two-spirit. There is a history of “two-spirit” intersex individuals in Native American culture and a fascinating example of differing perspectives on sex and gender in indigenous culture.
- So, Montrose is gay. His friend from the bar, Sammy, in episode one, was caught receiving oral sex. Tree seems to hint at this in the episode.
- With that said, Montrose killing Yahima feels gross and unnecessary, but it may also make a perverse sense to him; he may be grappling with his own queerness and Yahima represents an uncomfortable blurring of boundaries for him.
- Literary references in this episode specifically revolve around Journey to the Center of the Earth. The episode borrows heavily from that sort of pulp adventure storytelling. Not entirely successfully, mind you.
- There is also a rather laconic retelling of the events of “Genesis.”
- My music pick for this episode? Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money.”
What did you think about “A History of Violence?” Let us know in the comments!