Finally, Lovecraft Country brings the horror in “Strange Case.” Sure, there have been horrible moments, mostly tied to the horrors of racism, but this episode does a great job of fusing social themes and body-horror in a creepy and effective way.
The story so far…
The episode continues to build on the ongoing narrative concerning the lodges and the missing pages, but the real draw of the hour is Ruby’s body horror-driven identity story.
Ruby wakes up after her evening with William in the previous episode in the body of a white woman named Hillary and stumbles out into the streets of Chicago alarmed and confused and nearly getting a poor black kid murdered by the police. She’s picked up by a pair of cops who take her back to William who has laid out a tarp in a room, placing the contorting and visibly pained “Hillary” on the floor. He then proceeds to help Ruby escape that fleshy vessel in a gruesome manner and a report about African cicadas is read on the news.
Ruby is given a potion that allows her to slip into “Hillary” for a period of time, and the episode follows Ruby over a series of transformations. Ruby first begins to enjoy the freedom and protection of being a white woman; she gets access to a managerial position at the department store, she gets free ice cream. Things seem great, but “Hillary” also bears witness to how black people are treated in white circles. She also tries to “uplift” the only black employee of Marshall Field’s (the one who applied for the job Ruby originally wanted) but only proves to condescend and perpetuate the worst sort of impulses of the moderate white of the era. “Hillary” chastizes the only woman of color in the store to “be better.” She also forces this poor woman to take a group of white Marshall Field’s employees into her safe space, a bar, where the whites proceed to gawk and fetishize the black people in their space.
With each transformation, Ruby grows more and more disillusioned with the magical transformation and the Hillary identity, and finally breaks when she witnesses the man who hired “Hillary” attempt to assault the very employee she has been bullying. This sets the stage for revenge and a high heel brutally shoved up the ass of the boss (though we do not necessarily know much about what he had done behind a failed assault).
The wrinkle to this storyline, however, is that it is not merely Ruby who has been under such brutal transformations because Christina and William are finally revealed to be one and the same. “William” granted the magic as a favor, which is later called when he has Ruby pose as the help at one of the local lodges. It’s all very much a solid A-plot for the episode.
Montrose, having killed Yahima, is in a very dark place. He is brutally beat down by Tic and proceeds to lick his wounds in the comfort of his lover, Sammy, and diving into the underground queer community in the area. Montrose seems less about an emotional connection than a physical one early in the hour, refusing to kiss Sammy, but by the end, among the drag performers at the club and the celebration, finally kisses Sammy. However, could an acceptance of himself truly help Montrose with decades of trauma, his fractured relationship and betrayal of Tic, and his very recent murder of an intersex person?
Tic and Leti continue to develop their relationship, albeit with a couple of hurdles. They discover Montrose has sabotaged their plans. Tic is well aware of what Montrose has done, but Leti assumes Montrose merely let Yahima go. Tic’s violent attack of Montrose naturally alarms Leti who at one point checks on him while wielding a baseball bat. Not helping matters is Tic’s obsession with uncovering more magic by translating the text from the now-destroyed pages. Tic and Leti have sex later; Tic’s knuckles still raw and bleeding from his brutal beatdown of Montrose, and later still they have an intimate moment in Leti’s bathroom. Tic opens up about not knowing what love is but finding something like it in Korea with Ji-ah, who we’ve only heard over the phone.
Even so, after finding a little bit of love and mercy, Tic is still agonizing over magic, pouring over photos of the pages taken by Leti uncovers a message in the Language of Adam, something so alarming to him that he calls Ji-ah in Korea. She knows something about what is going on.
How it worked out…
Lovecraft Country delivers an outstanding episode that delivers genuine horror that smartly intersects with the larger themes the whole season has addressed. The performances are top-notch and anchoring the episode around Ruby’s experiences with transformation worked out incredibly well.
This might be the single goriest episode of the series yet, with flaps of flesh sluicing right off of bodies during transformations and it really feels the closest to effective Lovecraftian horror the show has gotten. H. P. Lovecraft wasn’t necessarily much of a body-horror writer, as in those themes didn’t exactly drive him, but the larger movement his work inspired has latched onto body-horror as a driving element, such as the recent adaptation Color Out of Space. Plus, it does make a kind of cosmic sense that our mere fleshy vessels are so easily slashed and scrapped as we are just meat in an indifferent universe. So while Lovecraft Country has not delivered the sort of cosmic awareness normally associated with Lovecraft’s prose, the body horror does feel like an appropriate well for the series, especially because it makes for such a nice metaphorical device for exploring identity.
What I appreciate most is that the episode, while horrifying, was also bleakly funny. Not funny as in laugh-out-loud, but more a recognition of the effective use of situational irony that ran through.
And look, this show still has issues. The William-Christina transformation scene creates some issues because there are moments in the show where the two identities are seen just mere moments apart. Let’s not even get into the fact that there are just strips of meat all over Chicago from the transformations, either. How are the racist cops not investigating the flayed remains of a white woman? Montrose’s rough sex (closer to rape) was uncomfortable given what he did to Yahima the night before. The show isn’t handling queer themes well enough. Themes of blackness the show does quite well. Everything else, well, is a coin-flip.
Lovecraft Country may have bounced back a bit with this week’s episode, one that deftly integrates horror and social themes in a delightfully gory package. I give Lovecraft Country‘s “Strange Case” four and a half Cthulhus.(4.5 / 5)
So what are the other miscellaneous odds and ends to cover?
- I appreciate the gorgeous title cards presented with each episode but there’s no way in Hell I am going to make new title cards for these reviews week to week.
- Yes, that was Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race.
- The actress playing “Hillary” was the same actress who kept the dogs and Shoggoths in the first two episodes, Jamie Neumann.
- So, the police captain’s torso is apparently black and we didn’t even really get into that or the man in his office closet. I am sure we’ll learn more in the coming weeks.
- I appreciated Tic looking every bit the Lovecraftian scholar at the end of the episode; flop sweat, panicked eyes, piles of documents. It was very recognizable.
- The big literary reference this week? The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
- The monologue over the Hillary montage is “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When The Rainbow Is Enuf.”
- Some great songs, as usual, on the show. Tic and Leti’s love scene was set to “Return to Love” by Black Atlass. One of the first songs we here is Patience and Prudence’s take on “Tonight You Belong To Me.” My choice for the sound of the episode, though? Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.”
What did you think about “Strange Case?” Do you think Lovecraft Country has bounced back, or do you think it’s been going strong since the first episode? Let us know in the comments.