Lovecraft Country delivers a season-best episode in its sixth outing, “Meet Me in Daegu.” It’s not only the best episode of Lovecraft Country yet, but great horror TV in general and quite the feather in the cap of the series.
The story so far…
Ji-Ah makes her full debut in “Meet Me in Daegu.” Atticus’ overseas lover has been heard from, fought in a magic-induced vision, and given the form of the Princess of Mars in the series’ opening dream sequence, but they never indicated the potential depth of the actual person. Her first appearance delivers, though, greatly expanding the world of Lovecraft Country and slowing down the series to create a morally complex and ultimately human portrait of a technically inhuman woman in inhuman times.
The episode opens with an exuberant Ji-Ah watching Meet Me in St. Louis and begins to dance and sing in the empty theater until it is revealed she has merely imagined letting loose. She continues to watch her idol Judy Garland, reserved and alone in the darkened theater.
The series chronicles close to a year of Ji-Ah’s life, opening in 1949. She and her mother, Soon-Hee, discuss their misfortune and Soon-Hee pushes for Ji-Ah to bring home a man. At first, this suggestion seems like the annoying but ultimately supportive needling of a mother to a daughter. Ji-Ah goes on a disappointing speed-dating experience when she gets out of her nursing school, and ultimately ends up bringing home a man from a night club. They have sex until furry tentacles emerge from nearly every hole in Ji-Ah’s body, penetrating the man, absorbing his soul, and ultimately ripping him apart into a spectacular shower of gore.
We learn, then, that this is expected of her. Ji-Ah needs to find ten more men, to meet the necessary 100 souls she needs in exchange for the magic that summoned her. Ji-Ah is a kumiho, a Korean fox spirit that is said to punish wicked men.
So, Ji-Ah continues to work as a nurse and seduce men and consume souls as the war rages on, moving into the 1950s. She spends what free moments she has watched movies as well, mostly what seems to be Judy Garland films. She also connects to her friend and co-worker Young-Ja and perhaps desires more, feeling a connection that she feels is absent in her life of seduction and murder. Tragically, the nurse shift is driven to a remote area and interrogated by US soldiers who proceed to execute two of the nurses, trying to flush out a “communist sympathizer.” One of these soldiers is Atticus Freeman who callously executes one of the two nurses. Young-Ja reveals herself to be the woman the army is after, and she is dragged off to her inevitable demise.
Time marches on, the hospital is filled with wounded and the movie theater, her only refuge, is shut down due to the apparent activities of a communist sympathizer. As things look their most bleak, Ji-Ah is given a new purpose: she has one soul left to claim and Atticus Freeman is one of the patients.
Ji-Ah begins to interact with a traumatized Atticus and over a series of genial interactions they begin to strike up a relationship, bonding over The Count of Monte Christo and the mutual commiseration over their outsider status among their respective nations. Ji-Ah and Atticus fall in some kind of love, as Ji-Ah’s understanding of the concept may be skewed by the tragedy of her origins. Soon-Hee’s already tense relationship with her “daughter” is further strained by Ji-Ah’s reluctance to claim Atticus’ soul.
Soon-Hee’s anxiety is that Ji-Ah is only the physical form of her daughter, her spirit is that of the kumiho. It turns out the Soon-Hee gave birth out of wedlock, resulting in her being an ostracized woman. She later marries a man who turns out to be a pedophile who raped the young Ji-Ha. Soon-Hee visits a shaman for revenge and the price of this was the replacement of her daughter’s spirit for the kumiho’s and the need to claim the souls of 100 men. Ji-Ah only carries the barest traces of Soon-Hee’s daughter’s spirit and also contains the memories of every man killed. Soon-Hee wants her daughter back, but Ji-Ha, the soul-stealer, just wants to find acceptance.
Believing she may have found that acceptance and love with Atticus, Ji-Ah is pressured into revealing her nature to him as a final test. Before this can happen, Atticus reveals he has enough points to ship out to the US again. The pair begin to have sex but the kumiho tails emerge, despite Ji-Ah’s desperate bit to refract them as spare Atticus. The coupling results in a mind-meld of sorts, where Ji-Ah experiences Atticus’ past and future, and Atticus experiences visions as well.
They break the coupling and traumatized Atticus flees into the night as Ji-Ah cries out that he will die if he returns to the states. Sometime later, still concerned about Atticus, Ji-Ah visits the shaman, accompanied by Soon-Hee. We finally get a sense of the larger cosmic awareness that has been missing from the series; the shaman informs Ji-Ah that her moral concerns are pointless, she has no mother and Atticus’ potential death is just one of a tide of inevitable deaths.
How it worked out…
The episode is suitably horrific, again, mostly based on its exploration of race, with the additional horror of jingoistic war and anti-communist fervor. However, Ji-Ah’s monstrous kumiho form is also quite disturbing and gratifying for fans of body horror. Everything about the episode just seems to click, baring the obvious plothole of Atticus’ own experience with the supernatural prior to his apparent introduction in the pilot. The episode works better as a sort of “stand-alone” horror experience compared to, say, “Holy Ghost,” mostly because it slows down to really live in the moments of horror and evil of the world. Where “Holy Ghost” was limited, it was also a bit too fast. Ji-Ah’s story, in contrast, feels far better paced.
The show also introduces the new wrinkle of Atticus being a killer in what can be seen as a morally indefensible way and how he seems to be perpetuating the vicious cycle of violence seen in Montrose and what we hear about Montrose’s own father. It’s not just the shock of Atticus’ shooting of a defenseless nurse under orders, either, but in his final night with Ji-Ah she sees that Atticus also was involved in the torture (and likely murder) of Young-Ja. It’s a hard thing to reckon with going forward. It’s a darkly complex addition to Atticus’ character that contextualizes his actions and apparent calmness regarding the supernatural in the series; he’s seen the Hell of war, but he’s also seen the unexplained.
Whether he can be redeemed of his sins is another question entirely.
The shining light of the episode, of course, is Jamie Chung who creates a complex, moving, and ultimately tragic figure in Ji-Ah in the span of an hour. Of course, Jamie Chung benefits from the writing, but her performance is a series highlight and an example of how strong the actresses of Lovecraft Country have been. Both Jurnee Smollett and Wunmi Mosaku have absolutely been the rock upon which the show has been erected, but Chung is just as up to the task as seen in this episode. How involved Ji-Ah will be going forward is in question, as she is very much a figure of Atticus’ past, but the show would be wise to keep Jamie Chung on the call-sheet going forward.
The result of this extended flashback is a sign that the weird world of Lovecraft Country could explore far more material than the Lodges and the mostly US-based horror we’ve seen. Considering the show is an adaptation of a novel with no apparent follow-up, the seeds need to be set for the future. Most of Lovecraft Country has left me feeling a bit hollow, but “Meet Me in Daegu” suggests there may be more to the concept, but the ultimate irony of this being that this material is, apparently, unique to the show.
A genuinely traumatic episode that takes far out of Lovecraft Country and into the Korean War, “Meet Me in Daegu” is perhaps the strongest episode of the show yet. (5 / 5)
There was a lot to admire about the episode as well as a number of fun references.
- I am by no means an expert on Korean mythology and spirits, so take my explanation of the kumiho with several large grains of salt as my major context for it is Lovecraft Country.
- The concept of the kumiho may be familiar to Nintendo fans though. The Legend of Zelda series featured a nine-tale fox called Keaton, while Pokémon featured the nine-tailed fox pokémon Ninetails, based on the Japanese form of this spirit.
- Judy Garland is obviously all over the episode; she is a tragic figure in many ways and evoking her in Ji-Ah’s story does a lot. The heartbreaking monologue from Garland that comes near the episode underlines the level of callous disregard she, and women in general, faced for putting themselves out there.
- Judy Garland’s monologue in the final scene is taped material that was part of the process of writing her autobiography. You can listen to some of this material right here.
- The first movie we see Ji-Ah watch is 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis, from which this episode derives its title and some of its themes. The second film is 1950’s Summer Stock with Garland and Gene Kelley.
- Again, The Count of Monte Christo becomes a key text to the events of the show. Tic’s question about why Montrose loves the book is a pretty profound one… is it the revenge that appeals to him, or Alexandre Dumas? Does it need to be exclusively one or the other?
- The show derives a fun little joke about adaptations here, with Ji-Ah dismissing the book’s story based on the film adaptation with Robert Donat she saw first, which changed the ending to the novel. This episode is material that does not seem to be in the Lovecraft Country novel written by Matt Ruff.
- I am not sure I see Ji-Ah as having forgiven Atticus’ actions, but there is a sort of mutual understanding of how the world has broken them both that allows her and him to find love. It’s incredibly messy, dark, and really beautiful in a way, despite the ugliness of the circumstances.
- I admit that my reading of Ji-Ah and Young-Ja’s relationship potentially skewing sapphic is just my own reading. The lingering hand-holding is my biggest evidence, but it could just as easily be Ji-Ah desperate for any sort of positive relationship in her life that puts the emphasis on touch. Either way, it is deeply sad to me.
- This episode’s musical choice is an obvious one, given there selection was a little limited. It’s “The Trolley Song” from Meet Me in St. Louis.
Can Lovecraft Country deliver another home run like they did this week? We’ll need to keep watching to find out. How did you find “Meet Me in Daegu?” Let us know in the comments.
Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die
Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.
With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.
So, how was the first episode?
We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.
We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.
The teens end up not being thrilled either.
Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.
While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.
Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.
All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.
For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.
It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.
That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.
More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.
This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.
What didn’t work
All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”
Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.
It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.
But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.
(4 / 5)
If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem
“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey
The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.
In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.
The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.
Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.
The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.
One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.
Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!
I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology.
Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek
The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.
We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.
She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.
Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.
Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.
She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.
Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.
Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.
While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.
One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.
Then she killed it and started crying.
I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.
What didn’t work
Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.
In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.
Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.
All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.(3.5 / 5)
By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.