Lovecraft Country Is Getting to the Root of Everyone’s Pain

Lovecraft Country Is Getting to the Root of Everyone’s Pain

Much as each of Lovecraft Country’s episodes have further expanded upon its strange world of eldritch magic and white supremacist occultists seeking to control it, the show’s never lost sight of the fact that it’s telling a complicated story about multiple generations of interconnected Black families working though all kinds of pent up guilt, frustration, and trauma.

Illustration: Jim Cooke
Illustration: Jim Cooke

“A History of Violence” opens with the pain that Montrose has been carrying inside of him for the entirely of his life, in a heavy scene in which he can’t hold back memories from his childhood and his more recent past that all revolve around the abuse he’s both endured and inflicted, and the secrets he’s chosen to hide.

Montrose drunkenly spiraling as a newscast warns of the increasing danger posed by the Soviet Union’s growing cache of nuclear weaponry speaks to the fear that he understandably has of the white sorcerers who seem to hellbent on getting their hands on Atticus. If he could only express his concerns to his son and be open with him about the mysteries of his heritage, Montrose might actually be able to live a happier life. But he’s content to dr6own his sorrows in liquor, under the false belief that it’ll actually make all the voices in his head quiet down for good.

[referenced id=”1370384″ url=”” thumb=”×169.jpg” title=”Lovecraft Country’s Jurnee Smollett Opens Up About What Makes Leti Who She Is” excerpt=”In the third episode of HBO’s Lovecraft Country, the series shifts gears in an interesting way as its heroes settle back into their lives in Chicago, newly aware that somewhere in America, there are white supremacist magic users vying to take control of the world through occult means. It’s the sort of…”]

While Leti and the Freemans would love more than nothing than to leave the madness that happened in Ardham behind, the demons — and the Braithwhite family behind them — prove hard to kill when Christina pulls up to Leti’s boarding house on the northside of Chicago sniffing around for treasure. Much to both Leti and Christina’s surprise, the protective rune Atticus painted at the threshold of the house prevents Christina from crossing it, giving Leti a distinct advantage over her on the property, and a chance to mull over just what it is that Christina wants from the house.

It doesn’t surprise Leti when she learns that the mysterious inheritance from her mother that gave her the necessary resources to buy the house actually came from Christina — but it does hurt her when she realises that Atticus knew this and chose not to tell her. That small, big significant bit of secrecy gives Christina just enough of an in into Leti’s ear, to make her warning about how the political dealings of the magical community will always exclude women land with some weight. But at the same time, Leti isn’t foolish enough to believe that Christina’s actually interested in pushing for women’s representation and inclusion within the world’s magical societies, and she immediately clocks that what Christina truly wants is access to Titus Braithwaite’s orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system that has some magical significance.

While “A History of Violence” doesn’t quite spell it out, it seems to suggest that Atticus’ aunt Hippolyta is actually the person in possession of the orrery, but she only sees it as a beautiful piece of art that reflects her love of all things astronomical. Even though her husband’s just died, Hippolyta can’t afford to slow down now that she has to run the Safe Negro Travel Guide business on her own and still raise her daughter Diana.

Easily as Atticus slipped back into everyone’s lives in Chicago when he first returned home, you almost get the sense that in the wake of George’s death, everyone in the family assumed that they’d draw closer together in order to begin healing and moving on as a unit. But when Leti finds Atticus researching in a library on the Southside, she quickly realises that he plans on leaving the city once again. When Leti confronts Atticus about his withholding the truth about Christina from her, it doesn’t take much for him to admit in a roundabout way that he’s somewhat out of his depth in this larger fight. His main priority is securing some of the lost pages from Titus Braithwhite’s copy of the Book of Adam, in hopes of learning enough magic to protect both himself and his loved ones, even if that means getting away from them again.

Hurt though Leti is by Atticus’ withholding, she knows that the two of them are both stronger, safer, and more capable together. That, and that Atticus’ search for Titus’ hidden vault would take forever, were it not for the fact that they both already know someone who’d spent countless hours trying to deduce its exact location. Because of the way “A History of Violence” opens, you can tell that the moment Attius and Leti come to Montrose asking him to share what he knows about the Braithwhites is something he’s dreaded since the day his son was born. Montrose’s salty demeanour’s enough to drive his son away, because Atticus can still only stand up to his father but so much.

But it’s easy for Leti to see through Montrose’s act and keenly call him out for being stubborn to the point of hurting the person he supposedly loved. When Montrose agrees to lead Atticus and Leti to Titus’ vault in Boston, he doesn’t really do it because it’s what his son wants, it’s because he’s trying to prove that he’s capable of breaking the cycle of toxic abuse that the men in his family have repeatedly dealt with. The degree to which Montrose is successful is…open to interpretation, however.

[referenced id=”1247112″ url=”” thumb=”×166.jpg” title=”Lovecraft Country’s Misha Green Explains How the Horrors to Come Are Bigger Than Magic and Monsters” excerpt=”Like all horror that wants to leave you feeling unsettled and disturbed long after you’ve finished watching it, Lovecraft Country’s first episode is careful to take its time and make you wait almost until the very end for the series’ supernatural monstrosities to make themselves known. If anything, the demons…”]

“A History of Violence” seems to lose sight of what to do with Christina after her threat to Leti early, exactly, as it catches up with her playing an odd game of hide-and-seek with a group of local children. That is until a pair of surly police officers roll up on her and take her to the town sheriff, who we learn is a member of yet another group of white supremacist wizards. During their exchange, Christina finally lets slip that the reason she wants Titus’ orrery is because it’s the key to his functioning time machine, something that points to Lovecraft Country veering into even wilder territory as the season goes on.

Meanwhile choosing to begrudgingly work together to find Titus’ vault, Atticus, Leti, and Montrose plan to make yet another cross country trip to the east coast. But this time they can’t avoid bringing along some unsuspecting travel companions: this time along they’re joined by Hippolyta, her daughter Diana, and Leti’s childhood friend Tree (Deron J. Powell) who also frequents the bar Montrose prefers to get wasted at. It’s easy enough for Leti, George, and Atticus not to let on that they’re journeying to a Boston museum in search for a dead wizard’s vault, but in bringing the others into the fold of this story, Lovecraft Country’s setting them all up to get wrapped up in its shadowy world of magic and monsters.

When the squad arrives at the museum, Hippolyta and Diana quickly break away to lose themselves in the ongoing astronomy exhibits, while Montrose skulks away with a guard friend who works in the building. Leti and Atticus are left to conduct their search while also trying to shake Tree loose from them, hanger-on that he is. Tree’s reasoning for tagging along with everyone for a trip across the country in a car was dubious on its face — claiming he had, uh, a filly in Philly — but his motivations become even more questionable as he tries to play up on Atticus’ insecurities about his relationship with his father, by insinuating that Montrose might have found comfort in the arms of men like Sammy the barkeep while Atticus was away at war. Though Atticus doesn’t respond to Tree’s goading about his potentially being queer, the idea that his father might be gives him pause and sticks with him throughout the episode as he, Montrose, and Leti eventually realise that Titus’ vault is hiding in plain sight.

Atticus, Leti, and Montrose realising they have got to search for Titus' vault. (Image: HBO)
Atticus, Leti, and Montrose realising they have got to search for Titus’ vault. (Image: HBO)

It wouldn’t surprise Ruby in the least to learn that her sister’s off sneaking into museums after hours in search for magical artifacts because that’s just the kind of mess Leti tends to gravitate towards. But! She has other priorities this episode.

Ruby values her own cautiousness and sense of responsibility, but when she happens to wander into the local Marshall Field department store where she wanted to apply for a job — but didn’t out of fear that she wouldn’t get it because of her race — she’s shocked to see another Black woman who, like Leti would’ve, simply chose to apply for the gig on a whim figuring she had nothing to lose. In the few interactions between Ruby and Leti and Lovecraft Country’s featured far, you can see that this particular element of Ruby’s personality plays a huge role in their inability to see eye to eye with one another, and it stands to reason that their respective complexions only serve to further complicate things. Talented and hardworking as Ruby is, she’s never afforded the same kind of respect and attention that her lighter-skinned, unreliable sister is, and Ruby’s understandably simmering with a deep fury about that reality internally.

It hurts Ruby to see that her own instinct for self-preservation ends up backfiring on her in a sense, even though she can’t be certain that the store wouldn’t hire two Black saleswomen. She channels her anger into musical set later that evening at Sammy’s bar, that goes largely unappreciated by anyone — save for Christina’s creepy manservant William, who insists on covering Ruby’s tab while she drinks her sorrows and resolutely rebuffs his sexual advances before he even gets a chance to properly make them. William’s promises that he can change Ruby’s life and his declarations that he sees her as she truly is all sound exactly like the sort of lines that a serial killer might use on a hammered would-be victim. But between fighting with her sister and feeling as if she lost out on her dream job, Ruby’s in a vulnerable emotional state — one that eventually leads to her going home and getting it on with William, whose motives are still beyond unclear.

While Ruby dances with the devil the pale moonlight, Leti, Atticus, and Montrose tap into their inner Tomb Raiders and Indianas Jones as they find that the path to Titus’ vault is more treacherous than any of them could have imagined. Wandering through the bowels of the museum, they’re faced with puzzles, perilous drops into the abyss, and a massive swinging axe threatening to chop them in half as they cross rotted, wooden bridge all meant to discourage people from finding what Titus attempted to hide.

Exciting as it all is to everyone, the chip on Atticus’ shoulder when it comes to his father can’t be ignored. He lashes out at Leti when she, in her own manner, tries to help him, and his concerns about what Tree said about Montrose cause him to be even more distant with his father than normal. Things come to yet another head when Montrose sheepishly admits that one of the reasons he’s able to help solve many of the lair’s puzzles as the trio scream, swim, and dash their way through Titus’ traps is that George gave him a copy of the Sons of Adam’s bylaws the same night that he died. But in the same way that Atticus didn’t tell Leti about Christina, Montrose refused to tell Atticus about the bylaws, and though Atticus can’t see it in the moment — he and Montrose are only proving true to what Leti said about the two of them being similarly stubborn to the point of ruin — his father was doing so in an attempt to protect both Atticus and Leti in the long run.

“A History of Violence” closes out on a far more horrific note after all these adventurous escapades, as the trio of treasure seekers literally wade through murky waters beneath the museum. Inexplicably, Leti comes across the rotting corpses of some of her neighbours floating by, which makes no sense because they disappeared in Chicago, but the heroes are currently located in Massachusetts. Rather than ponder how that’s possible, the three of them trudge on and do end up finding the vault and unlocking it using Atticus’ blood, and what they discover inside is…strange.

[referenced id=”1259175″ url=”” thumb=”×169.png” title=”How Lovecraft Country Went Hard on That Gloriously Gory Final Scene” excerpt=”The first episode of HBO’s Lovecraft Country is now available to watch for free on YouTube, telling the story of survival and family amid the horrors of Jim Crow-era segregation. But the monsters in this story aren’t always human. In a new interview, the VFX designer behind the premiere’s creatures…”]

Along with Titus’ still intact papers is the petrified corpse of a person that begins to reanimate and grow youthful flesh the moment the three of them begin disturbing things within the vault. Once restored, the person — Yahima (Monique Candelaria) — explains that they were a two-spirit person trapped in the vault by Titus when he was alive because they were fluent in the language of Adam, a language that only Atticus can understand. When Yahima realised that Titus only wished to use the book to inflict pain on others, they refused to continue assisting him in deciphering the Book of Adam — leading to Titus killing their family and entrapping them in the vault for over a century. Though Yahima understands that Atticus is nothing like Titus despite being of his blood, they refuse to assist him in his own journey to understand the Book of Adam. But as he grabs the pages from the book all the same, the vault begins to collapse in on itself under the pressure of all the water bearing down on it.

Atticus hurriedly grabs Yahima, and he, Leti, and Montrose all book it for a nearby, mostly-flooded elevator they’re somehow certain will carry them up to safety. From here, “A History of Violence” gets the slightest bit confusing as the episode catches up with Hippolyta and Ruby, apparently making their way back to Chicago without Atticus and Leti. But after noticing that Diana is flipping through George’s atlas, Hippolyta comes to the conclusion that their trip to Boston wasn’t just to visit the museum, and hurriedly turns the car around intent on finding out what’s really going on. Elswhere, Atticus, Leti, Montrose, and Yahima are by themselves somewhere in a house recuperating from their adventure, and for the slightest moment, it seems as if everything’s looking up for Lovecraft Country’s heroes. Atticus figures that he, using his own magical gift of gab, can work with Yahima to slowly gain a better understanding of Titus’ pages from the Book of Adam, and as he explains this to Montrose, Montrose can’t help but be proud of his son for taking initiative towards protecting his family.

That energy lingers in the scene as Atticus leaves the room and Montrose and Yahima are left to sit in silence for a moment, but it’s disrupted when Montrose makes the sudden move to slit Yahima’s throat with no warning, apologizing as he does for some reason. Whatever light Yahima could have shone onto the newly recovered pages from the Book of Adam is something Montrose desperately wanted to avoid. Difficult as it is to see, Lovecraft Country’s far from done throwing its characters in all sorts of wild, different directions — directions that make it difficult to know just who all you’re meant to be rooting for.