Did you catch the first episode of HBO’s Lovecraft Country?
This latest HBO gem is an American drama horror television series developed by Misha Green based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Matt Ruff. Lovecraft Country follows Atticus Freeman as he joins up with his friend Letitia Lewis and his Uncle George to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father. This begins a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and the terrifying monsters that could be ripped from a Lovecraft paperback”.
If this premise sounds right up your alley, you have come to the right place because I am about to breakdown my favourite moments of this premier episode. But if you haven’t seen “Sundown” yet and it’s currently on your watchlist … please back away slowly!! I say this very lovingly, because you really need to go into this episode as blank as you possibly can. Take it from someone who speaks from experience and thank me later. However, be forewarned that “going in blank” might prove to be extremely challenging at this point considering everybody and their momma posted their feelings, opinions and even Easter eggs all over the internet. Personally, I get all those enthusiasts that can’t help but to share for I am about to the very same thing.
The premiere episode was equally triggering as it was riveting. It was exhilarating to watch a series in the horror genre with the knowledge that the lead is a black man, which meant that for once black people wouldn’t be the first to go. It was horrifying to learn that the realistic depiction of segregation, bigotry and racial violence would be far more triggering than the lovecraftian monsters that are pure nightmare fuel. The most surprising thing however, is the free history lesson that came with this episode. I am not just referring to the history of literary fiction, but I now know why the White House is white and what a Sundown county is. So whether you wish to educate yourself on America during the Jim Crow era or solely want to be creeped out or entertained … Lovecraft Country has something for everyone.
So without further ado … My Top 5 moments!!
Nr 1. The Insane Opening Sequence
The people that tuned in without prior knowledge of the source material (a novel of the same name by Matt Ruff) or any other information on this TV show, are instantaneously made aware of what they are getting themselves into by this trippy opening sequence. This scene has to be one of the best Easter egg filled few minutes that graced television screens in 2020. It pretty much screamed “buckle up everybody it’s about to get insane!”.
The viewer falls into a black and white battle scene where our main character Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) runs about shooting at what seems to be the Korean enemy. At some point during the battle he jumps over a wooden fence and the visuals gradually turn technicolor. The battlefield Atticus than beholds is transformed into an alien invasion that is more akin to a scene in the War of the Worlds. Spaceships attack, UFO’s are hoovering about and a Chtulhu like creature flaps into focus.
Before Atticus can make sense of what is going on, one the UFO’s opens up and someone I presume to be, the princess of Mars, descends by way of a beam. She lands right in front of Atticus and embraces him. Atticus looks overwhelmed by this but doesn’t get the time to think about it much, cause she proceeds to squeeze into his shoulder and hisses something in his ear. Than she abruptly turns him around and Atticus is now face to face with Chtulhu. Atticus appears to be fear stricken, when all of a sudden Chtulhu splits in half and explodes into a million pieces. In the midst of all the Cthulhu debris Jackie Robinson appears swinging his baseball bat. At the time Lovecraft Country takes place, Jackie Robinson was the first African American to brake the baseball color line and herewith heralded the end of racial segregation (in sports at least). Atticus is as surprised as he is relieved when suddenly Chtulhu starts to regenerate and Jackie Robinson has to beat the monstrous creature to a pulp all over again.
It’s not just the visuals that are striking. The voice over from the 1950’s movie “The Jackie Robinson Story” adds even more surrealism to this fever dream. Cause that is what this epic beginning turns out to be. When Atticus is abruptly awakened (by a bump in the road), we learn he is actually on the bus, in the colored section, with a copy of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars on his lap.
Nr. 2 Atticus hometown Chicago
Thank GOD for the beautiful Chicago imagery!! This part of the episode is filled with some of the most uplifting scenes that illustrate the trials and tribulations of the 1950 blacksperience in an unapologetically black neighbourhood and everything about this is truly marvelous.
In this part we get acquainted with Atticus’ loving and warm side of the family. We start with Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and aunt Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis), who are clearly “Love Goals”!! This grown folk love scene is easily one of the most affectionate black love moments I’ve seen in a while. The beauty and tenderness of their connection is even tangible in scenes where the couple has to interact long distance. For me, the most important thing about this imagery is that this type of black love is now out there for the world to see and thus to aspire to…
Whilst investigating the disappearance of his father Atticus visits several places in his hometown. This gives the viewer a glimpse of the everyday life in this all black neighbourhood. The dramatic and suspenseful scenes are frequently interspersed with moments of family bliss. For me, the highlight was the block party which best illustrates the cohesiveness within this black Chicago neighbourhood.
During the block party, we are briefly introduced to Ruby Baptiste (Wunmi Mosaku) and Letitia “ Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollet). These sisters share the same mother and appear to have a strained family dynamic which juxtaposes the warm relationship Atticus has with his family. From the brief conversation the siblings have, it’s easy to asses that the beautiful Letitia has a lot of “big dreams” but doesn’t quite have her sh*t together. Since this is all the information we get during this brief introduction, Leti remains somewhat of a mystery throughout this episode and therefore will continue to surprise us from here on in.
Nr 3. Roadtrip through the Midwest
This traveling sequence is artistic gold. We are presented with visuals that painfully highlight the disparities between black and white America. The creators manage to add even more value to the visualisation by re-imagining iconic photographs from this time period as moving images:
This sequence is accompanied by James Baldwin’s powerful voice over. It’s an excerpt of the historic debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley on the question: “Is the American Dream at the expanse of the American Negro?” (Cambridge University in 1965). The visuals combined with James Baldwin’s delivery on the reality of America truly hits home. His words don’t allow you to marvel at the beauty of this imagery for they open your eyes and force you to see what is truly in front of you.
Nr. 4 The Devon County Car Chase
We cut into Devon County just when Atticus and Uncle George are frustrated with each other. They have been driving in circles and are obviously lost. To cool off and defuse the situation Atticus steps out of the car for a bit and Letitia follows him. They are talking and casually joking about Shaggoths (a blob with a million eyes) when a police car enters the scene. At this point in the episode we, the viewers, are fully aware of most of the indignities African Americans have to deal with and our modern day minds can’t phantom that there are more human rights left to violate. Yet our visceral reaction to the police car is similar to that of Atticus and Leti’s … we immediately tense up because we instinctively know that sh*t is about to go down.
Turns out that Devon County is a sundown county, which means that your ass is grass, if you’re driving while black after sundown. What follows is the most aggravating run in with a sheriff, resulting in the slowest tension filled car chase ever. My blood pressure seriously reached an all-time high during this nerve wrecking scene.
I was barely breathing a sigh of relieve when our protagonist made it out of the county just before sundown, only to feel my heart plummet to an all-time low when it became clear that they had gotten themselves into even deeper sh*t when the police friends of the Sheriff showed up.
Nr. 5 Run, Lettie Run!!
Our protagonist are ordered to get out of the vehicle and an awful lot goes down in those Devon county woods. In short, our heroes have to run from actual monsters and end up in a cabin with the two racist cops that are left after the others were literally eaten by creatures of the night. I have to admit that my level of enjoyment was kinda suspect when that happened and my level of empathy definitely needs to be psychologically examined after experiencing such an immense feeling of joy while watching racist cops suffer.
Which brings me to the last scene to highlight. While much of Leti is still a mystery, the one thing viewers are not in the dark about is Leti’s feistiness. But even so, none of us are prepared for, nor worthy of the level of courage this lady is about to display. When its decided they have a better chance to make it, if they get to one of the cars … one of the blatantly racist cops comes up with the brilliant plan to let Leti make a run for it. Turns out she is the least protected person in that cabin, simply because she is a black woman!! The cop decides that Leti is disposable and if all goes even more left you have a better chance of getting out of this alive with two black men at your side. At this point Leti is terrified and visibly trembling and to calm her nerves she starts reciting Psalm 23. Her intense fear is palpable and there is no way, you cannot feel that.
Needless to say that I was immensely triggered by all the misogynoir, but fortunately it didn’t take long for this feeling to subside and make way for a weird mix of tension filled with immense pride. Seeing Jurnee Smollet transform Letitia into one of the most powerfully depicted “scream queens” on TV, was everything!! There is no running and tripping over branches, while helplessly flailing around and rolling over the ground after a bad fall … instead there is a Florence Griffith-Joyner inspired sprint, cause my black sister doesn’t play and has every intention to make it out of Devon County alive, preferably with Atticus and Uncle George …
The blatant disregard for a black woman’s life had me so worked up that I forgot about all these perfectly crafted monstrous creatures out there!!
In conclusion …the premier episode of Lovecraft Country was worthy of my time and I am anxious to find out what will happen next. I am currently reading the novel but upon viewing this first episode I realise, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I will find out how the TV show ends. As with all adaptation, alteration are made to fit the visual narrative and with Lovecraft Country its no different.
Soooo … have you seen this episode? Did you like it as much as I did and what are your favourite scene’s?
I’d like to hear your thoughts so feel free to leave something in the comments.