Atticus & the others learn the secrets of Ardham Lodge in an episode stuffed with enough plot for three episodes.
Warning: don’t read until you’ve watched the episode! No, seriously, this thing is full of spoilers.
Considering how last week’s episode ended, the last thing I expected from episode 2 of Lovecraft Country is for it to open with George (Courtney B. Vance) and Letty (Jurnee Smollett) gleefully dancing to the theme from The Jeffersons. They’re enjoying the luxuries of Ardham Lodge, the enormous mansion they stumbled upon after the nightmarish encounter in the woods, and it’s the only moment of respite both they and the audience get in an episode so packed with plot I both wonder and worry about how the rest of the season is going to play out.
The only one of the group not relaxing and enjoying himself is Atticus (Jonathan Majors), and there’s a reason for that — inexplicably, only he’s able to remember the events of the previous evening. George and Letty both refuse to believe Atticus’ wild story (made even more hard to believe by the fact that their damaged car has somehow been restored), and don’t find anything particularly suspicious about the fact that their rooms at the Lodge seemed to have been designed especially for their arrival, as if it were foretold. Slightly more suspicious is William (Jordan Patrick Smith), the extremely white, extremely blonde houseman who treats the group with chilly politeness.
In that careful, cagey way that people employ when they only want to tell you 25% of the truth, William fills the group in on some of the history of Ardham Lodge, and its creator, shipping magnate Titus Braithwhite, who’s depicted with a hilariously sinister looking oil painting. Due to an “unfortunate accident,” William explains, the original Ardham Lodge burned to the ground, killing Titus and “everybody in it…almost everybody.” We learn that that “almost” was a pregnant slave named Hannah, whose unborn child, it’s later deduced (and I reiterate, stop reading now if you haven’t watched the episode yet), provides direct lineage from Braithwhite to to Atticus, through his mother. Montrose, it seems, is only being used as a lure to get the dutiful Atticus to come to Ardham.
[It’s] an episode so packed with plot I both wonder and worry about how the rest of the season is going to play out.
While exploring the grounds and trying to make sense of what they’re discovering (and why only Atticus can remember what happened that got them to Ardham in the first place), the group has another encounter with monsters. This variety pops out of the ground like giant mutant gophers, but before they can do any damage, riding in on horseback like an evil fairy tale princess is Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee). She drives the monsters off, but forces the group back to Ardham Lodge, where George and Letty are held captive in their rooms and Atticus is clued in (more or less) about why he’s been called there.
It’s at the behest of Christina’s father, Samuel Braithwhite (Tony Goldwyn, but my brain kept trying to convince me it was Bruce Greenwood), millionaire and leader of his local chapter of the Order of the Ancient Dawn, a cult for rich racists. “My father and his associates would never fraternize with the Klan,” Christina is quick to point out. “They’re too poor.” Samuel wants to perform a ritual that will open a gateway to the Garden of Eden (somehow), restore order to the universe (somehow), and grant him eternal life (somehow). He needs Atticus to act as conduit to open the gate, and the fact that this will kill Atticus is viewed as a feature rather than a bug.
Though it’s obvious that Samuel and Christina’s relationship is fraught with animosity, Christina hasn’t done too bad for herself. She has William at her beck and call, she has a fleet of fancy cars (including the Rolls Royce that saved the group in the last episode), and, oh yeah, she’s a sorceress, casting the spell that erased George and Letty’s memories. She also torments the group with visions intended to mentally break them — Atticus of being ferociously attacked by an angry Asian woman, George of reuniting with a deceased lost love, Dora (who we later learn was Atticus’ mother), and Letty of a romantic moment with Atticus turning into an attempted rape. Their distraught reactions are nothing more than cruel entertainment for Samuel’s cronies, who arrive at the Lodge for the ritual.
The group manages to escape the Lodge once more, however, and finally find Montrose (Michael K. Williams), who is neither happy or grateful to see them. They’re quickly captured by Samuel and Christina, however, and Samuel shoots George and Letty, promising Atticus that he’ll heal them if he agrees to go through with the ritual. While preparing to essentially be sacrificed for a rich man’s hubris, Atticus is given a ring from Christina, who tells him “The smallest inconsequential thing can take you off course. You just have to see it. And seize it.” The ring saves his life, as it not only repels the ritual, it kills Samuel and the rest of the order, and destroys the house. Atticus escapes, led by the ghost of Hannah, his great-great-great-grandmother.
Victory comes at a terrible cost, however, when Atticus finds the rest of the group and discovers that George, who was more of a father to him than Montrose ever was, has succumbed to his gunshot wound. Samuel still won, in a way.
Dispatches From Kingsport:
- Also just sort of thrown out there for the audience to try to ponder while everything else was happening is the reveal that George may be Atticus’ real father, and that Christina is apparently breeding the monsters for some unknown purpose, birthing them through cattle.
- As emotionally gripping as the ending of the episode is, I can’t imagine that’ll be the last we see of George. Nor is it likely that it’s the last we see of Christina, or that she’s someone Atticus can trust, despite the fact that she helped him escape.
- Elizabeth Debicki was originally cast as Christina, and while Lee, who also appeared as one of Immortan Joe’s wives in Mad Max: Fury Road, is fine in the role, I would have loved to see what Debicki, who has a spooky, almost otherworldly presence, would have done with it.
- This week’s salute to classic horror: a secret pathway hidden behind a bookcase! We also get a touch of Frankenstein in the setup for the ritual, and the bizarre surgery being performed on Samuel when Atticus first encounters him.
- “Whitey’s On the Moon” is named for Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 spoken word poem. It’s played near the end of the episode, and you can hear it in its entirety here.
- In less successful audio cues, while the anachronistic music in Lovecraft Country works for the most part, Marilyn Manson is a puzzling choice.
- “Don’t mind the others,” William tells Atticus, when he and George get a chilly at best reception at a dinner with the lodge members. “Just because they don’t want you here doesn’t mean you’re not supposed to be.” Despite that, this episode perfectly illustrates how unsettling it is when someone who normally wouldn’t be nice to you suddenly is. Think back to when you were a kid, and your bully suddenly pretended to be nice to you. That was a sign that some real shit was about to go down.
- Jonathan Majors, who starred in last year’s critically acclaimed The Last Black Man in San Francisco, is doing remarkable work here, particularly with his non-verbal reactions. Notice how he seems to shrink in Montrose’s presence, unable to even look him in the eye (even though he’s considerably larger than him), and his shock and grief at discovering that George has died. It’s of course too early to determine if Lovecraft Country will stick the landing like Watchmen did, but with Majors in the lead, it’s promising.