The penultimate episode of “Lovecraft Country” takes a trip to the past, & is another powerful, sobering highlight of the season.
Ever since the U.S. entered various stages of pandemic-related lockdown, the concept of time has lost all meaning. Parasite winning Best Picture? That was in March. The West Coast wildfires that turned skies a dystopian shade of orange? That was barely a month ago. Things that happened six months ago feel like last week, and things that happened last week feel like last year. We’re all caught in a loop, scrambling to find something to give us a sense of place, something we can hold onto. Now that I’ve gotten down that tortured attempt at being profound, let’s talk about “Rewind 1921,” the penultimate episode of Lovecraft Country. It’s an episode that features an extraordinary performance by Michael K. Williams, and one of the most powerful moments yet, in a series that, for not being perfect, has more than its fair share of memorable, emotionally moving scenes.
After her attack in last week’s episode, Diana (Jada Harris) is unconscious and looks to be wasting away. Though they have nothing to offer her at this point, considering everyone has gone behind each other’s backs and given her what she’s wanted for various forms of protection and/or knowledge, Christina (Abbey Lee) agrees to at least temporarily relieve the spell cast on Diana. Her condition is that Atticus (Jonathan Majors) go back to Ardham with her on the autumnal equinox, when she plans to achieve full immortality. Neither Montrose (Williams) or Leti (Jurnee Smollett) want him to go, of course, but Atticus, he’s a man of duty and responsibility. He’d walk into Hell to save his family, and in this case, he might literally have to.
Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku), who now seems to be completely in Christina’s thrall, asks her privately if Atticus will be killed as part of the immortality spell, and Christina, in her typically honest fashion, tells her yes. She needs his blood to perform the spell — not a drop or a vial, all of it, to which Ruby seems neither surprised or upset. “Just make sure my sister isn’t hurt,” she says, before coldly turning away. There hasn’t been too much direct interaction between Ruby and Atticus, so it’s not quite clear why she feels so much animosity towards him, or why his “nonsense” about spells and curses is somehow harder to take than Christina’s. Her indifference at the idea of Atticus–the father of her unborn niece or nephew and the man her sister loves–dying is jarring and unsettling. Perhaps this is further evidence of her repeated use of William/Christina’s spell is corrupting her, and I wonder if there will be any kind of turnaround for her before the season concludes next week.
Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) returns from her journey through time and space, and the one funny moment of the episode is her hurriedly explaining the miraculously things she’s seen and learned and everyone staring at her as if to say “You know what, I’m just going to go with this. This is fine.” Because Hippolyta managed to repair the time machine, the group decides the best course of action is to return to Atticus’ mother’s childhood home in Tulsa to retrieve a complete version of the spellbook before it was burned in a fire. They arrive in May of 1921, on the same day that the Tulsa race massacre (also a key plot element in Watchmen) began. It’s also, poignantly, the same night as a young Dora and George Freeman attend a school dance together, and Dora rescues Montrose from another beating by his father, setting off the strange love triangle that will eventually develop between the three of them.
Speaking of which, Atticus learns that George might actually be his father, and he reacts to it with his usual angry fit. At this point, however, the tables are turned — now it’s Atticus who seems to come off as a raging bully, while Montrose shrinks in his presence. Montrose is already struggling, both with the concept of occupying the same time and place as another version of himself, but also with witnessing the abuse he suffered at the hands of his own father from a distant, third person perspective. Eventually he runs off, presumably to warn George of the beating he’s about to endure at the hands of Tulsa rioters, but it’s actually to try to stop the shooting of Thomas, a young friend (and suggested secret love interest) who died in Montrose’s arms.
Williams is absolutely riveting in this episode, and sells Montrose’s sympathetic turn. While there’s no excuse for the abuse he inflicted on Atticus growing up, it’s hard not to feel something for a person so wracked with guilt and marinating nearly his entire life in shame and secrecy. His trying to save Thomas would change the course of everything (and even cancel Atticus’ existence), but it’s what Montrose feels he has to do to make things–make himself right. Atticus manages to talk him out of such a drastic decision, however, but steps in and saves young Montrose, George and Dora from their attack. Maybe it won’t change much history-wise, but at least they can enter their young adult lives knowing that someone will be looking out for them.
Meanwhile, with the attack fully underway, Leti shelters with Dora’s family. Dora’s grandmother (Regina Taylor), minutes away from her destined death, is unsurprised at what Leti tells her, and hands her the spellbook. Of course she believes her, she knows how magic works, and perhaps she knew, in some alternate timeline, that the spellbook would eventually end up where it was supposed to go. She allows herself to burn as history declared her to, holding hands with Leti, who doesn’t burn, who can’t burn, and who holds her family’s future in her belly, and its destiny in her other hand. It’s a moment that left me speechless, not looking away for a moment as Dora’s grandmother, her mouth open in a silent wail, turns to ash before a weeping Leti.
Hippolyta can barely hold the rip in the time-space continuum long enough before Atticus and the others return, and when it’s over, she’s both foaming at the mouth in exertion, and her hair has turned a vibrant shade of anime character blue. But they make it, and they have the spellbook, complete and intact. They’re ready for perhaps the final trip to Ardham.
Dispatches From Kingsport:
- The stunning composition playing as Dora’s childhood home burns down is poet/activist Sonia Sanchez’s “Catch the Fire” set to music.
- I somehow missed that the body Ruby transforms into when she becomes “Hillary” was that of the female groundskeeper at Ardham in episode 2.
- Thank goodness, despite his fellow lodge members’ best efforts, it does appear that the odious Captain Lancaster really is good and dead.
- Nice Back to the Future reference just before Atticus and the others step through the rip in the continuum.
- Alas, no monsters this episode, except for the human kind.
- What are our predictions for the finale? I’m still convinced that George will return, somehow, but that it will require Montrose laying down his own life, which may be the only thing that truly gives him peace. I think Christina will achieve immortality and go off to do whatever it is immortal people do, while reminding Atticus and Leti that’s she out there somewhere, whether they want her to be or not. There’s no word yet on whether we’re getting a season 2, so hopefully we won’t be left hanging off the end of a cliff by our fingernails.