We finally meet the mysterious other woman in Atticus’s life in a bittersweet episode that brings “Lovecraft Country” back on track.
Warning: don’t read until you’ve watched the entire episode!
I’m not mad at the last two episodes of Lovecraft Country, I’m just disappointed. The show is trying for a lot, and mostly succeeding, so when they drop the ball on something, like the introduction (and then immediately killing off) of a trans character, or the reveal that Montrose has a secret gay lover, it sends things stumbling off-course a bit. We’re thankfully back on more even ground with “Meet Me in Daegu,” a flashback episode in which we’re finally introduced to the mystery woman on the other end of Atticus’s phone line. Though we do get a little monster action, it’s a low-key, unexpectedly moving side story that leaves one still eager to see how this all ties together in the end.
The woman in question is Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung), a lovely but awkward nurse working at a military hospital during the Korean War. Ji-Ah finds solace in going to the movies, specifically the movies of Judy Garland, who she occasionally imagines herself to be. Men find her both odd and enticing, which makes it easy for her to bring them home for sex, during which hairy tentacles emerge from every orifice in her body (including her eye sockets, which is both grody and awesome) and render her partners to red soup. It’s not something Ji-Ah particularly enjoys doing, but it’s at the command of her mother. Ji-Ah is possessed by a kumiho, a murderous fox spirit, and the only way she can become fully human again is to steal one hundred souls.
We also get a glimpse of what causes Atticus (Jonathan Majors) so much guilt and pain. As a soldier serving in one of many wars the United States had no business getting involved in, he all too willingly follows orders, shooting a woman over the mere possibility that the might be a Communist spy, and, later, participating in the torture of a prisoner. The shooting is Ji-Ah’s first encounter with Atticus, the second is in the hospital. Though she’s initially enraged at the sight of him, she also finds herself oddly moved by the sight of Atticus sobbing, child-like, both over his injuries, and because his broken glasses don’t allow him to read. He’s essentially robbed of the only thing that gives him comfort.
It’s a low-key, unexpectedly moving side story that leaves one still eager to see how this all ties together in the end.
Ji-Ah knows a little something about finding solace (and shelter) in fantasy, and she’s drawn to Atticus, who, despite the atrocities he’s agreed to commit in the name of military decorum, is gentle and reserved with her. Though it’s all but inevitable that Atticus will be her one hundredth soul, Ji-Ah struggles to keep that side of her at bay, much to the chagrin of her mother, who just wants her to be over and done with it, made “normal” again. A kumiho isn’t capable of feeling love, after all, all they know is deception and death.
When the tentacles finally emerge and begin their work, Ji-Ah experiences something she’s never seen before: a glimpse into the future. Atticus’s future, to be exact. She sees Leti, and the strange language of the Sons of Adam, and Atticus’s death, which, of what we can see of it, looks neither like an easy death, or after a long life. It’s such a shock to Ji-Ah that she’s able to release Atticus before the tentacles do any real damage, other than of the psychological variety. An understandably terrified Atticus flees, ignoring Ji-Ah’s pleas that he not return to America.
When Ji-Ah later visits a shaman to ask (with no small amount of hope) if she’s wrong about what she’s foreseen for Atticus, she’s warned “You will see countless deaths before your journey is done.” Bummer.
If my recap this week is a little skimpy, it’s because this is, so far, the most straightforward episode of Lovecraft Country. It focuses on one story, and none of the usual folks, Atticus excepted, even appear in it. We now know that Atticus has encountered monsters before his trip to Ardham, but, like a lot of things, buried it deep down so that he can’t even talk about it. That’s how a man deals with things, after all. We know that Ji-Ah’s ominous “You shouldn’t have left” in the first episode wasn’t the warning of a woman scorned, but based in love and fear. Are the tentacles that emerge from Ji-Ah’s body of the same origin as the monsters Christina is breeding, and are we ever going to hear about them again? Although I’m still reluctant to think of Christina in “you go, girl” terms, I wouldn’t be entirely averse to seeing the monsters used to take control of the Sons of Adam lodge. It’s not so much that I want Christina to win, but that I just like the idea of Cold Ones and tentacled creatures fucking shit up.
Lovecraft Country, in trying to pull together a series of short stories into one seamless narrative, is still trying to do too much, but “Meet Me in Daegu” exists as much to give dimension to Atticus as a character as it does to introduce yet another piece of the puzzle. We’ve long known there was a cloud hanging over him, and that he came back from the Korean War a changed man (as most people who see combat do), but to see it starkly portrayed is both sad and deeply unsettling. Atticus is well-aware that he’s killing innocent people in service of a country that doesn’t welcome his presence, over a situation that doesn’t and will never impact him. Similarly, Ji-Ah is forced to take care of men who have been trained to find her suspicious on sight, and to kill people like her without a second thought. If we come away from Lovecraft Country understanding anything, it’s not monsters and secret societies, it’s how much of the world runs on reminding other people of where they stand in it.
Dispatches From Kingsport:
- “Meet Me in Daegu” is directed by Helen Shaver, mostly known for acting in such films as Desert Hearts and The Believers, but also an accomplished TV director for more than twenty years, at the helm for everything from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit to Westworld.
- Apparently there was speed dating in Korea as long ago as 1949, who knew? And it looks humiliating.
- I try to avoid thirst comments too much, but this continues to be currently the most attractive cast on television.
- The guileless smile on Atticus’s face when he meets Ji-Ah for their first date could break your damn heart.
- Speaking of which: it was announced this past week that Jonathan Majors has been cast in the next Ant-Man movie. Get that Marvel money, son.
- Amusingly anachronistic music cue of the week: none! This episode feels different, both in tone and style, and it’s (for me, at least), a high point in Lovecraft Country that I hope they’re able to maintain for the remaining four episodes.