‘Lovecraft Country’ Episode 1 Review: In the Era of Jim Crow, Racist Attitudes Become Literal Monsters
On Sunday, Aug. 16, HBO premiered its highly-anticipated new series, Lovecraft Country. Produced by Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, Lovecraft Country is based on Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name and brings a fresh perspective to the supernatural horror genre.
Set in 1950s America, Lovecraft Country stars Jonathan Myers as Atticus “Tic” Freeman, Jurnee Smollett as Letitia “Leti” Lewis, and Courtney B. Vance as George Freeman. The series chronicles their journey through Jim Crow America in search of Tic’s missing father.
Tic returns home to get the facts about his father’s disappearance
Lovecraft Country opens with an intense battle scene, as Tic (Myers) finds himself back in the trenches of the Korean War. As he makes his way across the battleground, he looks up and sees several UFOs overhead, and is saved from monstrous-looking aliens by his assumed hero, Jackie Robinson.
Suddenly, Tic is jolted awake, coming to in the back of a bus that’s returning him to his Chicago home. There, he reconnects with his Uncle George (Vance), and the two discuss the disappearance of his father, who’s apparently an alcoholic. It’s also revealed that Tic’s uncle produces national guides that inform Black people of the safe places to travel in America. The two decide that they must search for Tic’s father, using a letter that he has left them as a basis for their destination.
On a lighter note, Tic is able to enjoy a block party and later reconnects with Leti (Smollett) who he hasn’t seen in years. The next morning, the three of them set out on their quest to find Tic’s father.
They encounter racism at every turn of their journey
As the group ventures across the country, they are met with intense hostility from their white counterparts. They are refused service at a diner in the midwest, and then violently chased out of town, being shot at all the way. They are nearly killed during the chase, but luckily a mysterious blonde woman saves them from certain death.
The crew ends up making a stop at the home of one of Leti’s family members, and they share a laugh about the experience. The next morning the trip continues, but they are soon met by a racist cop that threatens to kill them if they aren’t out of his county by sundown—which is unfortunately only a few minutes away. A suspenseful chase ensues, and the crew makes it over the county line with seconds to spare; however, several more cops await them in the next county, and they’re dragged into the woods at gunpoint.
The freaks come out at night
Just as the police are preparing to kill them, Tic, Leti, and Uncle George are saved by a group of monsters that have descended from the trees. The monsters have a taste for human flesh, and quickly begin attacking the police officers as Tic and Leti run for their lives. They make it to an abandoned shed, and two officers force their way in behind them, one of them critically wounded.
Uncle George also makes it into the shed, and the five of them try to figure out how to escape the monsters. The police force Leti to retrieve their vehicle alone, and while she’s gone one of the officers turns into a monster similar to the one that’s bitten him. Just as Tic and Uncle George are about to be eaten, Leti drives their car into the shed and rescues them.
Barely escaping the monsters (that appear to be vulnerable to light), Tic, Leti, and Uncle George hobble through the woods all night, reaching their destination, the Ardham Lodge, by daybreak. Upon their arrival, they are welcomed by a peculiar-looking blonde man who favors the blonde woman from earlier in the episode.
Viewers are given a crash course in classic American racism
Lovecraft Country provides a painfully accurate portrayal of 20th-century race relations and the domestic terrorism that Black people experienced on a daily basis. Visual elements within the show, such as the “Safe Negro Travel” store and the massive billboard that reads “Negroes, Don’t Let the Sun Set On You Here” illuminate the harsh realities of racism in the mid 20th century, and the various precautions Black Americans had to take just to stay alive.
Subtle points in the show’s dialogue also work to both educate the audience and push the plot forward, such as when Tic asks his Uncle George, “Remind me why the White House is white?” as they sit in the diner. His uncle’s response—in which he explains how slaves were forced to repaint the structure after it was set ablaze—not only teach the audience an important historical fact, but also lead to Tic’s revelation that the diner they’re sitting in was also painted white because its current owners burned down the black-owned establishment that once stood in its place.
Right after this moment, Leti runs out from the bathroom, commanding that they leave the establishment before white supremacists close in on them with guns.
The show’s monsters are both literal and metaphorical
Toward the close of the episode, the monsters that the crew sees double as not only literal beasts looking to take their lives but also as symbolic representations of the inherent racial dangers they face throughout their journey. Similar to how the monsters chase Tic, Leti, and Uncle George down and desire to consume their flesh, white supremacists tirelessly pursue them due to the composition of their skin.
Also, just as the three of them are only able to fend off the white extremists as a team, they are not capable of overcoming the monsters until they work together to fend them off.
Ironically enough, the monsters are responsible for saving the crew from the racists at the conclusion of the episode.
‘Lovecraft Country’ tells a sad truth in grotesque fashion
As foul and problematic as the language between the white supremacists and the Lovecraft crew may seem, it is a very real representation of how white people interacted with Black people during the Jim Crow era. All of the signage, dialogue, and conflict conveyed in the show is based on real subject matter.
Although being Black in America today is no walk in the park, it pales in comparison to the unsettling suspense and terrifying action sequences that the main characters experience in Jim Crow America throughout the Lovecraft Country pilot.