After a six-week delay (sorry!), our fourth review of Lovecraft Country begins with a digression about a book, because this’ll be a comparative review. Twenty years ago I was in a group discussing the novel Lolita, which is set in the 1950s just like Lovecraft Country. A group member named Oliver matter-of-factly said, “This book is about parenting.” Silently, as I sat listening and still in my seat, fireworks blasted off in my belly. Socked at such a gut level, I’ve trouble eloquently elucidating why I thoroughly believe Oliver’s insight had been completely correct ‒ maybe because like Lovecraft, Lolita is so heavily laden with extraneous yet capitativing cultural references. In his 1955 novel, Nabokov points to poet Edgar Allan Poe and mocks Joyce’s stylized stream of consciousness; on and on for about 400 pgs. Distilling everything down to parenthood was genius. Two decades later, I’ve not forgotten that discussion and moment: Lolita is about parenting. Readers can get distracted by the ramblings of a smutty professor/pedophile dude, but Lolita is a message for families.
Similarly, for a drama series that is not usually kid-friendly, Lovecraft‘s “A History of Violence” is an adventure episode reaching out to children, or at least reaching to the Black child within adult Black viewers. More broadly, the plot of this segment may seem to be about the hunt for a spellbook or Ruby dealing with hiring discrimination, but primary subtext is a missive for American families ‒ regardless of the family’s race(s). For example, we watch incidental b-roll footage of Christina Braithwhite playing tag with some neighborhood children, seemingly of no consequence to this entire episode except for us viewers who need to see that the messages of this segment embrace both black and white children alike.
The beauty of this episode is speculative, sublime, proactive, innocent and far-reaching into future generations (I hope). Motifs are joy and imagination. In Lovecraft fashion, those positives are proven by highlighting opposing negatives: So that a viewer is motivated to strive for joy, we are shown an emotionally crippled character ‒ as our cautionary tale.
That crippled character is Montrose Freeman (Michael K. Williams). Williams as Montrose Freeman is Tic’s father, an alcoholic full of pain because of an abusive and traumatizing childhood. Now I can write something I have been waiting to holler like the fangirl I am: Omar Little is in the hoooooouse! (unashamedly overexcited) Twelve years after The Wire, Williams appears in his third HBO series, again bringing complicated tenderness to another Black gay character.
While this has been a horror series with an overarching macro perspective usually focused on American ancestry/race and/or cosmic supernatural mysteries, in Lovecraft Country’s fourth and mundane episode us viewers come down to a micro level of watching family dynamics among the Braithwaite-Freeman-Lewis-Baptiste coterie. During this episode, children consult their parents for advice. Hippolyta calls her dad for advice on Hiram Epstein’s orrery. Then there is a family road trip to a museum where the crew stick together despite tensions, learn astronomy together, and search for a hidden underground vault. At the science museum, Hippolyta teaches her daughter Diana about how stars and comets are named. This road trip starts with Letitia encouraging Tic to asks Montrose to tell them what Montrose knows about Ardham, other lodges, and Titus’ spells. When Montrose calls Atticus foolish and initially refuses to help, Letitia scolds Montrose with, “You really going to let him chase his tail, looking for answers you already have?”
Ultimately Montrose does agree to guide Tic and Leti to the hidden vault, in search of Titus’ spells (called “pages” during the episode). When the three of them find themselves in a booby-trapped cave, before walking across a plank, Tic ties a knot around Leti’s waist, while Montrose tells Leti that Tic learned the knot from him, and Montrose learned it from his father, who learned it from his father, who learned it from his father, a slave charged with tying down horses. Montrose continues with the history: “[I]f one those horses got away, my great-ancestor would’ve got beat, but on Juneteenth, he walked off that plantation a free man, not one whoop mark on him. So you can best believe this special fucking knot that was passed down from generations to generations is gonna hold. You hear me?” Only after imparting this family history to Leti does she become emboldened enough to step onto the plank and slowly cross the bottomless pit beneath her.
To sound like a broken record, my first time around I really loved watching their adventure because I love The Goonies. I have mentioned before that The Goonies was my main childhood movie. Rewatching The Goonies always gives me super fuzzy nostalgic feelings. I heart The Goonies so much devotion that in the midst of moving away from the Pacific Northwest, I paused packing and other relocation to-dos, so I could make a day trip to Cannon Beach where The Goonies was filmed ‒ I could not leave without visiting there! I’d bet a pretty penny that a Lovecraft writer and/or producer loves The Goonies as much as I do, because why else would this episode so thoroughly exploit the 1985 Spielberg family adventure classic. Here’s why I’m going on about The Goonies being the recipe for this fourth episode: Because there were no Black folks in The Goonies. I grew up adoring, absorbing, memorizing, reciting, internalizing, geographically chasing (I moved to effing Oregon!) a movie that effectively excluded Black actors. Not to totally dump on Steven Spielberg who did represent Italian Americans (the Fratellis), Chinese Americans (Richard “Data” Wang and his family), American Jews (Chunk davening), and Latinas (Rosalita speaking Spanish). However, not one Black face ‒ essentially until now. Until Lovecraft Country’s thrilling fourth episode with one after another reference to The Goonies.
The BBC published an article suggesting that all-white period dramas are extinct, and I wrote about diversifying a genre when reviewing Blacula. I embraced this Lovecraft episode as a blaxploitation rendering. It’s a big deal to the American viewing public whose progeny will think the absence of brown faces in film and tv is outdated. This is the macro change that is happening as a result of this fourth episode “A History of Violence,” being birthed by Lovecraft Country taking a family-friendly adventure narrative and upgrading it for our collective cultural memory. With this fourth episode I watched one of my favorite narratives for the first time with a Black cast. It had become my story too, finally.
I should explicitly divulge that I’ve never seen any of the Indiana Jones movies, which are also by Spielberg and feature caves with booby traps, so the episode’s makers seem to have exploited that franchise. After this episode of Lovecraft, Indian Jones is now on my to-watch list. If you too want to check out those adventure films, they are on Amazon Prime.