What is Lovecraft Country and what the story behind it?
Lovecraft Country has finally premiered on HBO and it’s even better than I anticipated. Based on the novel of the same name by Matt Ruff, the new series tackles a mixture of cosmic horror and very real, horrifying racism across Jim Crow America.
One thing many reviewers of the series have noted is that Lovecraft Country puts the true horror of racism front and center so the monsters and madness almost feel secondary to something that is, unfortunately, still prevalent in the world.
Most people know who H.P. Lovecraft is and understand the massive impact and influence he has had within the horror and sci-fi genres. Unfortunately, he was also a hideous racist. Literary Hub wrote an excellent piece about Lovecraft’s racism and why it is impossible to ignore.
The basis of Ruff’s book, and now the show, is tackling Lovecraft in a way that pays homage to his work while tearing into his racist ideologies and bigotry. Within the first few minutes of the show, the main character, Atticus, discusses reading a story about a Confederate soldier.
His walking partner notes that since he fought for slavery, his flaws cannot be forgotten.
Atticus agrees but argues that he can still appreciate aspects of his work. It is the age-old argument of whether or not you can separate the art from the artist, but extended into a full-length television show brimming with depth and important themes.
Plus, it’s just fantastic television — thrilling, horrifying, emotional, and with a great trio of heroes at the center surrounded by mysteries and gorgeous cinematics.
“I love that the heroes get to go on adventures in other worlds, defy insurmountable odds, defeat the monster, save the day,” Atticus says early on, and it feels very pertinent to the show itself and the hero he will become throughout the first season.
Lovecraft Country Season 1, Episode 1 recap: Meeting the family and characters in Chicago.
So, now that we’ve set up the background of the show a little bit, we can dig into an actual recap of the series premiere.
It begins with a trippy, bonkers dream sequence that combines multiple pop culture references and Lovecraft tropes. It has everything from Cthulhu to aliens to an alien space princess descending down from a UFO.
When our main character Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) jolts awake, he is a Black man living in the 1950s and journeying on a segregated bus. The bus breaks down and he and his fellow Black passenger, an elderly woman, are forced to walk the rest of the way as the man who comes to pick up the passengers doesn’t let them board his truck.
Atticus, or Tic, as he’s known by his friends and family, arrives in Chicago to visit with his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance), his Aunt Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis), and their daughter Diana, or Dee (Jada Black).
There, Tic reconnects with some of his old friends and enjoys his time with family even as he starts his investigation into what happened to his father Montrose. He attends a block party that’s full of dancing, music, and more. It’s there that we meet Letitia ‘Leti’ Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) as she joins her sister Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) on stage for some singing.
We learn that the relationship between Tic and his father was strained, partly because Tic enjoyed reading Lovecraft, who Montrose despised for his racism. He also did not agree with Tic’s decision to serve in the army, wondering why he would serve a country that hates him.
As for George, he spends his days working on a travel guide for Black people to use so they can learn the safest places to stay while traveling through the North. It is a real Green Book, nothing like the movie of the same name that received numerous criticisms.
So, when Tic decides he’s going to try and find his father in Ardham, a town named in a strange letter he received from him after he vanished two weeks prior, George accompanies him on the trip since he intended to add some more entries to his guide book anyway. Letti also joins them so she can get a ride to her brother’s house as Ruby won’t let her stay longer than two days in Chicago.
Lovecraft Country Season 1, Episode 1 recap: The horrors of the road.
Once George, Leti, and Tic pile into George’s beloved woody wagon, aptly nicknamed “Woody,” that’s when things begin to take a dark turn. Their road trip begins with a moving montage of classic Americana at the time, although each one is marred by the underlying racism and in the background, a clip from James Baldwin’s iconic speech is played over it like narration.
His monologue is all about the concept of the American Dream, segregation, racism, and more. It’s a great way to elevate the scene and contains some of the episode’s best and most moving segments, even if they’re just brief images of the time.
Eventually, they pull into a small town to find a diner named Lydia’s, which George did some research on ahead of time. It’s supposed to be run by a Black owner so they think it would be a good place for lunch. Unfortunately, the trio quickly deduces that the former owners were driven out of the space by racists, just in time too, as they pile into the car right as a violent group tries to confront them.
A vicious car chase ensues with a pickup truck full of townsfolk shooting at them as they speed down the road, Leti behind the wheel. It looks like they might not make it, but then a silver Bently comes out of nowhere and steers across the road, forcing their opponent’s car to flip through the air and send its passenger’s flying.
From the car, a well-dressed white woman steps out and watches Tic and the others drive off. She and her car are untouched, which seems pretty supernatural to me.
Lovecraft Country Season 1, Episode 1 recap: Sundown
The next sequence is part of what the title is referencing: sundown towns. Sundown towns were places where Black people were unofficially not allowed to be at night, or after sundown/sunset, as the title suggests.
Trying to navigate their way through Devon County, the trio pulls over for a brief break and a white cop pulls up behind them. He threatens them outright with death if they can’t get out of the area within the next six minutes when the sun sets.
Then he further antagonizes and humiliates Tic before chasing them out of town in his car, trying to force Tic to speed so he has another excuse to pull them over. It’s a far more tense and subdued car chase than the first one, especially as they can’t go very fast.
Finally, they make it to the area’s threshold and are seemingly in the clear! But then we see a police roadblock up ahead and you can’t help but groan. They run straight into the county’s horrendously racist sheriff, a man whose reputation precedes them.
He and his fellow officers pull the group over and take them into the woods, forcing them to the ground with guns trained on each of them. They’re accused of being a trio of robbers who have been pillaging the area.
Just when it seems like the cops are going to kill them all, they’re all startled by strange noises from the surrounding woods. Suddenly, a bunch of terrifying monsters, somewhat similar to the “shoggoths” Tic described earlier, burst through the trees and start attacking the cops, including ripping off the sheriff’s arm.
Leti and Tic take off running toward a nearby cabin. The now one-armed sheriff and another cop make it into the cabin with them, but George gets left behind after tripping. Luckily, he took a flashlight from one of the dead cops and was left alone by the creatures. He deduces that they are similar to vampires, afraid of the light.
The gang concocts a plan to get the car, turn on the headlights and scare off all the creatures until they can leave. The sheriff, still terrible even in the middle of an attack, forces Leti to go because he sees her as less smart than the others.
She bolts through the woods, gets into the car, and narrowly avoids being turned into monster food. But while Leti is retrieving Woody, the men find they have a new terrifying problem. The sheriff starts to transform into one of the monsters — because what happens when a vampire gets bit?! He bites the other cop, meaning Tic and George are left with not one but TWO monsters in a confined space.
Thankfully, Leti bursts through the cabin, taking out one of the monsters and lighting the place up just in time. She and Tic find the flares in the back and use it to light up the whole area, horrified by how many monsters are visible surrounding them. It looks like the end is nigh, but then a high-pitched sound permeates the space. The monsters hear it and suddenly stop their attack, scampering off into the night.
Bloody, exhausted, and thoroughly frightened, Tic, George, and Leti slowly walk away from all the carnage as the sun rises. They continue walking until they wind up in Ardham, which is a giant estate with an impressive manor at its center.
They approach the front door and a white man with blond hair and blue eyes greets them. He immediately recognizes Tic and says, “We’ve been expecting you Mr. Freeman. Welcome home.”
What did you think of the first episode of Lovecraft Country? Do you plan on watching the remainder of the season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
New episodes of Lovecraft Country air Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on HBO.