If the infamous “Something shifted. Shits about to get real weird” tweet predicted anything else besides apocalypse, it might have been this episode of Lovecraft Country, or maybe the show as a whole. In “Whitey’s on the Moon,” Lovecraft Country doubles down on strange. In its climactic sequence, it reminds me of something you’d see a family member half-dozing to late at night on the Syfy channel. This isn’t necessarily bad, of course, depending on your taste. It might not be so different from any episode late in a season of, say, The Vampire Diaries — full of mythology and lore that’s not easy to relay back to someone else in full. I’m okay with that, and I still see some charm in the genre play of it all. But what transpires is definitely unexpected, especially in a second episode.
What feels difficult to digest about this episode is in its surprise: that so much of what we were introduced to is, after an hour, already at its apparent end. I expected that the people and traditions we were introduced to last week might last several episodes, but it all comes crumbling down as swiftly as it was given to us. But maybe there’s a reason for this approach. In the opening scene, we watch George and Letitia gleefully dance around their new rooms while The Jeffersons theme song plays. George lounges in a bed full of his favorite books while Letitia swirls in colorful, expensive dresses, actually clapping along to the beat as if they’re movin’ on up. It’s played for a laugh, but even further, it’s a wink to the audience.
And we need that wink. It teaches us that there’s something we’re meant to be in on: while what will follow might be at times strange or campy or even a bit silly, it’s the Black characters at the center of this story, not the world they encounter here that is extremely alien and overwhelmingly white. Our focus should be on them, not all the marginal details of the world in which they find themselves. We see this wink-in-sound tactic mirrored later in the final Sons of Adam ceremony sequence, as the episode’s titular Gil Scott-Heron spoken-word poem booms over the chants and specifics of the ritual. We see the likes of white men in robes, a portal between dimensions, and magical energies manifesting from casted spells, all while a poem speaks of humans inhabiting two very distinct worlds: “I can’t pay no doctor bills / but Whitey’s on the moon.” Tic is just trying to find his father, but this group of white grand (actual) wizards is trying to use him to open a door to Eden.
If you’ll notice, we rarely get a scene of white characters on their own in this episode. We usually only encounter them while they’re in a room with or surveilling our Black protagonists. The only exception to this is when Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee) helps birth the wriggling creature from the pregnant cow—something we’re given no context for. It seems we’re not given all the nitty-gritty details of this world of Ardham because our Black protagonists also are not given the details. And the person who learns the most about their history, off-screen, is dead in the end. This episode is about Atticus, George, and Leti finishing the journey they started in the first episode: finding Atticus’s father. Everything else, for now, is superfluous.
Perhaps I’m being too generous, but I see it working in almost every scene. The episode jumps from one to the next as our trio learns info relevant to their central mission. When the trio first exit their rooms on the afternoon of their arrival, we formally meet William (who welcomed them “home,” last episode). He speaks ominously of the lodge’s history. It was once owned by the wealthy Titus Braithwhite, who was in the “shipping” trade, which, as Leti reminds us, is “code for slaves.” Long ago, Titus perished in a fire, along with the original lodge, and there were almost no survivors. This becomes integral to a later realization.
Not only are our characters inundated with a new world, on top of that, Leti and George can’t seem to remember the events of the previous night. It turns out outsiders who encounter the shoggoths are spelled to “forget” afterward. Might Atticus be immune to this? After venturing into Ardham’s village, the trio surmises that Atticus’s father might be being held captive in the dungeon of the stone silo that houses the town’s food. On their return to the lodge, they run into the beasts and Leti and George forget again. But not before the crew puts together that Atticus is Titus Braithwhite’s descendant.
With this development, things get even stranger. Christina takes Tic to her father and current lodge owner Samuel Braithwhite (Tony Goldwyn). We learn that Samuel is obsessed with the biblical Adam. He covets his ability, as Tic puts it, “to put everything in its place.” He believes the garden of Eden was a time when “man was immortal,” and as Christina explains later, believes walking through a door to the garden of Eden will give him eternal life. Samuel is convinced that Atticus’s blood will help make it all possible. It’s all indulgently absurd for a second episode. But I think this, too, is intentional. It points to the strangeness of a prideful whiteness constructed this way—these large mythic conceptions of it extending all the way back to Adam and God.
Atticus can’t even think about planning an escape while George and Leti keep forgetting what’s going on. Christina helps, barely, as she restores Leti and George’s memory before immediately trapping all three of them in their respective rooms so that they can’t communicate with each other. The white attendees of the upcoming events watch in amusement. The rooms bring up our characters’ demons, so to speak, making everyone interact with a projection from someone in their present or past: George dances with the woman from his wallet photo last week, Dora (Erica Tazel); Leti is seduced and then almost assaulted by a fake version of Tic with an Edenic snake for genitals; and Atticus is attacked by a woman in combat clothes named Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung). They’re released from their rooms before the pre-dinner ceremony.
Thankfully, Uncle George found a book of bylaws for the “Order of the Ancient Dawn” before dinner (this chapter of the Order seemingly goes by the “Sons of Adam”). As Samuel is monologuing, he is gleefully upstaged by Uncle George, who tells the white attendees that descendants of Titus are not just any old members but are “sons among sons,” and as such Atticus can give all of them orders. Atticus orders everyone but Samuel to “get up, and get the fuck out,” and they do. The ceremony has been derailed for now, giving our trio a chance to escape. If it feels anticlimactic, it’s because we’re focused on the wrong parts of the story. The other stuff is superfluous — this is about their way out of this predicament. George did what he had to do, and there’s no reason to linger.
At this point, I began to realize that this episode would be much more self-contained than I initially thought. This episode is so jam-packed, there were many moments when I thought “okay, this is the last shot.” But the episode doesn’t end when they find Montrose’s escape hatch from the dungeon. It doesn’t end when we see Montrose (Michael K. Williams) break through the ground’s surface, covered in dirt. It doesn’t end as the quartet, trying to flee Ardham, crashes into an invisible barrier. It doesn’t end when Leti is shot and dies, or on the cliffhanger when a second fatal gunshot emerges from Samuel’s gun. It doesn’t end when we see Leti brought back from the dead. And it doesn’t end even when the ceremony goes awry and Atticus, seemingly with the help of his ancestor Hannah, derails the proceedings, turning everyone in the room to stone as the lodge comes crumbling down with them. It’s all a bit fatiguing, but I still find myself engaged by its ambition. The episode did all of the beginnings of world-building, only to burn it down by the episode’s end. We actually see the flames, even though in this timeline, there aren’t any. The lodge, and all it represents, is dust now, as it was all ash with Hannah.
Our trio has found Montrose, but they don’t all survive. Uncle George bleeds out from his gunshot wound, and Samuel isn’t alive to “save” him like he did Leti. Leti delivers the bad news to Atticus with only a look, and he goes to Woody to see his two father figures, Montrose cradling George’s body in his arms. It’s a devastating moment. Uncle George is gone and things will never be the same.
• “My father and his associates would never fraternize with the Klan … They’re too poor.”
• Jurnee Smollett’s delivery of “white folks don’t be seasoning their food,” with the perfect “thank you,” and head tilt toward the faceless butler is GOLD.
• Atticus was pretty shaken after he fought and strangled the fake Ji-Ah. He told George and Leti after, “Something happened in the war …” And I’m so scared of what he might have done.
• Re: the show’s engagement with colorism — the first thing Samuel says when he sees Atticus is that he’s “darker than [he] expected.” He expected Atticus to be lighter-skinned and is disappointed by it.
• I was very swept up in Leti’s “the Bible is full of demons and monsters” speech. The characters are reckoning with the boundaries and truths of the reality they find themselves in, and whether or not this horror is really all that new. I find that pretty riveting.
• Tracking the family lore: Atticus’s mom once recounted an enslaved ancestor named Hannah who escaped her master’s house after a fire while she was pregnant. It’s implied that Hannah might have intentionally started the fire — she’s carrying what looks to be a very large (spell?) book. Did she also help Atticus in disrupting the ceremony and killing the men at the ceremony?
• Jonathan Majors helps emotional beats land even when they shouldn’t always work. I was emotionally exhausted by the end, but his reaction to Uncle George’s death made me feel gutted anew.
• “She never told me or pop anything about her people … but she told you?” Hmmm. “He might not be yours.” HMMMMMM. “You were brimming with love … nothing wrong with loving that much.” HMMMMMMMMM. Gaywatch??