“I say where is your fire?/ Can’t you smell it coming out of our past?” – Sonia Sanchez, “Catch the Fire”
It was inevitable that Lovecraft Country would head back to Tulsa. Even before there was talk of a time machine — or a “multiverse machine,” as Hippolyta insists — Tulsa kept cropping up in Montrose and Uncle George’s memories. In a show about lineage, horror, and family history, we were bound to get a flashback; the Freeman brothers, along with Atticus’ mother Dora, survived the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 while the rest of Dora’s family did not. Since, this is a genre show, it makes sense the flashback would come in the form of time-travel, so that we can gain some more insight into Montrose, George, and Dora’s lives, decades before our current Lovecraft Country crew’s present.
Thusly, “Rewind 1921” is a time-travel episode, something familiar in the sci-fi genre and something that we even have some mainstream Black-led entries in. (Déjà Vu with Denzel Washington and Paula Patton, anyone?) The show has at times felt unwieldy with so much ground to cover, so time travel proves to be a good vehicle to tie threads together.
If last week was meant to unsettle, this week was meant to find some peace in all that is unsettling. With Diana still cursed, the adults are trying to save her. The episode opens with an acknowledgement that no one properly cared for Dee last week: “Stop pointing fingers, you all are to blame,” Ruby says to the adults in the room. The spell is locked in place by Captain Lancaster’s magic, so it’s a bit beyond Christina’s abilities when they ask for her help. Without pages from the Book of Names (which was lost in the fires of 1921), Diana will die. So when Hippolyta shows up just in time, they all head to the observatory. With Hippolyta back, her purple wrist-ports as channels, they can go back in time.
Montrose is a troubled, haunted character. We’ve encountered Montrose as dependent on alcohol, often dazed or in a fugue of his own memories. Even the smell of burning reminds him of Tulsa. We know that Montrose carries a lot of shame around his queerness, and we know that he’ll do anything — and too much — to protect and preserve his family. But what we didn’t know was just how much this traumatic massacre was wrapped up in Montrose’s gay shame. The first night of the massacre would have been one of the worst nights of his life, regardless, but it’s all exacerbated by someone else he sacrificed along the way: Thomas, another young man for whom he had romantic feelings.
After being whooped and berated by his father on that day in 1921, he made a decision: he would “cut out all the soft parts” of himself. So he lies, meeting Thomas and telling him that he is not gay like he is. Montrose is ending things, only for the pair to be met by a group of white people amid the massacre. Scared, the two hold hands together, despite having been so afraid to do so in public. The imagery is heartbreaking. Further, we watch adult Montrose and Atticus watch on, Atticus embracing his father. One of the white men shoots Thomas in the head, and would have likely killed Montrose next if it weren’t for George and Dora showing up in time to fend off some of the group. We’d heard that part of the story before, how next, “a mysterious stranger swinging a bat like Jackie Robinson” came to save them all. Atticus knew that part of the story so well that Jackie Robinson shows up in his dreams. But looking on, the adult Montrose and Atticus see something not matching up: The stranger isn’t coming. Atticus intuits that he has to be that stranger, so he walks over and hits “home runs on all their heads.” He knows the story so well it becomes his destiny. The past and the future collapse.
While Atticus helps Montrose, Letitia has been tasked with retrieving the Book of Names. Letitia goes to Dora’s family home trying to blend in as a townsperson. Nana Hattie (Regina Taylor) senses she is not who she says she is, so Letitia explains that she is from the future and why she has come. The show, for better or worse, really wants us to witness violence (often to gratuitous ends), but this episode really shows us the potential in such a commitment; the imagery and juxtaposition of images that follow are quite stunning. The music cue does a lot of the work here, imbuing the scene with a sense of awe: it’s a Robin “Rob” Coudert track called “Don’t Kill Dub” which features a Sonia Sanchez’s poem, “Catch the Fire.”
Hattie gives Letitia the Book of Names that’s been passed down for her to guard, and we watch her accept her family’s fate. The new baby, her great-great-grandson, will be “her faith made flesh.” The two say the Lord’s Prayer together and we watch as she burns alive. In order for the lineage to continue, this family in 1921 has to stick to their unfortunate fate. This happens simultaneously as Atticus swings the bat across town. Tic and Leti each give life to and solidify others’ death here. It’s heavy, but it’s presented in a manner that’s breathtaking. We know that the family is burned alive. This episode makes us confront the violence of that, but also gives us another way to think of it other than only devastation. The Sonia Sanchez poem reads, “Catch the fire … and live./ live./ livelivelive./ livelivelive./ live./ live.” The family will live on through our protagonists.
This episode is a story about not just generational sacrifice, but generational relation. How we both extend from and reach back toward our ancestors before us. Montrose recounts the names and stories of lives lost during the race massacre, honoring actual victims. What if the horrors of the past are not only a destructive fire, but one that drives us? “The fire of living … not dying,” as the poem suggests? Leti returns to the portal as bombs from planes blow up behind her; she’s impervious and carried by the sacrifice of her unborn son’s great-great-grandmother, even mimicking Hannah’s actions before her. Time is collapsing. An operatic version of the poem carries the episode into the credits.
Christina helps our Black protagonists this week in exchange for Atticus’ willing return to Ardham on the Autumnal Equinox. She wants to taste the freedom that immortality will give her, to experience “an eternity of firsts”; it seems she might want Ruby by her side. Will she be successful? Will Atticus survive the finale?
• The black shoggoth … when the world needed him most, he vanished.
• “We got lucky with our shit. We need somebody who knows what the fuck they’re doing.” —Atticus, on his family’s lack of knowledge about magic nine episodes in
• Blue-haired Hippolyta, who has lived the equivalent of 200 years on Earth 504, will save the world!
• Ruby: “Shit, you need to be gettin’ in this car with me!” The dialogue in the early parts of the episode was so funny. Jurnee Smollett’s delivery of “We should name him George” is glorious. I know they’re proving their drama chops here, but I’d love to see them in a comedy.
• The stone that Christina had Ruby place in Captain Lancaster’s desk in “Strange Case” had a purpose: to disrupt the magic that was keeping him alive. The stone seems to have insured that the next time he was maimed or killed, his “regeneration” spell would not work. In this case the regeneration looked like using the body parts of disappeared Black people to restore his body (talk about macabre, geez). With the stone in place, his wound will keep returning. The shoggoth attack last week jumpstarted his death. Christina, as William, watches him die. And good riddance!
• Where might Ji-Ah be?
• In my screener, the intertitle says the observatory with the multiverse machine is in “KENTUCKY.” However, in “I Am.” it seemed that the observatory was in Mayfield, Kansas: Hippolyta held a map of Kansas when she was on the road, with the observatory’s coordinates scrawled on the page. I’m not sure if this is an error or if I’m missing some information.
• It’s quite heartbreaking to watch Leti talk with the young girl, Beulah, in the house whose fate is sealed: “Everything’s gonna be okay, right?”
• I don’t know what to make of Ruby’s turning of the knob on Dell’s makeshift hospital bed, and talking about how when she “used to imagine being white” she “always saw [herself] as a redhead.” Will they look for a new person for her to embody? Is this simply a reference to the novel and she’s just indicating that she’s done using the potion? I’m still frustrated that Ruby’s arc is so tied to whiteness. I’m hoping this means she’s DONE with it.
• Gaywatch: There’s some interesting stuff under the surface here about how easy it is to be thrust back into queer shame when the world around you tries to make you feel bad about it— Montrose even says, “I deserved it” as he looks on at his own beating. There’s something nice about Atticus getting to say, “I got you kid,” to his young, queer father. Christina to Ruby: “The only variable was time, and now you.”