The final half-hour of “I Am.” is everything I could ask for in a show like Lovecraft Country. In addition to an exciting sci-fi hook, we get to watch our Black protagonist — this week Aunjanue Ellis as Hippolyta — lead a fresh narrative and watch her find her triumphant end. Hippolyta’s journey through not-quite-time-travel is strange and magical. It’s full of color and growth that I got swept up in. After watching, it felt like nothing else mattered. Unlike Hippolyta, I wasn’t ready to leave and go back to my Earth.
“I Am.” begins by catching us up on Hippolyta and Dee’s journey. At the end of “A History of Violence” the mother-daughter duo headed to Ardham, and we now see that they visited the ruins of the Braithwhite lodge. Dee notes, “Mama, I don’t think we’re supposed to be here,” sensing something is off about it all. She, like her mother, is smart. But Hippolyta trusts her instincts and ignores her fears. She finds the torn cover from Dee’s handmade travel comic; George was here, and she must find out the truth.
Now, back in Chicago, Hippolyta is tinkering with the orrery she found. She’s close to getting it working again, but getting frustrated, she shoves it to the ground. “I’m sorry,” she says to George’s empty spot in the bed, “I just can’t figure it out.” Looking at it knocked sideways she realizes something: the tilts of the planets’ axes aren’t right. She twists one of the metal rods so that the planets spin differently. And voilà, it begins to whir and clank. Its lights turn on, and the orb on top opens, revealing engraved coordinates and a golden key. It’s a gorgeous visual, and exciting and thrilling in its unknown. She’ll go wherever this takes her.
We also catch up with our other characters where we last left them. Wanting to get more information about the Book of Names and Atticus’ family history, Tic and Leti walk in on Sammy leaving Montrose’s apartment after an argument. They see Montrose’s shirt still unbuttoned and his hand on Sammy’s wrist; his secret is now out. Tic leaves, angry about what this means for he and his father’s tumultuous history, and Leti stays to do some reconnaissance. It turns out that Atticus’ mother had a cousin that survived the riots in Tulsa too, and that cousin has a friend in St. Louis that Atticus wants to visit.
After the reveal that Christina was, in fact, posing as William, Ruby is upset. I was hoping this wasn’t actually the case, because as Ruby notes … this complicates things. As William, Christina did a lot of lying, and a lot of questionable things — “like fuck me,” as Ruby puts it. This is my least favorite arc, and I’m ready for Ruby’s story to move on! I’m ready to move on too! What is nice about Ruby’s story this episode is the satisfying reconciliation between Leti and Ruby. Ruby is able to be in the right, show some forgiveness, and not be left alone after the William debacle. She, with the help of Leti, babysits Dee while Hippolyta is away and lets her have some friends over. It’s a nice break from the horror and drama that will likely come in the following episodes.
The orrery’s coordinates lead Hippolyta to Mayfield, Kansas where she arrives at an observatory. There she finds a machine that fits the orrery’s key. But the machine seems to be stuck so, using her physics and mathematical smarts, she figures out how to turn it on. Police arrive (Captain Lancaster is having them keep an eye on the place) and cause a commotion that leads to the machine creating tears in the universe, and the real heat of the episode begins. Tic throws a cop through the tear and Hippolyta shoots the other cop who bleeds out. Then, standing too close to the disruption in time and space, Hippolyta is sucked in.
Hippolyta arrives, descending meteorically onto what appears to be a planet somewhere in space. Is she in the future? Is that some kind of extraterrestrial ship? Before she can figure it out, two beings looking both robotic and alien approach her. She wakes up in a white room, nude and with purple implants in the beds of her wrists. She is greeted by a tall Black being, with a large, shaped Afro who speaks in code, repeating iterations of “You are not in a prison,” “Where do you want to be?”, and “Name yourself.” (In the credits this character is named as “Seraphina a.k.a. Beyond C’est” — like Beyoncé, get it?)
It’s fun to watch Hippolyta’s mind work as she begins to understand her surroundings and realize this is a place of possibility, but she still doesn’t quite understand the power she is about to wield. Seraphina nudges her again. Who does she want to be? Pressured, she comes up with the quickest idea of freedom she can muster in the moment: “I want to be dancing on stage in Paris with Josephine Baker.” And surely, she is taken there — right onto the stage, in a white feathered getup, mid-dance number. She spends what seems like months there, loosening up thanks to advice from Josephine Baker herself, partaking in the fun, the sisterhood, the lavishness, the drugs. The script and Aunjanue Ellis are wonderful here. What would risk being too on-the-nose elsewhere, becomes layered and full of guts:
“All those years I thought I had everything I ever wanted, only to come here and discover that all I ever was was the exact kind of Negro woman white folks wanted me to be. I feel like they just found a smart way to lynch me without me noticing a noose … Sometimes I just, I wanna kill white folks. And it’s not just them … I hate me, for letting them make me feel small.”
Hippolyta’s ruminations in this episode are full of such nuance in their pauses and pivots—these are feelings wrapped up together, themselves wrapped in a societal history that’s made her feel this way. The audience is forced to feel her emotion here, to listen and be on her side. These very bold feelings become justified. It’s pretty incredible to have her admit this all and have Josephine Baker nod and respond in knowing kinship.
If you’re confused about where and when Hippolyta travels next, that’s part of the point. We see Hippolyta surrounded by other Black women in warrior garb. She begins to spar, in training, with the group’s leader. We watch as her skills grow. And it’s revealed that they’re training to fight … white Confederate soldiers. This is not a space that exists in our current world or timeline, but the orrery is allowing her to travel operating by the many-worlds theory — that if multiple universes exist in parallel, then all possible realities are realized in some world. Or as Hippolyta puts it, she can find “a world where I can name myself anything.” The battle is a bloodbath for the soldiers that ends in Hippolyta kicking off a man’s loosened head. Triumphant, Hippolyta explains to the women she is now leading that this is justified anger, that it’s anger born out of love. She connects these emotions to freedom. More soldiers run toward them in the background, but Hippolyta drops her sword, takes off the helmet she earned, and proclaims her identity once more: “I am Hippolyta; George’s wife.” She’s accomplished what she’s needed to and she’s instantaneously on to the next.
I’ll admit that Hippolyta returning to the scene we first met her in is touching. Her revisiting this moment of tenderness with George is grand because she is able to express her true feelings. “When I was a kid, I thought I was big enough to have every right to name something out of this world,” she tells him, “and then I just started shrinking myself.” She calls out George further—indicating that he influenced her to do this. This version of George is hesitant but apologies and admits that he dulled her shine. With that off her chest, we get her final declaration: “I am Hippolyta; Discoverer.” She grabs George’s hand and the two are transported to a colorful, yet-to-be-explored planet. They make peace with the aliens living there and help catalog and discover new flora and fauna. It’s pure joy.
In the end, Hippolyta chooses to return home. She asks Seraphina, “How could I fit in everything that I am now, into that place?” It’s a lovely, poetic question that I’ll be thinking about for a long time. She explains, “That Hippolyta, she was so small,” but Dee needs her mother. It’s not sad because she’s not that same person. She is now a Hippolyta transformed.
• “Now that I’m tasting it, freedom, like I’ve never known before, I see what I was robbed of back there.” It feels particularly resonant that this episode, and all that Hippolyta confronts in it, airs just days after the non-indictment of police officers who killed Breonna Taylor. This episode feels like an ode to Black women’s vastness and complexity in the face of a world bent on shrinking it. Josephine asks Hippolyta (and us), “What are you gonna do with all that anger?” as both an affirmation and a call to action.
• “I am Hippolyta. I am Hippolyta. I am …HIPPOLYTAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” Hippolyta’s arc in this episode felt good. A feeling I haven’t had in a while in the show. This is what the show can do at its best if it leans into sci-fi or horror in a way that feels fresh and useful. While I wanted to spend more time with Hippolyta, I’m not left wanting anything else from her story here. This episode did so right by her.
• The book that Hannah was carrying in both Tic and Leti’s dreams, as well as the final sequence of “Whitey’s on the Moon” is likely the Book of Names. As Atticus says to Leti: “Christina’s going after the pages. We ‘gon get the whole damn book.”
• I HOLLERED at Hippolyta telling Atticus to “Back up!” from the car. The world does not revolve around you, Tic! Leti: “Looks like we’re taking the bus to St. Louis”
• On her ride to Kansas, a Black woman drives by on a motorcycle. The joy that Hippolyta gets in that moment from seeing this woman be so free is wonderful.
• Flashback spinoff for Ms. “Bertie” (Carol Sutton) and Ethel, please.
• The style and wardrobe of the new-planet world being heavily influenced by Dee’s Orithyia Blue comic was a nice, loving touch.
• Did I forget to mention that Leti is pregnant?
• Gaywatch: Sammy and Montrose have what could have been a sweet breakfast; Atticus calls Montrose a “faggot” to which Montrose says, “I’m still your goddamn, daddy”; and Josephine Baker makes out with Frida Kahlo on a couch.