Welcome to another week of Scaredy Cat recaps, where I, a habitually terrified person, review what is and is not nightmare fuel on HBO’s horror allegory Lovecraft Country.
Journalistic integrity compels me to confess that I did have nightmares after last week’s episode, in which Scandal‘s Fitzgerald Grant chanted the spell Ursula used to steal Ariel’s voice in The Little Mermaid and then got turned into stone. But all that is worked out; I’ve talked to my therapist and am typing this from a hot tub full of Holy Water. Besides, the show is not really about things that go bump in the night—it’s about real-life systems of oppression and the people that perpetuate them. You know, regular old terrifying reality. So, I was fully at ease settling down to watch this week’s episode. Actually, I thought, this will be a respite after a day of unpacking boxes in a house I just moved into in a white neighborhood surrounded by scary woods. Let’s see, what does Misha Green have in store for me…? What’s that? The episode is about Leti buying a house in a white neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side? Child, let me put on the kettle; neither haint nor human is sleeping tonight. This show is cutting too close to real life. If next week’s episode is about Aunt Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) stressing about meeting an article deadline for her online news, beauty, fashion, and culture website, I’m filing a complaint.
“Holy Ghost” is a full-fledged, pull-out-the-stops haunted house episode. Nary a door goes un-slammed nor a floorboard un-rattled. It verges on camp until it swan-dives back into something more sinister and grounded, as seems to be the show’s habit. It’s a showcase for Jurnee Smollett, who plays Leti with plucky aplomb and hits this episode out of the park, giving scream queen realness while also carefully plotting a descent into dread. But how scary is it? The kettle is boiling and all the candles in this room just mysteriously snuffed out, so I guess it’s time to find out.
Caution: Spoilers ahead for episode 3 of Lovecraft Country, “Holy Ghost.”
How scary is a dream deferred?
We open on Leti having gone full Walter Lee Younger from A Raisin in the Sun as she surprises her blues singer sister Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) with the news that she has bought a house on the North Side that looks so obviously haunted you almost expect Lydia Deetz to pop up on the widow’s walk. Ruby is not impressed and fearful of the reaction of the white neighbors, reminding Leti that the last time Black people tried to cross the racial real estate barrier, eight Black South Siders mysteriously disappeared. Leti is all vim and vigor and brushes this off, real Walter Lee stuff. Me, I’m nervous because clearly there’s some haints in this house and also I have a controversial but correct opinion about Raisin that I fear I’m going to be compelled to share if this goes much further. Verdict: foreboding but scary. Also, the Youngers should have just taken that money. Racist cash still spends!
How scary is Hogwarts?
The whole family is still grieving Uncle George’s death three weeks earlier, though Tic (Jonathan Majors), his father Montrose (Michael K. Williams) and Leti have scrubbed the story of the supernatural elements when relaying it to Aunt Hippolyta. Tic wants to come clean but Montrose snaps at him. “You want to tell her that white folks got magic on their side, too?” I realize when he says this that we never use the phrases like White Girl Magic or Magical Caucasian. From now on I will be referring to Hogwarts, if I refer to it, as White Magic School. Verdict: Not scary.
How scary is La Vie Boheme?
Leti fixes the haunted mansion up and turns it into a boarding house for other Black folks, who we meet in quick succession as Leti skips through the halls on move-in day, taking photos. They are all, it seems, fellow artists, and the whole scene plays out like the opening number of Rent. It remains to be seen if anyone will be imploring the crowd to moo. Verdict: Benny shouldn’t have been a landlord in the first place, but it was dumb of him to expect his shady friends to pay rent. They literally sing a whole song about how they’re not going to pay rent. What did you expect to happen here, Benny? That’s what’s scary: poor judgement.
How scary is a little toot-toot, beep-beep?
Leti throws a party to officially open the haunted mansion. The drinks are flowing and people are dancing. We hear a snippet of a conversation about Martin Luther King’s first fiancee, a white woman. I was like, “Oh, tea?” but the show moved on. I have no idea if this will be revisited but I did google it, so I guess chalk one up for education! Ruby and her band are bringing down the house just like they did in the premiere. Suddenly, they’re drowned out by incessant car horns. They look outside and a line of Sneering Racist White Men are standing by their cars, sneering racistly. They’ve tied bricks to the car horns so they can do their sneering hands-free. Racists really love using their ingenuity for evil. Remarkable! I am always fascinated by the role of Sneering Racist White Man in historical films and movies. What is the waiting room at a casting call for that like? I’ll never find out, but drop me a line and tell me about it, toots! Verdict: Scary but in the way that reality is scary.
How scary is turn-down service?
After the party, Leti is sleeping and a hand reaches up from beyond the bed and starts to pull her sheet away. OH NO INDEED! She wakes and comes face to face with a GHOST BLACK WOMAN WITH A BLOODY MESS WHERE HER JAW SHOULD BE. Nope. Nope. LESLIE NOPE. Later, at another party, Leti and Tic encounter each other in the bathroom and give into their mutual attraction by literally banging against the bathroom mirror. We get another blessing in the form of a nude Jonathan Majors (praise!) but we’re not the only ones taking in the view: there’s another ghost in the mirror! My emotions are all over the place. Verdict: Terrifying.
How scary is a little woodwork?
While the bathroom is experiencing a Horny Haunting, Ruby is out in the dining room going on about how the Black race would be a lot further along if they just worked harder, which… okay, ma’am, we’ll deal with this later because there’s a cross burning on the lawn. The racist white neighbors have abandoned ingenuity! I have logistical questions for any racists reading this: where do you get the wood for a burning cross? Does it come assembled or is there a pre-meeting where somebody comes along like a Tim the Tool Klan Taylor with a hammer and nails? Feel free to email me about this.
Ruby is gone, honey. She grabs her car and peels out of there like she’s auditioning for a Fast or a Furious. Leti stands her ground, grabbing her bat and going full Jazmine Sullivan by busting the windows, mirrors, and bricks out of the cars. The needle drops on a Shirley Caesar song and while it’s invigorating, we all know this is going to be big trouble. Verdict: Not scary… yet.
How scary is transportation?
Soon Leti is in a paddy wagon alone with a creepy racist cop who has a sour expression. (Another casting call I have questions about!) He wants to know if someone told her to buy the house and how she got the money and then, in a deeply disturbing shift, he grabs hold of a leather strap on the wall and the driver takes the wagon careening through the streets, tossing Leti around in a manner than seems to deliberately call to mind the murder of Freddie Gray. It’s one of many instances where the show drops genre scare tactics in favor of letting the horror of true life speak for itself. The cop informs Leti that they found the bodies of eight black people in the basement of the house so she’s not long for this world if she stays in it. Not to police this man’s message, but he’s not exactly making a case for staying in the regular world either. Verdict: very scary.
How scary is Photoshop?
After the rough ride, Leti is back in her basement, developing photos she took of her housemates, when she notices all of the photos have slashes of white, like scratches on the negative. She takes them down and organizes them on the floor until all of the scratches form a face and, babe, you will not believe this but the face turns three-dimensional and Voldemort, the bad guy from White Magic School, comes out and is like “Get out of my house!” Okay, it wasn’t actually Voldemort. It was old man Winthrop, the former owner. I get why Leti does what she does, but if it were me, I simply would not organize my photos into the face of an old racist ghost. I simply would not do that.
Leti is on the case, now, trying to figure out who Winthrop is and what the meaning of the cop’s message was. She’s sitting at a bar table surrounded by newspaper clippings and other conspiracy board stuff, scribbling madly like you do when you’re the Only Person Who Knows the Truth. Tic rolls up and he’s like “What’s up with the conspiracy table?” and she replies, simply, “My house is haunted.” Yes, let’s cut to the chase! Tic is like “Ah, thanks for telling me.” I’m rooting for them. Good communication! Leti explains her theory, which is that Winthrop’s house used to be occupied by a man named Epstein (what is this The Good Fight?) who was doing human experiments on disappeared Black people from the South Side (again, not something that would be out of place on The Good Fight). It’s the same Black people Ruby referenced as missing, and the same ones who have been haunting Leti. It’s interesting that last week, the key to salvation was following an ancestor and now this week the threat comes from Black antecedents. Verdict: Psychologically scary.
How scary is eviction?
So, Leti hires a witch doctor. Just flips to the W section the Yellow Pages and is like, “Good evening, madam, please bring your finest goat so as to get this annoying white man out of my basement.” Leti, the witch doctor, and Tic descend into the bowels of the house and have a cleansing ceremony. And, true to form on this show, the jump scare during the ceremony is not from rattling of doors (of which there are many) but from actual flesh and blood sneering white racists breaking into the home. They’ve got bad timing though, because the witch doctor has released all these vengeful spirits of Black people and the ghosts would like to inquire about reparations. I’m a sucker for a “screaming while ghosts make a racket” scene, and Lovecraft Country goes all out: Tic is screaming, Leti is screaming, the witch doctor is screaming, I’m screaming, and the Sneering Racists are screaming as they are killed.
But the show has bigger things on its mind. It turns out that Leti’s homeownership journey is less Walter Lee and more Berniece from The Piano Lesson, as first the witch doctor and then Tic are possessed by Winthrop, and Leti has to beg the ancestors to come to her aid, similar to the climax of August Wilson’s play. “You’re not dead yet,” she calls to the ghosts. They circle her and Winthrop, regaining their human bodies and screaming him into oblivion. “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE,” Leti shouts at Winthrop as he disintegrates, a clever callback. Verdict: It’s ultimately exhilarating more than it is scary, but seeing the witch doctor and Tic being possessed definitely took up residence in my brain. RIP my sleep. Also, it’s scary that this is the second time in as many weeks that Tic has been taken over by some dark (white?) magic and become Leti’s aggressor. Lastly, we don’t ever find out what happened to the doctor. Is there workman’s comp? Is there malpractice insurance? Occupational hazards: terrifying.
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