Episode 2 of Lovecraft Country shifts the focus from the pilot’s inner-city setting. Instead, we’re introduced to a strange Victorian mansion and an absurd villainous plot that would make a Bond villain jealous. Atticus (Jonathan Majors), Letitia (Jurnee Smollett), and Uncle George (Courtney B Vance), after escaping the clutches of racist cops in the pilot, are welcomed into Braithewaite Manor. The trio would usually be too smart to put their trust in a rich, white, mysterious family but it’s the only oasis for them when stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Leti and George are at first astonished with their new surroundings. In the opening scene, the two get comfortable in the new digs as The Jeffersons Theme plays in the background. “Movin On Up” it seems, but if you’ve seen Get Out, or really, any piece of media dealing with racial anxiety, it’s clear that the supposed come up is fool’s gold. Leti is impressed by her new wardrobe, and George by the mansion’s array of books, but Atticus isn’t so quick to let his guard down. Leti implies he, being a war veteran, is just experiencing PTSD.
But it’s Atticus who appears the sanest to the audience – he’s the only one of the trio who remembers what happened last night. They were nearly killed by their racist captors until they were saved (but later had to outrun) a pack of monstrous creatures; some grotesque hybrid of a wolf, a warm, and a vampire (yes, this show is very weird, and I mean that in a good way). You would think Leti and George would remember almost getting killed baby Kaijus, which leads Atticus to suspect they are under a spell by the Braithewaites. Atticus knows this family isn’t forthcoming about their intentions.
We learn the Braithewaites made their fortune on slavery… or “shipping” as we’re toothlessly told. The current patriarch, Samuel (Tony Goldwyn), is obsessed with science and biblical rhetoric. This is when we’re introduced to the “Hierarchy of Nature”, the idea that Adam helped to establish an order for all living creatures. Of course, Man sits atop of this hierarchy – specifically White Man. Adam’s order is described as nirvana.
“Until that stupid, meddlesome, trouble-making bitch Eve brought entropy and death, ” exclaims Christina, Samuel’s daughter. But she immediately states afterward that she doesn’t believe in biblical stories. She does believe the idea of the hierarchy being what civilization should be modeled after. Christina is an interesting character, as the episode shows her willingness to open up to Atticus and explain some of her family’s history. In turn, Atticus begins to open up a bit to her too. However, her ability to understand Atticus’ plight as a black person does not make her an ally – a fact that is crystallized with her inaction. At one point, during a critical scene, Atticus pleads for her help and she does nothing. She’s the bystander, the one who is perfectly fine with the status quo because she is not harmed by it.
The Braithwaites are the epitome of elitism. When Atticus wonders about their relationship with the Klan, Christina barks they would “never fraternize with the Klan… they’re too poor.” Their self-importance is exemplified in the most unnecessary villain plan of all time. Samuel wants to use technology to open a portal to the Garden of Eden as part of his grand scheme to re-establish the Hierarchy. But why?? What is the point of this? The Braithwaites have a gorgeous mansion on acres of land, so removed from civilization that they aren’t affected by it in the slightest. They have no worries, concerns, or problems.
What befalls the Braithewaites is narcissism, and it is the episode’s most subtle critique of the class dynamics between them and our Black protagonists. Atticus, Leti, and George’s biggest concern is survival. For Samuel, his biggest concern is playing God and controlling everyone’s life. But his survival is never at stake, making his actions wholly evil.
Meanwhile, there’s still the case of Atticus’ missing father, Montrose (Michael K Williams), whose disappearance inspired this entire trek across the country. It’s here that we not only learn new things about Montrose’s past but are introduced to questions about Atticus’ paternity and family history. By the end of it, the climactic scene involves Atticus facing an unexpected encounter with his family history. It’s the benefit of producing a fantasy show – you can play with the rules of space and time. In doing so, we’re left to wonder what the climax means for Atticus’ journey. In order for him to become the hero we expect, is there more from his heritage that he must work to rectify? This idea of familial history is escalated when Montrose’s backstory is touched upon. We learn about the abuse his father inflicted and the notion that Uncle George failed to help his brother. This is all apropos for a show that aims to reconcile with the past.
In addition, we’re once again teased a love triangle between Leti, Atticus, and Atticus’ lover. Leti craves Atticus, but he is oblivious, with his romantic focus still on his girlfriend from his time at war in Korea, Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung). Ji-Ah was the alien creature whom Atticus was smitten within Atticus’ fantasy, which opened Episode 1. In Episode 2, we see Ji-Ah’s actual human form, as she appears when the Braithwaites tease our protagonist with their greatest desires. But the encounter between the two lovers doesn’t go as planned, perhaps telegraphing how their relationship will progress in reality, beyond the vision.
Episode 2 of Lovecraft Country isn’t as viscerally thrilling as the pilot episode, which is partially due to limiting the action to one location. But it’s also because we’re still setting the chess pieces in place. There’s so much backstory and hints at character progression the episode needs to establish, but it is doing the groundwork for the many episodes to come. These characters are vibrant, intriguing, and conflicted. The stories Lovecraft Country is attempting to build around the characters’ love lives, heritage, oppression, and dreams make it a bigger draw than the show’s continuously immersive production design. This has become appointment television, a visually and thematically rewarding intersection between fantasy and societal anxieties that are far too real.