Lovecraft Country remains one of the most amorphous television shows in recent history. Dabbling in pretty much every genre imaginable thus far, episode 3 begins like an installment straight out of American Horror Story. We’re warned, by aggressive text and even more aggressive sound effects, of a haunted house that will claim the lives of key characters. Enter Letitia (Jurnee Smollett), who introduces her estranged sister, Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku), to the house they now own. She tells Ruby that they’ll never have to pay rent again, but it all seems to good to be true.
Meanwhile, Atticus (Tic for short, played by Jonathan Majors), is living with with his aunt and niece, but the family atmosphere is beyond frigid. Both Tic and his aunt are coming to terms with the death of Uncle George, making Tic’s presence in the house awkward and contentious. Truth be told, Tic wants out, and plans to leave Chicago to return to his job in Florida. But there’s one thing keeping him in Chicago – his unresolved love with Letitia. When Letitia’s racist neighbors promise to be a problem for her in the new house, it provides a convenient excuse for Tic to “stick around a little longer.”
In doing so, Tic begins to consider his desire for Letitia. At her house warming party, she has several men swooning over her, prompting one guest to advise Tic: if you want to be with Letitia, you better act now! But regardless of Tic’s haste, their potential romance isn’t free of anxiety and doubt. These are two grown adults, yet both prove to be vulnerable, in different ways, when it comes to sex and intimacy. This includes a big detail Letitia reveals to Tic, which re-contextualizes their physical relationship. Their union is intense, but it doesn’t get off to an ideal start. This may be easily addressed through a dialogue, but who has time for heavy conversations about anatomy, virginity, or consent when you’re afraid your house is haunted by ghosts!
As the opening text warned us, the new home carries a dark past. We later learn that the house is being haunted by it’s White former owner in addition to black people who were killed by his hands. Considering the era, the community’s refusal to accept Ruby and Letitia is a clear reference to redlining, and the idea that upward mobility for black people is made difficult by racist, un-approving neighbors. A cop even questions Letitia on who gave her the money for the house. We eventually do learn the answer to this, but it’s an answer that unintentionally goes against the show’s themes in order to further establish the series’ Big Bad.
Nonetheless, Episode 3, titled “Holy Ghost”, maintains the series’ trend where each entry feels like an installment in a different genre. Here, we’re treated to a haunted house spectacle that somehow ends as a noir thriller. The underlying idea at play is that Tic and Letitia can’t escape the rule of their oppressors, as we’re reminded in the episode’s closing scene. This is a series about monsters, witchcraft, and portals, yet the conflict always reverts back to harsh realities.
What’s interesting is that Atticus, through these extraordinary events, is living the science fiction novels he so adores. Yet, he displays very little acknowledgement of this symbolism. There’s no winking performance by Majors, nor does the show reveal much of Atticus’ thoughts on this twist of fate. The one literary acknowledgement will do get is when Tic glances at his father’s books, pausing to stare at The Count of Monte Crisco (1844). That novel details the trials of a wrongfully imprisoned man who fights for his freedom and attempts to find a secret treasure.
Parallels can be made between the novel and Tic’s father, Montrose (Michael K Williams), who was just rescued by his son in the previous episode. But it’s still unclear how the show will tie it’s many literary references into a worthwhile dramatization of the Black experience. The juxtaposition between the strange/exhilarating world of science fiction, and the unrelenting cruelty of Jim Crow era America, makes for an interesting blend. But outside of Episode 1, the climaxes of this unique fusion have been simply adequate. “Holy Ghost” ends by re-establishing villains we’re already aware of, and taking away from Letitia’s triumph of purchasing the house. It’s not that the ending is bad, it’s just not as surprising or imaginative as the rest of the show, which is bursting with creativity.
Lovecraft Country continues to be an illuminating tale, with each entry providing a unique adventure. The characterization of Letitia in this episode is the show’s highlight, as the show’s most interesting figure takes center stage. But the series’ relationship between the ugly world of racism and pulpy genre fiction, while solidly constructed, has not consistently yielded cathartic conclusions in each episode. Here’s hoping the best is still yet to come. This is a grand, ambitious production, but the payoffs need to be worthy of the setups.