Missed opportunities. Opportunities that are taken away. That’s the dilemma vexing many of the characters in “A History of Violence,” Lovecraft Country’s harrowing 4th episode. Here, there’s a hunt for a vault amidst the backdrop of a remarkable underground cave. Yet, despite the leaps into fantasy, this is a show that still grounds itself in issues such as unemployment, alcoholism, body-consciousness, and prejudice.
The episode opens with Atticus’ father, Montrose (Michael K Williams), having a nervous breakdown. He’s distraught over the death of brother, George, and tries in vain to drink his sorrows away. Then, he comes across the Order of the Ancient Dawn, the key texts the Braithewaites use to hopefully gain access to the Garden of Eden. Why Montrose or Atticus haven’t trashed these texts, since nothing good has come from them yet, is beyond me. Nonetheless, Montrose reads a key passage:
Adam named. Eve fucked. God brought forth Monsters. Monsters devoured. God smites Eve.
So Adam is seen as pure and the natural leader of the world. The “Jezebel” Eve brings damnation to the world via her promiscuity. This is the nonsense the Braithewaites believe, and this ideology makes their use of magic so dangerous. In the previous episode, Christina Braithewaite (Abbey Lee Kershaw) secretly provided the inheritance for Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) to buy her new home, with Letitia not previously knowing the house was haunted. Now, Christina wants to retrieve Hiram’s Orrery, a key that will unlock the time machine that will allow Christina to access the Garden of Eden. However, Letitia has used goat’s blood to bar Christina, and her magical abilities, from the home.
This all seems awfully contrived, however. Couldn’t Christina have just bought the house herself and had access to whatever she needed? Instead, she goes through all these extra steps to give Letitia the money under the guise that it is an inheritance from Letitia’s deceased mother. Then, Christina has to manipulate events so that Letitia buys that house in particular; seriously, what is this bullshit? This clunky writing distracts from the point the show is trying to make in regards to the complexity of feminism. Christina recognizes the lack of power she has within her own family, and intends to fight against the implicit sexism. However, her crusade is only for selfish gains, not for women’s liberation. This is evidenced by the fact that she uses Letitia as a commodity, and Letitia sees right through it.
Atticus, Letitia, and Montrose eventually realize they have to gain access to the remaining texts. This leads them to Boston, where lies the vault of Titus Braithewaite. The sequence to get to the vault is a visual marvel, as the trio risk life and limb in a massive cave. Reminiscent of Indiana Jones or Journey to the Center of the Earth, the production values here are outstanding. Combined with sublime cinematography, the show’s adherence to strictly symmetrical framing, and committed physical performances from our lead actors, and it’s clear that Lovecraft Country is one of thd most impressive television productions of all time. Every week, I’m amazed at how much HBO has poured into this fantasy epic, and it leads me wondering what visual feats will we be treated to as the season nears it’s conclusion.
But Lovecraft Country has more on its agenda than paying homage to adventure classics. The theme of the episode is the non-existent opportunities afforded to our characters in Jim Crow era America. At one point, a character explains, to her daughter, how she was robbed of the credit for naming Hera’s comet. When her daughter laments the transgression, her mother replies “We know the truth, that’s all that matters.” But is it what matters? Truth concealed is truth misused; an idea her daughter recognizes when she begins loudly exclaiming, and celebrating for everyone in the museum to hear, that her mother named that comet.
Letitia’s sister, Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku), is much more comfortable wearing truth on her sleeve. She visits a Marshall Field’s in hopes of applying for a job… until she sees they’ve already hired a black woman a couple of days ago. She sadly accepts that there’s no way they’ll hire two of them. Her vulnerability is seen by William (Jordan Patrick Smith), Christina’s creepy accomplish. But William attempts to warm up to Ruby. She initially resists, but relents in a scene plucked straight out of a Shonda Rhimes show. It will be interesting to see this unfold, as anyone associated with the Braithewaites is still not to be trusted until further notice. Yet, one of our protagonists’ own has entered into the dreaded ‘entanglement’.
Yet this development is only the 2nd most surprising part of Episode 4. The chapter ends with a reveal that immediately makes you want to see the next episode, and leaves you questioning some of what we’ve seen up to this point. Lovecraft Country continues to be a much needed gift in a year of television that is compromised by the pandemic. It’s visual bedazzlement, present since episode 1, is now being complimented by an intriguing mystery. If “A History of Violence” teaches us anything, it’s that the reasons behind our roadblocks go deeper than the surface.