Lovecraft Country is as amorphous of a show as we’ve seen in some time. An incredibly high-budgeted, globe-trotting trek through the gamut of horror, sci-fi, and racial identity, each episode not offers a new angle but a new setting and character perspective. “Meet Me In Daegu”, the 6th episode, lands us in Korea just a few short years after World War II. At last, we get to know Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung), the Korean lover of Tic (short for Atticus, played by Jonathan Majors). Up to this point, we’ve only seen Ji-Ah in Tic’s fantasies – the opening scene of the pilot that’s right out of a 50s sci-fi thriller, or when the Braithewaites’ spell forced Tic to see visions of her.
But now we’re planted in Ji-Ah’s native land. Tic himself doesn’t even appear until halfway through the episode. Ji-Ah is introduced to us as a nurse, serving Korean and American soldiers who have been wounded in battle. She lives with her mother, who’s established as a widower but we’re not initially told why Ji-Ah’s father is absent. But her mother urges her to bring home a lover, with the implication that Ji-Ah’s potential marriage will uplift the family out of their financial struggles.
Everything seems normal at first. But this is Lovecraft Country, nothing is ever truly normal. It’s revealed that Ji-Ah has been cursed as a Kumiho; a nine-tailed fox lives inside her, only appearing to kill and destroy her mates during sex, then absorbing their soul. The curse was requested by her mother, to avenge the sexual assault afflicted on Ji-Ah. Now, Ji-Ah must collect 100 souls in order to rid herself of the fox, and become completely human once again. But multiple chance meetings with Tic, both of whom appear to be on opposing sides at first, complicates life for herself and her mother.
The episode title is a reference to the 1944 Judy Garland vehicle Meet Me In St Louis. The film in question dealt with the difficulties of pursuing love when they conflict with your familial obligations. Early in the episode, a reference is paid to The Pirate (1948), another romantic film starring Garland. Its established that Ji-Ah is stunted in her dating life, failing to make a connection even though her primary entertainment interests seem to be centered on romance films. For her, the films of Garland are escapist art, but she gets pushback from her Korean counterparts because these films are viewed as “American propaganda.”
It’s here where the show highlights a key similarity between Tic and Ji-Ah. Tic is a sci-fi nerd, well versed on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. But Lovecraft was a racist, often littering his work with foul depictions of dark skinned individuals. How Tic reconciles with that, it has yet to be explained, but would be evidence of why he’s the only major character in the show with an affinity for the Lovecraft genre. On the other hand, Ji-Ah’s love for the Hollywood Golden Age is met with side-eye from her potential suitors. Does her nationality dictate that she can’t enjoy these, admittedly well-made, films? Since the episode transpires over the course of 1949 and 1950, Ji-Ah’s home is still feeling the aftermath of “The Division of Korea.” This was a treaty made between the Allies, following WWII, that stated that Korea would be freed from Japanese rule. But the country would remain under the rule of the Allies until they were “deemed capable” of maintaining their own independence. Thus, Ji-Ah’s appreciation of American culture would seem like a slap in the face to Korean citizens, most of whom already feel patronized by the rest of the world.
But Tic and Ji-Ah eventually discover they’re mutual love for literature and movies. At one point, Tic even gets the upper hand on his love interest, when she gets a key fact wrong about The Count of Monte Crisco. Her interests rejected by her fellow Koreans, Ji-Ah finds love with a man that shares her passions. In many ways, this is what Lovecraft Country is about. How do we celebrate the art we love when said art is tied to, and influenced by, social obstacles that are omnipresent everyday? We go to fiction to escape, but sometimes the context behind the fiction is too oppressive and damaging to ignore.
Love can be obstructed by similar issues. Initially, Ji-Ah and Tic are at odds due to the latter’s duties in his batallion. He’s a threat to both Ji-Ah and her friends. Even as the the two become better acquainted, Ji-Ah can’t let go of an unspeakable act earlier in the episode, carried out by Tic and his fellow soldiers. It means their love, while passionate, may not have longevity.
Ultimately, what the episode really speaks to is the burden Ji-Ah must take on. All of the emotional baggage, historical baggage, and bullshit from her abusive mother, her formerly abusive father, a curse she didn’t ask for or deserve. And the aftermath of a brutal war that threatens her life as well as her ability to pursue life’s most joyous entertainment. Ji-Ah goes through hell, and it’s amazing that she’s somewhat sane by the end of it.
Jamie Chung is in every scene of the episode, and her performance is fully up to the task of carrying this tale. The empathy Ji-Ah draws is crucial to understanding the choices she makes throughout. The previous episodes in the series have been relatively fast-paced, but “Meet Me In Daegu” runs like honey, taking its time to showcase it’s reveals and progress the characters’ goals. By the end, you feel like you’ve been on an exhausting journey, but one which isn’t fully resolved yet.
We can’t determine what role Ji-Ah will play down the stretch of the season, but by episode’s end she delivers a critical warning to Atticus. Perhaps intentionally, the warning mirrors the advice someone should have offered to Ji-Ah. She and Atticus, their upbringings separated by continents, are both two unique souls in a world of conformity. The dangers that lie ahead for Atticus, and the cruel reality that envelopes Ji-Ah, inspires the inverse of a lesson from another Judy Garland classic. Sometimes, it is better to stay away from home.