Are we all hiding the real us? The 7th episode of Lovecraft Country is all about the characters baring all, figuratively and literally. There’s naked bodies, and naked souls as we attempt to parse through who these characters really are. It all starts with a lie.
Back in episode 5, we learned that Christina Braithewaite had been disguised as William the entire time. This charade started when Christina attempted to join her father’s cult, the Sons of Adam, with the goal of being able to wield the magical powers the Sons of Adam possesses. Apparently they take the name very literally, and refused her entry on the basis of her sex. The real William, her lover, was murdered after William attempted to teach her the ways of magic. This is all explained to Ruby, who was previously duped into sleeping with the fake William. Now, Ruby demands that there are no more secrets, calling for Christina to explain everything.
This is a crucial subplot of the show, as Ruby and Christina have become unexpected allies, each trying to break down the barriers placed in front of them. Ruby, as a black woman, is just trying to get a piece of the pie. While Christina, a white woman, feels emboldened to take a much bigger slice. It’s unclear if either will continue to use their disguises; is Christina done pretending to be “William”? Will we see Ruby masquerade as “Helen”, her white alter ego, once more? If those disguises are still needed for the characters to obtain their goals, it will be a continued damnation of how society distributes power.
Away from all the talk about potions and mythical cults, the most grounded part of the episode involves Atticus and his father, Montrose. After episodes of buildup, Montrose is finally outed as a gay man, caught by his son with his lover. An angry Atticus unleashes a gay slur on his father, allowing years of pent up rage to manifest itself as homophobia. Atticus, despite being our protagonist, hasn’t been the most likable character of late. Whether its figurative fights with his girlfriend, Letitia, or a literal beat down of his own father that left Montrose with a swollen eye, Atticus has been seemingly focused more on arguing with his loved ones than uncovering the secrets within the Sons of Adam.
His homophobia is a new low, but also indicative of the attitudes in 1950’s America. The question becomes, now that the secret is out, if Atticus can let go the years of physical abuse suffered from his father, and learn to accept Montrose’s sexuality, freedom, and humanity? Given the psychological impact Montrose has left, it seems like a heavy ask. Lovecraft Country, by its very premise, seems to be about overcoming the nasty parts of our history. How will that manifest itself when it comes to father and son? Is the message to forgive but not forget, or is Atticus better off severing the ties from what is a broken relationship?
However, the two aforementioned story threads act as table setting for the actual plot of episode 7, titled “I am.” Hippolyta, the widow of Uncle George, is sent on a time-bending, universe-hopping trek. Still hurt by George’s death, and oblivious to the circumstances around it (she doesn’t buy Atticus’ explanation), she sets out on her own journey to discover the truth. In her possession remains the orrery, the mysterious object that Christina has vowed to obtain. Not realizing the power of the device she has in tow, Hippolyta activates the orrery, sending her on an incredible dream-like odyssey. She goes from space stations, to an Amazonian-like battle on earth, to a revealing encounter with her late husband, one where she opens up to him about how unseen and unheard she has always felt.
This galactic odyssey seems to be one grand exploration of Hippolyta’s desire to feel fulfilled. In a way, this is a meta observation on the part of the script, as Hippolyta has been merely a background character up until this point, usually only garnering a couple of scenes per episode. How self-aware is the show really? Last episode, we devoted an hour to the horrific experiences of Ji-Ah, Atticus’ Korean lover, in “Meet Me In Daegu.” Ji-Ah is also a character that was owed deeper exploration, and she was afforded it. However, “I Am” is a disjointed episode that spends it’s first half-hour focusing on Christina, Ruby, and Atticus.
Perhaps the showrunners felt that we couldn’t go two episodes without catching everyone up on the current timeline, but it does short-change Hippolyta’s journey. We see her placed in unique circumstances, such as taking the mantle of a warrior in a mysterious tribe, but not much time is spent exploring her thoughts within these different worlds. The one time she opens up, its during the previously mentioned conversation with her late husband. It’s great the show wants to point out the short end of the stick that black female characters can be left with, but the show doesn’t follow suit. Instead of settling for explaining how unfulfilled she is, why not juxtapose it by detailing how these new environments impact Hippolyta’s mood, thinking, actions, and overall sense of self?
Later, she puts on a happy face as she and George go on an expedition of the universe, but it’s window dressing for real character development. In an episode that’s titled in reference to Hippolyta, it’s disappointing she continues to share the spotlight. The inevitable critique of a high-wire act like Lovecraft Country – the shows aims high, but can’t hit the mark every time.