A cornucopia of chaos. If there was ever an entry in this series that best encapsulates the bizarre tone and bonkers nature of the plot, “Jig-a-Bobo” would be it. The 8th episode of the season is filled to the brim with set pieces, magic spells, shootouts, gore, violence, and plenty of pontificating about the differences between heaven and hell. In other words, this is a “kitchen sink” episode, one that intriguingly sets the table for the remaining two episodes, but raises plenty of questions about just what the hell show-runner Misha Green wants her adaptation of Lovecraft Country to say.
Consider the scene, early on in the episode, where Ruby and Christina make love. But the union doesn’t occur in their normal forms; Christina resigns to her disguise as “William”, while Ruby uses the potion to appear as “Helen.” Unlike their previous encounters, the act is fully consensual as Ruby is aware of Christina’s alter ego. The scene in question is one of the most horrific displays of sex you’ll ever see, as Ruby grotesquely sheds the skin of “Helen” as the potion wears off. What we’re left to consider is how erotic this must be to the characters, as neither is inhabitating their true form. But perhaps this is representative of their deepest desires, of how they want to be seen – Christina a square-jawed man, Ruby a seemingly normal white woman. Christina even revels in the memory of the act in a proceeding conversation, as she’s fully embraced what Ruby has yet to accept – these “disguises” are what they both desire to be.
But then the episode pivots into even, somehow, stranger territory. The current year is 1955, and Emmett Till has just been murdered while visiting family in Mississippi. The brutal death of the 14-year-old hits his hometown of Chicago hard, including Uncle George and Hippolyta’s young daughter Dee. Hippolyta is still missing from her excursion in the previous episode, while George is dead. That leaves Dee to not only come to grips with their absence, but also to grieve the death of her friend Emmett. The choice to make the real-life Emmett Till a friend of a fictional character is an interesting one, one likely intended to add more stakes in his death for our protagonists. But the way Till is crowbarred into the story feels tacky, down to the title of the episode acting as a reference to his nickname. To be fair, Till does make a small cameo appearance in episode 3, but we don’t see Dee spend any meaningful amount of time with him. The inclusion of this friendship is too coincidental, and too distracting.
As the south side of Chicago mourns Emmett Till, Ruby confronts Christina about the latter’s feelings on the matter. An angry Ruby laments how Till was mutilated, shot, and thrown into a river with a fan weighted around his neck. Mind you, we just saw these two having sex in their previous scene, so this encounter comes out of nowhere. After talking around the topic, Christina finally admits that she doesn’t care about Emmett Till. She also claims that Ruby doesn’t care either, evidenced by the latter’s actions of late. It’s the biggest disagreement the two have had yet, but one that leaves an impression on Christina.
She later stages an event for reasons that aren’t explicitly stated, but appears to be designed to put herself in Emmett Till’s shoes, thus giving her a way to feel empathy for the deceased. But one can’t replicate this experience through violence alone. Emmett Till’s tragic death isn’t just about the violence itself, but about a system of oppression and otherness that emboldened the perpetrators to feel as if they could enact this power over Till. That is something Christina can’t replicate through what she chooses to do at the end of this episode. It’s also telling that she doesn’t use one of her potions to disguise herself as a black person, which would be a much more meaningful attempt at shared experience.
Later, Ji-Ah, Atticus’ tranquil lover, makes her way to Chicago. Her arrival threatens to upend the relationship between Atticus and Letitia, but she’s not here to be a temptress. Rather, she’s here to warn Atticus of her vision that he will die in the near future, with her love for Atticus acting as the primary motivator behind her trek to the windy city. But Atticus, still freaked out by his discovery that Ji-Ah is a Kumiho (or a succubus, as he calls it), viciously rejects her in what has become a weekly installment of Asshole Atticus.
But Atticus might already be resigned to his fate, as we learn key details about him. The intersection between the black experience and pulp fantasy is further expressed when Atticus shows his father, Montrose, a copy of the book Lovecraft Country. Except, in this universe, the book has been written by Atticus’ future son, revealing that Atticus has been to the future and back. The book is a depiction of the events we’re seeing in the series, with some of the details changed – including gender swaps. The details that Atticus lists off match the differences between the show and the real-life novel, written by Matt Ruff.
Here, the reimagining of Atticus’ son as the author is meant to be symbolic for the willingness of black culture to venture deeper into the worlds of Sci-fi, pulp fantasy, and horror. When Atticus gets off that bus in the Pilot episode, his fandom for H.P. Lovecraft is depicted as abnormal. But we see in the future, it has been relatively normalized for black people to be fans of, and even creators of, high-concept fantasy. Thus, evolving past the unfortunate depictions of black culture within the various literary genres in the 19th and 20th century, making Lovecraft Country, the show and the book, a gateway to humanize black culture within some of the most popular genres in entertainment.
But despite what is an outstanding technical production, Lovecraft Country isn’t without warts. The inclusion of Emmett Till in this episode doesn’t work because it comes off as too much of a footnote, one that does not do justice a critical tragedy in the history of American civil rights. In this tale of demons, time travel, space hopping, magic spells, and Indiana Jones-esque adventures, you can’t elevate that material by simply name dropping a historic figure. One of the biggest challenges for show-runner Misha Green is to deliver the crowd-pleasing fantasy while incorporating the themes of oppression and perseverance in ways that make sense and are emotionally satisfying. Its a dilemma faced by many works within genre fiction, and many of them have stumbled trying to combine fantasy with real-world issues, thus failing to successfully execute either form of storytelling.
Luckily for Lovecraft Country, despite it’s occasionally clunky inclusion of real-world events, the most dramatic scenes are so well done that the show does succeed in its high-wire act. Near the end of “Jig-A-Bobo, Letitia discovers that the Chicago police can use magic, further putting herself and Atticus in danger. What proceeds is a sensational set-piece, putting into the fear that Ji-Ah’s premonition will come true. It’s these thrilling moments where the show shines brightest, and validates the grand undertaking the series has signed up for. By episode’s end, there’s a discovery made by the characters that perfectly encapsulates how fantasy is being reconfigured here to battle racism. Its an illuminating moment, where concept and message meet.