Television

Lovecraft Country Season Finale Review Spectacular!

There are few things as aesthetically pleasing as storytelling that comes full circle. Lovecraft Country is so aware of this fact, that it’s the very title of our season finale – “Full Circle.” Here, our protagonists finally get on the same page, teaming up to escort Atticus back to Ardham, MA where Christina will perform the Autumnal Equinox. The spell that will give Christina immortality requires the lifeblood of Atticus, which will probably end his life…. unless he, Letitia, and Montrose can come up with a plan, and possibly a spell, to foil Christina’s attempts.

But it takes a full team to pull this off, which means mending some fences. Hippolyta and Dee are more than eager to join the fray. But it’s not as easy to get Ruby on board. Ruby and her sister, Letitia, fight over Christina’s plan, their mother’s death, and their sisterhood. Ruby is conflicted (read: stupid) due to her romantic relationship with Christina, which conflates with her personal grievances with Letitia. How this triangle of conflicted interest resolves itself is ultimately true to each of the characters involved, but accentuate the dangers of changing who you are purely for superficial gain.

But there’s one piece of the puzzle that’s still missing: Atticus’ former lover, Ji-Ah. After ‘Tic rudely told her off in a previous episode, it’s a wonder Ji-Ah wasn’t on the first flight back to Korea. Fortunately for ‘Tic, he finds her in a bar and pleads with her to help him in the fight against Christina. This leads to a rather hilarious bit where Atticus argues that he and Ji-Ah are family. At least it’s earned when Dominic Toretto does this; for ‘Tic and Ji-Ah, they had a brief fling in Korea, and upon her finding him in Chicago he promptly told her to fuck off. This makeup feels disingenuous, even as the show plays it completely sincerely.

Eventually, Atticus, Dee, Montrose, Letitia, Ruby, Ji-Ah, and Hippolyta all join together like the Southside Avengers, headed straight to Ardham for the Autumnal Equinox, and the season’s climax. At this point, Ji-Ah’s vision has foretold that this is where Atticus dies. So it becomes a question of whether Atticus is too important to die, or if his sacrifice will serve a greater good. What proceeds is a grand finale, where both our protagonists and Christina have aces in the hole and a great deal of fight? While the production is certainly fantastic (it will be easier to discover what’s inside Area 51 than finding out how much HBO spent on this show), is this finale a suitable culmination for this series’ parable on the relationship between race, America, and pulp fiction (no, not that one)?

One of the flaws that have afflicted Lovecraft Country is the cardboard cutouts we have in place of villains. Seamus Lancaster, the racist police captain, was such an unremarkable character that the actor could appear as another character in this show, in different clothes, and I would never notice. The season’s real big bad, Christina Braithewaite, is much more memorable, but perhaps not dastardly enough to garner true hatred from the audience. She’s certainly a terrible person and does horrific things in the finale. But so much has been invested in her relationship with Ruby, and providing her with redeemable traits, that it’s a tough ask to turnaround and ask the audience to buy her as the embodiment of racial hate in Jim Crow era America. As a villain, she’s believable, but as a target for multiple generations’ worth of catharsis, it just doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Then comes the issue of the central romance that is meant to carry the stakes of the climax. What hovers over Atticus’ undetermined fate is the fact that Letitia is pregnant with their unborn child. However, there has been as much time devoted to building the relationship between Atticus and Ji-Ah, leading to a weird dynamic between the three characters. We have multiple episodes that paint a backstory for ‘Tic and Ji-Ah, only for the latter to be friend-zoned, while ‘Tic’s relationship with Letitia lacks the appropriate development. There’s a critical moment near the end of the finale, one that is meant to be the emotional high point. But it relies on the audience caring deeply about the union between ‘Tic and Letitia. It’s hard to do so when the second half of the season is spent seeing them argue over ‘Tic’s daddy issues rather than growing as a couple.

Ultimately, Lovecraft Country represents an opportunity while leaving room for great improvement. Show-runner Misha Green, and the book’s author, Matt Ruff, have crafted a tale that pushes back against the tendency of science fiction to ignore or smooth over, the realities of racism. The show subverts the context in which black characters can be heroes of a story, adding mythical air akin to Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings to a reality that shares space with Emmett Till and Aryan Eugenics, thus canonizing this trauma.

But the show isn’t without flaws. The writing has relied too heavily on metaphor and references to elicit meaning that will lead to a profound experience, as opposed to fine-tuning the character motivations, plot details, pacing, and structure; the latter distracts from the former. It’s a reminder that progress isn’t perfect, but it’s still encouraging. If there is a season 2, which the season finale lightly teases, it’s an opportunity to improve upon what came before. Lovecraft Country has been a wild ride; one of the most bizarre, intriguing, frustrating, and unexpected television journeys we’ve had in recent memory. But, that’s what we expect out of science fiction, pulp fantasy, and grotesque horror. It’s weird, strange, hilarious, horrifying, and unapologetic. But it’s also nice to see more seats at the table to occupy that sector of entertainment.

But now that the season is over, I felt a fun way to say goodbye (for now) is to give out awards for all the best moments and characters from a memorable piece of television.

MVP: Lebron James. But since he’s not eligible, it must go to Jurnee Smollett. Her performance as Letitia Lewis was authentic, bold, and inspiring. It’s easy to come off as bombastic in a melodrama such as this, but Smollett was able to go for huge acting ballads while not forcing the audience to betray their suspension of disbelief. Despite the strange and complex material, there was no winking or tongue-in-cheek energy from her performance. She was often asked to carry the emotional weight of each episode, including several monologues, high-pitched wails, and tearful pleas. It’s also telling that no one overshadowed her, or stole a scene from her. You get the sense that if anyone, including Courtney B. Vance, even hinted at going for the crown, Smollet would improv and tearfully dive into an impromptu monologue about how she misses her late mother’s voice and her homemade pancakes. For having the biggest workload, as well as aiming the highest among all cast members, Jurnee Smollett is Lovecraft Country’s most cherished asset.

Most Memorable Scene: of all the awards, this is the most stacked category. Atticus’ equally horrific and fantastic dream sequence, from the pilot’s opening scene, is ingrained in my memory. It was a perfect introduction to how the show would delve into genre fare, and the special effects were arresting. Later in the same episode, ‘Tic/Letitia/Uncle George is saved by nocturnal beasts, upending the effects racism can have on these characters. In episode 3, MVP Jurnee Smollett impressed audiences with her rebellion against the ghosts haunting her new home, in a scene that will end up in her reel for her probable Emmy nomination. Then, there’s the shock of seeing Ruby awaken inside the body of a white woman. While these are all strong choices, the winner goes to our protagonists’ narrow escape in the pilot episode “Sundown.” Not only was it unexpected to see the introduction of these monstrous creatures, but it was fulfilling to see their carnage enacted upon the racist sheriff and his comrades. Add to that, exceptional chemistry between Vance, Smollet, and Jonathan Majors, along with an edge-of-the-seat car chase, and the climax of “Sundown” ends up being the series’ most successful conjunction between race and fantasy.

Best Episode: After much consideration, this becomes a 4-way battle between Sundown (Episode 1), Holy Ghost (3), Strange Case (5), and Meet Me in Daegu (6). Of these 4, “Meet Me in Daegu” is the most unique as it broke the pace of the system, as we flashed back to ‘Tic and Ji-Ah’s overseas romance. The episode combined romance and horror while being patient enough to let the characters breathe. But what wins out is not just execution, but meaning as well, which is where “Sundown” narrowly edges out the competition. It was the most consistent and most fully-realized entry in this strange series, perfectly combining the pulp with the bizarre, the horror, the fantasy, the action, and the subtext that frames this story as a simultaneous embrace of H.P. Lovecraft’s work while rejecting the hideous human being behind the pen.

Most Underrated Episode: A History of Violence (Episode 4), was an imperfect but fun piece of action fantasy. Here, ‘Tic, Letitia, and Montrose go searching underground for missing pages from the book of names. Inspired partially by Indiana Jones and Journey to the Center of the Earth, the atmosphere was a great change of pace, and an additional example of how outstanding a visual production this show turned out to be.

The Lyndon James Memorial Award For Worst Character: since we all know who the best character is (Uncle George and Letitia put the suspense to bed when they strutted on-screen to the tune of “Movin’ On Up”, so they’re sharing the honor), let’s settle on the worst character. There’s no suspense here, it’s police captain Seamus Lancaster. Racism has never tasted so bland. It’s a wonder that none of the black characters shut down his intimidation by stating “you’re too boring for me to be offended.” We know he was born without a heart but was he also missing charisma?

Most Feel-Good Scene: the season finale comes in at the 25th hour to steal this one. Dee leading Ji-Ah, Ruby, and Hippolyta in a singalong of The Chords’ Sh’Boom (1954), replete with a late guest spot from Atticus, is the season’s most heart-warming moment, and it’s not up for debate.

Most Moving Scene: near the end of the season finale, there’s a resolution between Atticus and Montrose. Montrose has long felt guilt over his shortcomings as a parent. Yet, Atticus not only forgives him but gives Montrose the chance to rectify his failures. It’s a story of atonement and a lesson that you can avenge the past. Just like when Luke Skywalker atoned for his own father’s wrongdoings, Atticus, this story’s hero, saves the past by providing a new future. Thus bringing this season’s agenda, to bring the black protagonist into the context of the mythical hero, full circle.

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