There’s not much about Lovecraft Country that registers as particularly Lovecraftian. The cow giving birth to the slimy monster pupa is the closest we get to anything resembling horror in the show’s second outing; the rest is Halloween Store wizard outfits and stop-and-start pacing, every scene in which one group of characters meets another weighed down by clumsy exposition. Filler like “We swore we’d never speak of it again, but I have to bring it up now” and variations on “isn’t that what you said?” and “remind me again…” abounds, giving the episode a bloated and insubstantial feel. Is the cold open’s time skip to George and Leti reveling in the pleasures of Ardham House worth the laborious hallway catch-up with living Ken doll William (Jordan Patrick Smith) it necessitates? What about the zig-zagging memory loss magic, or the multiple scenes in which cult leader Samuel Braithwaite (Tony Goldwyn) monologues about order and destiny without coming near his actual plans?
If there were more going on visually, this kind of lazy storytelling might fade into the background, but with Lovecraft Country’s cheap-looking sets and uninspired costuming there’s nothing immersive enough to distract us. The flat, obvious score doesn’t help. Saccharine tinkling while uncle George gives an inspiring speech to Atticus and Leti after the Braithwaites assail the three companions with their own memories for… what reason, exactly? He ends up just using George and Leti as hostages to force Atticus, a direct descendant of his racist cult leader ancestor Titus, to participate in his big ritual, so why bother fucking around with illusions? I guess it’s dinner entertainment for his fellow rich white assholes, but it reads more as deeply laborious character development with a rape scare thrown in for good measure.
You Only Live, Uh, Twice
Leti’s death and resurrection plays as kind of a cheap have-your-cake-and-eat-it fake out, but Jurnee Smollett’s breakdown after coming back to life is solidly the episode’s best piece of acting. Her muffled cries of terrified grief are so raw and believable it makes you wish there were a better show around them. The episode’s dabbling in ideas of black access to white wealth and status is, similarly, a vital and fascinating subject with very little to support it. Leti stepping into the hall in a riding uniform, the very picture of elite Yankee femininity, Atticus reckoning with his newly discovered heritage, that opening in which the show’s protagonists squeal with delight at the wealth left at their disposal while ‘Movin’ On Up’ plays — it’s a shame none of it ever really comes together.
And speaking of things not coming together, Samuel’s big ritual to enter the Garden of Eden is straight out of a CW show, all mystical swirls of light and particles and chanting figures in stiff robes. The collapse of the manor after its inevitable failure and the summary petrification of Samuel and his entire cult is another visual mess, so transparently fake it reads more as a screensaver than a genuine catastrophe. “Whitey’s on the Moon,” named for the Gil Scott-Heron spoken word poem juxtaposing the celebration of the moon landing with ongoing poverty and oppression in the black community which plays over the ritual scene, has a smattering of reach and vision, but it lacks the grasp to bring it home.