Hippolyta Takes Center Stage: Lovecraft Country, “I Am”

In “I Am,” Hippolyta finally takes center stage and shines like the star she was always meant to be. However, a bad moon is rising and heaven help Tic, Leti, and Ruby if they’re caught out in it.

Everything kicks off with Hippolyta at the ruins of Ardham. Disheveled and rumpled, Hippolyta is as obsessed with the orrery as Tic is with the language of Adam. A burst of genius and she unlocks its secrets.

Christina reveals to Ruby the two corpses in her basement (Dell and William) and the answers Ruby has been waiting for. We don’t see their full conversation, so it’s hard to know if Ruby spies on Leti on Christina’s behalf or out of morbid curiosity. Even though the two sisters bicker constantly, I can’t picture Ruby choosing Christina over blood. Perhaps Ruby is trying to put her Ruby-as-Dell skills to good use by using her proximity to whiteness to gain insights to protect her people?

The dream Tic had of following Hannah through the burning lodge strikes Leti, but hers is different. Hannah doesn’t try to speak to her like she did to Tic, and the fire that consumes Leti bursts forth from her pregnant belly. (Kids, this is why you always use protection.) Turns out Hannah didn’t just destroy Titus Braithwaite and his damn lodge, she also stole his Book of Names.

After a night out of the closet, Montrose lets his bad habit of pushing people away run roughshod over a romantic breakfast with the man he cares for. But he can’t go back to the way things were—Sammy won’t let him. Instead of putting up with his bullshit, Sammy storms out and Montrose chases after him. If only Tic and Leti hadn’t picked that exact moment to show up looking for clues about his mother’s people. Tic, gripped by a spasm of toxic masculinity, lashes out and refuses to feel the emotions roiling inside him.

Armed with a new clue about the possible location of the Book in St. Louis, the troubled lovebirds try to manipulate Hippolyta into lending them Woody, but she’s got plans of her own. Tic opts for the bus and Leti stays behind to mend fences with her half-sister. Although Leti and Ruby are able to set aside some of their long-fermented sisterly hostility, both continue to lie and prod each other for information. This is a détente, not a true peace. Meanwhile in St. Louis, Tic learns he shares a mysterious birthmark with his late Aunt Ethel. Having discovered the orrery in Hippolyta’s bedroom, Leti gives him the Kansas coordinates.

Lovecraft Country "I Am"

Screenshot: HBO

This is when Hippolyta takes over. Using that big, beautiful brain of hers, she opens an interdimensional gateway to impossible worlds. Two white cops bust in on her (they’re keeping an eye on the observatory at the behest of Captain Lancaster) followed quickly by Tic. He chucks one cop into a random dimension as his aunt shoots the other with his own gun. Sucked into a strange world, she finds herself locked in a room by a tall Black woman with an afro that would make the ‘70s tremble with envy.

The woman demands Hippolyta name herself and Hippolyta’s jokey retort propels her onto a journey of self-discovery. First stop is 1920s Paris at a burlesque show led by Josephine Baker, then to an African training camp for women warriors. Next she goes back to where we first met her and George, but this Hippolyta isn’t the same demure woman she once was. Her fourth and final trip is the couple’s road trip she always wanted. She and George traverse a galaxy that looks like Dee’s space comic, full of cute aliens and unbelievable flora. Each experience opens her mind to all the possibilities she set aside or never considered. Only now does she truly know herself. Only now can she name herself: “I am Hippolyta.” As tempted as she is to stay and become everything she wants to be, she must return to her daughter.

Hippolyta isn’t the only Black woman in this show to make herself small for the patriarchy. Ruby’s whole arc with Christina is her pushing back on a world that has decided what kind of woman she should be and what dreams she’s allowed to pursue. Leti has spent most of her young life running off to faraway places to find herself. She didn’t get to visit 1920s Paris or become a fearsome warrior, but she knows as well as Hippolyta does that she was never going to become the woman she wanted by staying home and staying safe. And this is what makes her relationship with Tic so frustrating for me. Leti is afraid of him! When he gets angry, she grabs a bat to protect herself and talks in a soft, placid voice to calm him. Does she realize she’s making herself smaller so he can feel big and manly? Does the show even realize it?

Last thing we see is Tic seemingly being tossed out of a portal and into the observatory—or perhaps an observatory? He smashes buttons and knobs out of frustration and anger and, predictably, breaks the whole damn thing. Fleeing before the cops show up, he fails to notice Dee’s comic stuck under the dead cop’s corpse.

We’re now seven episodes in and two big issues have formed, the first being the decline in depth. The first episode was so intense and exciting that I cut the rest of the series more slack than I normally would, but at this point the shallowness is too much. It feels like Misha Green et al have lost sight of the point: to critique the hell out of HP Lovecraft and reframe the conversation around Blackness. We touch on it here and there: mentions of white explorers stealing artifacts, Tic sighing at fighting a war for a country that doesn’t care about him, everything in Ruby’s storyline. But the nuance and intercommunity conversations have largely been dragged out of the subtext and made blunt and obvious.

Lovecraft Country also has an Atticus problem. In both the book and the TV show, the women characters are vastly more complex than Tic and make for far more interesting protagonists. More importantly, while the show treats him like a confused man straddling the line between good and evil, his actions indicate he’s not actually all that great. Every time he’s confronted with someone else’s pain, especially when it’s pain he caused, he finds a way to make it all about himself. He’s selfish and self-centered. Young-Ja’s death was only meaningful in that it gave him the opportunity to humiliate Ji-ah. Leti has so much trauma from her childhood that Christina is able to manipulate her and Ruby with it, but Tic only cares about how it affects him and his quest. Hippolyta lost her husband but Tic is more concerned with assuaging his guilt than in respecting her pain. And in “I Am,” he throws a tantrum about how his father’s queerness reflects on him. He’s not morally gray enough to be a true antihero (Ruby on the other hand…) so he ends up in this nebulous zone of tiresome assholery.

I have been eagerly anticipating Hippolyta’s interdimensional odyssey. While it made for some big character development for her, most of it felt like wheel spinning. I’m beginning to think ten episodes is two too many for this show, given all the filler we’ve had to wade through.

Lovecraft Country "I Am"

Screenshot: HBO

Cultural texts referenced

  • The episode title reminded me of the “I AM A MAN” posters used during the Memphis Sanitation Workers strike and the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968.
  • “Every beginning is in time, and every limit of extension in space” is a line from Critique of Pure Reason (1881) by Immanuel Kant.
  • The motorcyclist looks a lot like Bessie Stringfield, aka “The Motorcycle Queen of Miami.” She began riding when she was 16 (in the late 1920s) and made a career of performing daring stunts. She even worked as a civilian dispatch rider during WWII. Stringfield was the first Black person to complete a solo cross-country motorcycle ride.
  • As it happens, Josephine Baker was born and raised in St. Louis.
  • All hail queen Patti LaBelle
  • The women warriors are reminiscent of the minon, commonly known in the West as the Dahomey Amazons.
  • The speech playing while Hippolyta and George explore space comes from the 1972 film Space is the Place by experimental jazz musician Sun Ra.

Final thoughts

  • Either Hippolyta didn’t make it down to the village or the villagers abandoned their isolated little fiefdom.
  • The coordinates etched in the orrery lead to a spot just off Route 36 east of Troy, Kansas.
  • I hate to break it to Christina, but pretending to be someone you’re not is, in fact, lying. Worse, it’s a violation. Ruby consented to be with William; she did not consent to be with Christina.
  • Mentioning Bobo’s trip down South once was gutting. Mentioning it twice feels exploitative. (For those who aren’t aware, Bobo was Emmett Till’s nickname. Dee’s friend was dressed similarly to Till when we saw him with the Ouija board a few episodes back. The show is set in summer 1955, and Till was murdered August 28, 1955.)
  • Eh, I could’ve done without the A Beautiful Mind-esque math sequence.
  • When Tic flees the observatory, he has a copy of a pulp book, Lovecraft Country by George Freeman…
  • I couldn’t quite tell if Tic is now in a parallel universe or if he was returning to our world after visiting another dimension. Episode 8 will likely clear that up.

Alex Brown is a librarian by day, local historian by night, author and writer by passion, and an ace/aro Black woman all the time. Keep up with her on Twitter, Instagram, and her blog.


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