In the eighth episode of Lovecraft Country, the separate storylines begin to converge with white men terrorizing Black children, the return of an old lover, and backroom deals with dangerous practitioners of magic.
In line for Emmett Till’s viewing, Leti and Tic bicker over whether or not to tell Dee her mother is missing. Dee sneaks away only to be cornered by Lancaster. As he interrogates her, treating her as if she were a belligerent adult rather than a terrified child, the other officer lays out a curse. Lancaster likely doesn’t know Hippolyta used Hiram’s machine, but with Dee’s Orithyia Blue comic he knows they’re involved.
Tic arranges a meeting with Christina at the Braithwaite mausoleum. When she asks why he wants a spell now, he uses her own tactics against her by offering a half truth to distract her enough to not realize he didn’t answer her question. With a dismissive “Good luck, cousin,” she gives him an incantation. But before she leaves, Tic asks her about the autumnal equinox. She’s shocked he knows about it but admits that she plans to cast a spell to make herself immortal.
Afterward, he heads to Leti’s house and finds her and Ji-ah waiting for him. She traveled halfway around the world to help the man she loved only to have him hurt her in the worst way. Theirs was a romance built on a fantasy, on wishes and being far away from the responsibilities and expectations of the “real” world. That Ji-ah loved Atticus more than he loved her has been obvious from the beginning, but he can’t pretend there wasn’t something true between them, however fleeting and unstable.
Yet again Tic learns the wrong lesson. He had plenty of time to mention to Leti the weird tail tentacle lady he slept with in Daegu. Tic insists doing magic and keeping secrets is the only way to proceed, then shuts Leti out of the process. In Matt Ruff’s novel, the characters sit down early on to share information and strategize effectively. Isolating everyone makes for more interesting television, but it’s frustrating as a viewer to see the same moral lesson underlined with every character, in every episode, but never see them take the next step.
Meanwhile, Ruby seeks out Christina/William. They hook up—after Ruby takes the Dell potion—but there’s nothing romantic about it. I think Christina feels more for Ruby than she will ever admit, but Ruby is having second thoughts. No, of course Christina doesn’t feel anything for Emmett Till. Power—getting it, keeping it, and increasing it—is all she cares about, to the exclusion of everything else. She can act romantic or innocent or playful and she can appear to take an interest, but all of it serves one master: herself. Ruby stands at the same crossroads as Tic. She can take Christina’s path or Ji-ah’s, but once she chooses, she cannot walk back the way she came. I expect Tic will have to be dragged kicking and screaming down the right road.
Dee makes it back home, but Lancaster’s hex has grown roots. While Montrose tries to comfort her (a skill he has not mastered), the two children on the cover of her copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin turn into monsters. She’s stalked by the creepy pickaninny demons through the subway and then to Leti’s house, where she finds her parents’ Packard stashed around back.
Montrose and Tic form a tense alliance. Tic reveals that when he went through the portal, a woman with a robot arm handed him a book—the copy of Lovecraft Country we saw last episode—and shoved him back through. The author is not Uncle George but Tic and Leti’s son, and in it he describes how Tic is sacrificed by Christina on the autumnal equinox. Armed with a glimpse at the future, he and his father cast Christina’s spell. Only it doesn’t work. Or does it?
So far Christina has outmaneuvered everyone. She gives people what they expect so she can sleight-of-hand her way into what she wants. Trouble is, she doesn’t realize just how many pieces of the puzzle Tic et al. actually have. She believes she has control of the board and can push them around the same way she does Lancaster and his cronies. But Christina has drastically underestimated her Black combatants, and in Hippolyta and Dee’s cases, decided they weren’t even worth considering. That arrogance is going to bite her in the ass sooner rather than later. As powerful as she is, Tic and Leti are catching up fast. That said, Tic sucks at strategy. Like his father, he reacts—often violently and recklessly—rather than planning. Here, he casts Christina’s protection spell without first asking what kind of protection it will provide.
Dee is no cowering child. She confronts Lancaster and gets a pile of information out of him before rejecting his offer of a trade (to spy on Tic in exchange for removing the hex). Taking matters into her own hand, she tries to beat the pickaninnies with a pipe. Montrose tries to save her, but…
Back at Leti’s house, Lancaster declares war. Betsy’s spell keeps him out of the house, but it also means the Order now knows they can do magic. Before Lancaster couldn’t go straight at them, but now all bets are off. He has his officers shoot up the house. Good thing Leti now bears the Mark of Cain. Tic arrives just in time to almost get killed, but he’s saved at the last minute by a shoggoth of all things. Screaming and dismemberment ensues. When every cop is a pile of viscera, the shoggoth heels to its creator: Tic.
In 2019, I spent the day at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where Emmett Till’s casket is on display. The way it’s set up, you line up in a hall alongside a row of Pullman cars. His casket is in a small room and you file past just like the original mourners did. In the entrance and exit, a clip from a documentary shows his mother, Mamie, talking about the murder and long-term consequences. I think I cried as much standing in line as I did actually seeing the casket and the photos. There simply aren’t words to describe what that experience was like, but Ruby gets close to it: “Heartbroken. Scared. Furious. Tired, so fucking tired of feeling this way over and over.”
The other thing that stuck with me was the line itself. Most of the people waiting to pay their respects were Black, and nearly all of them were discussing family history and memories and the impact the museum was having on them. Of the white visitors, most behaved like they were waiting for a theme park ride. They were laughing, chatting, running around, taking selfies. Some complained that the line wasn’t moving fast enough or that they were tired of waiting. One group even left the line saying they didn’t need to see Till’s coffin and what did it matter anyway. I’ve never forgotten that moment, the dismissal of my people’s pain as if it were an inconvenience. Our pain is not an educational moment for white people. It is not a spectacle or topic of conversation or fun fact. Emmett Till, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin…these are our children and we will carry their stories down the generations.
Watching this episode was challenging, to say the least. For reviewing purposes, I watch each ep. twice at minimum, and even knowing what was coming I still had to stop every few scenes to take a break from the stress. “Jig-a-Bobo” was a strong episode, yet using Till as scaffolding to tell a larger story still left me feeling uncomfortable with the way it decentered him from his own murder—especially when Christina playacted it for the thrill. I think you could tell Dee’s story without him being her friend and have it work just as well. Regardless, the pieces are starting to slot into place and the tension is ramping up. While the complexity I relished so much in the first episode is largely absent from the eighth, it still made for a good hour of television.
Cultural texts referenced
- A “jigaboo” is a racist term for a Black person. Here it’s visually represented as a pickaninny, a racist term applied to Black children. Pickaninny dolls and visual representations in ads are often black-skinned or very dark brown children with wild, frizzy hair with a bow or two stuck in, white eyes, and a wide red mouth. I, like Dee, find them terrifying, but white folks sure do love collecting them.
- Emmett Till’s casket was on display at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, and photos of his body were published in Jet Magazine and the Chicago Defender, a Black newspaper that has been operating since 1905.
- “Stop Dat Knocking” (1847, written and composed by A. F. Winnemore) is an old minstrel song.
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly by Harriet Beecher Stowe (published 1852) changed the conversation about slavery, but not necessarily in a good way. There’s a reason “Uncle Tom” is an insult in the African American community. He is as much a caricature of Blackness as a mammy, the servile and faithful slave. See also why the show made the first reveal of Dee being haunted with Rastus, the Black man in the ad for Cream of Wheat. (Rastus was a common character in minstrel shows.)
- The speech playing over Dee is from Naomi Wadler, an 11-year-old Black girl who spoke at the 2018 March for Our Lives.
- “Ain’t no gettin’ around this. Every Negro’s right of passage in this country, child or not.”
- “You look like a monster.” Ruby, girl, you have no idea.
- Transforming while fucking sounds absolutely disgusting, IMO.
- That arm stuck in the underwater lock was apparently Hiram’s. I wonder if he stole an arm from a Black man as part of his experiments? Losing arms seems to be a habit for men in the Order.
- “And you killed a hundred men.” “It is my nature. What is your excuse?” Drag him, Ji-ah. That’s the most accountable this show has held him for his war crimes.
- “Shit, any other secrets you keeping from me?” Atticus, you hypocritical dick.
- Tic’s shoggoth has black skin. Cops want to call Black men beasts who made them fear for their lives? Be careful what you wish for.