Family Ties: Lovecraft Country, “Full Circle”

In its final episode, Lovecraft Country looks to its ancestors and calls for sacrifice. Did it stick the landing? Yes and no…

Before Tic, Leti, Montrose, and Hippolyta are able to remove Lancaster’s curse, the ancestors summon their descendants. Tic lands in Braithwaite Lodge with Hannah, except this time the fire acts like blood, or perhaps it’s blood acting like fire. As Tic learns that the family birthmark is a spell cast by Hannah to protect her descendants from those who know magic, Leti discovers that Hannah and her descendants are stuck, so to speak, in an “ancestral space” Hannah accidentally created. There, the fire, a physical manifestation of her rage, isn’t a thing to fear “but a gift to pass on.” Next, Tic is visited by his mother who reminds him that he has in him the best of both his fathers and gives him the courage to do what is necessary. The decision about how to stop Christina had been made the moment Hannah stood up to Titus Braithwaite. From the ancestral space, the four practitioners remove the curse from Dee but cannot heal her damaged arm.

Now back into the underground tunnels, this time to summon Titus Braithwaite from the dead. He escapes the salt circle long enough to tip off Christina about the Book of Names, but with the help of Dora, Hannah, and Nana Hattie, Leti is strong enough to contain him. Tic cuts a chunk out of his ancestor then sends him to hell. Their jobs done, Hanna, Nana Hattie, and Dora can now rest in power.

“This isn’t generational hate. Our families are not at war. This has never been personal.” Christina barges into the garage as if she has every right to go where she wants. She pouts and sighs and stamps her foot, annoyed that her white woman privilege is being infringed upon by uppity Negroes. So what if Tic has to die in order for her to gain immortality? She believes her good intentions negate the deadly impact of her actions. At least this time the crew are wise enough not to give in to her demands.

Lucky for Tic, Ji-ah is still in Chicago. He apologizes, although not for killing her friend or breaking her heart. I’m glad Ji-ah got to have a mother, even if for only a few years. She no longer has a family of her own anymore, so when Tic offers her a chance to be a part of his, she badly wants to take it.

The next morning, Leti and Ruby meet at their mother’s grave. Christina’s definition of family is what Leti describes as obligation, not acceptance. For the Braithwaites, family is chains and fear and warfare. For the Black characters, it’s boundless love and a willingness to do whatever it takes to protect the ones you love. Initially, Ruby interprets Leti’s offer of family as a bribe instead of an opportunity to make amends. They have so much mess to work through between the two of them, and it’s a shame they’ll never get to.

Once at Ardham, everyone splits up to tackle their part of the spell. Tic goes to the destroyed manor and is collected by the villagers. Montrose and Ji-ah set up the binding triangle. Ruby and Leti polish off the spellwork in the stone tower… and that’s when Leti realizes her sister isn’t her sister. We see now how little Christina’s word means. Despite her promise to Ruby before she killed her that she would spare Leti, Christina tosses her out the window to her death. Montrose, Ji-ah, and Hippolyta are attacked by the villagers.

Tic, bound on a wheel, can do nothing to save his family. Leti is dead, Montrose unconscious, and Hippolyta and Ji-ah captured. Christina has won. She slices open Tic’s arms and revels in his blood as his power flows into her. The last thing he sees before he dies is Leti, resurrected from the dead. Not even Leti’s ambush can put a dent in Christina’s ecstasy. The spell roils behind them, but without Christina’s blood it can’t take. Good thing they have a gumiho waiting in the wings. Ji-ah joins the darkness and binds it, Christina, and Tic as Leti casts the spell. The two women who loved Tic more than anything put their lives on the line to do the right thing.

Christina wakes under a pile of rubble, her magic gone. As Montrose takes his son’s body off the wheel, we hear Tic’s voiceover from the letter he left him: “There is neither happiness nor misery in the world. There is only the comparison of one state with another. Nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness.” His last request is for his father to be the kind of man to his grandson that his son always wanted him to be.

As Christina begs and pleads, she’s met by Dee. Once again Christina plays the family card and tries to appeal to Dee as if she were a gullible child. But Dee isn’t alone now. Tic’s shoggoth saved her from the Braithwaite shoggoths and now stands at her side. With her new robot arm, Dee takes from Christina what was stolen from her.

Lovecraft Country: "Full Circle"

Screenshot: HBO

Family is the name of the game in this episode. The Braithwaites only ever steal magic from others. Titus stole from Yahima, Samuel and Christina tried to steal from Tic, Christina stole from William and Dell (and Ruby). Whereas Tic and Leti listen to their elders and respect their teachings. The Order’s power rests on a foundation of subterfuge and corruption; it strikes fast and hard but hubris is doomed to fail. Hannah’s power is tied to her family; it simmers and grows slowly but love will always succeed. Christina can claim she is only killing Atticus because she’s using the tools at her disposal, but she had years to plan. She could’ve done the same treasure hunt her cousin did. She could’ve summoned Titus and taken his blood or killed her father. Instead she chose to take Tic’s life because she saw him as disposable. Family is more than blood ties or a singalong on a road trip. Family must be earned and deserved.

The other important part of family are the generational ties. Nana Hattie teaches Leti spells from the Book just as Hannah teaches Tic how to turn Christina’s spell back on her. On the non-magical side we have the conflict between Dee and Hippolyta. Dee has every right to be angry with her mother. Her abandonment feels bigger to the daughter than it does to the mother. It was the first time in her life Dee couldn’t count on the adults who were supposed to protect her. Dee gets over the loss, but she’ll likely carry that doubt with her the rest of her life. Hippolyta’s journey of naming herself doesn’t mean anything to Dee at the beginning of the episode. She’s too young to understand the implications of what her mother went through. By the final scene, Dee has named herself a warrior like her mother. She chooses a path that takes her from frightened child to determined young woman.

Lastly, how exactly do you ban all white people from using magic? Are they basing whiteness on skin tone, blood quantum, cultural definitions, or personal identity? Saying all white people are now banished from magic sounds cool, but gets messy the more you dig. To take this from a slightly different angle, it’s as if Lovecraft Country is saying that while white people have all abused magic, Black people will not. Yes, all white people are part of a long history of white supremacy and privilege, whether they use that role for good or ill. In the show, they’ve dominated magic for centuries, to the peril of everyone else. I can see making the case, as flawed as the execution is, that they’ve had their fun and now it’s time to sit down and shut up and let other people hold the reins. However, that case rests on the assumption that the Black community is a monolith where everyone thinks progressively and works within an anti-racist framework.

I’m reminded of the quote by Audra Lorde: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” Taking power from one group and giving it to another doesn’t fix anything if that transfer doesn’t also come with systemic change. Black people can be just as mired in white supremacist ideology as white people. We can be homophobic and misogynistic and anything else the cishet white majority can think up because we live in a cishet white dominated society. The system is as oppressive as it was before, but now there’s a new group in charge. Tic’s death did not dismantle the master’s house, metaphorically speaking.

Well, Lovecraft Country certainly went out on a bang. Every episode except the first suffered from a lot of style and not enough substance. It looked great, but there was not a whole lot going on beneath the surface. The show didn’t have the quality I was hoping for, but at least it was enjoyable.

Lovecraft Country: "Full Circle"

Screenshot: HBO

Cultural texts referenced

  • “Easy Living” performed by Billie Holiday (recorded 1937)
  • I Am Blessed” performed by Nina Simone (recorded 1964)
  • Sh-boom” performed by The Chords (recorded 1954); it was one of the first doo-wop songs to hit the billboard charts.
  • Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning” first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in 1928. The version in the show is from a 1959 recording from Mississippi Fred McDowell and his wife Annie Mae (her vocals were cut out) for folk musicologist Alan Lomax. I highly recommend his records for a vital slice of American music history.

Final thoughts

  • “What’s stolen ain’t yours.”
  • Hippolyta seems way more comfortable in slacks than she ever did in a skirt or dress.
  • Both Montrose and Christina want the pleasure of a relationship without the work, but for different reasons: He gets to step out of the closet for a brief moment in the sun while she gets to have someone’s attention and affection focus solely on her. I don’t believe Montrose and Sammy are over, but Ruby and Christina were always on borrowed time. You can’t build a life when only one person is invested in the relationship. Christina takes but never gives of herself. “I’ll see you on the other side.” Takes a whole new meaning by the end.
  • In the book, the Order has lodges all over the country. On the show, however, we never got a sense of how big (or small?) the Order is. A few guys from New England and a couple of cops in Chicago and the Midwest is about all we see. If you’re going to take magic from every white person, then we need to have some sense of how many people that might be. Doing a spell like that for a couple dozen dudes is silly; doing it for potentially thousands is epic.
  • I wanna have a talk with whoever decided to leave Dee alone in the shoggoth-infested woods.
  • I’m still not entirely sure I understand how Leti got her immortality spell back.
  • Out of all the deaths, I think the one I will remain permanently mad about is Ruby’s. My girl made some bad choices, but she did not deserve that.
  • Gotta say, one of my favorite tropes is the villain who gets to a location early to set up the lighting so they can make a dramatic entrance.
  • Other favorite trope? Little girls with big, terrifying monsters protecting them.

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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