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LOVECRAFT COUNTRY Review: “Holy Ghost”

September 2, 2020 in Review - No Comments
Leti shows Ruby her new home in "Holy Ghost", episode 3 of HBO's LOVECRAFT COUNTRY.

If you’re anything like me and you struggled a bit with the last episode of Lovecraft Country, then this third installment, titled “Holy Ghost”, might throw you for a bit of a loop. “Whitey’s on the Moon” killed George and sent our reset group of protagonists, Atticus, Leti, and Montrose, back to Chicago with a fake story to explain to the family members back home.

George was shot by a police officer, Hippolyta rationalizes while Atticus and Diana set up the breakfast table. With some dialogue, we realize that it’s “weeks later” and things have somewhat returned to normal. Even Atticus flips the mugs upside own after washing the dishes the same way George did, and this proves unsettling to her. She knows something is wrong about Atticus’ story.

Atticus attempts to distill this knowledge to a hungover Montrose, and the father and son establish their relationship Montrose’s AMAZING apartment set. There’s tension, ya’ll.

Anyway, I start here to move things aside to this episode’s main focus, which is a weird detour from Atticus’ plot to Leti. If you want some deeper context on this episode and its references, I suggest checking out the AV Club recaps. They come packed with things a shift-working exhausted viewer like me miss upon my late-night viewings.

What the Hell Am I Watching?

It was tough for me to move from the emotional weight of the second episode and reset to a Chicago reality. After the high-level sophistication of the first episode, I really don’t quite know what kind of tone this show is wanting to take yet. “Holy Ghost” treads down some hardcore 90s horror terrain that I really do appreciate. But again, mixed with the character complexity, the convoluted Atticus storyline, the racial context and the cheesy and very un-HBO-like effects, I just…I don’t know what I’m supposed to expect here?

AV Club commenters who read the source material do suggest that the book has more of a Scooby Doo feel. The book isn’t so much an adventure novel as it is a series of vignettes set in the 1950’s Jim Crow era. It’s puply. Which sounds awesome on paper, right? But it’s complicated when presented as an HBO show.

In what is quite obviously the “Golden Age of Television”, viewers expect complicated characters. They expect high production values. They expect plot-heavy stories. And, they also expect a slow burn. Lovecraft Country has anything but a slow burn, and for me, as a viewer, this is a tough variable to adjust to.

Let’s Get To Know Leti

We start this episode off in church, which I suppose Leti has started attending since coming back to Chicago to properly reconnect with her roots, her family. Mainly, her sister, Ruby.

Leti watches a church member become saturated with the Holy Spirit. The member dances. The congregation celebrates, but Leti sits in the pew, unmoved. Maybe because of the trauma of the previous two episodes, but maybe because, as I mentioned in “Sundown”, she’s a bit of a black sheep.

The House

After the opening credits, she glows and smiles and drags Ruby down a well-to-do neighbourhood on the North end of Chicago that she’s just bought. The house is gorgeous, even in its CGI rundown glory. And for all of us who lived for a good haunted house story as a kid, well, we know a damn haunted house when we see one.

Ruby begs to know where Leti got the money to buy this house, which doesn’t look quite as bad inside as it does outside. No water damage. No sagging floors. But of course, appearances are deceiving. The house has 13 rooms and Leti plans on turning it into a boarding house as a coloured safe-haven. Ruby rightfully understands that this plan isn’t at all possible to achieve in an all-white neighbourhood.

BUT, the house has an elevator, which doesn’t work. Cue the empty shaft, which is one of the creepiest things of any abandoned building. Or TV show. Unlike that one time Don Draper stared down into that foreboding empty shaft in Mad Men, Leti leans into the empty shaft. The elevator plummets down and Ruby saves her just in time, scolding her for breaking the golden rule of empty elevator shaft safety.

Racial Tension Abounds

Leti laughs, but her humour wears thin when the locals (some stereotypical greaser dudes) hoard outside of the house, using noise to threaten them. I gotta ask, though, how the other white neighbours are totally cool with the car horns going off all day and all night? Is this a sacrifice on their part?

Fortunately for a racists, they do have other options to force Leti and Ruby out of the neighbourhood, cranking up the basement boiler overnight. Leti wakes in the morning to a steamy house, but doesn’t fully wake up until after we catch a glimpse of a sheet-snatching ghost. The reveal felt pretty lackluster until she lifted her head fully above the mattress for us to see her messed-up face. It actually did freak me out a bit.

This show really has a Goosebumps / Are You Afraid of the Dark? feel, just with a lot more gore. Most real horror fans would probably see the scares are pretty tame but the pre-teen me is so down for it.

Leti heads downstairs to fix the over-cranked boiler, only to be confronted with all the shadows of the basement. Sounds throb and pound, and Leti follows them to a trap door. Somethings bangs against the boards and frightens her to call Atticus over.

Sexual Tension (Also) Abounds!

Our new fave will they/won’t they couple heads down the trap door at a safe time. Leti insists that something was trying to get out. Atticus believes her, on a count of all the stuff from the first two episodes. They discuss some of the tension while exploring the strange sub-basement room. Leti takes his hand, giving into to that whole terror/turn on thing.

Atticus pulls away and then randomly suggests that the obviously haunted room would make a great dark room. And to this I gotta ask: WHY?

It’s haunted! Leti told you! You believe her!

Atticus plans on going back to Florida. Apparently he told his boss he’d be back a few days after finding his dad, but now it’s weeks later and I’m surprised he still has a boss at all. Leti, however, manages to convince him to attend her killer housewarming party.

It’s at this happening party (which makes me think of how many people would be catching Covid were it happening in modern times) that Atticus hears of Leti’s salacious past. He watches Leti breaking some hardcore social distancing rules by grinding pretty good on a stranger and gets hardcore jealous, dude.

This follows with a pretty hot sex scene. We see a ghost in the bathroom mirror. Then Atticus appears in the doorway, banging Leti good on the sink. It’s the hottest sex scene I’ve seen in a while. It’s full of tension and possession (figurative, not literal), and some nice internalized character stuff. Then the boning ends. Atticus pulls his hand comes away from Leti’s WAP with some blood. She quickly apologizes for not realizing that she was on her period.

Atticus suggests meeting Leti downstairs, leaving her to sob a few tears. I assumed the blood gave her flashbacks of her death in the previous episode, but this tiny scene is a bit more layered than I originally thought. (I’ll discuss in my stray thoughts.) Turns out Leti was actually a virgin. She confesses this to Atticus later, admitting that she wanted him to be her first. Journee plays her vulnerability in this confession scene so well later on.

Like dang, as a sexually-repressed slutty girl in my teens, I feel Leti’s double-life here. She’s been trying to fight demons this whole time. Mainly, the demons of her promiscuous mother, who abandoned her time and time again.

Long story short: Leti got the money as sole inheritance from her mother. In a scene where she admits this to Ruby, Ruby confronts Leti for being even more vain and selfish than this garbage mom, and like, whoa. It’s a tough pill to swallow. Leti’s complexity comes out here in full force. She’s trying to be helpful, to be giving, to reconnect with her family, but all of her attempts still lead her down the same path to becoming worse than her mother.

A Burning Cross

After the racist greasers burn a cross in the front yard, Leti loses it and trashes the cars on the street all Beyonce-style before Beyonce even existed. The police come and arrest her, confronting her in the back of the police van about how in the HELL she managed to buy the mysterious Winthrop House.

They drive around town and thrash her around all bloody. It’s a pretty freaky scene, but the one that follows shows Leti back into form, which is kind of jarring, honestly. It’s another issue with this show is some of the pacing. Anyway, with this new information, Leti goes into full research mode, creating herself a “crazy wall” but on a diner table somewhere.

The overhead shot of this table where Leti explains the lore of the house to Atticus is absolutely wonderful, the papers layered with the coffee cups and our two potential lovers speculating theories back and forth. The lighting was great. The props looks awesome. Our characters were closer than ever. Gets a whole lot of YES from me.

To sum it up: The house was owned by a mad scientist who did experiments on 8 different black people. The ghost (which shows himself to Leti in the darkroom after she lays all her photos down a la Joyce Byers in S02 of Stranger Things), demands she get out of his house.

90s Overload

In response, Leti gets an exoricist, or rather, an “Orisha” to coax the tormented spirits out of the house.

A goat gets killed. Protective marks are drawn. The trio heads down into the sub-basement at the same time the racist greasers enter the house. Anyway, the vanquishing happens. The spirits wreak havoc on the racists. Two die on a radiator. The other gets his head sliced off in the empty elevator shaft.

During the cleansing, the spirit of the mad scientist (who is also totes linked to the Sons of Adam, but we’ll get to that later!) possesses the orisha, who then attacks Atticus, possessing him. Leti holds ground, summoning the 8 ghosts to join hands with her and vanquish mad scientist dude to hell or wherever it is he rightfully belongs.

It’s a cheesy scene, yes. There’s yelling a lot of stuff about how the “spirits aren’t dead yet” and how they “can still fight”. It reminds me of the scene from Chilling Adventures of Sabrina where Sabrina utilizes the spirits of the dead to overpower the Weird Sisters into stopping the hazing rituals at the Academy of Dark Arts.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina at least had the teenage / campy angle to allow me to suspend my disbelief. Lovecraft Country carries more emotional weight, and perhaps I haven’t given this show the opportunity to balance that camp / top-tier drama yet. Or maybe the show doesn’t work? AV Club gave this episode an A, so the problem might be me?

I struggled with the chaos of this climax upon first viewing. However, the power of Journee’s acting did pull through my disbelief. She KILLLLLLLLLLSSSSS it.

After vanquishing the evil, the tortured souls disappear. Leti shudders and gathers her breath, and lemme tell you, she honestly gave me chills. Journee can do anything. She is amazing. She is wonderful. I hope she gets all the accolades she so rightfully deserves, because wow, she can really sell that emotional roller coaster.

One Last Thing!

Atticus locates Christina after discovering that the realtor who sold Leti the house is connected to the Sons of Adam. Turns out that the inheritance money given to Leti wasn’t actually from her mother, but from Christina.

Turns out that the mad scientist is also linked to the Sons of Adam.

Atticus tries to shoot Christina but she puts a freezing spell on him and then explains a whole lot more confovolutes stuff that my tired brain didn’t have the concept to process. Essentially, some pages were stolen from that Book of Names and Christina then slips a business card into Atticus’ pocket, suggesting that he join forces with her to try to find said spells.

Going back to Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, this episode kind of felt like the Battybat dream episode in some ways. I liked it, but it was jarring. I couldn’t get my bearings within the episode.

Elevators Are Always Creepy AF

Back at the now-not-haunted house, a black reporter interviews Leti about her boarding house, asking about the three white dudes in the neighbourhood who have gone missing.

They get off the elevator but we viewers remain inside of it as the elevator descends down past the basemnt, the sub-basmenet, and then beneath the house where the three bodies have been moved. THere’s a tunnel down here that leads somewhere foreign. Somewhere unknown.

I’m creeped the fuck out again, people.

I’m still intrigued.

Stray Thoughts

  • The Ouija board scene did its best at being original, but these things are so cliche and so common now. The “You moved it!” accusation. The quick shifts of the planchete and the foreboding message. Meh. They added a great touch with the slowing down of the music, however. Trouble is, I’ve already heard enough vapourwave that this scene just made me think of Dan Bell’s Dead Mall Series, so uh… yeah.
  • During the party, Hippolyta discovers a room with a strange planetary device in it. Later, during the cross burning, she leaves the party, taking all the weapons and guns and, presumably, the device. I can’t wait to find out what the deal is with that.
  • Consequently, it’ll be great to see how these ties to the Sons of Adam affect Atticus’ other friends.
  • As a fan of good sex, I appreciate the realness of Atticus and Leti’s budding relationship here. They don’t start on the same page. They’re both awkward. Leti projects herself too hard. Atticus isn’t sure what to expect from her. I appreciate that the sex is hot but doesn’t sell itself as some amazing connection between them. It breaks the tension but doesn’t cement their bond. You know, like real life.
  • The sibling rivalry picks up quite a bit between Leti and Ruby. Both characters have points. Both actresses sell it. Will their dynamic be even better than that between Nucky and Eli from Boardwalk Empire? Because that’s my fave sibling relationship and these two are already vouching to do better just three episodes into their series.
  • Once again, Christina destroys me with fashion. That brocade suit was glamtown.
  • I fucking miss George. I hate that he’s dead. I also love that the Ouija board taunted Diana of this fact. But what was behind it?
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Rebecca

Rebecca is a neo-noir author from Kamloops, British Columbia. Her first collection of gritty short fiction, Vile Men was published by Dark House Press in 2015. She also writes about her writer lifestyle on her blog at rebeccajoneshowe.com.

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I'm Rebecca Jones-Howe, a neo-noir writer and author of the short story collection, VILE MEN. My work has been featured in [PANK], Pulp Modern and Punchnel's, among other magazines. This site houses my writing profile and my blog, which features posts on writing, fashion, lifestyle + more. Want more?

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