Warning Spoilers ahead!
CW/TW: Death, Domestic Violence, Racism/Racist Caricature
So…the season finale of Lovecraft Country (2020) was…a thing. More bad than good, primarily because all of the disjointed characterization and writing problems finally careened to the fore. This ‘ending’, if one can call it that, was slap-dash, puzzling, and frustrating.
One of the primary problems with Lovecraft Country as a series is its limited episodic format. I addressed this in my last review, but the hour-long time constraints and decision to confine the show into 10 episodes was a huge (perhaps unforeseen) mistake. Lovecraft Country tried to exist as an ensemble showcase and an individualized character study. In a television show with longer run time (and tighter writing), this format probably could have worked, but 10 short episodes are not nearly enough to bring Lovecraft to the lofty heights and ambitions that it was so earnestly reaching for.
Other savvy and eagle-eyed viewers caught onto the same problems that I am attempting to parcel out here. The show was just trying to tackle too much narratively and I suppose since the season is over we’ll just have to live with what we have. All of the plots and subplots of the season sprinted to the finish line by the season finale. A lot of the show’s concepts, themes, and so on should have just had more time to cook. Thus, I’m not quite sure who to castigate or wag my Internet finger(s) at in regards to how Lovecraft country eventually ended. Should I turn my attention to the showrunners, writers, or HBO itself? I’m not really sure who because when a series is ultimately green-lit, there are so many forces working for and against it. I honestly don’t know where to place my bafflement for the kaleidoscope of convolution that occurred in the finale.
Reflecting on what came before.
I keep mentioning the season finale but I’d be remiss if I didn’t do a brief recap of what occurred in the previous episodes up to this point. The last time we left off with the series in episode eight entitled Jig-A-Bobo, the character Diana (Jada Harris) had been cursed by a white police officer to become an atrocious ‘pickaninny’ caricature. Meanwhile, the adults in her life were too self-consumed to protect her and too self-involved in their own traumas to comfort her after the death of her friend/family member Emmett Till. I’m still wrestling with whether showing Emmett Till’s funeral was exploitative…it was powerful at the very least and definitely contained an admixture of prescience and retroflexive nostalgia. I think of the word nostalgia in this instance because of the Greek etymology of the word that delves into homecoming and pain. A funeral (or homegoing) couched with this historic ripple effect is certainly overflowing with nostalgia.
Now, what made the development interesting from a narrative (and horror realism) perspective surrounding Diana’s curse is that it impeded her from speaking about the curse itself and kept her from crying out to others for help. Thus, the adults in her life sadly couldn’t assist her even if they were in the right mind to. Additionally, the reason for the adults in her life running around frantically for multiple episodes were their attempts to try fighting magic with magic, for their own ends. Episode eight had a great and horrific premise that really could have been employed more often in the series to show the nefarious nature of curses. However, I will commend them in the first place for navigating down such an ugly and frightening alley, especially in regards to the insidiousness of racist caricature.
In episode nine, Rewind 1921, Diana’s curse is overtaking her body and the ensemble cast has finally entered the picture to try and save her from being consumed and converted into the twisted likeness of Topsy from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The series then pivots again to time travel and Tulsa, Oklahoma. A suggestion before I proceed to discuss this episode…I’m going to recommend that future television programs that explore Black history navigate more than the locale of Tulsa because everyone must understand that the decimation of this particular ‘Black Wall Street’ was not an isolated event. There were hundreds if not thousands of towns like Tulsa that were destroyed in the past 100+ years by white sanctioned violence that need more of a spotlight. Thank you for your time and consideration. Now back to your regularly scheduled recap….
The cast is in Tulsa, Oklahoma and therein they must find a magical book (called the Book of Names) that will allow them to reverse the curse that has been placed on Diana. This in-between smattering of episodes also tries to unpack a lot of the trauma that the character Montrose (Michael K. Williams) has lived with his entire life as a closeted gay Black man; The series scrambles to employ a reconciliation between himself and his son Atticus (Jonathan Majors), because the finale is right around the corner, and Atticus is going to sacrifice his life. Some of this familial bonding and character reconciliation is illustrated very well and yet some of it, by the nature of this limited series, doesn’t have enough time to make the emotional punches that it truly needed.
Speaking of Montrose….if you think I or the audience has forgotten about what happened to Yahima from a few episodes ago, then you are sadly mistaken. By season’s end, we still do not know what has happened to Them and the graphic, unnecessarily violent depiction of Their death — that even Misha Green herself has stated — was handled clumsily. I applaud the series for having a lot of ideas, but sometimes that is just what this series feels like at times, a smattering of ideas with no logical conclusions or endpoints. Now, the ensemble cast has the Book of Names and they partially reverse the curse that has been placed on Diana, but she now possesses an arm that has been completely ravaged by it. From this point onward, the series is trying to tie up as many loose ends as possible, and not methodically or succinctly. The character Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung) returns to make a bit of a cameo appearance where she isn’t allowed to make much of an impact, besides being a verbal punching bag for Atticus…more on this in a minute.
Lovecraft Country has a bad habit of not allowing their characters to speak when they should or act in a realistic fashion when they should be able to formulate some type of response or rebuttal to what another character says. Oftentimes, the writing doesn’t allow for any type of humanizing portrayals beyond events just happening to the characters. From where the series began to now, the best option that the writing team seems to come up with is rendering its characters silent. Many characters that were once outspoken, like Leticia Baptiste (Jurnee Smollett), who was once overtly expressive are now rendered mute, and this trend was especially egregious for the female characters in the series. I had mildly addressed this in my previous reviews about the character Atticus and his propensity to anger and demonstrative violence, but a lot of the ways that Atticus is written and thusly portrayed are very abusive and problematic. What’s ultimately sad about Atticus as a character is that in our first introduction to him, we were able to see the multitudes and layers of his beautiful interiority as a character. It’s a shame that as the series has careened to this end-point, so many of the moments that we will remember about Atticus are for his violent outbursts of anger and physicality being used to silence or diminish other female characters.
*Sigh…gulps nervously.* Well, I suppose I have to address the Christina/Ruby relationship issue. It seemed like this show was trying to tackle something interesting about gender, sexuality, and love. By the season finale, it seemed like all of the work that had been employed to make their relationship intriguing was rapidly and quickly dismantled…which made for some very stupefying and (personally) infuriating results. This is just my perception but it seems like they were setting up the characters of Ruby/Christina to act as a mirror to the relationship of Atticus/Leticia. The conversations between Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) and Christina (Abbey Lee Kershaw) were blunter, more forward, more direct, and an absolute delight to witness in its development and maturity.
Their pairing had even generated a small fandom that was actively shipping them. Honestly, I was just reveling in the stellar work done by both actresses to establish something more nuanced and unique about this interracial relationship couched in magic and internal/external power struggles. The ending of their ‘relationship’ in my opinion was vile. Spoilers, Ruby is comatose or dead? and was used as the living vessel for Christina to pull off one last switcheroo abracadabra on the cast and the audience. The show could have surprised us by having Christina realize that the power that she was seeking was for naught, or realizing that she could never have the power she sought without love or companionship, or maybe that an immortality spell was flawed. Alas, I’m not a writer on the show, but I would have thought bigger and bolder, and not gone down the path most written/trod…*Take note of the following tropes: bury your gays, the mammy, and (various forms of maltreatment or punishment for dark skinned characters) colorism.
Drinks poured, confetti thrown.
Woe to the early wrinkles in my forehead, but I had my eyebrows furrowed more than I had them raised in intrigue because the season finale was a strange mixture of meandering pace and breakneck speed. All of the interesting character work that had been slowly teased and unfurled throughout the series was undone and we were left with a sadly dissatisfying conclusion. Don’t get me wrong, there were some amazing visuals and allegories on the ride to get to the finale, but was it worth it to have the lackluster and clunky ending that we finally received?
The initial working title for this piece (before I settled on this finalized one) was ‘Battle of the Ellipses’ because this series encapsulates my frequent sentiments with Lovecraft Country. Various plots seemed to meander on and on with no endpoint only to be hastily capped off with a period by the season finale. This piece was also going to be entitled ‘Battle of the Ellipses’ because I truly am at a loss for words about my feelings regarding the conclusion of season one. If the series continues, then there will be ample time to course-correct. COVID-19 has truly transformed the landscape of what we will be seeing on our television screens for the foreseeable future, so who knows if this series will be green-lit for another season, or if it’s going to be shelved….and drinks are going to be poured and confetti summarily thrown for another successful HBO product launch.
The series was always confined by the limitations of its direct book to plot point transfers. A series like this (or I shudder to mention Game of Thrones (2011–2019) is pigeonholed into the narrative constructs of books that can limit the writing potential of its staff and entire logical character arcs because of pre-established moments within a book. Speaking of other limited series shows from HBO, Watchmen (2019) took its established comic book world and ran to exhilarating heights with it. If the show had, as I’ve reiterated constantly, marinated longer we wouldn’t have fallen into so many pot-plot-holes along the way. Lastly, I must applaud the actors that enlivened these episodes because they were doing a lot of the heavy lifting to even make this series engaging at times. All that I can say (after that finale)…Lovecraft Country is a thing…that happened. That’s it. That’s the tweet.
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