Lovecraft Country Would Like to Point Out that You Can't Eat at Just Anybody's House

Atticus realizing that he’s in some deep shit.
Atticus realizing that he’s in some deep shit.
Screenshot: HBO

Lovecraft Country understands that the best horror always allows for its heroes to make at least a few poor decisions in service of the plot.

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Illustration for article titled iLovecraft Country /iWould Like to Point Out that You Cant Eat at Just Anybodys House
Image: Jim Cooke

As much fantasy as George, Leti, and Atticus consume, you would think that they’d know better than to be lulled into a false sense of security within an obviously magical person’s house where—among other things—they’re offered food and drink that they did not see being prepared. But they do not.

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“Whitey’s on the Moon” opens with an ersatz sense of joy that belies the peril George, Leti, and Atticus are in as they settle into an unexpected stay at the Braithwhite lodge where they’re led to believe they’re esteemed guests. As Ja’Net DuBois’ “Movin’ On Up” plays in the episode’s opening scene, it’s immediately clear that something’s off about the house despite how overjoyed its luxury makes Leti and George feel. The fact that every article of clothing in Leti’s guest room fits her perfectly and that the books in George’s personal library are all tailored to his specific taste speak to the reality that they’ve been lulled into some sort of mystical trap that only Atticus can see for what it is.

As the three of them tuck into an outdoor brunch provided to them by William—Christina Braithwhite’s platinum blonde manservant—Atticus comes to find that neither his uncle nor his friend are able to truly recall the alarming events that actually led to them coming to the lodge. While they were all quite aware of how close they came to being killed by the pack of shoggoths stalking the woods around the manor, in the light of day, it’s all a foggy memory they can only barely recall. What’s even more distracting about the thrall Leti and George are under is that it causes them to consider Atticus’ alarm at their situation as a side effect of his time in the war, and they initially assume that his paranoia is a manifestation of PTSD that he’s yet to work through.

But as Atticus, Leti, and George venture out into the nearby village, they can’t help but contemplate the idea that Montrose—whose letter is what brought the three of them into Devon Country in the first place—might actually be being held in a stone structure in the middle of the community. While none of them are surprised or particularly bowled over by the overt racism that the people of Devon County exhibit, they are given pause later that night when they bump into the same shoggoths that had attacked them just days earlier.

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Unsurprisingly, Christina shows up in the nick of time to call the creatures off, establishing that she and her father are indeed dangerous magical figures who’ve lured Atticus and co. into the depths of Lovecraft Country, and in a moment of true clarity Atticus calls Christina out for her machinations. It’s clear to Atticus that Christina and her father want something that involves him and his family, and that the Braithwhite’s magic is only so effective on him. Figuring that he has a degree of leverage, Atticus demands that Christina break whatever spell she’s put on Leti and George. Christina complies and we see this conveyed with an excellently-timed, off-screen scream from Leti as the fog clears from her mind and she recalls literally everything that she and her friends have been through in the past few days.

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The sophomore episode also shines as Christina cooly explains to Atticus that her father and the other “Sons of Adam” who are converging on the lodge for some sort of group ritual would never associate with the Ku Klux Klan, as klanfolk are too poor for their tastes. Interestingly, she does not assert that her family isn’t racist. Newly freed of Christina’s spell, both Leti and George make a point of trying to figure out what the hell is going on, and in a surprising twist, they all end up interacting with people they believe to be one another, but are actually some sort of conjured beings meant to make them feel safe. The “Atticus” who comes to Leti’s room isn’t actually him, but he’s convincing enough to make her comfortable expressing her desires for him and cluing him (and the audience) into a bit more about her tumultuous history with her mother, who wasn’t the saint her sister Ruby makes her out to be.

George, on the other hand, is haunted by a woman named Dora who’s very clearly not his wife Hippolyta, and the implication the story makes is that she might actually be Atticus’ late mother, meaning that he might actually be his father instead. George’s feelings for Dora are so intense that, overwhelmed as he is to see her, he knows deep within himself that she can’t be real because she’s dead. Though the vision implores him to give into the fantasy, and for a briefest of moments, he allows himself to. The threat these visions pose makes itself most obviously clear to Atticus who is visited by a Korean woman who attempts to kill him and we’re led to believe she’s someone he encountered while fighting in the war. But at the same time, the fact that everyone else was visited by someone they had a romantic connection with suggests that there’s more to Atticus’ dynamic with his magical visitor than is initially let on.

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The horrific truth is that not only are the people haunting them not real, but it’s all to entertain the Sons of Adam. They have front row seats to George, Leti, and Atticus’ respective traumatic moments and watch what they’re all going through ahead of the night’s ceremony in which Atticus is meant to be used to unlock a portal to the Garden of Eden. When Leti, George, and Atticus do make their way out of their respective rooms, they understand that whatever is happening to them is part of a larger plan to keep them all trapped, but George having had access to a vast library proves to be useful as he and Atticus are invited to join the Sons of Adam for dinner. Leti is not extended an invitation as the Sons of Adam is a boys-only club, something that you’re meant to understand also applies to Christina.

Atticus, George, and Leti realizing that the Braithwhite major isn’t what it seems.
Atticus, George, and Leti realizing that the Braithwhite major isn’t what it seems.
Screenshot: HBO
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During the Sons of Adam’s function, a tuxedoed George uses his love of reading to test something out about the organization that proves to be incredibly powerful. While browsing through the books in his room, he comes across a copy of the Sons of Adam’s bylaws that explain how certain members of the group enjoy special privileges that, in some cases, are passed down genealogically should a person be related to a founding member with vast magical powers. George reasons that in some way, Atticus isn’t just a guest, but a Son Amongst Sons, a person of high regard within the Order of the Ancient Dawn with a direct blood connection to Titus Braithwhite. He’s one of the most powerful magic users to be part of the organization who also was known to have taken advantage of at least one of the female slaves he owned while he was alive.

Atticus is, in fact, able to order most of the Sons of Adam to leave the room when George encourages him to assert his authority, but the buck stops with Christina’s father Samuel. He explains it isn’t so much that Atticus has the innate power to control the others, but rather that they’re all extremely superstitious and insist on following the rules. This puts Atticus, Leti, and George into an interesting position because while Samuel could, in theory, cause trouble for them, he’s not inclined to do so because he still needs the rest of the Order’s support in order to achieve his goals, and they all insist on following their bylaws to a T. At the very least, it means Atticus and co. are still free to wander about the grounds at their leisure to continue their search for Montrose.

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It’s unclear exactly how Montrose—who is very much there—manages to dig his way out of his prison and literally emerge from the ground just in time for Atticus and the others to scoop him and hop into a car with plans to escape, but that’s exactly what happens. But just as the quartet is almost free of the lodge and its awful inhabitants, “Whitey’s On the Moon” plucks a moment right out of the original novel and the car smashes into an invisible barrier, forcing everyone to exit the vehicle just as Samuel and Christina make it obvious that no one’s leaving the premises.

The episode takes another dramatic turn as Samuel shoots both Leti and George in order to make it clear to Atticus that he has no qualms about being a murderer, but he also implies that he’s willing to save them both if Atticus follows orders and does his part in performing the ritual. As Atticus is being prepared for the ritual, he and Christina have a moment in which she expresses her disdain for the Order’s rules that have kept her away from true power simply because she’s a woman, and she purposefully slips Atticus a small ring that comes to play an important role in the episode. In yet another unsurprising twist, Leti turns out to be quite alive, but also alarmed to realize that she should be dead, having been shot in the torso. George, by comparison, is still wounded with the Braithwhites insisting that his healing will come after Atticus does what they want him to do.

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Members of the Order of the Ancient Dawn.
Members of the Order of the Ancient Dawn.
Screenshot: HBO

It’s difficult for Montrose to watch his brother bleed out as they’re being manipulated by a group of would-be grand wizards, but it’s even harder for him to hear the truths George tries to impress upon him before his time’s up. He doesn’t spell out precisely what the trauma is in their shared past that led to Montrose becoming an emotionally distant man, but he does establish that Montrose might not be Atticus’ biological father, something the two of them have discussed to some extent in the past.

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When Samuel and the other Sons of Adam begin their ritual, their hypothesis about Atticus being the key to opening the portal proves to be correct and for a few seconds they do actually manage to get a glimpse of the Garden, but Atticus is able to interrupt the spell thanks to the ring Christina gave him. Moments before the spell fails completely, Atticus catches a glimpse of a pregnant Black woman he doesn’t know standing on the other side of the portal who encourages him to run as the lodge begins to collapse in on itself.

It stands to reason that the woman in the portal was one of Titus’ slaves, and most likely one of Atticus’ ancestors, and her guidance proves to be invaluable as he makes it out of the house just as everything all comes tumbling down. The final moments of “Whitey’s on the Moon” are a bit rushed, as you see that it’s suddenly daytime again on the outside and somehow, Leti, George, and Montrose were able to make it out of the house generally unscathed while every member of the Order ended up being turned to stone because of the magical backlash of the ruined spell. And yet, not all of Lovecraft Country’s heroes survive, and Atticus and Leti are devastated to learn that there simply wasn’t enough time to get George to a hospital that could have saved his life.

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This wouldn’t be a proper horror story if at least one core character didn’t end up biting the bullet, but it is truly alarming that Lovecraft Country kills George off so quickly because if a show’s willing to murder Courtney B. Vance in its second episode, it means that truly nobody’s safe.

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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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DISCUSSION

I’m finding that turning Caleb into Christina was an inspired change.

It introduces an element of commonality between her and the Freemans that simply wasn’t present in the book.

In the book Caleb ticks just about every box in the Privilege Checklist, being white, male, straight, young, handsome and rich... but is also inexplicably nice to the heroes. Also the reasons for his enmity with his father always seems kind of two-dimensional to me.

Christina, on the other hand, seems to me, has a more logical reason for doing what she does, and for kind of siding with those being discriminated against.

This contributes to the fact that despite only really being introduced to her in this episode, we can tell exactly why she did what she did without having it spelled out for us.