Lovecraft Country's Season Finale Went There and Back Again With Diminishing Returns

Jonathan Majors as Atticus Freedman.
Jonathan Majors as Atticus Freedman.
Screenshot: HBO

Rather early into its debut season, HBO’s Lovecraft Country did away with an entire gaggle of white supremacist wizards who sought to use their magic to terrorize non-white people. It was a fantastic sight to behold that established what sort of dangers the show’s heroes were up against, but it also set a baseline for the kinds of horrors it was building to that are featured in the season finale.

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Illustration for article titled iLovecraft Country/is Season Finale Went There and Back Again With Diminishing Returns
Graphic: Jim Cooke

As “Full Circle” opens, the Freeman family and Leti are squarely focused on using the recently recovered Book of Names to remove the curse that’s afflicting Diana. The young girl has been left in a sort of coma that’s also gradually transformed her into a ghoulish, racist caricature. Though Atticus only knows just so much about magic, by reading the enchantment his ancestors used to bind the book shut, he’s able to immediately open the tome—though as he does, both he and Leti are magically knocked unconscious.

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Over the course of Lovecraft Country’s first season, the show’s repeatedly depicted a moment in which Atticus’ ancestor Hanna (Joaquina Kalukango) fled from the house where she was enslaved, and the season one finale gives these visions a new significance by finally giving Hanna a more fully realized voice. The story introduces the idea of the Freeman family having access to an ancestral spiritual plane that Hanna created by opening the Book of Names and unknowingly unleashing its magics. As Hanna explains to Atticus how she escaped from her enslaver, Leti finds herself pulled to a slightly different space on the same plane where she’s met by Atticus’ grandmother Hattie (Regina Taylor). She explains that the child Leti’s carrying is what brought her into that specific space, since Atticus is the father.

Leti’s role in “Full Circle” draws attention to one of Lovecraft Country’s thornier concepts, namely that every Black character in the show only has access to magic because of their relationships to white people whose magic is seemingly inborn. At the same time Atticus’ grandmother encourages Leti not to fear magic but see it as a gift, Hanna details to Atticus how she somehow pulled off a spell that was meant to forever hide their bloodline from anyone with an awareness of magic. Again, this suggests that only white people—presumably racists—have an innate awareness of it.

The first of this episode’s attempts at a heavy emotional hit comes in the form of Atticus’ mother (Erica Tazel) who he encounters in the ancestral plane after Hanna tells him that he’s fated to ultimately save his friends and family. While it’s somewhat touching to finally see Atticus connecting with the person who’s been the focal point of so much of his deeply-held grief, the moment feels somewhat tacked on because there’s simply too much happening in this episode.

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From the ancestral plane, Atticus, Leti, Hanna, and Atticus’ grandmother are able to cast a spell that frees Diana from her curse, but as they all come to back on the physical plane, Diana’s rightfully alarmed as she realizes that her dominant arm is still withered and dead because of what she’s been through. “Full Circle” doesn’t really give you enough time to sit with the gravity of Diana’s pain because it immediately shifts focus to Atticus and Leti taking the magic elevator in Leti’s basement back to the tunnels, where they draw a circle in salt and perform a ritual that summons the ghost of Titus Braithwhite (Michael Rose) along with Hanna.

Atticus and his mother (Jonathan Majors and Erica Tazel) on a different plane.
Atticus and his mother (Jonathan Majors and Erica Tazel) on a different plane.
Photo: HBO
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Atticus and Leti summon Titus to gather a physical part of him but the entire ordeal becomes more confusing as Atticus jumps into the binding circle and attempts to fight the ghost, which makes no sense for a number of reasons. New to casting spells as Atticus and Leti may be, common sense would let anyone know that above anything else, breaking a magical circle in which a ghost is meant to be trapped is just a dumb idea. After being attacked, Titus straight up vanishes and manifests in the middle of the road in front of Ruby and Christina, causing their car to crash, which sends Christina flying through the windshield, to Ruby’s alarm (she’s, of course, fine).

One would think that Titus and Christina meeting one another would be one of Lovecraft Country’s more momentous scenes, but literally seconds after the pair lock eyes, Titus is pulled back into the salt circle where Leti, Hattie, and Hanna’s spell suddenly works, and Titus is made flesh, allowing Atticus to beat the everloving hell out of him and cut off a chunk of his chest. Between the chanting in a fictional language and its many jumps around multiple perspectives, the finale ends up feeling like a first draft of a more compelling episode meant to bring this story to a close, which is unfortunate because this all happens long before everything is actually wrapped up.

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Narratively weak as the episode’s story is, it actually features some of Lovecraft Country’s strongest performances that demonstrate just how talented the whole of the cast is. Jurnee Smollett and Wunmi Mosaku are moving beyond belief in the moment when Ruby and Leti meet one another at their mother’s gravesite and Leti tries to convey just what all is at stake. You can feel the emotional burdens they’ve both been carrying for their entire lives that, even at that moment, are still holding them down. When Ruby lets Leti know she has no intention of helping her in her fight against Christina, you can feel that what she’s saying has more to do with her relationship with her sister, but also that it truly pains her that the two of them aren’t closer.

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There’s a very similar sort of energy in Jada Harris and Aunjanue Ellis’ scenes in which Diana and Hippolyta are honest and open with one another about their respective needs and fears. Diana’s completely in the right when she expresses to her mother how abandoned she felt when Hippolyta left Earth to go on a journey, but at the same time, Hippolyta is similarly justified in the way she expresses that she needed time to be free and define herself. In moments like these, you can see the solid characterization that Lovecraft Country is capable of, but they don’t center anywhere near enough to draw your attention away from the story’s glaring issues.

This theme is continued as Atticus calls Ji-Ah up on the phone as if we’re living in modern times where people always knew generally where other people were, and the two of them meet up for a frank conversation about how the love they felt for each other was genuine on both sides. In a slightly more expansive season, this particular aspect of Lovecraft Country would feel more meaningful, but here, it leads almost immediately to Ji-Ah being invited along with Leti and the Freeman family—including Diana, a child recovering from a curse—hopping in a car to travel to Ardham to do battle with racist magic users.

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After the premiere, Lovecraft Country has repeatedly made it seem as if driving from Chicago to Massachusetts is easy, quick, and not at all perilous for people of color living in the era of Jim Crow—despite the fact that the show features characters who literally put out a book meant to guard Black folks against the American dangers they’re likely to face while traveling the country. The heroes’ plan as they enter Ardham is never really fully explained, and Lovecraft Country doesn’t seem to have much of a solid idea itself. On its face, you can see that they’re all essentially setting themselves up for doom by wandering into a town that doesn’t exist on any maps and is populated by people very much under the thrall of racist magic wielders.

Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) and Christina (Abbey Lee) get complicated.
Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) and Christina (Abbey Lee) get complicated.
Photo: HBO
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We’re initially made to believe that Ruby had a change of heart leading to her securing a bit of Christina’s essence in order to help her family perform a binding spell. But one of this episode’s twists comes in the form of the revelation that “Ruby” in the latter part of this episode is actually Christina. This comes after she realized Ruby was finally ready to turn on her for the sake of family. In doing so, Lovecraft Country kills off a queer, Black woman offscreen and it’s made all the worse by the fact that she was murdered by a white supremacist that she was willingly having sex with.

The ersatz Ruby and Leti’s fight culminates in Leti being tossed from a high tower and left for dead, but you can immediately tell that Lovecraft Country isn’t actually about to kill off one of its leads so unceremoniously. In yet another example of how the show’s sense of time is rather...iffy, Christina (now out of Ruby’s body) begins the ritual sacrificing Atticus that she’s certain will make her immortal. Meanwhile, Diana, who’s been left alone in a car for this entire time, is confronted by yet another shoggoth demon that tries to attack her before being done in by another of its kind (the one friendly to Atticus).

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Though Christina’s able to begin her immortality spell through the spilling of Atticus’ blood, an inexplicably revived Leti is ultimately able to stop her when Ji-Ah consciously releases her tails in order to connect Christina and Atticus, giving Leti the exact circuit necessary to curse Christina and rob her of her access to magic. “Full Circle” reminds you that Atticus was always fated to die in the end, but it also introduces the idea that part of his and Leti’s legacy is not just that they managed to stop Christina, but that the magic they worked extended across the world and cut off all white people from magic.

In Matt Ruff’s novel, Leti and the Freemans leave Christina’s analogue outside of the city limits, helpless, so as to let him know what sort of danger he and his people had been putting them through for decades. Lovecraft Country the series puts a twist on things as Diana, accompanied by the shoggoth seemingly under her control, finds a helpless Christina and chooses to choke her to death with a freshly minted robotic arm of Hippolyta’s design (we see very quick glimpses of this supposed surgery during a series of too-quick flashbacks meant to catch us up on a lot of missing plot). It would have been a satisfying ending if only Lovecraft Country had actually done the necessary work to earn it.

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In its season finale, Lovecraft Country told on itself in the sense that it told you what sorts of visions its creators had, but showed you specifically how those dreams weren’t realized. The final scene in the finale suggests that the team is very much interested in telling more stories set in this world in the future, but it’s difficult to say to what end those stories might be. Lovecraft Country’s first season was fun, at times, but if there’s to be more of this, then the executions going to have to be much, much tighter.

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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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DISCUSSION

Christina was way too sympathetic and helpful a character to deserve that throatcrushing, which was administered by a character who was in no way murderous previously.