Lovecraft Country Has Given Up Cohesive Storytelling in Favour of Something More Dramatic

Lovecraft Country Has Given Up Cohesive Storytelling in Favour of Something More Dramatic
Ruby having a very necessary conversation with Christina. (Screenshot: HBO)

What little hope there was for Lovecraft Country’s first season trying to tell a single, cohesive story went completely out the window this week with “I Am,” a statement episode that gave Aunjanue Ellis’ Hippolyta Freeman everything she’d ever dreamed of…just to ask her to give it all up.

The episode plays by Chekov’s narrative rules in that it kicks off by bringing us back to the golden orrery Christina was desperately searching for a few episodes back, while the thing was just chilling out in Hippolyta’s possession the whole time. In small moments, Lovecraft Country’s alluded to the character’s cosmic wanderlust, which tracks with the arc she ends up on in Matt Ruff’s original book. But Lovecraft Country takes Hippolyta in an entirely new direction that has almost nothing to do with alien horrors and everything to do with her carving out a space for herself in a galaxy that, up until this point, hasn’t appreciated just what a magnificent intellect she is.

In what’s becoming typical fashion for Lovecraft Country, “I Am” opens with a thread that had barely been gestured at earlier in the season, as Hippolyta manages to figure out the secret of Hiram Epstein’s orrery and discovers that it’s holding a key and coordinates. By way of Christina, the story has suggested that the orrery’s actually a time machine of sorts, but because Hippolyta has no real familiarity with how the magical device works, what she ends up doing with it is taking a journey through space that gives her a much-needed reminder of what kind of person she is.

But before the episode really digs into Hippolyta’s interiority, it takes a few beats to establish important things about Lovecraft Country’s other players — specifically Atticus, Leti, Christina, Ruby, Montrose, and Monstrose’s not-so-new-ish manfriend Sammy. After having unprotected sex with Atticus, Leti’s left with what very strongly appears to be magical morning sickness courtesy of their unborn child; it manifests itself with vivid dreams in which the same woman Atticus saw during the Sons of Adams’ botched magical ritual appears. Both Atticus and Leti seem to be more intrigued by the idea that his ancestor might have spirited Titus’ Book of Names away and not the fact that Leti’s having visions brought on by physical contact. Leti doesn’t bring up her pregnancy suspicions and the episode doesn’t give either of them enough time to properly mull the other development over before it shifts focus.

After Montrose’s ersatz coming out, he and Sammy feel comfortable enough with one another to flirt with the idea of domestic partnership. Happy as it makes Sammy that Montrose is finally willing to let him get close, the tension between them boils over when Sammy recalls bumping into one of their neighbours, who Montrose immediately assumes will know all of their business simply because of where Sammy was coming from. In Montrose’s hostility towards him, you can see glimpses of the same sort of pain and internalized hatred that led to his having an abusive, hostile relationship with Atticus, who has an immediate grasp of the situation when he and Leti stumble upon the pair in the midst of a heated fight. Even though Atticus hurls a homophobic slur at his father, you can tell that he comes not from a place of actual hatred, but rather one of pain that’s wrapped up in the trauma he’s still dealing with from taking on years of abuse from Montrose. Learning that his mother knew about Montrose being gay gives Atticus a significant pause because it implies once more that Montrose might not actually be his biological father.

The story also gives a significant amount of time to Leti and Ruby, the latter of whom is still reeling from learning she’s been bedded by a white woman masquerading as a white man, and yet is handling it rather well. True to her character, Ruby really just wants Christina to be up front with her about who William actually is/was, and to Christina’s credit, she comes close to clean. In the basement of the house, Ruby sees William and Hillary Davenport connected to tubes, and Christina explains they were already dead and she’s using their specific blood for her transformation potions. This revelation might reveal that earlier in the season when we first met “Hillary,” chances are she was actually Christina in disguise gathering information for her own plots, but it also clues you in to the fact that Ruby’s ready and willing to set her judgments aside because of the power that Christina’s able to give her.

Satisfying as it would be to see Ruby and Christina fully hash out the messiness of their relationship, “I Am” pivots to Hippolyta in a very big way as she sets out on a journey of her own (seemingly crossing the country in no time flat, mind you) in search of the lock that the orrery’s key is meant to open. When Hippolyta inevitably finds the machine she’s looking for — housed in an observatory — it happens in a moment of her having to hide from a pair of white guards meant to keep it away from the public. Atticus miraculously shows up just in time to help her dispose of them, but since she’s already activated the machine, he’s unable to help as she’s pulled into a portal that transports her to another planet.

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Hippolyta’s journey into space is pulled directly from Ruff’s novel, but here it takes on a wholly new emotional valence because it isn’t just her being transported to another place, but rather a different state of mind. After Hippolyta turns the key in the orrery and ends up on some distant moon, she’s met by a pair of androids who promptly throw her in a prison that’s meant to free her mind — though they don’t tell her this immediately. When one of the machine beings finally explains to her that she’s not actually trapped, it doesn’t quite click into place until she verbalizes her desire to dance with Josephine Baker, at which point she appears to be placed into a simulation meant to, among other things, help her self-actualize.

In each of the lives Hippolyta experiences — one as a performer, one as a warrior, and one as George’s wife and an explorer, she taps into a core parts of herself that she, in her original life, worked so hard to make less prominent. Spending time in each universe, Hippolyta’s able to verbalize her desire to take up more space than society afforded her. Much as she loves her daughter and late husband, there’s so much more to Hippolyta’s existence than just the ways in which she supports other people. Her imprisonment on the strange planet has almost nothing to do with aliens wanting to actually lock her up, and everything to do with them legitimately wanting to see her become her truest, most powerful self. In time, she comes to understand that about them and truly appreciate it, but when they offer her a chance to live in their seemingly utopian society, she declines, because living with them would mean leaving her daughter behind, and in Diana, Hippolyta sees the future of their family’s legacy.

Almost everything about Hippolyta’s foray into space appears to track with the story being told within Diana’s comics, which is extremely cool, but still doesn’t do much to address the reality that in its endgame territory, Lovecraft Country seems perfectly content to wander down whatever paths it sees fit so as to give every member of its cast their moment to shine. It’s a worthwhile effort in theory but doesn’t make for the most cohesive story overall. Lovecraft Country’s fandom has had its face pressed up against the glass in anticipation of how this season’s going to wrap up. Sideways as things are going, though, it’s difficult to say whether the series is going to be able to pay off all the preceding plotlines in its next few episodes in a way that’s going to make all these twists and turns feel worthwhile.