Strange Country

Lovecraft Country S1 E1: Sundown

Our heroes have been through it. And it’s only episode 1!

Is Lovecraft Country HBO’s answer to Stranger Things? After watching Sunday’s premiere, a case could be made: both have a story set in the past, other-wordly monsters, and a larger over-arching mystery/conspiracy. But where Stranger Things is an homage to 80’s sci-fi, Lovecraft will most likely directly borrow from the eponymous author for its stories, monsters and themes.

The story opens in a black and white film reel in which our hero Atticus ‘Tic’ Freeman (Jonathan Majors) is a soldier at war; he runs around a battlefield until the camera pans out and we see flying saucers, War of the Worlds-type alien machines with lasers, and all sorts of creatures running around attacking everything in sight. As the picture is colorized, we see a beautiful alien woman with red skin come down from a UFO and hug our hero – until Lovecraft big bad Cthulu appears behind him. As he’s about to be devoured by the winged, many-toothed, tentacled monstrocity, the beast is torn in two by a baseball bat-wielding Jackie Robinson. Still with me? Cthulu re-forms, and as #42 goes in for another whack, Tic wakes up; he was just dreaming.

In reality, veteran soldier Tic is on a bus from Kentucky to Chicago in 1950’s America. The racism is palpable from the start; when the bus breaks down, Tic and another black woman are forced to walk to the next town, while the white people are driven by a local in a truck. While walking he tells the woman about his love of pulp-fiction novels and why he’s on his way to Chicago – his father, Montrose, is missing.

In Chicago, Tic meets up with his uncle George Freeman (Courtney B. Vance), who tells him Montrose has been missing for 2 weeks. Tic tells him his father sent him a letter about his late mother’s family, and a ‘sacred, secret birthright’ that’s been kept from him. Montrose writes that his wife’s family is from “Ardham”, Massachusetts, and that he wants Tic to go with him to check them out.

At a neighborhood block party, we meet Ruby Baptiste (Wunmi Mosaku), who is singing and entertaining the crowd. Her sister, Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett), a childhood friend of Tic’s, shows up and joins her on stage; Leti tells Ruby she needs a place to stay and Ruby agrees to 2 days. When Tic tells his uncle he’s going to find Ardham, George says he’ll join him; George is writing a guide for safe travel for black people, and he says the trip will make a good addition. That night, Tic calls South Korea, and a voice on the other end says “You went home; you shouldn’t have.” Spooky! Leti joins George and and Tic – she’s hitching a ride to her brother’s house – and after George says his goodbyes to his wife and daughter, the trio sets out.

Along the way, they encounter racism at every turn, using George’s guide to navigate the Midwest. For trying to eat lunch at a diner, they are chased out of a town in their car and are followed and shot at while trying to escape. They do narrowly escape, thanks to another car that cuts off the racists and ends up flipping their truck. We see a white woman get out of the car and look at Tic as they race off to continue to Ardham. They stop off at Leti’s brother’s house, and he ends up kicking her out for not attending their mother’s funeral (a fact Ruby also brought up); it seems Leti isn’t exactly the most responsible person… our heroes then continue on their way.

As they get closer to their destination, they come across a racist sheriff, who asks them if they know what ‘sundown laws’ are; basically black people can be arrested for being out after sundown. Tic and crew manage to make it across the county line before sundown, but are ambushed by the local cops and the racist sheriff on the other side. They bring Tic, Leti and George to the middle of the woods and are trying to pin a series of recent crimes on them, when one of the cops is attacked and his arm chopped off – flashlight still in hand.

Creatures that look like giant rats with a bunch of teeth and eyes on the outside of their skin are all around them, running through the woods. The sheriff gets a chunk of his shoulder bitten off as the sheriff, another cop, Tic and Leti manage to find a cabin in the woods. George makes his way to the cabin with the fallen cop’s flashlight, and they figure out the creatures attacking them don’t like light. Leti goes back to the car to grab flares for extra light while the guys in the cabin realize the sheriff is turning into one of the monsters, like a vampire. The sheriff kills the other cop and is about to attack Tic and George when Leti rams the car into the cabin, killing him.

Leti and Tic take the flares and set them in front of the cabin; as a dozen creatures are moving in on them, they hear a whistling sound and the creatures scatter. Tic, Leti and George start walking and as the sun comes up, they arrive at a mansion; bloodied and tired, Tic goes to knock on the door, but it is opened by a man who welcomes them and says they’ve been expecting Tic…

So after a somewhat slow start, the first episode ratcheted up the horror, ended with a bang, and left us with plenty of questions. Where is Montrose? What is Tic’s ‘secret birthright’? What happened to Tic’s mother? Where did those nightmarish creatures come from, and where did they go? Lovecraft Country seems like it can go literally anywhere, and I’m on board for the ride! It definitely fills the mystery/horror void left by Stranger Things, and from the season trailer it looks like it will only get weirder – which is the only way a sci-fi show should be. M

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