'Lovecraft Country' Episode 3 is a powerful statement of exorcising the ghosts of oppression to become whole
This episode acknowledges that unless the ghosts of Black victims are laid to rest and until the Black community heals its psychic wounds and traumas inflicted over decades and becomes whole again, there is no going forward
This episode is one for the Emmys with Jurnee Smollett's Letitia "Leti" Lewis as its brilliant center. Smollet does an extremely good job depicting the severe PTSD of coming back to life after being shot dead. As the numbers on the calendar count away from the horrors of Ardham and the death of Uncle George, she tries to pump her energy into "pioneering", the slang used by Black people when they bought or rented property in White neighborhoods. "Pioneering spirit" has very different meanings within White and Black communities -- with Whites viewing it with nostalgia around a 'simple frontier lifestyle' as they set up shop on Native American lands. For Blacks, it is a reminder of the horrors of trying to break through segregation that kept Blacks out of neighborhoods with better civic infrastructure. Leti's project is a crumbling mansion, "the Winthrop House" with "13" rooms, an elevator itching to behead people, and ghosts of a racist White doctor, Hiram Epstein, and the Black people he experimented on, in the très spooky basement.
In the episode, she is a woman who is barely holding it all together with crazed, manic energy. But it works, and Jonathan Majors as Atticus 'Tic' Freeman provides crucial back up every step of the way. The Jackie Robinson baseball bat symbol replays through the episode as the weapon of salvation, working only for the Black protagonists as they smash through the hate that hems them in, from all sides. But when the rogue neighborhood White boys try using baseball bats, breaking into Winthrop House, they are killed by the Black ghosts inside the mansion.
The episode cleverly builds the tension. Leti and her sister Ruby move into the house which they decide to run as a boarding house -- cheap lodgings for Black artists. The White neighbors tie bricks to their car horns and park right outside the mansion. The never-ending wail forces everyone to keep their windows shut, keeping the noise out but also trapping the heat that the tampered radiator is circulating across the house. Heat and noise are legitimate war tactics, Tic verifies, underlining that it is a war that is being fought over racial territories.
In true 'Lovecraft Country' style, there is also the supernatural providing an extra layer of trauma and horror to the proceedings. But, we see also see Leti triumphantly smashing through racist and supernatural horrors alike. She takes a baseball bat to her White neighbors' horns and cars that had been bugging her all week. As she smashes the source of the noise and the cars, symbols of White oppression, it is both cathartic and beautiful to witness. No one stops her and Tic silently lines up with some others, armed with guns, to back her up.
Later, in the basement, during the exorcism gone wrong, she calls on the Black ghosts by name. The episode, in one of its most clever easter eggs, names some of these ghosts after known Black victims of White surgical "experimentation" -- Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsy were three Black women on whom a White doctor did surgical procedures on without anesthesia to "perfect" modern gynecology techniques before he used them on White women.
Leti, having been shot dead by a racist Samuel and then brought back to life, is the ultimate symbol of Black survival against all odds. She is also the bridge between the living and the dead. So it is only right that she calls the restless ghosts of Black victims looking for justice to action with the rallying cry -- "you're not dead yet!" With that, she simultaneously honors their memory and what they went through. As she and the ghosts chant together, exorcising the evil spirit of Hiram Epstein, the ghosts shed their mutilated appearance and become their normal selves again. It is like they are also exorcizing the traumas Epstein left on their body as they cast him out of the house with Leti.
The scene is a metaphor for what 'Lovecraft Country' is trying to do. It is trying to bring peace to the ghosts of past Black victims by naming them and honoring their struggles through horror tropes. This is also evident in the scene where "Emmett Till", the 14-year-old boy in the striped tie is told that his vacay in Mississippi isn't going to go well by Uncle George's ghost. It is an acknowledgment that unless the ghosts of Black victims are laid to rest and until the Black community heals its psychic wounds and traumas inflicted over decades and becomes whole again, there is no going forward.
'Lovecraft Country' Episode 4 will air on September 6 at 9 PM on HBO.