Lovecraft Country Recap: Murder House – Vulture


Lovecraft Country

Holy Ghost
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Photo: HBO

“My house is haunted.” Letitia delivers this news to Atticus late into the episode with a weary matter-of-factness that’s accrued over the last month of her life. What’s interesting is that if we were to rewind the clock on Lovecraft Country’s story just an hour, back in Ardham, this type of horror was not necessarily a given within the show’s world. Yes, we had monsters, and yes, we had wizards trying to open up doors to Eden—but we didn’t have specters of this manner. Ghosts of the haunting kind are a new addition to the world that the audience has already had to accept as possible by the time Letitia utters their existence. After “Whitey’s on the Moon,” I’m on board for almost any expansion of the show’s supernatural logic. So thankfully, Atticus doesn’t question Leti or her sanity—he simply says, ever so gently, “Walk me through it.” He’s a good friend to Letitia in this moment, and it’s also in service of the plot—similar to last week, this obstacle must be overcome by the episode’s end. They’re wasting no time here.

“Holy Ghost” deals a lot with death. It’s been three weeks since George’s funeral and the characters are all feeling his absence. Hippolyta is not only mourning the death of her husband, but she’s angry about the shifting world around her, too. We see her holding onto George’s copy of Dracula, his favorite book, before she begins ripping out the pages. She promptly buys a new copy, but she’s in turmoil: she knows she’s not been given the whole story. It’s frustrating to watch Montrose, Atticus, and Leti lie by omission. But how can they explain what happened back in Ardham when they aren’t even processing it themselves? The three have avoided each other since George’s funeral. But Hippolyta is smarter than they’re giving her credit for. She senses something more complicated happened than George being shot by a sheriff. As she says, “something doesn’t feel right.” The unknown is haunting her.

What might the characters’ worlds look like without George? We’ve learned that not only does Hippolyta copyedit for The Safe Negro Travel Guide, she also does most of the behind-the-scenes work: typing up entries based off of George’s travel. We know that she has a knack for astronomy—we’ve seen Dee sketch her photo with a telescope, and she discussed stargazing on the phone with George. We know she wanted to do some of the travelling, and she deserves to. Dee misses her father, too. Her gaze lingers on his empty seat at the dinner table, and she’s upset when she learns Atticus will no longer be staying over to keep them company. Meanwhile, without his brother, Montrose is drinking a lot, presumably grappling with the family secrets alluded to in his final conversations with George. But these threads are put on pause to make way for this week’s main story.

“Holy Ghost,” is squarely Letitia’s episode. The main plot is actually spelled out to us early on in an intertitle. It reads, “In the summer of 1955, a group of Negro men and women moved into a house on the North Side of Chicago. Ten days later three people went missing inside the house, never to be seen again.” This approach is a bit jarring, but it emphasizes that the next story will be a contained one within the larger world that’s building. Thankfully, neither Letitia nor her artist friends that have moved in with her die or go missing. All of our Black characters survive until the end of the episode. Those three missing persons (who end up being racist white men killed by the spirits and the house itself) end up seeming beside the point.

Lest we forget, Leti died in Ardham and she is dealing with that grief. In the episode’s opening, evocative scene, Leti is lost in thought while attending a church service. The other churchgoers are jubilant: a woman dances, catching the holy spirit. But Leti is completely detached. The world she knows now is different. “What did you do to make a mark on this world?” the poetic voiceover asks (and you’ll notice, it almost sounds as if the voiceover is saying “Leti”). She’s contemplating this question too, her own mortality at the front of her mind. It’s heartbreaking. What is she going to do with this life in this strange new world?

Before we can get that answer, Letitia has to deal with the haunted house she’s stumbled into. The ghosts of the episode belong to nine spirits, eight “restless souls trapped in [the] house with their killer.” You see, the last owner of the house, Hiram Epstein, experimented on disappeared Black residents of the South Side, and buried them in “the room below the basement.” Leti, before learning this, started using the room as a darkroom, and the spirits of the missing Black residents and of Hiram Epstein keep showing up in her photos. It’s horrific and grim, but thankfully Leti is on a mission to rid them of an eternity with their killer and end their suffering.

Of course, the spirits in the house are less of a nuisance to Letitia than are her white neighbors. Upon move-in, white men park cars in front of her lawn with bricks fastened to the horn. They and other neighbors look on menacingly, while cops threateningly roll by. The message is clear: they are not wanted here. As the days roll on the tactics to get them to move increase in extremity. (The intertitles declaring each “Day” are a little silly, but I appreciate a good timeline!) If the perpetual horns weren’t enough, the heater is fixed to heat-them-out too. Still, Leti does not budge. She throws a housewarming party to declare that they cannot be so easily deterred. But this is when things really escalate. Ruby, on a break from being the party’s grand musical accompaniment, sees something through the window—a cross in flames. A switch flips and Leti goes on the offense. She busts the car windows and removes the bricks while Tic and some men from the party stand around with shotguns to protect her. Ruby helps them hide the guns after knowing what will come next, driving away with them. Letitia and the boys put their hands behind their heads and kneel on the ground—the cops will arrive any second. In the back of the cop car, Letitia confirms more of the truth that she as a Black person already knew too well: the connections between racism and the people in power run deeper and stronger than we’d want to believe.

Throughout the episode, Letitia is determined to “feel something.” She begins by trying to make amends with Ruby, but years of emotions between them are uprooted. Leti wanted the house to be a chance for her to help out Ruby for once, and for the pair “to really bond as sisters.” But later she slips up, revealing that the money for the house was left to her by her mother (or so she thinks). Ruby is rightfully upset about this and calls her out: “at least mama didn’t pretend to be anything but selfish… [you’re] burying your guilt for doing what you always do, look out for Leti first.”

Letitia also tries to feel something in her sexual encounter with Tic, which is unpleasant and far from romantic. She cries after, and we learn later that it was her “first time.” But if we’re looking for a satisfying resolution for Leti in this episode, even if it’s just for a moment, I think we get it in the episode’s climactic scene. With the help of a priestess and the eight souls, Leti helps exorcise Hiram Epstein’s spirit from the house. In the process, the spirits are returned to their pre-experimentation states—they shouldn’t be the “scary” ones here, after all. The scene is pure, chaotic genre fare and Jurnee Smollett sells it. (Just look at her sweat and tears after!) Surely this was the beginning of her feeling something. The house is thus un-haunted and Letitia continues to use it to give space for Black creatives, even getting profiled by the local Black newspaper.

It turns out we didn’t leave all that happened last week behind. In the final scene, we learn that Christina Braithwhite is still alive. In fact, she is the one who helped this house get into Letitia’s hands. She paid off the “realtist” and sent Letitia the money for the house. Christina is after something related to that house too. And, oh yeah, we learn she has the power of “invulnerability” and cannot be harmed. It looks like she’s here to stay.

Leftover Country

• “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE.” To finally get this line bellowed from a Black character after countless iterations of it in haunted house stories…*chef’s kiss*. It makes me think of Sanaa Lathan getting to say, albeit censored for a PG-13 rating, “You’re one ugly motherfucker!” in Alien Vs. Predator (for which she is often cited as the first Black woman to lead a sci-fi film). Jurnee Smollett gets five stars this week.

• Letitia’s spatial reasoning skills must be out of this world the way she puzzled together that image of Hiram Epstein’s face together in the darkroom…I found that whole sequence both inscrutable and incredible.

• From my notes: Not Dee and these badass kids playing with a Ouija board…in the middle of summer.

• Should I be scared of this golden, celestial contraption that seemed to lure Hippolyta in? May it only bring her happiness and not danger…

• Jurnee Smollett and Wunmi Mosaku really sell the sisters’ fraught relationship too. I feel bad for both of them and can feel the exhaustion and complicated, frustrated love.

• Here’s the connection between Hiram Epstein, Horatio Winthrope, and the Braithwhites, partially explained extremely quickly by Christina: “Horatio Winthrope was a founding member of the Sons of Adam…banished after stealing pages from ‘the Book of Names.’” He was trying to develop his own cipher for the language of Adam from the pages. Previously, Titus Braithwhite was the only person with a cipher. Hiram Epstein was a follower of Horatio’s. Christina now wants those pages to decode the language and presumably obtain the power that comes with them.

• Atticus during Christina’s monologue: “I didn’t come here for a history lesson.” We were all thinking it.

• I don’t love Tic and Leti’s reception toward the priestess that helped them bring out the spirits. They acted like her rituals were so strange when…“Whitey’s on the Moon” happened. Glad she lived, though!

• Gaywatch: The novelist tenant who named his dog Baldwin… we see you.

Read More On This At “Paranormal, Ghosts, Hauntings” – Google News