Sunday, August 16, 2020

REVIEW: 'Lovecraft Country' - Tic, Leti and Uncle George Embark on a Journey to Find Tic's Missing Father in 'Sundown'

HBO's Lovecraft Country - Episode 1.01 "Sundown"

Veteran and pulp-fiction aficionado Atticus Freeman travels from the Jim Crow South to his South Side of Chicago hometown in search of his missing father Montrose. After recruiting his uncle George and childhood friend Letitia to join him, the trio sets out for Ardham, MA, where they think Montrose may have gone looking for insight into Atticus' late mother's ancestry. As they journey across the Midwest, Tic, Leti and George encounter dangers lurking at every turn, especially after sundown.

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of HBO's Lovecraft Country.

"Sundown" was written by Misha Green and directed by Yann Demange

Lovecraft Country is a mixture of genres. It's a story set in 1950s America while also being timeless. It features a family that understands and reveres history but is also tortured by the same traumas. It's a monster mashup while sometimes the viciousness of humans is more evil than the creatures that lurk in the woods. It's such a fascinating and compelling series right out of the gate. It understands the texture of American life in so many nuanced ways. It understands the importance of centering Black stories around being heroic. But it never shies away from the ever-present danger that comes from how others will respond based solely on the color of one's skin. It's twisted and leaves a pit in one's stomach. But it's also celebratory in the ways these untraditional action stars get to be heroes as they fight against the numerous threats that terrorize them. This premiere is unambiguous with what it aspires to be from its very first scene. That opening sequence plays with tone, direction, music and genre in numerous ways one after another. At first, it's a black-and-white war drama. Then, it morphs into color as the country is being invaded by aliens. It finishes with a monster being torn in half by Jackie Robinson. It's a story of a specific period in time while also paying homage to horror classics while centering around a family that is fighting for one another despite their deeply troubled pasts. Atticus Freeman returns home because his father has gone missing. They have an estranged relationship that came to a head when Tic enlisted in the Army. He comes back as a veteran. He still faces discrimination even when he leaves the brutality of the Jim Crow South. Things don't suddenly change as soon as he crosses the border into Kentucky. He is still forced to walk to the next town when the bus breaks down. The change doesn't truly occur until he arrives in Chicago. That city environment allows for this nice bubble to be created. It's a place where the Black community can survive and thrive. A place where businesses can grow and be respected. A place where families can congregate and celebrate. It's still rife with family drama. Tic's childhood friend Letitia breezes in and out of town always needing something from her family. Things are tense there because she missed her mother's funeral. She is always off fighting for a cause. But she may just be on this adventure for the thrills. It's terrifying to watch as Tic, Leti and Uncle George escape this peaceful existence to brave the uncertainty of the road. George knows just how dangerous it can be. He reviews the journeys he takes to ensure that people like him stay safe when they have to brave a new world. Tic and George recognize when the past informs the present. They have a deep respect for history as well as fiction. They recognize that the people who burned down a Black-owned restaurant just painted it white instead of trying to build it back better. They see that their safety is on the line. They have to make a run for it to avoid being lynched by the local white citizens. They survive because of an inexplicable car crash as a result of a mysterious white woman. That should be questioned but the family doesn't need to stick around any longer than they need to. They understand that any space could turn violent despite their need to be present and respected wherever they go.

Black communities have a right to belong no matter where they go. They deserve to occupy space. Some places believe that their bodies is enough to see them as capable of a crime and nothing more. All it takes is night to fall for it to become legal to kill them. They are warned to be off the streets when night falls. The slow moving car chase is the most thrilling and agonizing sequence of this premiere. It's tense because of the lethal consequences coming to the trio should they fail. Following the rules of the road while desperate to cross the county line in time is the only salvation they potentially have. And yet, they were set up to fail the entire time. The racist sheriff had his officers on the other side of the line ready for this lynching. They were simply in the mood to kill Black people. They can't even wait for the circumstances that suddenly make it justifiable. It's their hatred motivating them in everything that they do. Tic, Leti and George shouldn't be inherently terrified when a car pulls up next to theirs. And yet, that is the natural instinct. George has been beat down twice. His knee has been shattered. He still feels value in the work that he does despite it taking him away from his family. He hopes those bonds can remain strong. He does everything in his power to ensure that they do. But again, the white people in positions of power feel the importance of making Black people feel like they don't belong. This story may close with Tic being welcomed to a place that could be his ancestral home. However, that's not the instinct racists experience when interacting with those from outside communities. This place features monsters that prevent the racists from killing the core family. But the story recognizes that the monsters and racists are essentially the same when it comes to the direct threat against Black bodies. The only difference is how they act. They are both powerful beasts. Tic has to demean himself in order to appease white minds. It's degrading and despicable. It may be the only thing to ease the situation and avoid disaster. That hatred can still be too overwhelming though. The family is saved because these vampires burst out of the woods. The family recognizes that the sunlight is powerful against them. But it's also clear that it doesn't take much for a person to become evil. The sheriff wanted to kill the protagonists long before he was bitten and turned into a destructive and heinous creature. That is abundantly clear throughout this story. But again, Tic, Leti and George get to be the heroes. They are the action stars running through the woods hoping to save each other in the nick of time. It's intense and bloody. But it's rewarding to watch as well because it's Black voices filling spaces that haven't traditionally been given to them. The storytelling acknowledges the racism of the past in both the time period and story while never allowing that to get in the way of crafting a compelling narrative.