Sunday, September 6, 2020

REVIEW: 'Lovecraft Country' - Tic and Leti Forge Ahead Together as Montrose Urges Them to Stop in 'A History of Violence'

HBO's Lovecraft Country - Episode 1.04 "A History of Violence"

After Christina mysteriously shows up at her doorstep, Leti confronts Atticus about his plan to surreptitiously return to Florida. Later, in search of missing pages to a crucial text, Leti, Tic and Montrose head to Boston, with Hippolyta and Diana along for the ride. Back in Chicago, a handsome stranger nurses Ruby's disappointment over a squandered job opportunity.

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 next episode of HBO's Lovecraft Country.

"A History of Violence" was directed by Victoria Mahoney with story by Wes Taylor and teleplay by Misha Green

Montrose is afraid for his son. He sees him following the same path in life that he did. He understands just how traumatic and abusive that path will become. The show has examined the cyclical nature of generational trauma and identity. Tic is presented as special solely because he shares the blood of a man revered amongst the magical community. Christina views Tic as the only person who can retrieve all the items she seeks for her mysterious plan while dispatching those who stand in the way of her play for power. Everyone recognizes that they are being manipulated by Christina as well. They acknowledge that she is the one pulling the strings in this game. She is forcing the Freeman family to act. Montrose sees the pain and hardship on the horizon. He knows what it's like to be an adventurer who hurt his family. Tic leaving for the army brought up similar pain. Montrose is proud of his son. He wants a better life for him. However, he sees that they share the same vices. When Tic goes to research the Sons of Adams, he notices that Montrose has already done the extensive research. They have the same exact instincts. Tic and Leti react by demanding answers. They need to know exactly where they can find the missing pages from the Book of Names that Titus Braithwhite hid over a century ago. Christina has put them on this path. She will continue to torment their families no matter what. That leaves them with the understanding that they have to follow her instructions in the hopes of finding some way to get the upper hand on her with their own power. This narrative always positions Tic and Leti as the heroes. They get to step into these roles that are rarely given to people like them. This episode sees them go on an Indiana Jones-style adventure. They explore tunnels underneath a museum in the hopes of finding treasure that will unlock these grand mysteries. Montrose joins them on this adventure. He doesn't want them to make these foolish mistakes. He sees that he can't stop them either. He is frustrated because he is terrified of what will happen to those he cares about. His need to better understand the lineage of his late wife propelled everyone on this journey. Tic came to rescue him believing it was for the best. George was killed as a result of that. Montrose is burdened by the mistakes and pain of the past. He was abused as a child. In turn, he was an abusive parent. His selfish need to pursue answers in life has hurt those who want to build a normal family. Hippolyta pushes to be included in the adventures because she knows she isn't being told the whole truth. That sends her and Diana off onto their adventure in Ardham. They may not receive any answers in the mess that is left behind. However, they will see the destruction that lays in the wake of Tic and Leti's actions. Lives are lost because of these pursuits. Montrose may be becoming even more monstrous as a result.

This narrative fights back against those who wish to rob these Black bodies of agency and power. And yet, Montrose stands in Tic and Leti's way just as much as anyone else. He burns the book that George gave to him in his dying moments. He kills Yahima before they can translate the recovered pages. He believes he is doing so in order to save his son from a life of torment. He wants a better life for him. But it's also affirming Montrose's nature as someone just as condemned to hate and violence. Unfortunately, that plays into several storytelling cliches. The adventure underneath the museum goes for the big action moments instead of allowing the audience to see the intelligence and brilliance of these characters. They unlock the clues to the various puzzles mostly because they have to in the moment. It's not easy to track the logic or see the hard work. It's just inherent on them to discover that all of this connects back to Leti's new home. That allows them to have a convenient path back to safety. That has become a home base for them. And yet, it's the environment where Montrose takes the life of the two spirit individual who has been tortured by every man who seeks their comfort and assistance. That identity has constantly been abused by the world both in reality and in storytelling. It reveals this narrative as one that seeks to empower its Black protagonists by victimizing those who have just as deep a history of systemic abuse and violence. It's an odd storytelling decision from a show that operated with such confidence in the early going. It makes everything more formulaic and less ambitious. Yes, the scope of the overall episode is incredible. The thrills are very real. The anxiety is apparent as Ruby grows close with William. And yet, the mythology and need for everything to add up to something larger is coming at the expense of character development and respect for the overall world. That could be lethal if the show doesn't recognize all of this as important actions that will have serious consequences for those who continually abuse those they believe to have power over. Montrose needs to exert his influence over those he deems less than to prove his own strength and value. Tic and Leti believe they can overcome the obstacles thrown in their ways. Christina shows that she is more powerful and crafty than anyone else. This may not add up to much in the end. That fear is starting to seep into the story as everyone is trying to control each other which robs so many of their own independence and importance. Plus, that kiss between Tic and Leti felt tacked on solely because of the genre this story was depicting.