Sunday, September 13, 2020

REVIEW: 'Lovecraft Country' - Ruby Questions Her Identity as She Experiences Life in a New Body in 'Strange Case'

HBO's Lovecraft Country - Episode 1.05 "Strange Case"

After making a devil's bargain with William, Ruby steps into the charmed shoes of a white woman, but her transformation only fortifies her resentment of the racial divide. A betrayal by Montrose unleashes Atticus' pent up rage, leaving Leti deeply disturbed and sending Montrose into the comforting arms of his secret lover.

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.

"Strange Case" was written by Misha Green, Jonathan Kidd & Sonya Winton and directed by Cheryl Dunye

In the first four episodes, Ruby had a clear ambition. She wanted to work the counter at Marshall Field's. She attended classes and went to seminars to ensure she was the perfect applicant for the job. She wanted her resumé to be so impressive that no one could possibly turn her down. And then, she walked into the store and saw Tamara working. Another qualified and talented Black woman beat her. She crossed the finish line first and was rewarded for her efforts. Ruby's dreams had been crushed. She understands the world is only willing to make so progress. It's much more comfortable confining an entire community to one place in town and keeping them oppressed. It doesn't matter that rights are being fought for. It's still discrimination that must be issued in order to maintain the power structures. As such, it's terrifying when Ruby wakes up and sees the reflection of a white woman in the mirror. No one is around to guide her on this experience. Instead, it reads as a traumatic experience being done to her with no one having compassion as she begs for help. She certainly wields power as a white woman. Her word is good enough for some racist cops to stop harassing a kid who just wanted to help her. And yet, those same cops return her to William under the false belief that he is her husband. He is her abuser in this circumstance. The police only make the situation worse as they ensure that tragedy can befall Ruby again and again. Once inside the mansion, she is laid out on a plastic tarp as William slashes his way through her body. It's gruesome and gory. Ruby was subjected to all of this pain. Her identity as a Black woman is taken away from her and no one recognizes that. She is so accustomed to having her life and sense of worth interrupted. When she fills space, she has to do so in a way that acknowledges the effort to make others comfortable. Her presence has to be carefully monitored. She is never given the benefit of the doubt or the ability to succeed and be free. That's what makes this metamorphosis so appealing to her. She could absolutely run away from this house after realizing that magic is real and it was used on her against her will. And yet, she is allowed to live out a perfect, carefree day. Being white is a magical power as well. She gets to navigate the world with people respecting her. They acknowledge her presence. She sees how easy it truly is. She always knew that her actions spoke for an entire race. If she messed up, then it would shape another person's views on an entire group of people. That is never a thought for the white identity. They can mess up and still be kept in positions of power. They can continue to abuse those they deem inferior. This experience is freeing for Ruby. However, it holds its own horrors as she realizes her identity is so much more than the color of her skin. She is furious that Tamara is inexperienced and got this job. She wants her to be better because she sees the weight of an entire community resting on Tamara's shoulders. Tamara is terrified of Ruby in her Hillary suit though. She doesn't see it as advice coming from a fellow Black woman who knows the burden of existence and accommodating others. Tamara is trying her best and she is once again demeaned by those around her. When Hillary makes a comment about Tamara's work effort, it suddenly gives the other white woman the freedom to speak every racist thought they have. This extends out of their entire beings. They all put on the performance of saying they are fine working with Tamara. However, they treat her as an outsider. One given the privilege of being in this space so long as she shares her culture with them. It's exotic for these women to go to the south side of town. It's a safari they can seek pleasure from without having to engage or understand the meaning beneath it all. It's terrifying and traumatic.

Moreover, William only gave Ruby the power to transform her outer appearance in exchange for a favor. Christina needs her to plant an object in Captain Lancaster's office. That too incites its own trauma. It highlights a fundamental understanding that Black skin is so often treated as being invisible. It's desirable in certain moments. However, being a part of that ancestry is a shame that signifies a host of problems that can never be deterred. Ruby has to be a loyal servant. She's expected to be grateful for the power of this magic. She is beholden to those who gave it to her. Christina ensures that Ruby knows she is still below her in the hierarchy of power that controls this world. Her hopes and ambitions are nothing in compared to the twisted games white men are playing. They feel the freedom to take and abuse whomever they want. A man is left tortured in Lancaster's closet. Hillary's boss tries to rape Tamara and wants to fire her after she refuses to give in. But Ruby has power as well. She has experienced life from a different perspective. She challenges and questions what is truly happening behind-the-scenes. She is empowered as she assaults her boss. She makes sure that he is aware of her true identity as well. Her skin falling off is such a gory and visceral image. She is breaking free of the body of someone deemed acceptable from society. However, Ruby in her natural form is magnificent, strong and beautiful as well. She leaves a lasting impression. It just turns out all of this was in service to Christina's grand ambitions. She too has lived in the shoes of a different body. She takes William's form. She dictated this entire experience. As such, the power exists to swap genders in this metamorphosis. She chose to deprive Ruby of having the most power capable in this world - the body of a white man. That is significant and crushing. Ruby is no pawn whose simple ambitions can be used by those with a pompous sense of importance. Ruby refuses to see any similarities between her and Christina. And yet, they are both women fighting back against a world that refuses to grant them easy access to power. Black women are so often asked to fit into a very specific box. Ruby has never belonged. She has clashed with her sister. She has refused to give in to radical actions. She is incentivized now. She doesn't now the previous encounters with magic Leti has had. They may be pulled closer. The various families are largely kept apart in this episode. Montrose's actions to protect his son actually unleash all of Tic's pent-up rage and aggression. It reveals a side that Leti has never seen. It immediately terrifies her. It scares him as well. It's behavior that seems destined to befall the men of his lineage. They have tempers and turn to violence to let out their emotions. Tic doesn't want to feel this way. However, he feels a sense of purpose. One that may eventually led to his death. It doesn't matter how special he thinks his relationship with Leti feels. Forces beyond his control have been manipulating his life for a very long time. Every time he thinks he has gotten ahead and can better prepare for what's next he realizes just how long this game has been playing out. Even his time in the war could have been corrupted by this influence. His bond with Leti is genuine. He needs that feeling of safety to feel secure no matter what happens next. Montrose deserves that same luxury despite the heinous action he took. He killed to protect those he loves. Now, he seeks comfort from a community he is tentative about embracing fully. He and Sammy are lovers. Moreover, Sammy is a drag queen who provides a safe space to have fun and exist without the pressures of society. That is freeing for Montrose. It's vital for his overall well-being. But again, the various forces of this world will continue to clash. That will disrupt this happiness and sense of power for everyone even if they are somehow able to come together against the magical forces at work.