Read This Before You Watch “Lovecraft Country” Episodes 3 & 4

Welcome back to another week in our continuing examination of HBO’s Lovecraft Country.

Episode 3 of the series, “Holy Ghost” finds our heroes back in Chicago where Leti (Jurnee Smollett) has come into some money and decided to purchase a decrepit old mansion known as the Epstein House in the “white neighborhood” where it’s located. Inviting her half-sister Ruby to come live with her, Leti plans to create a boarding house that can also serve as a grand salon for other black artists, writers, and musicians. She expects some hostility from the neighbors but believes that by fixing up the house, fostering an inviting and thriving collective of creative people, and keeping a positive attitude, she will be able to develop good relationships with the neighbors.

Unfortunately, the white people in the surrounding blocks are more bigoted and more aggressive than Leti anticipated. She also soon learns that house has been deserted for so long because it holds some terrible secrets rooted in an evil history. Originally built by one of the Sons of Adam, the house later became home to the mad scientist, Hiram Epstein who conducted bizarre experiments in his pursuit of forbidden knowledge.

If you’ve ever seen a haunted house movie or even watched an episode of Scooby Doo, you already recognize many of the genre conventions we’ve come to expect from such tales – new owners excited to have found such a neglected gem, a run-down old house with a mysterious history, a series of spooky occurrences, hidden rooms and secret passageways, and so on.

Yet, for all these familiar elements, “Holy Ghost” also introduces some new twists to the haunted house story. For one, the new residents of this old Victorian mansion find themselves under attack from both within and without, so they can’t just “get out.”

As you watch this episode, be sure to keep an eye out for the expected tropes, but also watch for the unexpected turns.

Episode 4, “A History of Violence” resumes the main plotline of the series with a new quest confronting our central trio, who now find themselves venturing into Indiana Jones territory. Their research leads them into a history of strange archeological discoveries and colonial-era explorations and exploitations of remote regions of the world and the people who inhabited them.

Not surprisingly, the sharp social commentary of that 1970 jazz song by Gil Scott-Heron which gave Episode 2 its title, “Whitey’s On the Moon” continues to resonate throughout the series. Both of these new episodes also feature powerful soundtracks with songs that illuminate and expand upon the themes of the show. As you enjoy these episodes and the music in them, pay attention to these songs and what they’re saying.

I haven’t asked a discussion question specifically about the music yet, but the soundtrack does seem to be an important aspect of the world building and thematic construction of Lovecraft Country. Interestingly, much of this music could be considered technical anachronistic. That is, much of this music was written and recorded decades after the apparent setting of this alternate history of 1950’s America. However, these songs don’t feel jarring. They’re not out of place in Lovecraft Country. They strangely sort of belong here.

Finally, I would encourage you to watch closely for the scenes with blood and bleeding in these episodes. There’s less explosive violence and gore than we saw in the earlier episodes, but the blood we see here starts to take on more varied and more profound significance. In our weekly discussion, we’ll definitely want to consider the meanings of blood.

Enjoy! I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts about these episodes.

Published by Chuck Caruso

writer of dark fiction (crime, horror & western noir), literary & textual scholar (american gothic, noir, po-co, sf), and cultural critic

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