Lovecraft Country: Sundown
Original air date: August 16th, 2020
As I watched the series premiere, I couldn’t help but wonder if HBO has a crystal ball. The network’s ability to hit poignant topics right on the head is rather astonishing. Much like HBO’s Watchmen, the first episode is, at times, difficult to watch. For a series steeped in horror lore, the scariest part is human nature and how far we must still go to be a nation that truly has, “liberty for all”. Fifties America, Jim Crow Laws and back-wood law enforcement hit a raw nerve, but one that needs to be poked. Much like HBO’s True Blood opened eyes for LBGTQIA issues, Lovecraft Country will examine race issues and combine some scary monsters (besides humans) with a very intriguing story.
The series is based on the novel (of the same name) by Matt Ruff. I haven’t read the book, but I’m curious to do so after the series has aired. When it comes to marathon watching, part of me loves the instant gratification, but another part misses the chance to discuss and hypothesize how a story will go– am I alone in that feeling?
The premiere episode introduced us to all the key players and a few auxiliaries as well. Jonathan Majors plays Atticus Freeman (Freshman Lit would have a field day with that name), our hero who has returned from Korea to help locate his missing father—who disappeared while delving into his deceased wife’s past. Atticus has a birthright we only got a small glimpse of in the final scene. Atticus’ Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) is along for the ride, and to finish the trio, there is Leti Lewis (Jurnee Smollett). All deliver outstanding performances and already I’m invested in these characters and can’t wait to delve deeper into their backstories.
For the other characters we are introduced to, the one I’m most curious about is Uncle George’s daughter, Diana (Jada Harris). Her drawings on the map intrigue me—does she possess some clairvoyant power or is she merely a plot device meant to foreshadow our hero’s perilous journey? I hope not; I want her and Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis), aka George’s wife, to play bigger roles in the episodes to come. Leti’s sister is another I want to see more of– there isn’t a character I don’t want to know more about. Well maybe the creepy Sheriff Eunice Hunt, I don’t think becoming a creature is going to stop him from holding a grudge, but he got what was coming to him and I hope he’s gone for good.
Speaking of creepy white people, the rather Aryan-looking Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee) and William (Jordan Patrick Smith) are two potential allies, but I feel we will learn soon enough that they have their own motives for helping Atticus. Or will Christina be the “Princess of Mars” character? I mean all the literary references will be leading us somewhere; it has to have meaning besides the stunning imagery presented.
For me, the opening scene had me hooked. The dream sequence is filled with so much imagery that I can only imagine what we will be seeing in the future. This is Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. Will this be important later? Visually it was a pulp magazine come to life—like a love child of Ed Wood and Taratino. I mean Jackie Robinson battling Cthulhu, it made my dreams look tame and I once had a dream that my grandparents hired Scooby-Doo to kill me, but I’m getting off topic.
I was fortunate enough to be introduced to pulp stories, from my father, at an early age—Doc Savage, The Shadow, even A Princess of Mars and The Gods of Mars (though I don’t know if I would categorize those as pulp, but as they are alluded to in the series I added them to the list). So not only do we have this gritty pulp quality to the show, but we have this Lovecraftian lore front and center. While watching the episode I was getting concerned as to whether any creatures would appear, but I was not disappointed.
Sundown towns, or in this case county, are an appalling concept. That a law enforcement agency had the power to lynch people they deemed unsavory (i.e. people of color) is scary. It made the appearance of the Shoggoths a welcomed addition to the story and raises so many questions. We saw that their bite creates more, so I assume most of them are the “missing persons” mentioned earlier in the episode. But what was the origin? The whistle sound that called them away, was the sound person-made or animal? Do they retain any memories? (Looking at you Sheriff Hunt.) Are they a natural occurrence or something created—we have H.P. Lovecraft, we have Edgar Rice Burroughs, why not some H.G. Wells? In the form of The Island of Doctor Moreau.
By the end of the episode our main characters survived the night and made it to Ardham. I can only guess as to what we will see in the series—we saw Cthulhu in the dream, there were spaceships and Mars references in the dream and in the episode, are we going to some Outer Gods? The Great Old One? Is Atticus part alien? So many ways this can all play out, I’m in love with this series after one episode! So, until next week I will revisit The Sinking City, a great video game and a great way to learn a lot about Lovecraft’s creatures. Or you know, check out the Cthulhu Mythos. My one concern is that well Lovecraft wasn’t a fan of happy endings, so will our main characters get one?