Lovecraft Country: 1.03 Holy Ghost
There is a lot to love about part three of the critically lauded HBO series Lovecraft Country. Holy Ghost offers another angle on the horror genre that so heavily influences the show – a haunted house tale – but it also sees a return to what made the pilot so successful – a close focus on the impulses, traumas and joys of its core characters.
Holy Ghost brings a significant time jump for Atticus and Leti after the events of Whitey’s on the Moon: three weeks have passed since the death of Uncle George at Ardham Lodge, and Tic and Leti are back in Chicago, trying to resume normal lives. Leti has bought a grand Victorian-era home on the north side of the city in a majority-white neighbourhood, planning to convert it into a sharehouse. As Leti, Jurnee Smollett is vibrant, lively and stylish in every scene, and her relationship with half-sister Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku, making a welcome return from the pilot) is rocky but real.
Tensions are high between Tic and his father Montrose (Michael K Williams), a hard-headed and colder figure than George, whose loss Tic is taking hard. (Uncle George surely – surely? – must return later in the series, perhaps as a result of last week’s archaic spells and wizardry.) The absence of Courtney B Vance is felt keenly, but Lovecraft Country more than makes up for this with the return of key family members from the first episode. Tic has been helping out his aunt Hippolyta and cousin Diana, individuals whose lives were glimpsed in Sundown and now receive extra attention. Aunjanue Ellis portrays Hippolyta’s sharp intuition convincingly, as Tic’s aunt suspects (rightly) that there is more to the tale that Tic and Montrose told her about George’s death.
A group of Black Americans move into in a haunted share house in a white picket-fence neighbourhood: which is scarier, the house or the neighbourhood? All things considered, in Holy Ghost the white neighbours prove themselves to be the nastier villains, swiftly moving to intimidate the new, Black residents both physically – fastening a brick to the steering wheel of a car parked on the street outside, and letting the horn blare for days on end – or via blatant insult and slur – “What group you with? ... I know. The National Association of the Advancement of Cockroaches.”.
The demon entity of the house gives these neighbours a run for their money – although, with the demon turning out to be the ghost of a dead white man anyway, the point is moot. Slowly creaking doors, a shadowy basement, kids playing Ouija, jump scares and voices heard through walls: these are well-worn tropes that may not frighten more experienced horror-goers, but that isn’t the end goal here. Lovecraft Country is concerned with larger and more systemic problems as much as it is with scaring viewers with a flickering light or a face in the dark.
The spirits haunting the house are, it’s safe to say, fairly messed up – it can’t get much freakier than a baby’s head on the body of a zombified baseball player – yet the episode has time enough for some tender (and sensual) moments between Tic and Leti. Ultimately Holy Ghost is all about Leti – her growth as a woman, the rocky sisterly relationship going through its ups and downs, and a climactic moment of triumph as she casts the demon out.
Lovecraft Country is shaping up to offer something different each week: character-based drama plus monsters in the woods in week one; white voyeurism and fantastical hallucinations in week two; and now a haunted house tale. A return to the character-motivated highs of Sundown and packed full of scares, Holy Ghost is an episode where, at least this time, white people are the ones who ultimately draw the short straw. We’ll have to wait to see if this rare victory for Tic and Leti endures.
Read The Digital Fix’s take on the first and second episodes of Lovecraft Country.