Not for the faint hearted, ‘Strange Case’ takes the horror of Lovecraft Country to the next level in a gruesome and bloody fifth episode.
This week’s episode of Lovecraft Country is not for the faint hearted. Strange Case, written by Misha Green, Jonathan I. Kidd and Sonya Winton-Odamtten, is gruesome and bloody but also very, very good. This being episode five of ten, we’re right in the midst of things, and although on many shows mid-season episodes experience a dip in quality, at the halfway point Lovecraft Country is still as exuberant and disturbing as it was at the beginning.
Strange Case serves up the most disturbing body horror and grotesque physical transformation so far. After setting up an intriguing arc for Ruby in the previous episode, the show puts her front and centre this week – namely by transporting her into the body of a white woman. Ruby finds herself waking up in a completely different, and white, body – that of one ‘Hillary Davenport’, played by Jamie Neumann – and is immediately on edge. The writers waste no time in juxtaposing the psychological shock she experiences at this revelation with the physical body horror of her body’s transformation.
William gives Ruby the chance to choose which skin she wishes to use when going out, using a magical potion of his own preparation to do so. Ruby cannot help but indulge in her new-found opportunity and fulfills a dream of working at a high-end store. It’s not long, however, before she witnesses the flagrant white power she now wields: the only (other?) Black employee at the store takes the brunt of disparagement and slurs from her colleagues, while Ruby stands immune; and at one juncture she stumbles into a standoff between two policemen and a young Black boy – and, contrary to what her instincts, not to mention general society, tells her should happen, she gets off scott free due to her whiteness.
Prior to this point, the smooth-talking William didn’t really accomplish much beyond standing around looking suave and menacing. But now there’s a discernible intention behind his actions – to cajole Ruby into doing his bidding. (A big revelation at the end of the episode makes you rethink everything related to his character from the beginning of the season.) Like any deal with the devil, however, Ruby must hold up her end of the bargain – and the consequences of what she ends up doing are particularly unsettling.
The fraught bond between Tic and his father, which has been fragile for two weeks now, shatters. Tic comes to all-out blows in reaction to Montrose’s negligence and apathy for Tic’s investigating the Sons of Adam. Tic’s penchant for level-headed problem solving and leadership has been made clear in the episodes prior to this; it’s in Strange Case that his more violent tendencies, shaped and sharpened in wartime, emerge. This is very best kind of drama: that which is drawn from characters in a believable way.
Tic and Leti discover new sides of their blooming romance. The performances from Smollett and Majors continue to be the driving force behind Lovecraft Country’s success. Everything else – the tension, the scares, the humour – would fall apart if not centred by the deep and meaningful scenes the pair share.
The nous of the show’s set design and costuming teams also deserves recognition this week as every week: from era-appropriate vehicles to evocative hair and makeup, and the vibrant outfits on show – particularly in this week’s drag sequence – Lovecraft Country always looks great. The mixing of contemporary music, too, with 50s-style ballads proves stylish and invigorating.
The end of Strange Case brings us to the halfway point of season one of Lovecraft Country. So far the tension has been high, the character dynamics refreshing, the set design vivid and the horror graphic enough to turn your nose up in disgust. Plot strands are still developing, but there is the sense that events will very soon build towards a big climax.
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