'Indiana Jones'-Style Booby Traps in 'Lovecraft Country' Episode 4 (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Lovecraft Country Season 1 Episode 4, "A History of Violence."]
This week's Lovecraft Country trades in the haunted houses for a subterranean action-adventure romp, or, as Tic (Jonathan Majors) calls it, "some Journey to the Center of the Earth type s**t."
This installment is not as immediately impactful as last week's stellar ghost story and takes a little while to hit its stride. However, once our trio of heroes makes their way underground, the episode picks up with some key character moments and sensational set-pieces.
An adaptation of the "Abdullah's Book" story from the original novel, "A History of Violence" sees a family road trip to Boston in search of the missing pages from the sacred Book of Names, mentioned last week by Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee) as a vital component in translating Adam's words and opening the gates to Eden. These pages are apparently located in a vault beneath the Natural History Museum, at least according to Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams), who we are beginning to learn knows a lot more than he's letting on. It's only when Leti (Jurnee Smollett) calls Montrose out that he agrees to help with the search.
As mentioned, it takes a little while to get going as the first half of the episode sort of recaps the previous week. Montrose mourns the death of his brother George. Tic tells Leti about his confrontation with Christina at the bank and how he was unable to kill her. Christina also gives Leti her side of the story and warns her that Tic's actions are going to get her killed, "again." The mysterious blonde is also trying to get her hands on Dr. Hiram Epstein's orrery — the mechanical model of the Solar System that we saw in Leti's house last week. It turns out Aunt Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) took the orrery and has been trying to get it to work.
All of this is kind of blasé, although some welcome humor is mixed in to break up some of the heavier exposition. The frustrated kid in the library shushing Leti and Tic is a nice touch, and the ever-increasing road trip tag-alongs makes for a playful scene. Unable to reveal the real reason they're going to Boston, Montrose tells Hippolyta they're visiting a museum. So Hippolyta and her daughter Diana (Jada Harris) decide they're also joining this educational expedition. If that's not enough, nosey neighbor Tree (Deron J. Powell) wriggles his way into the trip, which is a funny gag, but his part in the episode feels unnecessary. In fact, once we get to the museum, Tree practically disappears and isn't mentioned again.
The action picks up, though, once night falls and Leti, Tic, and Montrose make their way into the museum's underground vault. It's very Broken Sword, for anyone that ever played those video games back in the nineties — secret doors and tunnels and maps. While the story isn't as self-contained as last week, it's another example of Lovecraft Country's ability to effortlessly flip between genres. It's the sort of classic adventure fiction that Tic talked about in the premiere, the stories he adores so much, and yet has never read one with someone that looks like him at the center. So, it's really cool to see this Indiana Jones-style action-adventure led by three African American characters.
The journey through the booby-trapped tunnels is fraught with tension and death-defying moments. There are magically disintegrating wooden plank bridges and giant swinging axes and flooding caves. It's not all fun and games, though; the action also brings out some incredible character growth. Leti again is the hero of the piece, always putting herself in the firing line before anyone else. While Tic might want to play savior (he even tells Leti and Montrose to leave at one point), this isn't a single character story. As Christina tells Leti at the start of the episode, "Don't let men fool you into thinking it's only about them." Those words echo for Leti as Tic tries to take charge. "Stop acting like this is only happening to you," Leti snaps. "You're not the center of the f***ing universe."
In many ways, Tic and Montrose are very alike, though neither probably wants to admit it. They can both be stubborn, and both believe that what they're doing is helping. Montrose keeps his secrets because he swore to George he would protect the family. He didn't want Tic getting caught up in all this murderous wizard s**t. "Then why are you helping us?" Tic yells at his father. "Because you won't stop," Montrose replies. And that's the same situation with Tic and Leti. Tic wants to protect her, but Leti doesn't need rescuing, and she will certainly never be stopped. Leti is just as determined as Tic, if not more so, and that's what makes them such a powerful team when they're on the same page.
The three of them eventually come together and find the missing pages, but that's not all they encounter. A skeleton clutching the scroll suddenly awakens, creaking and cracking as it transforms from bones to flesh. Tic can somehow understand this ancient spirit, Yahima (Monique Candelaria), despite speaking a different language. Yahima once aided Titus Braithwhite in reciting Adam's words, but once they found out his true nature, they refused to translate another word. Titus imprisoned the spirit in this room ever since. It's a bit of an info dump, especially for someone like myself who isn't familiar with the original story. Regardless, the group rescues Yahima and takes them back to Chicago, hoping they will help translate the missing pages.
There's a sweet father-son bonding moment between Montrose and Tic back at the house. "You grew to be a good man in spite of me," Montrose tells Tic. "Your momma would have been proud." But before you think everything is going to be happy families from this point forward, the episode ends with Montrose sneaking into Yahima's room and slitting their throat. I guess he at least apologizes before doing it? Montrose obviously is in this deeper than he's admitted so far, and it seems likely that he didn't want the spirit revealing what's on those pages. Again, is he doing this simply to protect his family? Or is there more going on here?
- Hippolyta and Diana are kind of pushed aside once the episode reaches the museum. However, there is a lovely mother-daughter moment in the planetarium after Hippolyta reveals she once won a competition to name a star constellation. The credit was taken from her, though, because "the Astronomical Society didn't want a little colored girl to be the face of the competition." Annoyed by this, a proud Diana shouts out her mom's accomplishment to everyone in the planetarium. "Now they know the truth too," she says.
- Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) drowns her sorrows at the bar after a squandered job opportunity and is hit on by Christina's henchman, William (Jordan Patrick Smith). While initially blowing off his passes and calling him on his white privilege, Ruby ends up taking William home for a one night stand. Ruby's an interesting character, so hopefully, this will bring her into the main narrative a bit more.
- We also find out that Christina is in cahoots with the racist police captain that harassed Leti last week. Although they aren't exactly on the friendliest of terms.
Lovecraft Country, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO