A Twisted Tale of Love in ‘Lovecraft Country’ Episode 6 (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Lovecraft Country Season 1 Episode 6, “Meet Me in Daegu.”]
Lovecraft Country continued its delightful genre-hopping in this week’s episode. In “Meet Me in Daegu” the horror series headed to South Korea for what could easily have been an hour from a top-notch K-drama. It’s one of the series’ strongest outings so far and a welcome change of pace from the all-out grossness of last week’s gorefest. That’s not to say that this episode doesn’t have its fair share of gruesomeness—death by tentacles, anyone?—but it is tamer compared to earlier moments, and more thematically rich and powerful—and I’m good with that.
“Meet Me in Daegu” takes inspiration from Meet Me in St. Louis, the classic Judy Garland-starring musical flick seen playing at the movie theater at the start of the episode. Much like the film its based on, the episode is split into a series of seasonal vignettes, starting in Fall 1949, in South Korea, where we follow naive nursing student Ji-Ah (an outstanding Jamie Chung).
Ji-Ah is infatuated with American movies, especially Garland’s, and dreams of living the type of bright and colorful life she sees onscreen—complete with a goal of falling in love with a handsome Hollywood hunk. However, like Garland’s Esther, Ji-Ah is unlucky in love and terribly awkward when it comes to dating. This problem is only exacerbated by her mother, Soon-Hee (Cindy Chang), who demands that she bring a man home.
This story isn’t what it appears to be at first glance, though. It is not your typical girl-meets-boy drama filled with romantic hijinx. It’s a distorted love story with nods to golden era Hollywood and classic literature, but with Lovecraft‘s dark and supernatural twists. You see, Ji-Ah is possessed by a “kumiho,” a nine-tailed, evil fox spirit that appears in many Korean tales and legends. The only way she can free herself is by devouring the souls of 100 men. We see this when Ji-Ah picks up a man at a bar, takes him home, and, mid-sex, impales him with her many tails, which protrude from her every orifice, sucking the life (and memories) out of her victim until he explodes into a bloody pile of goo.
Throughout the episode, we learn more details about Ji-Ah’s past, like the sexual abuse she suffered from her father. And in a desperate effort to protect her daughter, Soon-Hee made a deal with a “mudang” (a female shaman), hoping this would save her child from her abusive father. In turn, Soon-Hee created a monster, as Ji-Ah killed her father and absorbed his memories. Now, she’s also got the memories of every other man she’s murdered over the past years swimming around in her mind. “Two more souls and all those memories will be gone,” Soon-Hee pleads with Ji-Ah, who appears reluctant to continue. But is this because the real Ji-Ah is tired of killing, or is it the kumiho wanting to remain inside its host?
New potential victims arrive in Summer 1950, as American soldiers are deployed in Daegu to aid South Korea’s war efforts. Despite promises of freedom, there is still pain and suffering, evidenced by soldiers raping local women, and communist sympathizers being hung in the street. Ji-Ah’s best friend, Young-Ja (Prisca Kim), is shot dead after confessing to being a communist spy. And who is the American soldier on the other side of the gun? Why, it’s Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors), who months later winds up wounded in the same hospital where Ji-Ah works. As Ji-Ah plots to kill Tic, seeking revenge and her final soul, the two begin to bond over books and their shared feelings of alienation. Tic tells Ji-Ah about the discrimination he faces back home and how he uses books as his escape. Ji-Ah, of course, does the same with movies.
Despite her reluctance, especially knowing what he did to her friend, Ji-Ah is drawn to Tic. She sees goodness in him. Tic, likewise, is smitten with the young nurse. He surprises her with a date night at the army base, unveiling a screening of the newest Garland-starring film. After a make-out session, Ji-Ah takes Tic back to her room. There is a nice callback to Leti (Jurnee Smollett) here, as Tic reveals that he’s a virgin. Ji-Ah is gentle with him, but it’s unclear if she still intends to kill him at this point. Regardless, once the tails start to emerge, she screams at Tic to get out, thereby saving him. She tells her mother that she just pretended to mimic love before, but now she genuinely feels for Tic. Soon-Hee spits at her daughter, calling her a monster for loving the man that killed her friend.
Unable to explain her true self, Ji-Ah later tells Tic that the reason she called things off is because she knows what he did to her friend. Tic says he was just following orders and is confused about why Ji-Ah agreed to go out with him in the first place. She admits that she wanted to kill him, but now has real feelings for him, feelings she’s never had before. “We’ve both done monstrous things,” she says, “but that does not make us monsters.” The pair patch things up and make love, and Ji-Ah is able to control her impulses, keeping the kumiho at bay. It seems there is hope for them yet, even if Soon-Hee doesn’t agree with her daughter’s decision. She tells Ji-Ah that Tic only cares about her because he doesn’t know what she is, a statement that turns out to be true.
As we enter Winter 1950, after months of being a couple, Tic is told he can return home. He tells Ji-Ah to come with him—that they can make a life together in America. In many ways, it’s the movie ending Ji-Ah has been hoping for her whole life. But, of course, it’s not that simple. As they have sex, Ji-Ah’s tails come out to play. She tries to stop them, but not before they suction themselves to Tic’s face and read his memories—the violent abuse he suffered as a child, torturing her friend, etc. But it’s not just past memories. Ji-Ah also sees into Tic’s future, him in bed with another woman (not Leti either), and, ultimately, what appears to be his death. Before Ji-Ah can warn him, Tic is out of there, scared and confused about what just happened.
A distraught Ji-Ah joins her mother to visit the mudang, hoping to end the curse once and for all. As the two ladies traverse across the snow, the scene is accompanied by the words of Garland, taken from audio tapes left behind by the late star (An eerie “They’ve tried to kill me along the way, and by God, they won’t. They won’t.”). The historical monologue in place of music is becoming a real Lovecraft Country trademark following the James Baldwin speech and Gil Scott-Heron poem from earlier in the season. Garland’s words here are tragic yet hopeful; she refuses to give in to others’ fears, which is a recurring theme of this episode and the series. “We need to stop letting their fear shape us,” Ji-Ah tells Tic earlier in the episode after talking about the racism he faces in America.
As for the mudang, she does not lift the curse. In fact, she promises more tragedy to come. “You have not even become one with darkness yet,” she tells Ji-Ah. “You will see countless deaths before your journey is done.” It doesn’t look like Ji-Ah will be getting her happy Hollywood ending.
- If Ji-Ah seems familiar, it’s because she was previously seen in the second episode, “Whitey’s On the Moon,” when Tic was “attacked” by her during a hallucination at the Braithwhite’s house.
- It’s also all-but-confirmed that Ji-Ah was the woman on the phone with Tic last week that told him he should have listened to her.
Lovecraft Country, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO