An Afrofuturist Adventure in 'Lovecraft Country' Episode 7 (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Lovecraft Country Season 1 Episode 7, "I Am."]
Lovecraft Country has quickly proven it has no limitations when it comes to genre and tone. We've seen ghost stories, Indiana Jones-style action-adventures, body-horror gross-outs, and even Korean romantic dramas during the show's cross-genre adventures so far. It makes sense then that we'd eventually arrive at some sci-fi, time-travel-type shenanigans, taking us on another unexpected detour in what is turning out to be a season of wild and colorful excursions.
"I Am" (adapted from the original novel's "Hippolyta Disturbs the Universe" story) puts Aunt Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) at the forefront. That's another major strength of the show; each character gets their own episode with an opportunity to shine. And Ellis absolutely sparkles here with a commanding performance as we learn more about who Hippolyta is and what motivates her. While Hippolyta is still tied to the overarching narrative, her story also doubles as a meditation on what it's like to be a Black woman in 1950s America, especially an older Black woman — and many of the episode's themes are still applicable today, tragically so, in some cases.
As Tic (Jonathan Majors) and Leti (Jurnee Smollett) continue their hunt for the Book of Names, Hippolyta is deep into her own investigation, still trying to find out what happened to her husband George (Courtney B. Vance). She uncovers clues in the ruins of the collapsed Lodge and finally gets the orrery (the mechanical model of the Solar System) working. Inside one of the planets is a key and coordinates that lead Hippolyta to an observatory out of town. It's here the inquisitive aunt comes upon a time machine, and what so far has been a standard episode with a little bit of family drama becomes an incredible Afrofuturistic adventure through time and space.
Hippolyta is held at gunpoint by two police officers who arrive at the observatory. Tic gets there just in time to save his aunt, and a fight ensues, leading to Hippolyta shooting and killing one of the cops. But as bullets fly, the time machine begins churning and spluttering out of control, ripping a hole in the fabric of time and sucking Hippolyta into its portal. Before we can blink, the observatory disappears, and Hippolyta is seen blasting through space, crash landing on a dark and desolate planet far away.
Waking up naked on a metal slab in a clinical looking space station, Hippolyta notices a chip implanted in her wrist. She has no idea what is happening and screams to be let go. "You are not in a prison," says a tall, otherworldly being with the most badass afro you've ever seen. According to the credits, this character, played by Karen LeBlanc, is called Beyond C'est. That has to be a Beyoncé reference, right? I mean, if you're going to create an omniscient, powerful Black goddess, then you can't go wrong naming her after Queen B herself. Beyond C'est tells Hippolyta she can be wherever she wants to be, to which Hippolyta sarcastically replies she wants "to be dancing on stage in Paris with Josephine Baker." Then boom! It happens.
Hippolyta is transported to another time period, finding herself on stage in Paris as part of the chorus line to a Josephine Baker (Carra Patterson) cabaret performance. There are some funny moments as Hippolyta tries to keep up with the dance routine, all while the other women mutter insults under their breath. Soon enough, Hippolyta becomes accustomed to this life, joining the girls on stage each night and bonding with Josephine, the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture and a hugely influential entertainer and activist. Much like we saw in previous episodes with Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) and Montrose (Michael K. Williams), Hippolyta has found somewhere she feels alive, somewhere she feels free.
"I see what I was robbed of back there," Hippolyta tells Josephine. "I thought I had everything I ever wanted. But I was just the negro woman that white folks wanted me to be. They found a smart way to lynch me without me noticing the noose." Similar to Ruby's story from a couple of episodes back, Hippolyta is angry with both white people and herself. "Sometimes, I just want to kill white folks," she says. "And it's not just them; I hate me for letting them make me feel small." But the time for feeling small is over. "What are you going to do with all that anger?" Josephine asks before Hippolyta is transported to another timeline.
Hippolyta is now a warrior in a native African tribe, learning how to fight from the tribe leader, Nawi (Sufe Bradshaw). "I cannot tell you what true freedom is," Nawi states. "You have to find out yourself, but right now, you are too afraid to go looking." Hippolyta rises to the occasion, learning to fight back and leading a small army of women into battle with white invaders. There is a brilliant and bloody fight scene set to the song "Fire" by Mother's Finest (the funk-rock legends with a Black frontwoman, from Chicago, just like Hippolyta). After disposing of the intruders, Hippolyta turns to the women and delivers a powerful and uplifting speech:
"We are here because we didn't believe them when they told us our rage was not lady-like," Hippolyta bellows. "When they said our violence goes too far ... That the hatred we feel for our enemies is not god-like. They say that to women like us because they know what happens when we are free. Free to hate when we must, free to kill when we must, free to bring destruction when we must. That is our freedom, that is our prayer, no matter what they think of us when we grind them into the dust. That is our love!"
Her eyes now opened, Hippolyta flashes to another timeline, this time waking up in bed with George. It's the scene from earlier in the season, except this time Hippolyta takes control. She describes the many-worlds theory to George and opens up about how all her life she's been shrinking. "When I met you, I was so small," she says, "and you just let me shrink more." Hippolyta shatters through the prescribed gender roles, highlighting how she was made to stay home and play housekeeper while George went out to work and discover. George apologizes, recognizing his own unconscious subjugation of Hippolyta. "I see you now, Hippolyta Freeman, and I want you to be as big as you can be," he says.
Differences settled, Hippolyta and George adorn silver space suits and board a rocketship (a superbly modified Woody) to a new planet — a world of large mushroom trees and cute chubby aliens. It's a beautiful place to retire. Beyond C'est offers Hippolyta the chance to stay there forever, but Hippolyta knows she needs to return home. "Diana needs me," she says, thinking of how she can instill the lessons she's learned into her daughter and help bring about change for young Black women. And Dee (Jada Harris) will definitely need help, seeing as her homemade comic is left behind at the cop murder scene at the observatory.
- Tic's search for the Book of Names takes him to St. Louis to visit his late cousin's old friend. He doesn't find the book, but he does notice a similar birthmark in an old family photo to the one he has on his shoulder.
- Leti dreams that she's pregnant, and it might be more than just a dream as she begins to feel sick later in the episode.
- Speaking of Leti, she also apologizes and makes up with her sister Ruby, which is nice to see. Of course, Ruby has her own issues with Christina (Abbey Lee), who is still trying to get her hands on the Book of Names.
- Tic also finds out that Montrose is gay when he catches him embroiled in a tiff with his secret lover. Tic does not take this well, realizing all the beatings he took as a child were never about him; it was Montrose taking out his self-hate on Tic. I suspect we'll get a full Montrose-focused episode soon, as we have with many of the other characters, which will hopefully explore this in more depth.
- The speech heard as Hippolyta floats through space comes from American jazz artist Sun Ra in the Afrofuturist sci-fi movie Space Is the Place.
Lovecraft Country, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO