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Lovecraft Country Series Premiere: All Chills, All Thrills

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BY August 17, 2020
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A pilot episode is always a challenge. Not only does a show have to establish its premise, but it also has to do so in a way that keeps viewers returning for more. The Lovecraft Country series premiere hit the ground running (from monsters). Let’s talk about that incredible episode, shall we?

What’s Going On In Lovecraft Country?

lovecraft country series premiere image via HBO

As we mentioned in our story on its first trailer, Lovecraft Country is an adaptation of Matt Ruff’s book by the same name. It uses the work of creative but crazy racist HP Lovecraft to tell a true-ish American story. And while Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams are producing it, Misha Green (Underground) is the showrunner.

Set in the 1950s, the show follows Korean War vet Atticus Black (Jonathan Majors) and his family. Atticus’s father Montrose (Michael K. Williams) is missing as the show starts. He’d gone off looking to trace his late wife’s heritage.

There are clues that something’s amiss, though. He seems to have been gone longer than he planned, for one thing. And for another, in a letter to Atticus he says he’s going to somewhere called Ardham. That’s better than Atticus first believed, as he first read it as “Arkham,” but not much better. The area around the real town seems to have had as dark a history as the fictional Lovecraft Country.

So Atticus sets off for Ardham, with his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and family friend Leti (Jurnee Smollett) in tow. This might be frightening enough on its own, but they’re Black and this is, again, 1950s America. The monsters are due on Maple Street. And pretty much every street.

Lovecraft Country Series Premiere Discussion (Mild Spoilers)

lovecraft country series premiere image via HBO

The Lovecraft Country series premiere introduces itself with a wildly dazzling dream sequence. On a bus ride home to Chicago, Atticus dreams a war flashback. However, his memories aren’t simple battlefield scenes. They’re shot through with influences from the books he likes to read, like Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Princess of Mars. And then Jackie Robinson makes an appearance to battle cosmic entities. It’s honestly thrilling.

But then real life comes crashing back in, as it will continue to do throughout the episode and their trip. For instance, they stop at a diner in a small town. George, the publisher of a guidebook for Black travelers (like the real-life Green Book), suggests it, as one of his scouts recommended it. They’re not there long, though, before it becomes clear that something is wrong. As Leti is eavesdropping on the only employee’s unsettling phone conversation, George and Atticus are noticing the literal whitewashing on the walls. As Leti exclaims, in a manner too colorful for this family website, it’s time to go.

Their hasty retreat from the town brings them into contact with Christina (Abbey Kershaw). They don’t actually meet her, but she sure does seem to play a big role in whatever’s going on. Her car, for example, matches the description of the car in which Montrose was seen before he left. And it’s there at the house in Ardham when they finally arrive.

Like Watchmen, The Show Gives Us a History That’s Both Real and Enhanced

lovecraft country series premiere image via HBO

That, of course, comes after they have to fight their way through a gauntlet that includes both figurative and literal monsters. The episode title, “Sundown,” after all, refers to sundown towns. These burgs–and sometimes counties–were so named because they warned Black folks not to be in them after sundown. And unfortunately, the trio ends up in one.

They manage to escape from the situation, but perhaps unsurprisingly, they soon find themselves in even bigger danger. This time, the monsters are real. And few things are more emblematic of the time than a sheriff’s deputy pointing his gun at Atticus instead of the actual factual monster standing right next to him.

But the show has been revealing this history all along. Like HBO’s previous brilliant adaptation Watchmen, Lovecraft Country shows us our shared heritage (if you’re American). In a beautiful montage, for example, soundtracked by James Baldwin, at least one shot reproduces a famous photo by Gordon Parks. (I say “at least one” because another shot seems to allude to Parks’s untitled photo of a Shady Grove, Alabama ice cream shop.) These moments are painful to witness. And when we see a cop car pulling up behind the trio, we feel the terror before they do. We’ve only barely scratched the monster surface so far, but for Black people in America, it might as well be just another day.

Did you also watch the Lovecraft Country series premiere and wanna say something about it? Go ‘head in the comments or come talk to us on social media.

featured image via HBO

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Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.

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