Spoilers ahead for all season 1 episodes of Lovecraft Country!
The finale of Lovecraft Country S1, Full Circle, ends with a gorgeous image of young Dee standing in front of the moon, with Tic’s monster from episode 8 by her side and Christina’s defeated body under her feet. It should invoke feelings of wonder, anticipation and triumph, but it falls flat for several reasons.
First, it’s hard to feel this is a triumphant moment for Dee when we’ve just learned that her mother’s solution to the issue of her magically withered arm involved home amputation and replacement with a bulky cybernetic arm that’s a mess of cables and rods. It doesn’t compare to the look and functionality of Bucky Barnes’ sleek silver arm from the MCU’s The Winter Soldier, but even Marvel knew that amputation and replacement of body parts equals body horror, not triumph, and treated the subject accordingly.
We all watched Hippolyta’s journey through the multiverse in episode 7 with joy, then watched her use her newfound power for Diana and the greater good in episode 9, coming into her own and turning her hair blue to prove it in the process. After spending 200 years in a futuristic multiverse and abandoning her daughter to the white supremacists to do it, you’d think she could come up with technology that was more advanced and fashion-forward for her young daughter when she got back. Look at how snazzy and creative the design in the future she just came back from was!
Then there’s the change in Dee’s temperament. In addition to losing much of her family, she’s been through a harrowing experience of her own. Her formerly supportive mother has now bought into the idea that a happy parent equals happy children, which I can tell you from experience is what self-absorbed parents tell themselves to justify doing whatever they want while they ignore their children. That’s not who Hippolyta was when we met her, but George’s death and contact with the magical orrery seem to have changed her.
I’m not calling parents who leave their children to earn a living or do other necessary tasks self-absorbed. Some parents make up excuses in order to abandon their children physically or emotionally. This is what we’ve seen happen to Dee in the second half of the season- her entire family has ignored her needs, using the pretense of solving their important magical issues, when most of it could have waited an hour or two. I believe magic is being set up as a corrupting influence that ruins lives and relationships.
So in addition to the magic spell that stands in as a metaphor for some kind of (probably sexual) physical attack on Dee by the white supremacist police, by the end of the season she’s dealing with abandonment issues, the lynching of her best friend, the murders of her father and Tic and some feelings of betrayal that the adults in her life aren’t putting aside their own issues long enough to pay attention to her well being when she needs them.
When the cop spits on her face, it’s an exchange of bodily fluids that seals the magic. That suggests it’s a stand in for sexual assault, or at least a beating so bad that she’d bleed. But, let’s be real- that was a metaphorical sexual assault. It was two men holding a young woman down alone in a back alley, making sure they left her with their bodily fluids and permanent emotional scars. The loss of her arm and the ability to draw are the metaphorical loss of her virginity/innocence and the experience of a trauma that she needs to bury so deep that she can’t speak of it to anyone. She’s silenced so profoundly that she loses her previous identity and the ability to communicate in her preferred way.
Her mother promises to make it better, but she can’t give back stolen innocence or remove memories of trauma, especially since she doesn’t realize how deep the wound goes. All she can do is try to strengthen her daughter against future assaults by replacing the visibly broken pieces with something stronger. For now, Hippolyta’s strengthening is a Band-Aid that doesn’t take away the rage that’s grown inside of Dee. In fact, Dee’s rage grows, as she inherits the generational rage passed down through George and Atticus along with the monster.
For whatever reason, while Lovecraft Country states that Hanna the ancestor was raped and impregnated by her rapist, it doesn’t discuss the horror and trauma of the act itself. The show touches on sexual assault and rape several more times, with Tamara, Ji-Ah and Ruby, but continues to dance around the edges of the issue of sexual crime. Ruby discovers that she’s had sex with Christina when she thinks she’s been with William, which is dubious consent at best. Then Ruby begins acting as a white woman known as Hilary, who eventually saves Tamara from sexual assault by their boss Paul. Ruby as Hilary takes violent sexual revenge on Paul, with no consequences for herself. We don’t see Tamara after her assault and Ruby distances herself from her involvement in sexual crimes through the use of Hilary as a surrogate.
Ji-Ah the Kumiho doesn’t have her own body’s memories of her assault by her stepfather, only her attacker’s. She is othered in her own body, since the original Ji-Ah died in the assault. Ji-Ah becomes a monster to avenge the original’s death and is fated to continue on a vengeful path, murdering 100 men and stealing not just their souls, but their memories.
The common thread here is that sexual assault turns women into strangers in their own or even other’s bodies who may or may not remember their assault and who then become raging, vengeful monsters. The only women who work out their rage are ghosts, another kind of monster, who then turn to dust. This signals they’ve finally moved on, but isn’t exactly an appealing future to look forward to. Compare this to Montrose, who’s now looking forward to raising his grandson and his renewed relationship with his boyfriend.
The show has more angry women who have yet to work out their rage. Leti is now likely one of them, but it’s significant that she doesn’t kill Christina, instead leaving her nemesis to her fate once she’s no longer a threat. The ancestors’ spell took magic away from Leti’s enemies, and Leti lost Tic and Ruby in the process, but for now she still chooses the side of life.
Though we had a fabulous fake out opening with Atticus on the bus, Leti was always the hero of this story. The fact that the opening to the series was a fantasy victory which led into everything going wrong for Atticus on his way home turns out to be foreshadowing for the rest of the season. His victories were real and he saved his family at both ends of the story, in Tulsa and twice in Ardham, but, like Moses, he doesn’t get to live to see the Promised Land. It’s up to the women of the story to carry the main burdens of life forward, as women so often do.
Ji-Ah also seems calm, but she too is repressing anger and pain. She lost her mother, then the love of her life. Like Leti, she held back and didn’t finish Christina off when she could have. Without Tic, will this group feel and act like her family? Ji-Ah and Ruby both were only treated well by Atticus and Leti when they were needed. If Ruby comes back, will the two forgotten sisters find each other? What will Ji-Ah do with Atticus and Christina’s memories?
We’re not happy for Dee at the end because she has become a vengeful monster, and she’s just killed another woman who was a vengeful monster. In fact, the woman she killed, Christina, had already killed Captain Lancaster, the head of the white supremacists who attacked Dee. Christina killed Lancaster for herself, because he was also her enemy, and to help Dee. But she didn’t bother to ask for recognition for the act from Dee, Atticus or Leti. Misogyny and racism tend to travel together, and they do in Lovecraft Country as well.
Which, I feel, is the main reason that episode 10 doesn’t feel like a big finish to the season. Christina was a villain to her cousin, but she was also a victim. The white supremacist men victimized her for her entire life. Her closest relatives were the leaders of the white male supremacists, so for her there was no escaping to a warm home with supportive family after their attacks on her. She was a complex character from the start who was honest about her motivations and who was ultimately trying to escape many of the same enemies as Atticus and Leti.
Christina was abused to the point of cold numbness rather than fiery rage. She showed more warmth to her pet Shoggoth than she did to humans. Dee’s pet Shoggoth was so fierce it overcame Christina’s monsters, then Dee killed Christina. Christina and Dee had the same abusers, the white supremacists. Perhaps that final scene was a passing of the torch and we should be worried about what Dee will do next.
The real Big Bads of the season were the white supremacists of the two lodges and the racists who attacked Tulsa in 1921. We saw the Tulsa Massacre in episode 9 and though the characters couldn’t change history, the story was brought full circle when Atticus became the hero who saved his three parents from the racists, bonding them together for life and ensuring his own birth and the continuation of the bloodline. He came in swinging like Jackie Robinson, and the story has been retold so many times that it’s ingrained in his fantasy life. The white male supremacists created Christina and created Montrose, both of whom were reacting badly to what was done to them when they acted as villains.
(Remember the beginning of the season, when Montrose was a villain? Some complex characters get redeemed. Montrose stopped drinking and told the sympathetic side of his story. He still did horrible things.)
The other real victory of the story is Hanna’s victory: she kept the Book of Names and the magic, which were eventually saved by Leti; and she kept her baby, who had children- now her bloodline survives through Atticus and Leti’s baby. With Christina’s death, the white side of the Braithwhite bloodline dies, but the magic and the bloodline is still also theirs and that will have to be dealt with at some point. Hanna’s legacy lives on through Leti, but Leti paid a heavy price, just as Hanna, Hattie, Dora, Dee and Ruby did.
The Sons of Adam were defeated in episode 2 (and the head of the Chicago lodge in episode 9), but their power was so strong that it lingered on as a threat through their magical legacy. As Christina told us, she was only a villain because she needed to protect herself from the lodges. Unfortunately, she became single minded about how she could do it, and that was her downfall.
She identified too strongly with the men in her family and their magic and needed to feel like she was their equal or greater in every way, including by wearing a male body. By the last 2 episodes, it seemed like she was beginning to change because of her love for Ruby and maybe she would have found a different path in time, but her fatal flaws, which include an inability to trust anyone, drove her to feel like she would never be safe until she had the protection her forefathers’ couldn’t master. Probably her ego drove her need to outdo the men who held her back as well.
Her feelings for Ruby, if they were real (and I think they were), weren’t enough to overcome her need to beat the white supremacists, anymore than her feelings for William were. It could be that she saw ruining the lodges as a calling to protect others in much the same way that Atticus and Leti did, but she didn’t feel the need to share that with her cousin, since they weren’t exactly having heart to hearts.
I’m not excusing Christina’s actions, just trying to explain more about the motivations of a character who never became the point of view character during the season. Her actions, overall, weren’t that different from those of Montrose, who was abused as a child and continued to abuse those around him in adulthood because of his own fears and ongoing pain. Those fears culminated in the cold-blooded murder of Yahima, the indigenous Two-Spirit ghost they found in the museum vault.
Christina killed Tic, Ruby and Lancaster. It looked like she had already magically saved Lancaster’s life by turning him into a Frankenstein monster and then she undid that spell, so I’m not sure what she did to him counts as murder so much as letting nature take its course.
The show never made clear whether Christina was using Ruby and had always planned to use her skin in the final act or if she truly loved Ruby and only put her in a deep coma after Ruby’s betrayal. Christina remains an ambiguous character in that way. It’s possible that Christina meant to keep Ruby safe by leaving her behind, knowing that she could eventually be healed using the invulnerability spell. It’s a sociopathic way of thinking, but this is the show that had Leti stand and watch an old woman burn to death and Montrose slit an innocent woman’s throat to protect his son.
That is another reason for the hollow ending- so much was left ambiguous or left to rush by in flashbacks close to the end while Ji-Ah connected Christina and Tic so that Leti’s final spell would work. It was difficult to process so much information at once and we still don’t have as much information as we’d like.
If we’d been shown the full scene between Christina and Ruby, maybe we would understand their relationship and know for sure who Christina was. If she always planned to betray Ruby, then she’s an irredeemable sociopath and good riddance. But if she only betrayed Ruby out of momentary hurt and anger that she would have come to regret eventually, that’s a very different story.
The fact that Christina kept her promise to Ruby and kept Leti alive in episode 10 suggests that she did care about Ruby. But the writing is inconsistent and it’s clear that the creators didn’t think through the implications of their decisions, so we can’t make any educated guesses, the way you can with a well-written show.
Ruby’s change of heart can mostly be explained by plot convenience, family loyalty or her own lingering self doubt. It was likely still hard for Ruby to believe that someone like Christina could sincerely care about her. Or maybe something tipped her off that Christina’s affections weren’t sincere. Maybe we’ll find out in season 2 or maybe we’ll never understand the truth of their relationship.
Ruby was a fascinating character in her own right and the relationship between the two women had so much depth, despite the wide gulf between them when they started out. They had more in common than was obvious at first glance, with both being the child who was unable to live up to their parent’s and society’s standards. (Ruby wasn’t thin or light-skinned enough, while Christina wasn’t male and both were too ambitious for women.) It’s disappointing that Ruby and their relationship were also tossed aside so easily by the writers, without even a clear explanation as to why both women turned on each other in such extreme ways after they’d shared such an intimate, unique bond.
Christina’s true nature doesn’t change the fact that the real Big Bads of the season were the patriarchal white supremacists who were dealt with in episodes 2 and 9. It was the white male supremacists and not Christina who tried to kill Atticus and killed George and Leti at Ardham; kidnapped Montrose; attacked and threatened George, Atticus and Leti when they were on the way to Ardham; attacked Leti’s house twice; attacked Dee; and attacked Atticus and Hippolyta at the observatory.
Christina brought Leti back to life in episode 2, paid for Leti’s house and eventually told Atticus how magic works. In her own mind, Christina’s interactions with Tic and Leti were more transactional than evil, which is in keeping with the way she was raised.
When Hippolyta gives Dee a new arm to make up for the pain of her absence, she’s being transactional as well. The potion that allows one to walk around in another’s skin requires that person to be brain dead (or comatose, another issue that’s not clear) and for a piece of the victim’s body to be included in the potion. The potion magic itself is transactional in nature- almost literally an eye for an eye.
What we eventually learn over the course of the season is that all magic is transactional. All magic comes with a price and that price is frequently in the form of human flesh or a life. Hanna may have been so afraid of magic because exploitation and domination are inherently part of its use. Frequent use of magic may inevitably corrupt the user. It could be that the Lovecraft Country endgame will be the destruction or banishment of magic, but it will take a while to reach that point, now that Leti and her family are in control for the first time.
Will Leti remain the heroine that she has been so far if she continues using magic?
One of the 3 criteria for doing a spell at all is the presence of a body. I didn’t completely understand what Christina meant by this- whether it means the person doing the magic needs to be embodied rather than a spirit or if it means that all spells require a body ready to sacrifice in whole or part. Or maybe both are true.
This could mean that Christina is still alive as a spirit, since she had completed the immortality spell. She can’t do magic, since she doesn’t have a body (and she’s white). Either way, there is a rich spirit world in the Lovecraft Country universe. It’s possible that all spirits live forever and can work on spells but can’t cast them, since they are bodiless. This is what Hanna did between her death and when she and Hattie gave the final spells to Tic and Leti. They couldn’t do the spells themselves because they are dead and bodiless spirits. Titus Braithwhite’s spirit also seemed quite lively and simply bodiless.
That opens up some interesting paths for the future. Leti was brought back to life twice, so we know it can be done. We were also shown that Yahima was brought fully back to life, body and all, after being dead for hundreds of years. It’s clear that that the show creators didn’t think through the impact that her death would have on the audience, but her demise makes more sense if it was meant as foreshadowing that characters can be brought back to life fully, no matter how long they’ve been dead.
That doesn’t change that this show has a “Bury Your Queers” problem, which they compounded in the last 2 episodes, yet another reason for the audience to feel disappointed at the end. Montrose and his cross-dressing lover Sammy, plus their friends at the drag club, survive. But otherwise, every queer character we’ve met dies. Christina is bisexual and some form of gender fluid. Ruby is also bisexual. Yahima, as mentioned earlier, is intersex. And Montrose’s first gay love is killed in the Tulsa Massacre. There also seemed to be hints that Ji-Ah’s nurse/spy friend who was killed by Tic’s unit was romantically interested in her, but maybe that was just me reading into it.
Then there’s the polyamorous triad of Dora-George-Montrose. Over the course of the season, all three declare that they were bonded by their childhood experiences and by experiencing the massacre together and that Atticus is the child of all three. George straight out dies. Dora is already dead at the beginning of the season, but in episode 10, her ghost is released as part of the spell, implying that she’s now really dead and gone, so the polyamorous representation is basically gone as well. The ethics of leaving George’s wife, Hippolyta, permanently out of the polyamorous loop are another whole discussion.
For some reason, it doesn’t matter how terrible Montrose is, better people who are more interesting characters die around him while he survives. Sorry writers, the abusive alcoholic who finds public redemption at the private expense of his family is someone I know way, way too intimately. I don’t need to explore that trope ever again and nobody needs to see that as a role model.
Which brings me back around to the point I was making earlier. Magic, like alcohol and drugs, comes with a price, and sometimes, that price is addiction and the ravaging of one’s body. That would be a useful reason to keep Montrose, the hopefully recovering alcoholic, around, since he might recognize that addiction forming before the others do. Some of the characters who now have magic might come to believe it’s the only thing that can save them, the same way Christina did, and get in too deep.
With the Book of Names, it will be very tempting for Leti and Montrose to bring Tic and Ruby back. Maybe George. And to go after everyone who’s hurt them while making everyone they know invulnerable.
But my guess is that season 2 will pick up after a time jump or there will be a lateral move across the multiverse, since the showrunner seems dedicated to the idea of Lovecraft Country as an anthology series.
Ruby and Christina meet their ends in Dueling White Dresses of Doom.
Images courtesy of HBO.