Lovecraft Country, a new horror-drama series from HBO, made its debut Sunday night (August 16) amid much fanfare leading up to the airing. If the reactions from Twitter are any indication, the network has another hit on its hand with strong Black leads to boot.
Lovecraft Country is set in the 1950s, a time where being Black in America was difficult and dangerous for travelers on the road. Misha Green, who created the acclaimed Underground series, developed the idea for the show from author Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name.
The story opens with protagonist Atticus “Tic” Freeman, played by Jonathan Morgan, in a frenzied battle with aliens and soldiers ahead of being greeted by a womanly alien figure who embraces him. In the zany sequence, Jackie Robinson, complete in his “42” baseball uniform, emerges to take out a snarling Cthulhu beast with his baseball bat. The entire moment is a dream Freeman was having while riding on the back of the “Negroes Only” section of a bus to his native Chicago from Florida.
Early on in “Sundown” episode, we’re introduced to the thoughtful and curious mind of Freeman, an avid reader of science fiction and pulp novels, in particular H.P. Lovecraft’s works, that were all the rage in the 20th Century. Upon his arrival back to the Windy City, the bookish but buff Freeman returns home a Korean War veteran who remains upright and self-assured despite the reminders around him that still consider him something of an outsider even in his own neighborhood.
Meeting with his Uncle George, played with style by Courtney B. Vance, viewers learn that Freeman is in search of his missing father, hoping to heal a vacant piece of his identity in the process if we’re viewing the story correctly. Uncle George, who publishes a guide for Black travelers not unlike the infamous Green Book, is as studious as his nephew, both articulate and polished speakers who both happen to enjoy the works of Lovecraft.
Joining this stellar cast of characters in a lead role is Jurnee Smollett as Letitia “Leti” Lewis, a fiery and electrifying presence the moment she enters the scene. Lewis is a woman contending with money woes and chasing passions that have her largely split from her half-sister Ruby Baptise, played by Wunmi Mosaku, and seeking what feels like validation as a woman in a world that sees her as inferior due to her race and gender.
With a mysterious note from Freeman’s father Montrose Freeman, played by Michael K. Williams, the younger Freeman decides to embark on a journey to the so-called Lovecraft Country, the New England setting employed by the real-life author and others who write under the “weird tales” genre focused on the region.
As the show title reveals, this is an America that embraced segregation with violent glee and showcases the risks it will take to not only seek out the elder Freeman and also supplement the travel guide. One harrowing scene happens when during a stop at a small-town diner, they defy the conventions of the time and place themselves in a window seat which sets off the cook to inform a makeshift roundup crew who had every intention of ending their lives.
The angry whites give chase with Leti showing off her expert driving skills under gunfire with Tic returning fire, and were almost caught when a mysterious silver car, one that apparently has a connection to Montrose, appears out of nowhere and upends the pursuers. But as Black drivers in a fancy ride, they stood out like sore thumbs after taking a gander in the New England words after happening upon a Lovecraft Country map site when an officer arrives on the scene.
With the upper hand, the cop levies off racist tropes knowing the advantage of his position and then threatens the group by informing them it is a so-called “sundown” county and says if they’re caught there after sunset, he has full right to lynch them on the spot. The cop gives them a lead and they nearly escape but are driven into an ambush orchestrated by the wicked officer.
The story takes an incredible left turn after strange beasts surround the officers and the traveling trio. After some gory moments, Tic and Leti split from Uncle George into a cabin, with two of the racist and armed cops in tow. Tic discovers that light repels the many-eyed creatures and Leti is forced to run off and obtain the car and some flares to keep the beasts at bay. One of the officers who was bitten by the vampiric and mole-like creatures and is transformed into one of them but not after eating his white partner.
The episode ends with the trio surviving the terrors of the night and arriving upon a sprawling and immaculate mansion where the mysterious silver car is parked. Just before Tic knocks on the door, a white butler invites him in and tells him “welcome home” before the show ends far too soon.
Across Twitter, fans were delighted by the premise of the show, which juxtaposes the real-life horrors of Jim Crow against the imagined ones crafted by Lovecraft. Even more interesting is Lovecraft’s history of depicting Black people, Jewish people, and anyone non-white as lesser than human. That a cast of Black actors are front and center in a story of Lovecraft’s creation is perhaps a small but important stroke of justice.
Check out the Lovecraft Country reactions from Twitter below.