‘Lovecraft Country’: Thrilling Season Finale Ends With Blood-Soaked Heartbreak
Now reaching its final episode of a wildly inventive first season, “Lovecraft Country” becomes pure magic and mayhem. HBO’s adaptation of Matt Ruff’s novel began as a subversive piece of pop entertainment, using the visions of H.P. Lovecraft to comment racism in America, the actual roots of the nation and how fantasy can express what we only ponder. But half-way through the season, creator Misha Green completely diverted from the novel’s final acts, deciding to expand the premise into an even more archaic, action-packed romp.
And so the finale begins with our heroes facing a climactic series of moments and decisions. Diana (Jada Harris), nearly facing death after being attacked by dark forces, is saved when Atticus (Jonathan Majors) and Leti (Jurnee Smollett) are transported into another, spiritual realm after opening the much coveted Book of Names. In this realm they meet Atticus’s ancestor, Hannah (Joaquina Kalukango) and great grandmother Hattie (Regina Taylor). It turns out this other realm was made by Atticus’s forbears as a way to pass on the knowledge of the Book of Names, and to also fight against the racist Braithwhite family. Once Diana is saved, the real battle continues against Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee), who wants either the book or Atticus’s life to carry out a powerful ritual with the Order of the Ancient Dawn to gain immortality. Meanwhile, Atticus also makes peace with his Korean beloved, Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung), who now tags along with the group on their quest. Leti must also try and mend ties with sister Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku), who believes she loves Christina.
At its heart “Lovecraft Country” is a fantasy thriller about identity and history. The Lovecraft monsters always paled in comparison to the vicious racism of the 1950s. In the first episodes of the season, “sundown towns” were much more disturbing than even the slimy, ravenous “shoggoth” creatures. But Green also loves this genre for its own energy and popcorn thrills, and the finale, titled “Full Circle,” is all about suspense mixed with its more personal dramas. There are still powerful metaphors thrown in. When Atticus and Leti go into another realm to save Diana, the ghost of Braithwaite patriarch Titus (Michael Rose), who snarls and talks like what we would expect from an evil slave owner. And a major running theme is the power of our ancestral tree. Women have particular agency as Atticus must depend on his female ancestors like Hannah, Hattie and in the world of the living, Leti, who is carrying his child. Green is giving the female characters agency in a way that also makes a striking statement about family.
The best moments in the episode are the quiet ones, like Atticus talking to Ji-Ha in a smoky restaurant, assuring her he did love her over in Korea. Leti and Ruby have an emotionally resonant scene in front of their mother’s grave, where they have to confront what loyalty in a family means. Will Ruby be able to betray the woman she loves for her sister? Would Leti do the same? Even Christina does not act like a complete monster in the early moments of the episode, assuring Atticus their families are not at war, but circumstances have demanded she either take the book or his blood for the ritual she seeks to carry out on the autumnal equinox.
Despite all the sharp acting and meaningful dialogue, “Full Circle” is meant to deliver a fitting cliffhanger. Into the woods near the Braithwaite residence our heroes go. Atticus takes a potion taken secretly from Christina’s lab and prepares for a showdown. What ensues will spark fan debates for months until the next season is released. Christina ties Atticus to the altar to conduct her ritual. Ruby and Leti have a great clash which results in a major character appearing to meet their end by falling out of a tower. Be warned dear reader, there are not one, but two major deaths in this episode. It all closes with Diana reappearing, now decked with a new, bionic arm as she crushes Christina’s neck and a shoggoth roars under the moonlight. Cut to the end credits.
Green has wisely not closed the season as a stand alone adaptation of the novel. There is obviously more on the way. She takes a major chance with the two big deaths in this chapter, leaving us wondering until the next installment who has truly expired and who will be revived. Or are they both gone for good? And is the Braithwaite scheme truly over? Probably not, because even now in 2020, we are still dealing with racism, so the true monsters of “Lovecraft Country” can never actually go away.
Ending on a grand and epic note, “Lovecraft Country” caps a first season with thrills and still no lack of ideas. It premiered right on time in a year when racism and how we relate to each other in this society are at the fore. Rarely are those topics you discuss when watching a show about fantastical abilities and supernatural creatures. But recall that fascism itself has always been associated with the dark arts, from Julius Evola to Steve Bannon’s obsession with mysticism. Dark ideas have always had a way of perverting the magical. “Lovecraft Country” ends with heroes sacrificing themselves to prevent the darkness from overtaking the world. Fantasy or not, that’s a powerful statement.
“Lovecraft Country” season one finale airs Oct. 18 at 9 p.m. on HBO.