From the beginning it was clear that the land of love would feed us with a more or less equal share of historical facts and horror fiction. It was less clear – as I said in Sundown at the end of my role in the pilot episode – what ingredient was really the base and what the smell was. Is it mainly a series of horror adventures that add weight and frame systemic racism in horror trophies? I asked. Or is it primarily a study of systemic racism, made fascinating by the use of horror conventions?

And it was not clear how well this show would manage to translate his horror or story into an emotionally gripping drama. As fascinating as the story of Lovecraft Country is, I think if I had clicked, I would have described the true stories of the early episodes as useful but overloaded, and the characters as fascinating but written to the end. In general, for me it was a show where the presentation and the subtext were much more interesting than the text itself. So, to be honest, I was really hoping that the Holy Spirit would slow down a bit, spend as much time as necessary exploring his characters, and perhaps awaken some good old fears. I was ready to see an episode that was a little simpler, seeing if Lovecraft Country could do one or two things really well, rather than trying to do enough things at once.

It turned out that the Holy Spirit, written by Misha Green and directed by Daniel Suckheim, gave me a lot of what I wanted, but it turned out to be something even better. Although the Holy Spirit resounds no less than the previous recordings, this hour of television is more solid, coherent and consistent, and almost perfectly combines the action of the show with an experience of social commentary. Of course it is full of historical references and filmic veneration, but the Holy Spirit is the first episode in the Land of Love to feel its uniqueness, not just a pastiche skillfully composed of other materials. And – if some of the dizzying storylines of Sandown of Whitey are missing – it’s also the first episode that really got me into the story and made me interested in the characters as more than just instruments.

In short, the Holy Spirit believes that the land of Lovecraft has achieved its creative success. And between the expressive, character-based script and Jernie Smallette’s truly amazing performance, it takes away all the doubts I had about whether this show would be well received with emotionally compelling drama.

Which are the angels who gave you their wings?

Fly (Jurnee Smollett) in LOVECRAFT COUNTRY 1x03

After two episodes with Tik as protagonist, Lovecraft Country wastes no time letting us know that the Holy Spirit will be the story of the flight, from beginning to end. Cold, open this week, she finds at George’s funeral the only visitor who sits quietly crying while all the other mourners around her sing and dance. She alone is not moved by the Holy Spirit; she alone does not participate in the celebration of the house of George; she alone is not in unity with her fellowship and is not synchronized with it.

This reflects the cold of last week, when Fly and George were dancing there and tapping and tapping. Across the country, Lovecraft – in fact, it’s the very first thing I’ve talked about in my magazine – is about living your life in full awareness of all the horrors and injustices and dangers that surround you. How do we reconcile these realities? How do you stay in your head while you’re still dealing with all the mistakes around you? The most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to correlate all content, Lovecraft told us, and here is Fly sitting and correlating everything she has seen and everything she has experienced. She was attacked by monsters, and she witnessed magic, and she resisted the brutal inhumanity of normal white people, and she herself – as Tick reminds us later in the episode – went crazy. And frankly, since I got back, I feel like a ghost. It’s like something’s missing.

But I suspect it’s more than that. Throughout this whole episode, as well as from the fragments we have collected in the past, it seems that Lethi himself has always missed out: She was estranged from her family, isolated from society, somehow higher and higher and higher. She left the house, did not return to her mother’s funeral and did not use her mother’s name. She took money from her brother and sister, lied about how she used it, and then (as we learned) didn’t even share with them what she thought she inherited from her mother. She was always the first to notice the fly, as Ruby would later accuse her.

Theft at George's funeral in the land of LOVECRAFT 1X03.

We feel this separation when we see Fly sitting at George’s funeral and watching the whole world as a penniless spirit at his own funeral. Above this scene is a story (written by the Precious Angel Ramirez) from the Nike Pride Month 2017 ad dedicated to fashion and transgender pioneer Leomi Maldonado:

Hey, Lay, what did you do to shape this world?
What mountains did you climb?
What angels have given you their wings?
What air did you fly in?
When you went to heaven, who was there when you fell?
Did they tell you you saved her as well as I did?
Let them tie their wings and hold them against the sun to see you fly.
So, come on, Lay: Flying.

I admit that I didn’t immediately recognize the link, and as soon as I looked at it, I wasn’t immediately impressed by its importance. And yet – as she showed with Baldwin’s speech in Sandown and Jill Scott-Heron’s poem in Misha Green Whitey – a skilful hand in a similar text overlay. Announcement is a celebration of both individual and community performance, but here, as a representation of what is happening in the flying consciousness, it becomes a sign of both self-knowledge and self-education. What did she do to make her mark on the world? What gratitude did she show to the people who caught her when she fell, and what did she do to save her? Aviation is an expert profession, but what does it take to finally have a wing and fly? The text is both an indictment, a conscience and an inspiration.

The fly is broken, not quite with himself and not just with his community. Something has to change. And the genius of this sequence – with the overlap of this external narrative – is that Lethi doesn’t know it yet, doesn’t connect it in any way and can’t articulate it in any way at this moment. The story becomes a powerful challenge for a subtle but vital emotional change in Leti, of which she may not even be aware at this stage. And the way we will discuss it is a roadmap for the whole emotional journey he will undertake through the Holy Spirit.

My haunted house.

Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) in the LUBEKRAFT 1X03 CONVENTION

Last week we visited the homes of some wealthy white people in Schoonheidsland and discussed how their obscene generation of wealth is being denied at the expense of the parental rights of black Americans. This week we see in the Holy Spirit how Fly suddenly decided to claim his piece of cake by buying himself a piece of America. (Movin’ On Up, the Jeffersons’ song that opened Whitey’s on the Moon, would serve almost as well).

In light of the cold air, we can understand a little bit about Fly’s motivation. The house she chose is a little bigger, but it’s big: It has 13 rooms (bad luck, of course) and a dangerously unreliable elevator. (Increasing mobility brings with it all sorts of dangers.) But Leigh says Ruby wants them to live there together and turn it into a guest house, a haven for colored people on Chicago’s (mostly white) North Shore. It’s a dangerous plan, as Ruby points out, because the pioneer’s efforts to integrate into Chicago’s traditional white neighborhood haven’t been flawless. (Ruby refers to what happened in the Trambull Park Houses after the Chicago Housing Authority mistakenly placed a light-coloured black woman in public housing in 1953. Usually referred to as racial riots, it was in fact a long campaign of harassment, violence and terrorism by whites that lasted for several years).

And indeed, in the Holy Spirit, even before we see Flying and Ruby or the house, one of his white neighbors will see him spying suspiciously from his window. (This is the classic setting for a horror film in which Michael Myers sees his alleged victims on Halloween walking through similar suburban streets).

White neighbour in the country of LOVECRAFT 1X03

The return to the cold and open terrain is thus the ascent of Mount Fly and a way for them to reconnect with their community and family and return as such. However, it is interesting to note that it is also a way for them to distance themselves from society and the family: Finally, it does not buy property in the existing black community on the South Side, but crosses the other side of the city into a white zone. Later she will brag that she is taking the south side to the north, but Ruby will imply that she only moved for her friends, the boogie artists. So I think Leti’s breakup with her community is complicated at the moment in a really interesting relationship, both in terms of class and (the fact that Leti is much lighter than her sister) colorism. She tries to flee like a crusade for her people, to flee from them, to rise above them.

But of course, there’s no escape, never. Fly tries to buy his own piece of the American dream – a house on the north side – but there is not a single piece of land in America that is free from the legacy of racism. The new white neighbors spend little time chasing them away, honking their car horns day and night and even burning a cross on their lawn. And in her new house – she soon finds out – it’s haunted, literally from below.

It reminded me of a line from Tony Morrison’s Promise. In this novel, the ghost of a murdered black baby searches for a house on 124 Bluestone Road in Cincinnati, Ohio. The family that lives there – his family – has been hysterical for years about a ghost child: broken mirrors, spilled jars, small handprints appearing on the cake icing. At one point, the mother of the deceased child, Sète – a former slave who had fled to the north – says that the family is moving.

What is it? Ask his mother-in-law. No house in the country is filled with the grief of dead niggers. We’re lucky this ghost is a kid.

Fly and Ghost in LOVECRAFT-LAND 1x03

The house of the fly is no different: It’s literally filled with ghosts and black American grief on the rafters. Here, Green and Sakheim take on all the classic ghostly fears, from European-style comics with images of almost comic-great characters (a basketball player with a child’s head) to Japanese horrors (a ghostly hand that takes the sheets off the bed while you sleep: flies, vague faces in the pictures, etc.).e), to end with more specific references such as Evil Dead (trapdoor) and Shining (dangerous cauldron).

But the important thing is that these ghosts are not enemies. They’re not attacking Leti or his guests: In fact, all they do is ask for a confession and warn you. The real enemies are the living white people (neighbors who immediately start terrorizing Fly and his neighbors) and the dead white spirit (who turned out to be the scientist Hiram Epstein [Miles Doleac] who performed terrible experiments on black subjects).

The figure of a scientist is very similar to that of Lovecraftian. (One of Lovecraft’s most famous characters is the arrogant and unethical scientist Herbert West, whose misconduct formed the basis for the 1985 free film adaptation, Reanimator). But it is also based on much darker real events. I promised myself that this week I wouldn’t go into too much historical overlap, but a short description is in order here.

Photo by LOVECRAFT COUNTRY 1x03

Fly identifies the ghosts by name and finds them as missing persons from the south side, kidnapped by the white police Captain Lancaster to supply Epstein with his subjects. The names of Anarchy’s wives, Betsy, Lucy are Dr. J. Jones’ real victims. In the middle of the 19th century. In the early 20th century, Sims conducted gruesome gynecological experiments on at least a dozen black women enslaved without anesthesia. (Anarchy, Betsy and Lucy are just three names he wrote in his notes). Meanwhile, the names of the male spirits here – Rufus, Jasper, Grover, Phillip – are all among the victims of the Tuskegee experiments in which researchers from the American Public Health Service administered syphilis to hundreds of black men without their knowledge or consent and then followed the course of their blindness, madness and death over the next four decades.

So it is again Mischa Green, who translates and interprets historical injustices into the language of the horror of fantasy cellulose, as she did throughout the land of Lovecraft. But I think one of the reasons why the Holy Spirit works so well is that Green is there, with all her historical references and horrible trophies, like she has never done before. It’s not a sample story of the week that has an external problem to solve: This story is about the nature of the theft, his need to reunite with his community, to regain his power and to find his rightful place in the world.

I thought the world was a one-way street, but I found out it wasn’t, and that scares me.

Fly (Jurnee Smollett) in Lovecraft Country 1x03 - The Holy Spirit

Jernie Smallett’s performance in the Holy Spirit is amazing. (So far, at least, the Holy Spirit is an episode of Emmy’s performance). As I said earlier, I was a little disappointed with the character work in Lovecraft Country earlier – it doesn’t seem to have taken enough interest in these people since they arrived – but the Holy Spirit suggests that Green and his actors understand these characters perfectly. It is an age story that lasts more than an hour, and we can follow the difficult path to adulthood by simply observing the tongue, face and body of the Smollettes at this time. Her childish enthusiasm as she tries to sell Ruby on the idea of buying a house. The way she walks through the house on a moving day, taking pictures of all her tenants, but without doing any real work. The way she skates at the housewarming party, the hostess plays, is always in motion and gives a cheerful image, but never slows down long enough to make contact or reveal herself to someone. The way she dances with another man at a party, in a playful and coquettish way, becomes sensual and seductive as soon as she knows what Tick is looking at, and then, when she retires exhausted in the bathroom, in the need to escape and be alone for a while. We understand that looking at it, how many flies there are, and maybe it’s always been performative. She is introverted, pretends to be extroverted and works hard to convey the image of the woman she wants to be and (perhaps even more importantly) of the woman she wants to be seen.

And we also understand how Tik, an idiot, lets Fly know too late that Fly is much more innocent than we thought. I’m not just talking about her physical virginity (although the scene in which Tick rather brutally retreats from her in the middle of this episode serves as an almost exact twist). We heard a little about the trauma of his childhood with his mother, a woman who seemed to make a big part of her life and never grew up. And we suspect, because we’ve heard so little about their own lives, that Fly himself never grew up. (She’s the youngest: ruby hair, more conservative, realistic and more than a little maternal – she must certainly have grown too fast). We suspect that Fly has remained the frightened girl who has skated all her life (armed with a bit of mommy’s hassle), never stayed anywhere for long and never put herself in a position to get hurt. (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she’s a photographer who likes to look at the world – and at other people – because of the lens’ parasitic filter).

Fly with her camera in LOVECRAFT COUNTRY 1x03

And we suspect that Fly, as a black woman, tried to move the world the same way. She is beautiful, intelligent, witty, and important in the supernatural white society – much easier than her sister and brother. Perhaps there was a way for Fly to hope to cross an America that was relatively unaffected by racism and prejudice. (Here she recklessly decides to enter the white zone. In Sandown, Leti told Ruby that she would never clean for white people, but he imagined that she could easily get the same dream job at the central department store that Ruby had been trying to get for years). I don’t want to say she was naive, but maybe she believed in herself more charm – more natural immunity – than she really was. As long as she kept moving and used her mind and her tricks, Fly thought she would be fine.

But she knows better now. Her experiences on the street – all the crazy things that happened, as she says, Tik – have changed her. After all, the world she thought she could skate in literally killed her. It was this blow to themselves – more than the discovery of magic and monsters – that destroyed their vision of the world. I thought the world was going in one direction, but I found out it wasn’t, and that scares me, she says. But I can’t live in fear. I won’t do it. I must meet and claim this new world.

What we see in the Holy Spirit is her attempt to do this, and she hesitates, imperfectly: a process of growth, not a product of it. Earlier in this episode we saw how she tolerated neighborhood terrorism: The windows and shutters are hermetically sealed against noise and lean against the bed under the ceiling. (But bindings with good symbols will not remain: spirits know only too well that hiding doesn’t work for long). However, immediately after deflation, a stabbing nose moment, which means, as it were, a loss of innocence and the jump to adulthood, changes their strategy and increases their strength. She grabs a bat and hits cars in her best Beyoncé parody with horny screamers.

Leti battles in the land of LOVECRAFT 1x03

She’s nice, beautiful and just angry here. But she is not mistaken, she is almost suicidal and puts herself and her community in danger. (I love the way her friends move like a unit to prepare for the consequences of this action: Hardly a word, they collect the weapons to cover them, then – that’s why the police leave – they quietly put the weapons in the trunk of a car that Ruby has already taken for that purpose). So, from the point of view of Lethis’ attempt to understand how to live in this world, this is such a brilliant transition scene, a step away from the immature Lethi who thought she could cross the world unharmed from the stronger and more mature force she would become at the end of the episode.

And she’s paying for it. Fortunately, she is not killed – although this is the most similar result – but thrown into the back seat of a police car with Captain Lancaster (Mac Brandt), one of the architects of evil who haunted her house. She’s the one who tells him that her house is where black people die and that she won’t stay there long. And he’s the one who’s punishing her for resisting when she crashed into the back seat of the rocking car. (I doubt it has to be said, but it is a well-known police method of torturing prisoners: Freddy Grey died with his spine almost completely severed after the Baltimore police put him in the back of a van and roughened him up).

Jurnee Smollett as Leti in LOVECRAFT COUNTRY 1x03

The fly we see after this incident crushes, bleeds, breaks. She tried to become someone in response to her experiences in Ardham, but it didn’t really work, and we now see that she is free of her embarrassing illusions about herself. Between now and the last scene, Fly has nothing more performative: She wears a little make-up, her clothes are discreet and practical. (For a brilliant and much deeper look at Lethis’ wardrobe in this episode, see Tom & Lorenzo). This is his nadir in this episode and also his most authentic: Here she has the two most honest conversations we’ve ever had, first with Sister Ruby and then with Tick.

It’s hard to talk to Ruby. When Ruby discovers that Fly bought this house with (as she thinks) a secret inheritance from her mother, the life buzzes with anger and resentment, and Ruby pulls her little sister down as soon as her big sister can.

Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) in LUBEKRAFT 1x03-CONVENTION

You look down on Mom, but you’re worse. At least Mom didn’t pretend to be anything but selfish. Now, you’re saying you bought this house because you want to help our people. But I feel like you’ve just moved in with your artist friends. And if you were half the sister you claim to be, you’d share that money with Marvin and me, whatever Mom wanted. But you didn’t. No, you lied to me. You begged me to move here because you really wanted us to be sisters for once. But it was more your bullshit. It’s just that you bury your guilt about what you always do: Take care of Fly first. And I’m stupid because all these years I thought I was helping you, sending you money, and you ruined it. But the truth is, you just screwed up.

Both actresses are very good here. We know Ruby was hurt on purpose: She says all the worst things she can say by stabbing the knife where she knows it will do the most damage. (What does it mean to physically fly away when Ruby says she’s worse than her mother?) But we also know Ruby is honest: These are difficult truths that only a sister who has been suffering for a long time can say. And just as important is that we know that Ruby would kill to protect Fly, even now, and that this cruelty in Fly’s deepest moment is hard love in his best expressions: She seizes a moment of rough clarity to break some resentment, yes, but also to finally help Fly become the person she can be.

And I think, to understand the bow of the fly in this episode, you also have to admit that she took this scene. Smallette plays the inherited revelation like a slippery slide with almost no tongue, but Fly will never know how this conversation will unfold and how she will force him, unconsciously or not. She’s tired of pretending, she’s tired of appearing, she’s tired of walking on the surface of life.

Tap and fly in LUBECRUCTIONS 1x03

The same tortured honesty can be found in his next conversation with Tick when he confesses to her that he deflowered her at the party that night.  (I don’t regret it, she says it’s exhausting.) I needed it. I had to feel something.) But I think the most important point of this conversation is just before this confession, after Tik’s spirits fly over and all the history that goes with it. The colored people who disappeared on the South Side, Tick says. Now the restless souls locked up in my house with their killer, Fly, confirm. They want out. I know you do. And, by offering some of his Uncle George’s wisdom, he tells him to go alone.

He’s giving her an ethic: She can move, run away, avoid problems and blame someone else for the problem. Lethie’s always done it, her whole life, but she won’t do it again.

And they told you that you saved her, too… ?

The flying exorcism with Lovecraft Suntrum 1x03

There is not much to say, but there has been a complex and powerful change within Lethi, namely the recognition of her community (people of colour from the South) and the legacy she has received as a black woman in America. It is a parallel issue that we discussed last week, that there can be no prosperous America without the sacrifices and suffering of black Americans. But here it’s different, because this is not an issue for rich whites, but rather a personal issue for aviation: How is she handling this inheritance? How can she – in her desire to continue and rise above her beginnings – know the sufferings of those who have gone before her? Ruby helped her, sacrificed herself for her and helped protect her: How much do you owe him? And the tortured bodies of Fly’s ancestors lie literally in the foundation of the house she bought: How much does she owe them? The fly has now seen the terrible truth of the world, and cannot ignore it, nor can it pretend to be somehow above it or insensitive to it. I can’t live in fear, she says to Tiku. I won’t do it. I must meet and claim this new world.

As Baby Suggs says in his book Beloved, there is no place in America that is free of white evil and black sorrow, so Fly can take a stand here.

It’s rather ironic that Fly assumes this responsibility by referring to his mother’s spirit through a friend of his: a Creole priestess named Martin (Andren Ward Hammond). (She was a crook who believed in her investigation, Fly talks about her mother). And with traces of goat’s blood to protect them, they return to the blood that marked Fly’s passage to adulthood – Fly, Tick and Martin decide to go to the basement and begin an exorcism.

Everything seems to be going well until the pipes mysteriously burst, wiping away the protective blood and the ghost of Hiram Epstein first penetrates Martin and then Tic. Get out of my house! The white man roars. But just like Tick’s trip last week, he finally drew strength from his ancestor – Fly called his spiritual ancestors here: the spirits who live in their homes, who (like them) sat in the back of Captain Lancaster’s van and were brought here and died.

Ghost circle in LOVECRAFT 1x03

Help me! Help me! The fly is yelling at him. They’re not dead yet! You can still fight! For they are not yet gone, not yet rested, not yet forgotten, and the battle is not yet over. They were hidden here, but Fly recognizes them, makes them powerful, pulls them in and confronts them with the truth. And so they show up to help him, just like they wanted to from the start. At first they are mutilated, maimed, grotesquely hurt by what Epstein has done to them, but when they come together, they recover, regain their humanity, their strength, they are created whole, they are seen and resisted.

Flies too: The episode began with the fact that Fly himself is almost a ghost, unable to rejoin his community in the church, apart from his people and his power. But she finds it here, in this communication, with those who have gone and suffered.

Who was there to catch you when you fell? Did they tell you that you saved her too…

FLIGHTS IN LOVE CROSS 1x03

Get out of my house and yell at Hiram Epstein when he disappears. Because this little corner of America now belongs to him and not to him. The last time we saw Fly in the Holy Spirit, a journalist (Cira Hill) took her home, and she has the balance, confidence and self-control we’ve never seen before. It’s not a performance, it’s a real strength, maturity, care and authenticity. When a journalist tells a flattering story about what Leti himself said earlier – that Leti is some kind of heroine who does this to help the community – Leti refuses the compliment and comments on what Ruby admits: My sister’s the one who inspired all this. Once he has gained his true strength, the fly no longer hides behind the camera, but is the only one who is allowed to photograph him.

And your elevator’s working perfectly now, thank you. In the basement of her innumerable black bodies lie, as always, corpses and to change the bodies of several missing white boys, but Fly set her standards, took her place in society and eventually climbed the ladder of her career.

Go ahead, Fly: Stealing.

Additional reflections and preferred elements

  • How could you not be in love with Fly this week? I missed everyone else. Ippolit, for example, doesn’t believe the story of George’s death and doesn’t appreciate Tik’s presence. (Is it because she suspects he’s lying to her, or because she knows he may be George’s illegitimate son, or both, or something else)?
  • We know the episode where Jackie Robinson said I caught you. The man in Zeck’s dream refers to what happened to Montrose and George when a mysterious stranger with a bat saved them from some white boys during a riot.
  • One of Leti’s tenants is a young man named James (Keon Rahzeem Mitchel) who tells Ruby that I’m also a writer. It’s not James Baldwin-Baldwin, who was well established in 1953, and this man has a dog named Baldwin – but I can’t imagine a real writer who could be. Any ideas? Did we know Ruby was a writer?
  • And in the end, Christina seems to show that she is the one who delivered Letha’s false inheritance for the conspiracy reasons related to the stolen pages of the magic book of names. I won’t pass judgment on all of this until we move on, but I have to say that this part of the episode is the one that interests me the least.
  • Maybe the most important thing is that I missed the stage of the séance competition – especially because I don’t know what I think of it. Lovecraft land has a habit of digging into some of his cultural and historical references with a somewhat heavy hand – that’s how Martin Luther King Links felt when he was pushed on the party stage – but the appearance of Emmitt Till (Rhyan Hill) here bothers me a bit. (They call him Bobo, the nickname of Tilla, and his clothes, as well as the mention of the upcoming trip, make him unique). Of course, it is possible that the program will come back to this topic later and make something substantial out of it, but it would be wrong to refer so casually to such an important and powerful incident, apparently only for reasons. (I expect more from an American horror story than from Lovecraft-land).
  • By the way, it is not very clear how the Ouija board is written: Is George dead or not? (A: I suspect they might be somewhere in between, but I still doubt we’ve seen the last Courtney B. Vance)
  • I was just thinking about this: George is the father, Tik is the son, Leticia is the holy spirit. Talk.
  • I apologize, as always, for being late for this job. Actually, I went into this article because I thought it would be fast, but the episode got better and harder when I thought about it. (I like it when this happens – that’s why I do it at all – but sometimes, it’s true, it makes the process slow).

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