[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Lovecraft Country, Season 1, Episode 2, “Whitey’s on the Moon.”]
Memories are a tricky thing — something Lovecraft Country seems interested in exploring in this week’s episode, “Whitey’s on the Moon.” Memories can be truths, lies, or something in the middle. Memories carry weight and they are a burden for families who do not acknowledge them. Memories can be destructive or healing, depending on who carries them and what they do with them. The lasting effects of memory and the burden of inherited family trauma is one of the primary focuses of the latest episode. As Atticus discovers the truth behind his secret birthright, he ends up tapping into a secret world operating just below the world he’s known his entire life. “Whitey on the Moon,” which takes its name from a Gil Scott-Heron poem of the same name, is another well-done episode rife with new lore to soak up, thrills to be felt, and supernatural events to bear witness to.
George and Leti seem pleased as punch with their new digs at the Braithwhite Lodge, while Atticus is on high alert, brooding over the events of the forest. He’s behind enemy lines now and everything said or unsaid, seen or unseen, is a hint about the people he’s encountering for the first time, and he’s questioning everything now that his journey has taken an unsuspecting turn. George’s elation with the endless supply of books, the new wardrobe which mysteriously fits Leti perfectly, and even Braithwhite family friend William’s (Jordan Patrick Smith) casual explanation for Montrose’s absence and the history behind the lodge — everything is highly suspect.
That hyper-alert anxiety sticks with Atticus throughout the first day at the lodge. Lunchtime on a secluded terrace includes an appetizer of revelations: George and Leti don’t remember the monsters in the woods from last night, and, even weirder, George clocks they’re being watched. The trio investigates the surrounding town, a pre-industrial hamlet that feels a little too rustic, and George, Leti, and Atticus discover a stone tower and meet the town’s peacekeeper, Dell (Jamie Neumann), whose monologue about the menace of black bears and the need for dogs to keep guard is as loaded and ominous as it sounds. George notices there may be more to the tower than meets the eye, theorizing that’s where Montrose is being kept. Returning home at dusk, the trio is suddenly cornered by the same monsters from the night before. This time, the monsters are called off by Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee) with the help of a mysterious whistle which has the power to also wipe out memories.
Keeping It in the Family
If William’s semi-ominous “Welcome home” didn’t tip you off, the continuing search for Montrose in Ardham is now also focused on the family ties Atticus shares with the Braithwhites. We get a clue about this history when William shows off the Titus Braithwhite portrait, making sure to mention Titus was known to be “notoriously kind” to his slaves. (That sounds awfully familiar.) George recalls this on the walk back from the town investigating, adding a bit of information his late sister-in-law, Montrose’s wife, once told him: Her ancestor, Hannah, was a slave who escaped in the middle of the night. Leti picks up the thread, concluding Titus raped Hannah and she escaped, pregnant, during the fire which burned the original lodge.
Following the incident in the woods, Atticus is sent to see Samuel Braithwhite (Tony Goldwyn), Christina’s father. Samuel is in the middle of a very chill, very normal organ removal ritual sans anesthetic when Atticus is brought in to Samuel’s laboratory. It’s a hard, imposing space, much like Samuel himself. Samuel lectures Atticus on a painting depicting Adam naming all of God’s creatures. Everything has its place, Atticus coldly deduces, but he’s still unsure of why he’s been brought to this place. Samuel is keen to “return to Paradise,” as he tells Atticus. You can feel the effort in Samuel’s voice. It’s a begrudging respect only afforded in rare circumstances when a plan needs to be fulfilled without any hiccups.
George and Atticus are able to separately piece together that Atticus has been lured to the lodge for Samuel’s own use. Atticus is a mere tool for his purposes, thus rendered nearly inhuman to this white man. While Atticus is convening with Samuel, George is in his room and about to make a discovery of his own. He is drawn to a bookshelf that reveals an elegant hidden library packed to the rafters with books. On a table, George discovers a copy of Bylaws and Precepts of the Order of the Ancient Dawn. He is able to put the knowledge he gleans to good use later that night during a dinner he and Atticus have been invited to with the other lodge members attending. Before dinner starts, Samuel offers up parts of that organ we saw removed earlier (Atticus has the wherewithal to not eat it and advises George to abstain, too) and begins welcoming the Order. George interrupts and, much to the chagrin of the white men in the room, proves Atticus’ blood ties to the Braithwhite family by citing a bylaw which dictates a descendant of Titus’ can order the other lodge members however he chooses. The gambit works, with a subtly pissed Samuel confirming Atticus’ connection. It goes unsaid, but it’s clear Atticus’ place will never be with this family, despite unwillingly being connected to it through the violent actions of a common ancestor. Those memories have been buried by Hannah’s descendants and the Braithwhites, never meant to be discovered. But pain is everlasting, just like memories, and both will surface whether you want them to or not.
What ties “Whitey’s on the Moon” together is the introduction of magic into Atticus, George, and Leti’s lives. For three people who’ve grown up reading pulpy sci-fi and horror novels, but believing them to be fiction, what they encounter in the episode in earth-shattering. And yet, it’s because they’re so well-read that they have some idea of how to approach the situation.
The unusual encounter with those forest creatures was the first of many instances where magic touches the trio. At the halfway mark, Christina escorts Atticus back to his room and implores him to see the Order means him no harm. Atticus then tries to call her out on wiping George and Leti’s minds. He knows he needs allies in this place, so getting George and Leti to remember is key. Christina does so but also locks Atticus in his room with the help of sigils drawn on his doorframe. With George, Leti, and Atticus locked in their own rooms, all three have visions. Atticus is attacked by Ji-ah; Leti sees Atticus, connecting her knowledge of biblical creatures to her mother, whose absentee parenting left as many scars as any monstrous encounter would; George is visited by Montrose’s late wife and it becomes clear he and his sister-in-law were more than just in-laws. Even though George knows this is just trickery, he dances with her anyway, seemingly happy to be able to hold the woman he loves once more. These visions are a trick, and it’s revealed the lodge members have turned Leti, George, and Atticus into perverse versions of caged animals in the zoo as they use magic to mess with their minds for their own amusement.
After the tense dinner with the Order, George and Atticus make their way into the stone tower cellar to look for Montrose. After a brief interruption from Dell and Leti subsequently knocking her out, the trio recovers Montrose and attempt an escape. The same sigils etched into Atticus’ doorway are etched into the exit of the covered bridge leading out of town, causing the car to crash just as George says he was able to learn the Order likely want to use Atticus to re-open the portal to the Garden of Eden so the group can achieve immortality. Samuel finds the Freemans, shooting Leti and George as a means of forcing Atticus to participate in the ceremony to open the portal.
Samuel’s plan comes together at dawn: A defeated Atticus submits himself to whatever use Samuel has designed for him, standing in the middle of a group of machines that appear to channel the sun, with Atticus the human lens through which that light is bent and distilled, so it can pierce the veil and allow the men to pass to the Garden of Eden. A protection swarms around Atticus and instead of Eden, he sees Hannah’s ghost. Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon” soundtracks the ceremony, a musical echo of what’s happening. As the song hints, Atticus doesn’t have the luxury of looking to Eden for escape or trying to achieve immortality. He is forced to keep his head forward as these white men literally take the power which runs through his veins, his birthright and his alone, for their own purposes. As they do, Atticus is forced to do the only thing he can, which is looking straight ahead at Hannah. He must run, just like she did, if he is going to escape the grip of these people who have been nothing but notoriously kind to him and his family.
Atticus’ power overwhelms the ceremony, causing it to backfire in a surprisingly satisfying way. The portal closes, the Order is vaporized, and the lodge is set ablaze as Atticus makes his escape. Leti is waiting for Atticus as the gate of the lodge, having miraculously recovered from being shot. George, who was hopefully going to be repaired by Samuel after the ceremony, succumbs to his wounds, leaving Montrose, Atticus, and Leti to mourn him. Where do we go from here? What kinds of memories will the events at Braithwhite lodge imprint onto the psyches and souls of our new trio?
- Atticus Tight Shirt Count: 2. Bless the Lovecraft Country costume designer giving us all exactly what we need in these trying times.
- The title cards feel like they have the potential to pack in tons of clues about the story. I spied the same dawn symbol on Episode 2’s title card and on the Order of the Ancient Dawn book George discovered. Tricky stuff.
- I’m going to need a full TED Talk on Christina casually delivering a vampire monster worm out of a cow while wearing a silk blouse.
- The book George pulls from the shelf in his room, The House on the Borderland, was written by William Hope Hodgson in 1908 and tells the story of a recluse staying at a remote house where he encounters supernatural beings from other dimensions. Well, that’s extremely relevant, don’t ya think?
- Let’s end on a high note, shall we? Here’s Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon”:
Lovecraft Country airs every Sunday on HBO at 9/8c. Catch up with our Episode 1 recap here.
Allie Gemmill is the Weekend Contributing Editor for Collider. You can follow them on Twitter @_matineeidle.