[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Lovecraft Country Season 1, Episode 3, “Holy Ghost.”]
Is it too early to say the latest episode of Lovecraft Country, “Holy Ghost,” is one of the strongest of the season? Perhaps, but it doesn’t detract from the fact Episode 3 delivers despite the slight shift in focus away from the supernatural (although there is plenty of that to go around) and more toward earthly troubles. After two episodes dedicated to the horrors away from home, Lovecraft Country spends its latest hour focusing on the troubles at the homefront. Bodies and houses alike are the sites of deep-rooted pain, both past and present; everyone in tonight’s episode is confronting ghosts. “Holy Ghost” also reminds us the path to healing is hardly smooth, but it can most certainly be cathartic. What results is an incredible episode that helps dull the less effective notes of last week’s episode while leaving us thoroughly invigorated for what’s to come in Season 1.
Un-Welcome to the Neighborhood
Leti is ready to lay down some roots, so what better way to do that than buying a decrepit mansion with 13 bedrooms in Chicago’s extremely white North Side? I have to applaud Leti’s decision on this because the house is a steal but the hidden costs on this one are a bit atypical, as we soon find out. Also, the curbside appeal is, uh, lacking. Leti is thrilled with the opportunity to turn the old mansion into a boarding house and safe space for Black Chicagoans and wants to make its renovation a project she and Ruby can bond over.
The move-in process is the first sign of trouble and the viewers’ first sign the big bads of this episode are not some otherworldly beings, but rather Leti’s white neighbors. After Atticus turns up at the house to take a room and help Leti and Ruby, the entire house is alerted to trouble when the endless honking of car horns is heard outside. Leti, Ruby, Atticus, and some of the new boarders head outside and see three young white men leaning on three parked cars which have bricks tied to the steering wheel. It’s an intimidation tactic, but very effective.
The racist bullshit of Leti’s white neighbors escalates during the first true blue night in the new place. Leti is having a housewarming now that the mansion has been cleaned up and made livable. Ruby’s band plays extra loud in the living room to drown out the incessant honking still going on outside. Everyone is letting loose, having fun, and trying not to focus on anything negative. Atticus and Leti move around each other, the buzz of attraction palpable and hard to ignore. After hooking up in the bathroom, the two come downstairs and get back to partying before Ruby spots something outside. She pulls back the blinds to reveal a burning cross on the lawn. Trouble.
“Leti Fuckin’ Lewis” returns to show her white neighbors this is not how things are going to go. While the men, led by Atticus, grab shotguns for protection, Leti grabs a bat and takes the lead. She smashes out the cars and whacks the bricks off of the steering wheels. Sirens in the distance immediately signal the boys in blue, who rear their ugly heads as they take Leti to the station to get booked. One cop sits in the back of a van, letting his unabashed racism flow as he questions Leti about the particulars of her ability to afford the house before sneering that she has no idea what went on in her new home and hinting at the dead bodies of Black residents being found before she moved in. Leti soon finds out that while white people remain brutally and openly evil, she has no idea just how far that evil has seeped into the foundation of her new neighborhood.
Eight Ghosts and an Evil Doctor
White villainy is still very much the focus of “Holy Ghost,” but it goes much deeper than menacing mortals. What begins as a typical haunted house set-up, including a malfunctioning furnace, bedsheets moving mysteriously, and an innocent game of Ouija yielding terrifying messages (Hi, Uncle George!), is revealed to be much more disturbing upon closer inspection.
Leti’s encounter with the cops her housewarming party opens the door to a pound-for-pound riveting second and third act. Once back at home, Leti decides to develop the photos taken from the move-in day and the party. The photos reveal scratches which, when put together, allow a ghostly head to emerge and attempt to menace Leti out of her own home. This only spurs her on and she dives headlong into researching the house.
Leti’s research yields intriguing results. It’s revealed the name “Winthrop” refers to Horatio Winthrop, whose name we saw back in Episode 2 on the painting of Adam in Paradise in Samuel Braithwhite’s laboratory. Winthrop’s role in all of this becomes evident in the final scenes of this episode as Christina Braithwhite reveals the house has connections to the Order. Leti is more interested in the home’s previous owner, Dr. Hiram Epstein, an astrophysicist who she believes experimented on human subjects. Leti also believes Epstein is behind the disappearances of eight Black South Side residents, whose spectral faces are revealed in more of Leti’s photos taken in or around the house.
“Holy Ghost” culminates in an exorcism of the Winthrop House and reveals arguably one of the most stunning and thrilling setpieces on television this year. Leti and Atticus recruit the help of a priestess to exorcise the spirit of Epstein, with the white doctor’s malevolent spirit possessing Atticus and Leti joining hands with the ghosts of his victims in order to rid him of the house and allow these eight souls to pass on into peace.
The Ties That Bind Are About to Break
The Freemans and the Lewis-Baptistes are really going through it in this episode. With Montrose back in Chicago, George recently departed, and Leti finally aiming to take root somewhere after years of wandering, confrontations abound which force both families to confront (to some degree) the issues which have been simmering on the backburner.
The surviving Freemans — Montrose, Atticus, Hippolyta, and Dee — are still reeling from George’s death in Ardham, which happened one month prior. Montrose and Atticus have formed a pact to not tell Hippolyta the real reasons behind her husband’s death, instead offering a half-baked excuse about being shot by a sheriff while trying to push forward. With little to no answers about what happened to the love of her life, Hippolyta’s deep grief pokes at her, souring her affection for Atticus and sowing discord with Montrose. The secret about George also eats away at Atticus and Montrose, further exposing the weak connection this father and son have. With Atticus likely staying in Chicago for the foreseeable future, these two men will no doubt have it out in a real, meaningful way. For now, we’re seeing just how degraded their trust in one another is after years of living at odds.
The purchase of a house on Chicago’s North Side cracks open a bigger rift than Leti and half-sister Ruby might have expected. In a careless moment, Leti reveals she still has money left over from what their mother left her in her will — money neither Ruby nor their brother, Marvin, was given in equal shares. Ruby’s anger with Leti over not sharing the money while portraying herself to consistently have money troubles is more than understandable, and her choice to break with Leti is even more understandable. Leti’s inheritance exposes some latent issues the sisters have undoubtedly buried in relation to their respective troubled personal histories with their mother. This is a betrayal that will hurt for some time and whether these sisters can come back from it remains to be seen.
- Who is speaking to Leti during George’s funeral at the beginning of the episode? I couldn’t place the voice but I hope we find out soon.
- Time to read up: Epstein’s unethical and horrifying experimentations on Black subjects recall the very real and equally horrifying experimentation on Black slaves at the hands of James Marion Sims and the ongoing mistreatment of Black Americans by doctors as beliefs around Black pain still reveals medical racial bias in the examining room.
- Christina Braithwhite is back! Should we be celebrating that she helped Leti? Or should we be nervous that she seems to be using Leti and Atticus for her own designs?
- Smollett’s performance tonight was nothing short of incredible. She was able to imbue Leti with layers of fragility and tenderness without becoming fragile. Moments like Leti’s disclosure she lost her virginity to Atticus during the party (despite longstanding gossip to the contrary) allowed Smollett to showcase her range as a performer with breathtaking results.
Lovecraft Country airs every Sunday on HBO at 9/8c. Catch up with our Episode 2 recap here.
Allie Gemmill is the Weekend Contributing Editor for Collider. You can follow them on Twitter @_matineeidle.