“This is the story of a boy and his dream, but more than that, it is the story of an American boy and dream that is truly American.” Narrator from The Jackie Robinson Story
We open with a war scene in black and white during the Korean War. Our protagonist Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Jonathan Majors) is fighting in the trenches until he climbs out. Suddenly we switch to vivid color, the gritty war scene turns into a science fiction battle, with spaceships, and a flying tentacle monster. A red alien woman in a bikini (Jamie Chung) slowly beams down from one of the spaceships. The flying tentacle monster begins to attack her and Tic, but the monster is split in half by the bat of baseball legend Jackie Robinson (Robert Hamilton).
Tic wakes up in the back of a bus, leaving Kentucky. He gives a middle finger to the south as the bus heads north. The bus breaks down. He’s sitting by the side of the road reading a book when a pick-up truck drives up to pick up the stranded passengers, or should I say the stranded white passengers, because of the not quite subtle looks of some of the white men, it’s clear Tic and the other black passenger, Maybelle Cross (Shanesia Davis) aren’t welcome to join them. Being a gentleman, Tic carries her bag and his as they begin walking towards town. Maybelle asks him about the book he is reading. It’s A Princess of Mars the story of John Carter, a former confederate soldier who is transported to Mars. Maybelle isn’t interested in a story about a confederate soldier, but Tic can find a way to love a story even with problematic characters. He loves the adventure of the story and imagining himself taking part in it. Tic tells her he’s going home to Chicago because his father has gone missing.
“Chicago” Kids are playing out in the streets. George Freeman (Courtney B. Vance) and his wife Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) are in bed, George is trying to get a little daylight lovin’ from her. She would like to make a trip for their travel business since she writes the articles from his notes, she thinks it would be better if she went in person. He is against it since they both know how dangerous the road is. [They publish a travel guidebook for black people to know the safe places they can stay and eat at and the dangerous places to avoid. It’s a fictional version of the Green Book.] Their daughter Diana (Jada Harris) is drawing in the living room when she hears her parents making love, “Gross!” she says out loud. She goes into the kitchen and screams when she sees her cousin Tic by the window. George asks her what’s wrong from the bedroom and happily greets his nephew when he comes out to investigate. Hippolyta is also happy to see him, Tic receives a warm family welcome.
Tic picks up one of H.P. Lovecraft’s books from his uncle’s bookshelf in his office/garage. George is overseeing the maintenance of his beloved 1948 Packard station sedan, ‘Woody’. Tic’s father hated Lovecraft’s books since Lovecraft was a virulent racist. Tic and George discuss the missing Montrose (Michael K. Williams). He’s been missing for two weeks. Tic tells him about the strange letter his father wrote to him. Montrose had found out Tic’s late mother’s ancestry and he wanted him to join him. Tic has a secret legacy and should claim his birthright in Lovecraft country, in a town called Ardham, Massachusetts.
Tic is walking over to his father’s favorite watering hole; he passes by an army recruiter and gives him a side eye as he attempts to recruit more young black men to be cogs in America’s war machine. A man named Tree (Deron J. Powell) tells him that they are closing the bar early for the upcoming block party until he realizes it’s Tic. He didn’t recognize him without his coke bottle glasses. Tic asks for the bar owner Sammy (Jon Hudson Odom), he’s out back. Sammy is receiving a blowjob from some young dude in the alley when Tic shows up. He pulls up his pants and greets him. He hadn’t seen Tic’s father in about two weeks, but the last time he saw Montrose, he left with a white man who wore expensive clothes and drove a fancy silver car.
Later that night at the block party an attractive dark-skinned heavy-set woman named Ruby Baptiste (Wunmi Mosaku) is singing on stage. A taxi pulls up and an attractive light-skinned thin woman named Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) gets out. She begins taking pictures of Ruby performing. Ruby asks for a last request when Leti screams out Whole Lotta of Shakin’. Everyone recognizes Leti as Ruby’s sister. She isn’t thrilled to see her long lost sister but lets her join her on stage as they outrageously perform the song to the delight of the audience. Tic opens a fire hydrant the police had earlier chased the neighborhood kids from. After their performance, Ruby asks what Leti wants. Leti denies she wants anything, but admits she wants to stay with Ruby for a while. Ruby is mad at Leti for missing their mama’s funeral. They argue about Leti getting a job, she doesn’t want to do housework for white folks, but she plans on applying for a job as a store clerk downtown. Ruby laughs at that, she has been applying for years and they aren’t hiring black women. Leti thinks that can change. Ruby gives her two nights, and only two nights to stay with her, after that she should try staying with their brother Marvin Baptiste (Demetrius Grosse). Leti asks Ruby about the fine man playing with the kids in the water, she is surprised it’s her old childhood friend, Tic.
George tells Tic that Ardham will be hard to find. He believes it should be in Devon County. As Tic leaves George’s place, a silver Bentley is in the alley. Tic makes it to his father’s apartment; the place is stacked with books. He finds his father’s pistol to take on the trip. Tic makes a call to South Korea. A woman answers in Korean, and then asks in English if this is Tic. He remains silent. She ominously tells him he shouldn’t have went home. The next morning Tic finds out that Leti is joining him and George on the trip. She was the only female member of his Southside Futurist Science Fiction Club when they were kids. Leti is going as far as to her brother Marvin’s house. Hippolyta and George go over the checklist for the trip, including flares [this will be important]. Diana hands him her latest comic book she is working on, Orinthia Blue. It’s about a black girl space explorer traveling in space. George hugs his wife and daughter goodbye and our travelers hit the road.
“I love that the heroes get to go on adventures in other worlds, defy insurmountable odds, defeat the monster, save the day. A little negro boy from the Southside of Chicago don’t notoriously get to do that.” Atticus “Tic” Freeman
“Midwest” As they travel through the Midwest heading East, we listen to an excerpt of James Baldwin’s debate with William F. Buckley Jr. on the subject The American Dream is at the expense of the American Negro. The trip is a montage of Jim Crow in the North. A black father and his kids wait in line at a segregated ice cream stand. A billboard along the road warns ‘niggers’ to be out of town before dark. While Tic is pumping gas and eating a banana, a white male teenager makes monkey noises and gestures towards him. Tic throws the peel at him, and Leti keeps him from jumping the bastard. We see a long line of tired black people waiting for a city bus while an advertisement behind them features a smiling white family in a new car enjoying the American dream.
“Simmonsville” There is a diner called Lydia’s in Simmonsville that serves black travelers, George wants to check it out for his travel guidebook. Driving through town, Tic notices how hostile even a dog is towards them. Once at the renamed diner, the lone white customer leaves, while the counter boy (Michael E. Kurowski) is nervous about serving them. As he leaves to get them coffee, Leti leaves to use the bathroom, she overhears him on the phone telling someone he didn’t serve them, not after what they did to Miss Lydia. Tic and Leti wanted to leave earlier but George wanted to stay out of principle. Tic looks around the diner and asks his uncle why the White House is white. George tells him how the slaves had to repaint it white after the British set it on fire during the War of 1812, Tic lifts up a floorboard, underneath it is a burnt floor, Leti runs past them and tells them they have to get out now. Against George’s wishes she drives Woody. A pickup with racist yahoos is chasing after them. One of them is firing a rifle. Tic returns fire with his father’s pistol. Leti drives out of town with the racist in hot pursuit. They see a silver Bentley on a parallel road heading their way, Leti speeds to get in front of it so it can get between them and the pickup. The Bentley stops in the middle of the road and the pickup flies over it and crashes like it had hit an invisible force field. An attractive blond woman (Abbey Lee) steps out of the Bentley and looks at a confused Tic.
They make it to Marvin’s house. He tells them about Devon County, the county seat Bideford was named after an English town that burned witches. Tic asks was the town founded by witches; Marvin answers this town was built by the witch hunters. Many travelers have gone missing in Devon county, some by wild animals, but the NAACP suspects some have gone missing because of the county’s vicious racist sheriff, Eunice Hunt (Jamie Harris). On the map where Ardham might be located is in the middle of nowhere. Tic is determined to continue. George calls home and listens to Diana talk about her comic book, he has her put her mother on, he tells Hippolyta that maybe next time, they can go together on his next travel guide trip.
Leti and Marvin engage in a hostile argument about the money he sent her and Leti missing their mother’s funeral. Tic and George are outside listening, and it gets Tic to talk about the last time he saw his father. A reporter wanted to interview Tic about his service in the army, and Montrose was still upset that Tic fought for a country that didn’t care about him. It led to violent confrontation between the two. Tic is still upset that his father never wrote to him while he was in Korea. George tells him how Montrose would come over to dinner and wait for George to bring up Tic so he could know how he was doing. George regrets not protecting Montrose from their abusive father when they were kids. Tic wonders aloud if George regrets not protecting him from Montrose.
“Listen to them. The children of the night. What music they make.” George Freeman
“Devon County” Leti rejoins Tic and George on the trip, she obviously can’t stay with Marvin. They’ve been driving in the middle of the woods all day and haven’t found anything. Everyone is frustrated. Tic gets out of the car. Leti follows him. While they talk a squad car pulls up behind Woody. It is the infamous Eunice Hunt, and he’s everything he’s been advertised as. Our heroes are as polite and respectful as they can be to him, but he tells them they are in a sundown county. If they are there after sundown, he will hang them in the woods himself. They have nine minutes before the sun sets to get out of the county. He takes a special dislike to Tic who asks him a few simple questions which he sees as Tic being disrespectful. They must cross the county line without going over the posted speed limit of 25 to keep the sheriff from arresting them for speeding. Hunt drives closely behind them, occasionally ramming their car. Tic tells Leti to grab the pistol just in case. They just barely cross the county line in time, but right ahead of them is a police barricade. Like most things in this country, the game was rigged. Hunt and his deputies take them out into the woods to make them confess to some robberies. Tic tells Hunt they haven’t robbed anyone and gives him permission to search their car. Hunt is enraged that Tic thinks they need his permission to search their vehicle, and he asks how Tic knows his name. The ‘lawmen’ are ready to shoot the three unarmed people they have laying on the ground when they hear some noises. Suddenly multi-eyed monsters appear, one tears Hunt’s arm off and kills most of the deputies. Everyone takes off running, Tic and Leti find an abandoned cabin to hide in. They realize they became separated from George. He’s still on the ground near Hunt’s severed arm that is still holding a flashlight. George grabs the flashlight and looks for Tic and Leti. Hunt and his surviving deputy come upon the cabin and force their way in. Tic wants to go back out there to find George, but Hunt won’t let him afraid the monsters will follow him back. Luckily George shows up. He and Tic realize the monsters don’t like lights. They are vampiric creatures. Tic volunteers to get the flares they brought for the trip. Hunt won’t let Tic go, he figures he’ll drive away, instead he orders Leti to go. Tic and George object but Hunt and his deputy are still armed. Leti reminds Tic she ran track in high school, Tic tells her he believes in her. Leti runs very fast and makes it to Woody. The monsters crash into the car but run from the car’s light beams. Inside the cabin the sheriff is transforming into one of the beasts [they bit him tearing off his arm]. Tic tells the deputy to shoot him, but he hesitates, Hunt attacks the deputy and kills him. Tic picks up the deputy’s rifle and shoots Hunt, but it only had one bullet. Before Hunt can attack him, Leti drives through the cabin and hits Hunt. The lights drive him outside. They take the flares to keep the monsters at bay, a whistle blows and the creatures retreat.
The next morning, the bloodied survivors walk down the road, and come upon a large mysterious estate. They see the silver Bentley parked on the grounds. Before they can knock on the door, a pale blond man (Jordan Patrick Smith) opens it. He says, “We’ve been expecting you, Mr. Freeman. Welcome home.” That doesn’t sound strange coming from a stranger at all.
Atticus “Tic” Freeman is a Korean War veteran who leaves Florida to go back home to Chicago to look for his missing father. With his uncle George Freeman and his childhood friend, Letitia “Leti” Lewis, they go on a perilous road trip through the Midwest to Ardham, Massachusetts. The traveling companions deal with racist attitudes in most places, and outright racist attacks in Simmonsville and Devon County. In Devon County they also fight off multi-eyed, vampiric creatures. They arrive at an estate, where they have been waiting for Tic’s arrival.
I’ve never read anything by H.P. Lovecraft, I know who he is because of his major influence over modern horror. It is a good thing I never read his works, since H.P. really hated black people, and was happy to write it in his fiction. That’s dedication. I’m not a horror fan, but when a show on HBO is produced by Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, starring a black cast, well how could I miss it. I am so glad I didn’t. It gave the social commentary I love, with some good frights. It turned out that the human monsters were much worse than the actual monsters. The human ones had less humanity in them. As a kid raised in the South, you are led to believe they don’t experience as much racism as we do. They don’t have statues to confederate war heroes all over the place. It wasn’t until I started crossing the Mississippi state line that I found out that wasn’t necessarily true. You find out there is racism everywhere, just in more subtle forms. The show points out that in the 50s, the North was not as far behind in their displays of racism that they would have us believe. There were plenty of sundown towns on Tic, Leti and George’s journey. When you think about it, even in the safety of Southside Chicago, they lived in one of the most segregated cities in the country. America’s hypocrisy was everywhere they went. It’s better now, but only because of how bad it was then. If you think it’s SO much better now, you must have just awakened out of a 3½ year coma.
The cast was exceptional, especially the three leads: Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett and Courtney B. Vance. They had great chemistry amongst themselves and easily carried the show. Leti really proved herself a bad ass, even an old-fashioned man like George had to recognize it. I also can’t wait to see more of Wunmi Mosaku and Aunjanue Ellis, who weren’t as prominent in this episode, but promise great things later in the season. The car chases were fantastic, with the one in Simmonsville being exciting, while the one in Devon County being heart stopping suspenseful. The creature features were excellent, I don’t know what you would call the monsters, I don’t know if the monsters were taken directly from the pages of H.P. Lovecraft’s books, or were a homage to them. Either way, they looked great.
The songs were a mix of period appropriate songs and current ones. A few more tidbits. The opening score and narration came from The Jackie Robinson Story starring Jackie Robinson and Ruby Dee as his wife Rae Robinson. I believe the woman on the phone when Tic called South Korea was Jamie Chung who was the red skinned alien at the beginning of the episode. This could indicate a subplot during Tic’s time in Korea. When Leti told Marvin she used the money he sent her to bail out some friends, I believe her friends were civil rights workers and Leti is part of the early movement. I hope that Woody is a character in the show like the Impala in Supernatural. See you next week.