Lovecraft Country: Black Butterfly

Lovecraft Country | Season 1 | Episode 5 : Strange Case
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For a quick read, go to Review. For a complete summary, go to Recap.

KBear Recap [Read  time: 5-7 min]

“I enjoyed my entire day, using the only currency that I needed: whiteness.” Ruby Baptiste

A white woman (Jamie Neumann) wakes up in bed, confused, she looks at her hands and gets out of bed to look in the mirror, this white woman is Ruby Baptiste (Wunmi Mosaku). Dressed in only a robe, White Ruby walks back to her neighborhood dazed and confused. She bumps into a black boy and the police arrive, ready to beat him up for molesting her. Ruby comes to her senses and tells them the boy did nothing. Since she’s a white woman now, they listen to her. They put her in the back of the squad car, her husband had called the police and said she needed her medication. Ruby realizes they are taking her back to William’s (Jordan Patrick Smith) house. She protests but they don’t pay her any attention. Her bones begin cracking under her skin. William comes out of the house and carries her in. He lays her on some plastic and turns up the television to drown out her screams. He takes a knife and cuts into her to pull Ruby out of this white body.

Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) and Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) walk into a room in her boarding house expecting to see Yahima, but instead see Montrose Freeman (Michael K. Williams) sitting in a chair looking disturbed. Leti thinks he let Yahima go, but Atticus looks at his father and knows better. He asks about the pages from the Book of Names. Montrose doesn’t answer and Atticus attacks him. Leti calls for help to pull Atticus off him. She follows him to her darkroom; he’s frantically looking for any photos she might have taken of the pages. He asks her for the photos and notices she’s carrying a baseball bat; he leaves.

Ruby is back in bed and pretends to sleep as William comes back in after taking a shower. He explains what is happening. He had worked on the concept of metamorphosis for humans, but the academic community laughed at him. Later he met Hiram Epstein who had created magical doorways. They worked together to create a potion that mimics the metamorphosis that caterpillars go through to become a butterfly. The metamorphosis isn’t permanent. Ruby says she was scared at first but admits it was the first time she was treated like a human being.  William has to go, but Ruby is free to go and do whatever she wants. He leaves a roll of cash and a vial of the potion near it. It becomes clear what Ruby decided to do when we see White Ruby spending a pleasant afternoon getting an ice cream cone, and going to the park to read the paper, not being harassed by anyone.

Leti finds Atticus tending the wounds on his bruised knuckles. She informs him that she did take pictures of the pages; she hadn’t had time to develop them. Atticus thanks her. Leti asks if she hadn’t been there, would he have killed Montrose. He admits the thought would cross his mind after his father would beat him when he was a child. Atticus: “That violence that’s in him, I thought wasn’t, could never be in me. I found it. In the war.” He begs her not to be scared of him. They make passionate love.

Ruby is in the tub after her white lady afternoon, William walks in and rubs her back. She asks him why he is sharing his conjuring power with her. He tells her when he laid eyes on her, he felt magic where there was none. Ruby tells him how she enjoys being a woman and black, but the world makes it difficult and she’s tired of it. William tells her a small favor might be required of her for another woman. Ruby isn’t surprised, William tells her she can do whatever she wants in the meantime. Ruby goes to Marshall Field as a white woman named Hillary Davenport. She meets with the store manager Paul Hughes (David Stanbra) about a job. He looks over her resume and is impressed. He asks why Hillary Davenport wants to work there. She tells him how her mother would take she and her sister to Marshall Field anytime she was depressed. Hillary would like to make other women feel good like it made her mother feel. Because of her qualifications, he offers her the assistant manager position. Hillary is overjoyed but her bones start cracking, she has to leave quickly. She drops her vial of potion and has a gruesome metamorphosis in a freight elevator.

“I don’t know what is more difficult , being colored or being a woman. Most days I’m happy to be both, but the world keeps interrupting. And I am sick of being interrupted.” Ruby Baptiste

Montrose visits his lover Sammy (Jon Hudson Odom). His face is still badly bruised. Montrose takes Sammy roughly from behind. When they turn around face to face, he won’t kiss Sammy. He slides down to his knees to give Sammy something else.

New assistant manager Hillary Davenport looks over her new domain. She sees some woman complain about the service near Tamara’s (Sibongile Mlambo) counter. She goes to talk to Tamara; she’s been busy doing some of her white co-worker’s duties. Hillary finds out that Tamara hadn’t graduated from high school or had any other qualifications like Ruby. This ticks her off. In the storeroom during their break, Hillary hangs out with her other white co-workers, Madge (Olivia Dean), Cathy (Mindy Fay Parks) and Barb (Tyner Rushing). They are goofing off, trying on high heeled stilettos and dancing to Pat Boone’s bland cover of Tutti Frutti. Hillary dances like a black girl, which impresses her co-workers. They don’t like Tamara but they’d like her to take them to the South Side to go on safari. This bothers Hillary but she doesn’t show it. William picks up Hillary after work, her co-workers are impressed at the hunk she has. Ruby won’t let him kiss her on the lips as Hillary. He’s going to want that favor tonight. She has to attend a party as Ruby, William brought a box for her, it contains a maid uniform.

Ruby meets Christina (Abbey Lee) at Captain Lancaster’s (Mac Brandt) club. She wants her to place a magical totem in Lancaster’s office. Ruby didn’t know this involved the police. To get her onboard, she tells her what Lancaster did to William, “William is the rightful heir to this lodge. The captain tried to kill him to take his seat. He shot him in the back and dumped his body in the river like he was trash.” She found him and has helped him since. Ruby agrees to help.

Atticus is dreaming about being back in Samuel’s lodge, he sees his ancestor Hannah, but instead of escaping, he burns up. He wakes up, Leti is looking over the photos of the pages she took. They are trying to decipher the Son of Adam language. Atticus uses the initials in his ring to determine three letters, A S F. Leti still thinks Montrose let Yahima go, Atticus tells her Montrose killed her to protect them. Leti is shocked and sickened, she exclaims, “This is evil. It’s the devil’s tools. It is corrupting all of us.” Atticus tries to calm her down, telling her the language isn’t inherently evil, it is how it is used. They are using it to protect themselves. She points out Montrose was trying to protect Atticus.

Ruby sneaks into Lancaster’s office, she hides the totem in his desk drawer. She hears moaning in the closet and goes to check, she finds a man whose tongue was cut off tied up. She has to hide in the closet when Lancaster and one of his subordinates walks in. He needs a clean shirt, when he takes off the shirt he has on, Lancaster has a black torso. She tries to contain her horror. Back at Marshall Field as Hillary, she gets on Tamara on how she’s stacking the shoes. She admonishes her that she has to be twice as good, because white people are up to messed up stuff and she doesn’t want to end up in a closet with her tongue cut off. Hughes stops by to see what’s going on, Hillary tells him everything is fine and Tamara has invited them to the South Side, to Tamara’s shock.

Montrose is still at Sammy’s place, Sammy and his other drag queen friends are preparing for their ball. At the Denmark Vesey bar, Hillary, Tamara, Hughes, Barb, Cathy, and Madge have a table. The white women check out the natives. They get up to dance, but Hillary has had her fill of them. Her bones begin cracking, she goes out in the alley and decides not to take the potion. Her white skin molts off and Ruby covered in blood and gore emerges. She looks through the window and sees Hughes try to sexually assault Tamara. She’s able to get away before he can rape her. He calls Tamara a “nigger bitch”. At the drag ball, Sammy has won. He and Montrose dance together. Montrose is beginning to feel happy and free so he kisses Sammy on the dance floor.

“You can’t relate to what I am, and I’ve spent enough time on your side of the color line to know that the only thing you white women are disillusioned with is yourself.” Ruby Baptiste

Ruby is back at William’s place; Christina comes out of the basement. Ruby wonders why the basement is the only room locked in the house, and the two of them are always coming out of there. Christina tries to relate to Ruby through sisterhood, but Ruby isn’t having it, she’s been white and knows what white woman go through. [Christina tried to use ‘sisterhood’ with Leti and now with Ruby, both times as a trick to get them to side with her. Both women reject it since they can see her still positioning her whiteness over them.] Christina tells her what William has given her, the ability to do what she wants, “That’s the currency of magic. Unmitigated freedom.” She asks who Ruby is when she’s uninterrupted. Hillary goes back to Marshall Field to give her notice; she tells Hughes she’s doing it because she is attracted to him. Now that she is quitting, she can have sex with him. She asks why he had called her in his office, he tells her he wants to fire Tamara. Hillary ties his hands with his tie and wraps his belt around his neck. She gets him on his knees and puts a handkerchief in his mouth. Ruby proceeds to plunge a stiletto heel repeatedly in his ass. While she does this, her skin molts off and before Hughes is a black woman. She wanted him to see a that a “nigger bitch” did this to him.

Leti is in the tub, she tells Atticus, she was trying to say a prayer for Yahima. They both have seen bad, and they want to bring some good. Atticus tells her about Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung). Atticus: “There was a girl when I was over in Korea. It ended in a strange way.” She asks if he loved her, he doesn’t know. Leti only wants to be with a man if it means something. He assures her this is something.

Ruby asks William what’s in the basement. Before he can answer he goes through a metamorphosis. Christina bursts out of him. Ruby: “You’ve been William this whole fucking time?”

Atticus is working on the transcription. He notices something and calls Korea in a panic. Atticus: “How did you know?” Ji-Ah: “Do you believe me now? You should have listened to me.” Atticus: “What are you?”

KBear Review [Read time: 1-3 minutes]

Ruby wakes up in William’s bed as a white woman. He and Hiram had developed a way to create human metamorphosis that mimics a caterpillar’s metamorphosis to a butterfly. Ruby takes her new identity out for a walk and enjoys it. She applies to Marshall Field for a job and is made assistant manager, much better than her dream job of working the counter. There is a price of course, she has to sneak a magic totem in Captain Lancaster’s office for Christina. She finds out there is a man in his closet whose tongue was cut out. Lancaster also has a black torso, so all kind of weird stuff going on with him. Ruby becomes disenchanted with her white co-workers, who are casually racist. They don’t like Tamara but want her to take them to the South Side to gawk at the natives. Ruby decides she’ll remain black and punishes the store manager for his attempted rape of Tamara. She discovers that William is Christina. Atticus finds out that Montrose killed Yahima and destroyed the Book of Names pages, so he beats the hell out of him. It frightens Leti, who is beginning to believe the pages are evil and causing them to do bad things. She and Atticus grow closer though. Montrose goes to Sammy’s place, and feels liberated when he attends the drag queen ball with Sammy and his fellow queens.

Metamorphosis: A change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means. Ruby takes the supernatural route when she becomes a white woman. Ruby loves being black and a woman, but society makes it hard for her though, she keeps being interrupted and would like to live uninterrupted for a while. She gets to observe white people up close and regains a new sense of pride in being black. She finds out that Christina has been undergoing her own metamorphosis, changing from a female and back as William. I don’t know if she and William are two separate entities, or if when she’s William, it’s still Christina pulling the strings like Ruby was with Hillary. It appeared William and Ruby were developing feelings for each other, so was that only Christina playing Ruby, a separate William actually developing feelings for Ruby, or is Christina actually developing feelings for Ruby. It could actually turn out to be an interesting love triangle. Montrose goes through a more natural metamorphosis, as this self-loathing man actually feels liberated and free when he’s at the drag queen ball. He is comfortable enough with himself to show Sammy real affection and kiss him on the dance floor in public. Before that, he won’t even kiss him in private, only having sex.  I don’t actually know what this means for Montrose, it is still 1955, so I don’t imagine he’s going to come out. And even with him having some type of metamorphosis, it doesn’t excuse him for killing Yahima. He might have done it to protect Atticus, or because of his own self-hatred he expresses by killing someone who is Two-Spirit, a third-gender. Yahima hadn’t done anything to any of them and did not deserve their fate. Montrose still needs to pay for this crime. Leti and Atticus don’t necessarily have a metamorphosis, but their relationship deepens despite Atticus outbursts. They begin to talk to each other more openly and honestly, and it seems Atticus realizes this relationship really means something to him. We’ll see how what happened in Korea affects this.

If you were eating a meal during this episode, congratulations, you are made of sterner stuff than me. This episode was a prime example of body horror. There was a lot of bone cracking, unnatural movements of the body, and the molting of skin off the body that tested the weak of stomach. There was plenty of blood and gore to go around. The makeup department and special effects department must have worked overtime to get it done, and to make it look, sound, and feel so real. The two actresses who carried the load and made it feel so believable were Wunmi Mosaku and Jamie Neumann. They were playing the same character, who was constantly undergoing painful metamorphosis, but kept the thread that this was Ruby Baptiste, whether black or white. Jamie Neumann played Dell in the second episode, the racist groundskeeper. [You can put racist in front of any description of a white person on this show.] She is great here, and always makes you believe Ruby is inside her. Wunmi Mosaku has already been outstanding in this series, but takes her characterization of Ruby to another level. She shows Ruby’s constant struggle of being a black woman in a world that values neither, but develops an appreciation of who she is.

The music was a mix of music from all periods, from the bland Pat Boone to the exciting and original Little Richard, both doing Tutti Frutti. That’s a world apart. I picked three songs to emphasize.

Atticus and Leti having their dark romantic moment to Black Atlass “Return to Love”.

Montrose shutting himself off from Sammy during sex while Frank Ocean sings “Bad Religion”.

Ruby getting her revenge on the white patriarchy with that stiletto heel to Cardi B “Bodak Yellow”. They were bloody shoes after she was through.

Anthony (Kbear!) Nichols | Editor-in-Chief
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