Lovecraft Country: Catch the Fire

Lovecraft Country | Season 1 | Episode 9 : Rewind 1921
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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]

“What we went through that night at the massacre…you live through something like that, it makes an unbreakable bond.” Montrose Freeman

Ruby Baptiste (Wunmi Mosaku), Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett), Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Jonathan Majors), and Montrose Freeman (Michael K. Williams) are standing over a comatose Diana “Dee” Freeman (Jada Harris) blaming each other for not looking out and protecting her. Ruby: “Stop pointing fingers, you all are to blame. Now how do we fix it.”  Atticus suggests going to Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee) for help. Montrose violently disagrees, and Leti chimes in no more magic. Montrose asks why would she even help them. Atticus tells them he will trade Titus Braithwhite’s pages to Christina for her assistance. Leti pulls him aside and tells him she has already traded Titus’ pages to Christina for an invulnerability spell to protect him but Christina gave her the invulnerability spell instead. Montrose explodes and heads towards Leti, Atticus holds him and Ruby comes between them to protect her sister. She tries to explain that Leti needs it because she’s pregnant, but Leti cuts her off before she can tell him. Atticus says that was their only leverage, but to Atticus and Montrose’s surprise, she tells them she’ll ask Christina, because she will help Dee for her.

Christina looks over Dee’s drawings of her attack, “She’s gifted. The detail’s incredible. I can tell from these the curse is a combination of Titus’ pages and Horatio’s stolen ones.” There is only so much she can do, to break his spell they’ll need Captain Lancaster’s (Mac Brandt) body. Leti informs her he’s dead due to a gas pipeline explosion. [This is the cover story for the Shoggoth’s attack on Chicago’s finest.] The only thing she can do now is a restorative spell that resets the cycle. She’ll do it on one condition, Atticus has to willingly go to Ardham on the Autumnal Equinox. Leti looks nervous but Atticus nods yes. They’ll need the person closely related to Dee for their blood. Christina tells them she has an errand to run and for them to draw a protection symbol around the room and lower Dee’s temperature. Atticus tells Montrose that would be him. Montrose looks nervously around.

Lancaster is barely alive, his minions used another black person’s body to keep him alive, but it’s not working. William (Jordan Patrick Smith) strolls in and picks up the totem he had Ruby plant. Lancaster knows William is Christina. William tells him that every time she changed to William and changed back; William died again. The totem keeps his body transplants from working. He wanted Lancaster to suffer a thousand deaths, but he’ll have to settle for this one. He smugly watches Lancaster die painfully.

Montrose is in the guide office having a drink of George’s moonshine. When Atticus walks in, he chastises his father, but then takes a swig himself. Montrose blames himself for not protecting the family, he promised George he would. Atticus tells him not to blame himself. Out of nowhere he tells Atticus that George might be his father. Atticus is stunned, once he regains his bearings he asks if Dora cheated on him with Uncle George. Montrose: “You see, me, your mama and George – we – we grew up close together son. What we went through that night at the massacre…you live through something like that, it makes an unbreakable bond.” Atticus: “I spent so much time sitting in that chair, hiding from another one of your ass-whoopings, watching Un— George work on the guide, wishing he was my father, and now you…” Leti walks in to tell them Christina is back to cure Dee. Suddenly Hippolyta Freeman (Aunjanue Ellis) walks in and asks is Dee sick.

Christina cuts Hippolyta’s hand for her blood, Dee is turning into a creature like Topsy. Christina chants the language of Adam. Dee has a flashback to Lancaster cursing her and Topsy and Bopsy chasing her. Maggots begin crawling out of her dead arm and flies begin buzzing around the room. Christina’s enchantment works because Dee looks normal, but she’s still comatose. Ruby leaves with Christina, Leti stops her to tell her she can’t trust Christina. Ruby tells her she can say the same about Atticus. Except Christina isn’t as dangerous as Atticus and Montrose. She tells Leti she should leave with her and Christina. Leti tells her that Christina plans to kill Atticus on the Autumnal Equinox. Ruby pauses but gets in Christina’s car anyway and they drive away.

“It was on Earth 504 and I was there the equivalent of 200 years on this Earth. I could name myself anything, infinite possibilities, that came with infinite wisdom and I’m gonna use all of it to save my daughter.” Hippolyta Freeman

Hippolyta has Dee in the back of Woody and plans on taking a trip to the Observatory. Leti, Montrose and Atticus question her plan. As Hippolyta understands it, Dee will die in about 24 hours if they don’t get the Book of Names. It is needed because Lancaster’s spell can only be broken with enchantments detailed within the book. Atticus said it was destroyed during the Tulsa Massacre in 1921, so they need to use the multi-verse machine at the Observatory to retrieve the book. Montrose thinks this sounds crazy and asks Hippolyta where has she been. Hippolyta: “It was on Earth 504 and I was there the equivalent of 200 years on this Earth. I could name myself anything, infinite possibilities, that came with infinite wisdom and I’m gonna use all of it to save my daughter. Now get in the fucking car.”

Ruby is in Christina’s basement sitting next to Dell/Hillary’s (Jamie Neumann) body. She asks Christina who Hillary was. Christina tells her and explains that she’s in this condition because Leti hit her over the head with a shovel. Ruby smiles. Now she asks did she help Dee because of her, or because she wants to use her to spy on her family like she had asked Leti to spy on Atticus. Christina tells her she’s never asked her to do that, she helped Dee because Ruby asked, but saw the opportunity to get Atticus to be at the Autumnal Equinox. She confesses she is going to kill Atticus because she needs all of his blood for her spell to work. Her father and the other men in the Son of Adam talked about immortality like they would money or power. Christina: “I want to use it to experience it. All of it, one eternity of firsts.” Ruby asks her not to hurt Leti, she promises not to. Ruby turns off Hillary’s oxygen and says, “When I used your magic to be white, I always saw myself as a redhead.” Christina smiles at her in recognition.

They are in Kentucky. [The showrunner Misha Green reported that they made a mistake in episode 7, I Am, the Observatory is in Mayfield, Kentucky, not Kansas.] George is still drinking; he hears voices from the past and present. Hippolyta is inside fixing the multi-verse machine with Atticus’ help. Leti tries to explain to Montrose why she took the invulnerability spell, Montrose tells her he knows she’s pregnant. Hippolyta wasn’t the only one sucked in, Atticus went to the future. She wants to know why he didn’t tell her; Montrose explains because Atticus knows Christina is going to kill him during the Autumnal Equinox. Leti says that Hippolyta said there are parallel universes, maybe it won’t happen. He doesn’t know. Montrose: “By your handing over those pages you might have a hand in the death of my son. You’ll understand when you have yours. There’s no making this right.” Leti: “It’s a boy.” Hippolyta gets the machine started using herself as the motherboard and hooking the machine into her cybernetic enhancements in her arms. The portals open, she needs to find our earth’s Tulsa 1921. There are six-trillion alternative realities and she needs the picture Montrose carries of the fancy hotel his father would take his family to stay at to triangulate the right location. She finally locates it. Before they go, she tells them to leave the drama they have going on and concentrate on saving Dee. Atticus and Leti jump in, but Montrose hesitates because of the bad memories, but he eventually jumps in too.

The three companions look down on the street and it looks peaceful. Two girls walk by their room complaining about the dance being canceled because some white people caused a commotion at the courthouse. Atticus asks Montrose about it, he remembers the Booker T. Washington High School prom being canceled, a few hours from now the massacre will commence. They need to get to Dora’s house before it is burned down with all of her family in it. Atticus suggests they be inconspicuous and they grab some clothes off a rack in the hallway. [Like it is in all movies and TV shows, the clothes fit perfectly.]

As they are walking down the street and taking a shortcut to the house, Montrose begins to freeze when they pass by the park where Thomas (Khamary Rose) was shot. Atticus snaps him out of it thinking it is his usual BS. Montrose: “Boy you have no idea what you’re walking into.” Atticus angrily: “G-damn!” Montrose: “You think you know war? You don’t know shit.” Atticus: “Man, take your sorry ass back to the portal.” Leti: “He can’t go back. He knows where your mama lives. We need him Tic.” Atticus: “Shit, I don’t. I took your bullshit, your beatings, your berating, forgave Mama and Uncle George for not protecting me from your ass, because I thought you was my father. Fuck that. When this is done, when Dee’s safe, we’re done.”

They finally arrive, the Freeman house is next door to Dora’s house. From across the street they see Montrose father, Verton Freeman (William Catlett) beating young Montrose (Gerard Mikell) with a switch. Montrose sadly explains he deserved it because his father caught him wearing George’s prom jacket and wearing the corsage flower in his hair. The beating is brutal and Leti says, “No one deserved this.” Young Dora (Leeann Ross) walks over from her house and gets between Verton and Montrose to protect him. Young George (Christian Anderson) stands quietly behind his father. Verton threatens to beat Dora if she doesn’t get out of his way but her father Gilbert (Keith Arthur Bolden) steps on his porch and warns Verton he can do what he wants with his sons but he better not touch his daughter. Verton staggers away and tells George that at least there is another man in the house. Young Montrose runs off. George presents his corsage to her but she chastises him for not standing up to his father to protect Montrose. He asks is he supposed to fight his father. Dora points out he doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of whippings Montrose receives. She forgives him and accepts the corsage. Dora’s sister Beulah (Nilah Blasingame) yells at her from the porch that their prom was canceled. George suggests they look for Montrose. They grab their bikes and ride away. As Atticus and Leti plan their next move, they realize adult Montrose has disappeared. Change of plan, Atticus will look for his maybe daddy while Leti retrieves the Book of Names. He thinks Montrose is going to the park to warn George about Ardham. Leti hotwires a car, they hear gunshots in the distance. They look at each other apprehensively, Leti suggests they name the baby George.

“Come on I got one for all you crackers!” Verton Freeman

It’s dark and Montrose grabs a bat to smash a truck’s window to get a bottle of booze. Leti is walking down the sidewalk and sees a truckload of white men kill a black man. They notice her and start shooting at her. Fortunately, Christina’s protection spell is still working. Verton and Gilbert emerge from their perspective homes with shotguns and fire back at the thugs. They offer Leti protection and she goes inside Gilbert’s home. Dora’s sister, mother Martha (Charlotte Hynes Hazzard) and grandmother Hattie (Regina Taylor) ask what is going on. Leti tells them about the truck load of white thugs. Verton leaves to find the kids while Gilbert hands out guns to the women, he’s going on the roof to look out.

Atticus pulls up in the stolen car and tells Montrose not to warn George. He tells him he’s not there to do that, he has to warn Thomas. Beulah tells Leti she and Dora had a spat about George. Beulah is sweet on George and was jealous about him taking her sister to the prom. She is worried about getting the chance to apologize to Dora. She asks Leti if everything will be all right. Leti hesitantly says yes. They hear more gunshots and Leti tells her to join her family. Montrose looks at his younger self with Thomas. Montrose: “I lost that boy’s name. Couldn’t even say it before today. You see he couldn’t just be dead. He had to never exist. That was the only way I could go on and not die here with him.” Young Montrose tells Thomas they can’t be friends because Thomas is a faggot and he’s not. Atticus begs Montrose not to interfere, he has to marry Dora and be his dad, so Atticus can have his son. Montrose doesn’t see how warning Thomas can hurt anything. Atticus says he better be sure. Montrose: “I have. Thomas won’t mean much. He’s just the first in a long list of sacrifices I made to be your father. I lied to him and myself for years. I cut out all the soft parts of myself just to be a man, because men have sons. I swallowed my pride when we found out your mama was pregnant, and you could be George’s. But you were my son. You had to be. I did it all, and I would do it again, because the only thing I ever wanted to be was your father.” Atticus tears up. Some white thugs arrive in the park, the boys try to run away holding hands but Thomas is shot in the head.

Leti is searching for the book when Hattie catches her, she asks Leti what she is doing. When she isn’t satisfied with Leti’s lie, she draws her gun on her. She tells Leti she knew something was wrong about her, even though Leti is wearing an era appropriate dress, her 1950 sneakers don’t match. Leti tells her the truth, she is from the future, she is the girlfriend of her great grandson Atticus, Dora’s son, and she is looking for the Book of Names to save his cousin Dee. She wants to protect Atticus and their unborn baby. Hattie believes Leti and realizes they are going to die. At the park, George and Dora arrive, but a white mob has them surrounded. Atticus wonders where the mysterious stranger who saves Montrose and George is. He steps on the bat Montrose used to smash the truck window. He picks it up and Montrose realizes that Atticus is the mysterious stranger. Hattie hands the book to Leti. Hattie quotes from the Bible: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you future and a hope.” She personally adds, “When my great, great grandson is born, he will be my faith turned flesh.” The book is bound, and Leti informs her she has a protection spell and won’t be harmed by the fire. As the house blazes, Hattie asks Leti to pray with her. Hattie: “I’m ready. I hope the good Lord is.” They begin reciting the Lord’s prayer as Sonia Sanchez’s poem Catch the Fire starts. Atticus rushes to his parents’ defense and beats the hell out of these white terrorists with his bat. Dora, George, and Montrose look up at him in wonder and he tells young Montrose, “I got you, kid.” The fire finally engulfs Hattie and she burns away as Leti leaves with the book.

“When my great, great grandson is born, he will be my faith turned flesh.” Hattie

Atticus and Montrose get back to the hotel before Leti. She is slowly walking through the streets of Tulsa in a daze as white looters smash windows and steal. Black people are bravely defending themselves against this onslaught, while a plane flies above to drop bombs. Black Wall Street is on fire. Montrose looks and tells Atticus the portal isn’t stable. Atticus jumps through to check. Hippolyta is having trouble keeping it open. Atticus offers her encouragement. Montrose looks upon the destruction. Montrose: “Peg Leg Taylor’s last stand on Standpipe Hill. Oh, that was something. Still they burned down Byar’s Tailor Shop. Dr. Jackson, ‘best negro surgeon in all America’… Shot in the face. Mrs. Rodgers lost her invalid daughter. White Phelps took in Negroes, hid’em in the basement. Commodore Knox. They did him in the worst. And Thomas?” Hippolyta gives everything she has; she is lifted up in the air and her hair turns metallic blue. Leti finally arrives and she and Montrose jump through. Atticus tells Hippolyta they’ll be able to save Dee.

KBear Review [Read time: 1-3 minutes]

The family argues about Dee, each blaming each other for not taking care of her. Atticus proposes getting help from Christina but finds out Leti has already given his bargaining chip, Titus’ pages, to Christina for an invulnerability spell. Ruby informs them Christina will help Dee for her. Christina will help Dee on condition that Atticus willingly goes back to Ardham on the Autumnal Equinox. Hippolyta returns and provides blood for Christina’s enchantment. It won’t cure Dee, but it will give them time. Hippolyta will use this time to go back to the Observatory to use the multi-verse machine to send Atticus, Leti, and Montrose back to Tulsa, 1921 to retrieve the Book of Names during the Tulsa Massacre. This is a complete nightmare for Montrose, he doesn’t want to face the horrors again. Atticus doesn’t care, he’s mad at Montrose because he told him George might be his father. All of his old resentments towards Montrose resurface. They make it to Dora’s house and witness young Montrose being beaten by his father for wearing George’s prom jacket and wearing a flower in his hair. Verton was beating him for not being manly. Montrose internalized this. Dora protects him while George keeps quiet to avoid a beating himself. Young Montrose runs off, and his adult self does the same. Leti has to retrieve the book while Atticus leaves to find Montrose. He is at the park, he wants to warn and save his first love, Thomas. He tells Atticus about the sacrifices he’s made and how being his father was so important to him; that is all he ever wanted to be. This softens Atticus’ attitude towards his father. They both find out that Atticus is the mysterious stranger of Montrose and George’s story. Atticus picks up the bat and beats the hell out of the white mob, saving his future parents. Leti is in Dora’s house looking for the book, the grandmother Hattie catches her. Leti is able to persuade Hattie to allow her to take the book to save Dee. As the house is engulfed in flames, Leti prays with Hattie as she is consumed in flames. The three barely make it back, Hippolyta gives everything she has to keep the portal open and her hair turns blue like Orithyia Blue. Meanwhile Ruby and Christina come to an understanding, Christina can kill Atticus for her immortality spell as long as she doesn’t hurt Leti. Ruby turns off the oxygen for Hillary and declares she always saw herself as a redhead. It appears the two are more alike than we thought.

The Tulsa Massacre is one of America’s darkest chapters, which is saying a lot considering all the dark monstrous things that happened in this country in the pursuit of a more perfect union. The first time most Americans heard about this massacre was during the first episode of Watchmen. That’s understandable, it wasn’t taught in schools, and it was covered up for years. I didn’t find out about it until I was an adult, and it was someone telling me about it. I couldn’t believe it at first, but found out it was true. Back in the day, I was naïve about America. I  thought all the really horrible things had happened in the distant past, even though I could see the horrible things that were happening in the present. But I didn’t think something as horrible as the Tulsa Massacre could be that recent. I learned about other incidents like this along with other crimes against humanity that were perpetrated against black people and other people of color. The streets were burning this summer against systematic racism and police brutality. We still have brown kids in cages who were separated from their parents. We’ve lost over 210,000 people so far from COVID-19, with an unproportionate number being black and brown. White militias planned on kidnapping and murdering the Michigan governor, and the cops are giving them a free pass to deal with protesters. Our alleged President during his last debate told a far-right group the Proud Boys to ‘stand back and stand by’. Tulsa doesn’t feel so far away any longer. I think what really got to me, was showing the normal lives of the black citizens of Tulsa hours before the massacre. Nice homes, peaceful neighborhoods, people working hard and doing well, and it was wiped away in hours. I looked around my peaceful neighborhood and ask how safe am I. How everything has changed since 1921, and how nothing has changed at the same time. Watching this episode made me angry and a little afraid. It brought home the horror those people faced, and the bravery they had to fight the white mobs and survive. We can’t allow future generations to forget it, or to forget the atrocities that are happening now. Our country will only grow stronger if we face these injustices and work to solve them.

The acting on this show is phenomenal every week. This week might have been a highpoint. I’d like to recognize the three leads, Jurnee Smollett, Jonathan Majors, and Michael K. Williams and guest star Regina Taylor. Michael K. Williams is recognized as a great actor, this episode cemented it for anyone who had doubts. His scene about always wanting to be Atticus’ father should win him an Emmy. He was great throughout the episode. Jonathan Majors was equal to the task of being his primary scene partner. A lesser actor would have been blown off the screen, but he more than held his own, giving us more insight into Atticus, and seeing the hero he has in him. Jurnee Smollett has been consistently excellent, but her scene with Regina Taylor moved me close to tears. Their performances were so raw and honest, but still expressed the love and strength black women have.

The production staff did an excellent job in recreating the Tulsa Massacre. They recreated the peaceful prosperous community, making the massacre itself feel like the violation it was to supposed American norms. The effects with Hippolyta with the multi-verse machine were well done. They were able to combine sci-fi with reality. The makeup on Jada Harris to make her look like Topsy was appropriately horrifying. 

The show has used written word performances, speeches, poems, to great effect. This was their strongest effort to date. During the fire in Dora’s home, and Atticus beating the white mob with a baseball bat, they played Don’t Kill Dub by Rob (Robin Coudert). It is Sonia Sanchez poem Catch the Fire to music.

Here’s the poem itself recited by Sonia Sanchez herself.

To end the episode, they played an operatic song based on the poem sung by Janai Brugger. Laura Karpman, the co-composer on the show wrote this operatic piece specifically for this episode.

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