Opening on a montage of Leti and George in their respective bedrooms in the Braithwaite mansion—her trying on dresses (all tailor-made for her) and George grabbing book after beloved book of horror fiction from the shelves, all set to “Movin’ On Up” from The Jeffersons—the second episode of Lovecraft Country begins as far from the horror that ended the first one as possible. Gathering outside of their rooms the Freemans and Leti note that the house seems designed to want them to remain in it, a prison of earthly delights as it were.
William (Jordan Patrick Smith), our frosty door-opener from the end of the first episode, appears and takes our guests on a tour of the house and all its occult art. In a large room overlooking the portrait of Titus Braithwaite, a man clad in satanic robes straight out of an Aleister Crowley Halloween party, they’re informed that what they’re in is a recreation of the shipping magnate’s1 1833 home which mysteriously burnt down. They’re led onto the veranda where a sumptuous meal is laid out. Tic is disturbed that neither George nor Leti seem to remember what happened in the woods but they all sit when George notes that they’re being watched. What they all realize is that they’re not guests so much as being tolerated, and they can only push things so far, as strangers in this strangest of lands.
Taking a trip into town, they walk past Ardham’s weird Quaker-type denizens all the way to a big stone tower in the middle, which acts as a sort of meat fridge for what the dogs of a racist groundskeeper, Dell (Jamie Neumann), collect from the woods. Figuring it to be the only place they could be keeping Tic’s father Montrose (HBO staple Michael Kenneth Williams), they start to formulate a plan to rescue him.
Trying to get back to the house before dinner, they’re again confronted by monsters in the woods around Ardham until a whistle that calls them off is blown by Christina Braithwaite (Abbey Lee, in a seeming change from the novel where the villain was the entitled son, Caleb), daughter of Braithwaite patriarch—and current head of the Order of the Ancient Dawn—Samuel Braithwaite (Tony Goldwyn). Just as quickly as the monsters disappear, so too do George and Leti forget. Christina leads Tic to meet her father just as a cultist is cutting out a chunk of his liver while he screams and writhes. Tic has to wait for the man to be sewn up before he can get the skinny: Titus was trying to chase immortality by reaching back to the time of Adam and Eve and grabbing it before Eve first bit that apple. If racists doing unspeakable things with a heavy Christian overtone seems at all familiar to today’s political landscape, well, geez, I can’t imagine what you’re talking about.
That night, after Tic gets Christina to allow George and Leti to remember, the house plays tricks on our trio—making George think he’s dancing with his late wife, Leti that she’s going to sleep with Tic, and Tic that he’s battling a Korean woman from the war he just returned from—until they finally overcome these monsters even as the members of Samuel’s cult watch them in a mirror like it’s a sporting event.
Tic discovers that Samuel needs him because he’s got a direct line back to old Titus himself, through a slave named Hannah that Titus took very good care of—in that Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings model of “taking good care”—which he knows makes him important. George, who earlier read some bylaws of the Ancient Dawn, informs Tic during a black-tie dinner (MAGA hats not included) for the members of the cult that as a direct descendant he gets final say since the cult defers to the founders or direct heirs above all. Before the group can tuck into slices of Samuel’s liver given as sacrifice, Tic tells them to clear the fuck out and the old racists reluctantly go. It’s a new kind of power for a man previously chased by a truck full of rednecks and a racist sheriff.
That night they mount a rescue for Montrose, sneaking into the stone tower where Leti clocks Dell with a shovel before the woman can shoot George or Tic. They discover that Montrose tunneled out and rescue the ungrateful man, who can’t bring himself to do anything but gripe that they risked themselves to save him when he could’ve saved himself. Either way, it all goes to hell when the silver car they stole hits the Ardham bridge’s barrier magic and crumples like an accordion. Pulling up behind the dazed, injured family, Samuel, gun in hand, and Christina get out and watch. As soon as Leti’s free Samuel blasts her through the gut. He then gives Tic the option of who to save between his mean, distant father and his well-meaning uncle. One glance at George—not meant as a choice—is all it takes for the man to get a bullet. They’re Samuel’s insurance that Tic will go along with the ritual, acting as a conduit for Samuel to get back to the Garden of Eden.
Christina watches Tic get bathed for the ritual, placing an Ancient Dawn ring on his finger when he’s robed and complaining that as a woman she’ll never be allowed to join in (her tradeoff is joining the farmers to help remove breech births of woods monsters from their cattle—a ghastly little scene). He stands amongst the chanting cultists and a gateway is slowly formed before him, using him as a focal point. Gil Heron’s “Whitey On The Moon” plays over it, contrasting the everyday sufferings Black people go through while the pomp white people engage in marches ever onward. As the ritual intensifies Tic sees a pregnant Hannah standing amongst flames—mystery of Titus’s 1833 failure solved. As he reaches out to her something goes wrong, all the cultists turn to pillars of salt and the house begins to crumble. Following Hannah’s ghostly apparition, Tic escapes to find the whole family in the woody and ready to go even as the entire Braithwaite estate crumbles to the ground.
George, however, is dead. Samuel saved Leti from her wound, but since George’s life was dependent on his ritual going off, and with him dead, the bullet finished its job. The man who wrote the book that warned other Black people where to go and where to avoid has been caught in the biggest snare of them all and one we read about all too frequently these days: a white man with ambitions and a gun in his hand.
In terms of the series so far, this episode is anchored by astounding moments but has an overall wonky pacing. Considering that the novel the series is based on was a novel in stories—that is, a novel that is less one continuous narrative and more a series of smaller chronological stories featuring the same themes and cast of characters—and that the trip to Ardham to rescue Montrose was the biggest section, it could have taken a third episode to breathe, let the house and town mysteries stretch a bit, build the dread. But for what’s there, it works well enough, and it nails the themes established by the premise and the first episode. It remains to be seen if the rest of the series will keep up.