“Whitey’s on the Moon” doesn’t have the same kind of gonzo appeal as the premiere, but it has plenty of its own surprises, not least how keen the show is to laughingly subvert any and all expectations.
This recap of Lovecraft Country season 1, episode 2, “Whitey’s on the Moon”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Lovecraft Country episode 2, “Whitey’s on the Moon”, was a lot like the premiere in some ways and very much unlike it in others; a follow-on and somehow a culmination all at once, an expanding of the lore but a narrowing of the focus. It was, as is becoming pretty expected of HBO’s provocative new darling, a rather weird episode of television, and if it wasn’t quite the masterwork of gradually escalating despair that the first episode was, if it didn’t quite have that glorious sense of a long-held breath being explosively let out, then it at the very least had plenty of its own rhythms and surprises to offer.
One of those surprises is quite how unconcerned the whole thing is with abiding by the traditional templates of genre storytelling, or indeed of any storytelling at all. In last week’s cliffhanger, we saw our heroes Tic, George, and Letitia be greeted at the door of an expansive estate by an Aryan-looking white dude who claimed to have been expecting them; by the end of “Whitey’s on the Moon”, Lovecraft Country has delved into that guy’s entire family tree and secret society and dug Tic’s missing father out of a dungeon. Plot beats, character reveals, expansive mythologies and impactful character deaths that would ordinarily take several episodes’ worth of development and foreshadowing are here presented and surmounted before they even have time to become proper hurdles; the castle in which all of this takes place literally crumbles to the ground by the end.
It’s obvious that something’s up, right from the beginning of Lovecraft Country episode 2, as George and Letitia happily dance around to the theme song of The Jeffersons, he while reading his favorite books, her while trying on lovely outfits that all fit her perfectly. This is meant to be suspect, a load of convenient weirdness in this obviously hostile place, but the joke is that theme music, and the Black characters acting as if only they can hear it. They’re in on the joke, and so is the show; the joke is at the expense of the norms that suggest this story that is suddenly about a secret society of white wizards trying to use Tic in a ritual to open the gates of Eden should be about the swirly magic and spell books and dimensional portals when in reality it’s really about what it always was: Tic trying to find his father.
What’s consistently funny and clever about “Whitey’s on the Moon” is how reliably we’re reminded that this is still a story about Black people that just happens to be passing through an overwhelmingly white world; it’s the narrative version of the first episode’s literal journey through the unmapped territory between Chicago and Ardham. From William, we learn the history of Titus Braithwhite, supposedly beloved among his “employees”, and who was in the “shipping” trade, which Leti interjects to say is “code for slaves”. That, in case you missed it, is a Black character turning the story against its white spin.
Titus died in a fire which burned down the original lodge and almost everyone associated with it, but everyone quickly surmises that Tic is Titus’s descendent, which gives him some authority within the Sons of Adam, a secretive sect to which Samuel Braithwhite (Tony Goldwyn), whom Christina (Abbey Lee) introduces Tic to, currently leads. The Sons of Adam are so-called because of an obsession with the biblical Adam and the belief that entry to Eden will grant one eternal life, a trip that might be possible thanks to Tic’s coveted Braithwhite bloodline. It’s absolutely ludicrous, obviously, but trust white people to bring this kind of grandiosity. But crucially, when the ritual supposed to achieve this eventually takes place, it’s the titular spoken-word poem that plays over the top of it, and the outcome is the complete demolition of this epic white ideal.
Again, that’s the joke. Beyond all this, the most immediate obstacle to progress in Lovecraft Country episode 2 is the fact that Leti and George can’t remember the shoggoth monsters from the night before, and immediately forget the beasts when they encounter them again. Tic, however, seems to be immune, but can’t work on breaking his father out of a dungeon underneath the town’s stone silo without everyone on the same page. Christina helps Leti and George restore their memories, but also traps them in their rooms for the amusement of the white attendees, who watch them confront their respective demons, past or present. Tic is attacked by Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung), a woman from the war – later, he’s about to explain whatever “something” happened in the war that haunts him still, but he’s cut off. George dances with Dora (Erica Tazel), the woman whose photo he carries around; Leti is almost sexually assaulted by a warped version of Tic with a literal trouser snake, which implies all sorts about their relationship.
By the time these three are let out, a lot has been learned, not all of it good, but George brings the focus back to where it needs to be – which is, again, on the Black characters, and not their white tormenters. George also takes center stage during dinner, quoting the Order’s own book of bylaws that states how direct descendants of Titus – in other words, Tic – are “sons among sons” and thus have much more power than the other members; when Tic tells everyone to get out, they go, power having been once again concentrated in the hands of our heroes.
And that’s where the power remains, even as “Whitey’s on the Moon” consistently introduces more developments that you expect to keep these characters tethered to this location, at least for a while. When Tic’s father Montrose (Michael K. Williams) isn’t in the dungeon as expected, he later breaks out of the ground. When Leti gets shot and dies, she’s resurrected. When the escaping quartet is thwarted by an invisible barrier and Tic is made to take part in the ceremony, the whole thing goes awry and the lodge collapses. Each time it looks like we’ve reached a cliffhanger, we continue. Each time a new element is introduced, it’s done away with.
But there are permanent consequences, and one of them is the death of Uncle George, which occurs largely as a knock-on effect of all that prior success. He is shot and he bleeds out off-camera with no hope of resurrection, but we see Tic’s response to his father figure being cradled in Montrose’s arms. We’re reminded that as much as this is a story of excitement and adventure, it’s also one about trauma and pain; where Lovecraft Country had nudged and winked at its audience, it looks them dead in the eye for this devastating moment, and reminds them of the emotional power it’s capable of summoning.
Somehow, this is only the second episode.
Thanks for reading this recap of Lovecraft Country season 1, episode 2, “Whitey’s on the Moon”. For more recaps, reviews and original features covering the world of entertainment, why not follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page?
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.