Lovecraft Country contorts another horror sub-genre in “Holy Ghost”, which is a more personal character-focused chapter for Leti.
This recap of Lovecraft Country season 1, episode 3, “Holy Ghost”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Each episode of HBO’s Lovecraft Country feels distinct from the last, even if there’s a dramatic throughline and key themes – primarily the juxtaposition of real and otherworldly horrors – that continue to reoccur. The first episode was a gore-soaked sci-fi chase thriller; the second was about white wizards trying to open a door to the Garden of Eden. “Holy Ghost” is, as its title suggests, about a haunted house, ticking the box on another tried-and-true sub-genre.
It’s obvious what Lovecraft Country is doing with this structure, even if constantly soft-resetting undermines the character drama a little and makes some of their reactions a bit puzzling given what they’ve experienced thus far. This is a direct continuation, though; picking up three weeks after Uncle George’s funeral, the cast is haunted by grief long before they’re haunted by anything else, especially Hippolyta, who knows she’s being lied to about the exact circumstances surrounding her husband’s death. The newly-rescued Montrose isn’t dealing with his brother’s death well either, but he’s given little to do in “Holy Ghost”, which takes a monster-of-the-week, or several monsters in this case, and stuffs them all in Letitia’s new house.
That house has a history – an intertitle informs us that, in the summer of 1955, a group of Negro men and women moved into it, and ten days later three people went missing inside it, never to be seen again. History repeats itself in Lovecraft Country episode 3, as Leti and a group of fellow artists and creatives, all Black, occupy the house much to the chagrin of the white locals. Leti is herself something of a ghost at this point, having died and been resurrected in the previous episode, but she still tasks herself with ending the suffering of the spirits who’re trapped inside the building with their killer, Hiram Epstein, whom we learned was experimenting on disappeared Black residents of Chicago’s South Side. Their bodies were buried in the deep sub-basement where Leti sets up a dark room and begins to find the missing victims and their killer in her developed photographs.
The cleverest and most effective gimmick of “Holy Ghost” is how it contorts haunted house tropes to further commentate on the racial subtext. Whereas it’s usually the otherworldly denizens who want to chase new occupants out of whatever building the spirits are haunting, here it’s the white neighbors who went Leti gone. They park their cars outside and fasten bricks to the horns. They sabotage the heater to smoke her out. Through it all, Leti remains steadfast, immovable, until a burning cross on the front lawn tips her over the edge and she takes a baseball bat to the vehicles outside while Tic and the other men wield shotguns to prevent any possible intervention. It’s a great moment of catharsis, but it comes at a cost; as Ruby spirits the weapons away, Leti is promptly arrested by the police who have persistently failed to respond to the reports of trespass, vandalism, and threatening behavior that Leti has been reporting.
Lovecraft Country episode 3 very much belongs to Leti, and so alongside her efforts to exorcise the house – she eventually succeeds with the help of a priestess – she also attempts to patch up her personal relationships, first with Ruby and then with Tic. While things initially look good for her and Ruby as they bond over fixing up and running the house, eventually the matter of where the money to buy it actually came from causes a further rift between them. As for Tic, he and Leti have sex, which feels a long time coming but, in its aftermath, seems like it wasn’t a good idea for either of them – especially Leti. It seems, though, that in the absence of the spirits, the house itself is something for Leti to concentrate on; a sanctuary for Black creatives that she fought for and won.
How she actually came upon the house is the one big piece of continuity in “Holy Ghost”, since it turns out she was given the money for it by a surviving Christina Braithwhite, who has her own interest in the house. According to her, Hiram Epstein was a follower of Horatio Winthrope, one of the founding members of the Sons of Adam who was excommunicated for stealing pages from the Book of Names. Christina wants to find and decode the pages. This she explains to Tic, and we also learn that she’s basically invulnerable, which doesn’t bode well for seeing her off when things inevitably take a nasty turn. And you have to imagine that in this show, the blonde white woman won’t bring anything good.
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