“A History of Violence” was easily the weakest episode of the season thus far, and for once found Lovecraft Country unable to subvert the tropes it was playing with.
This recap of Lovecraft Country season 1, episode 4, “A History of Violence”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Since it began, it has become increasingly obvious what Lovecraft Country is up to – it’s developing its first season as a kind of anthology, with each episode a foray into some horror or sci-fi subgenre that is reframed by a Black, culturally-aware contemporary perspective. None have been as good as the masterwork premiere, but the latest, “A History of Violence”, is the first to feel as though it has truly lost some of the energy, zip, and zing that kept the first three episodes enthralling. It’s also the first to wheel out tropes without the intention of actually subverting them; if Lovecraft Country episode 4 is this show’s spin on the period adventure movie, full of maps, codes, museums, and hidden vaults, then it brings with it all the questionable elements of the form that a show as provably smart as this one should be doing something cleverer with.
Of course, the excursion of “A History of Violence” is justified by the overarching narrative, since Tic, Leti, and Montrose, who finally gets something to do, set out on the trail of Titus Braithwhite’s missing pages from the Book of Names. Titus, we learn, was an “explorer”, though we’re obviously to interpret that as “colonizer”, in the same way him being in “shipping” meant he was a slaver. History as written by white men – which is, you know, most of it – has an insidious way of coming up with polite terms for abhorrent acts; forcibly trampling over the lives of indigenous peoples in order to “civilize” them is just another sad example. This, at least, is very on-brand for Lovecraft Country.
The search for Titus’s pages takes our trio to a museum in Boston and to the hidden caverns beneath it. (Dee and Hippolyta come along to the museum, and I think the latter is becoming embroiled in a time-machine plot, so expect that to reoccur as the season progresses.) The caverns aspire to the great on-screen sepulchral settings and are bound by the same arcane puzzle logic that makes you wonder just how anyone built these elaborate contraptions and their associated clues in the first place. The problem, though, is that “A History of Violence” isn’t actually any good at communicating the working parts of this adventure to the viewer.
Thus far, Lovecraft Country has had a solid understanding of whatever genre it’s riffing on. But here it seems out of its depth. The joy of a good adventure is being able to put the clues together along with the characters, but while if you really think about it you could probably figure out who’s doing what and why they’re doing it, you don’t really get that sense as a viewer of being able to keep pace. You’re always working backward from conclusions the characters have already arrived at, which works sometimes and is frustrating at others.
If this was deliberate I’m not sure how I’d feel, but there’s no indication that it is and I’m not sure what point it’d be trying to make if it was. I’m not asking for realism, you understand – I think we’re far beyond that point – but basic logic and scene-to-scene coherence; a clear understanding of the stakes, the components, and the rules. Often in “A History Of Violence” it feels as if the characters have been made privy to information that they shouldn’t know, as though they’ve peeked a few pages ahead in the script, and this is often deployed as a tool to fill in the gaps for the audience. It’s so uncharacteristically inelegant that it stood out to me more than it perhaps should have. It seemed to me like Lovecraft Country becoming, even if only temporarily, the very thing it’s attempting to critique.
Yahima, a new character, the ethereal representative of an indigenous people who is introduced outside of the gender binary and then summarily killed off ten minutes later, is the most obvious victim of this. In a story that is in large part about the horrors of colonialism, this is an egregious way to depict an indigenous character, not because of any notions of political correctness or fairer representation but simply because it doesn’t further the objectives the show has set for itself. Given how good, clever, and aware Lovecraft Country has shown itself to be at its best, it’s easy to write “A History of Violence” off as a misstep. Let’s hope that next week’s outing is a return to form.
Thanks for reading our recap of Lovecraft Country season 1, episode 4, “A History of Violence”. 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.