“Meet Me in Daegu” sees Lovecraft Country reinvent itself again in a prequel chapter that proves Jamie Chung a star.
This recap of Lovecraft Country season 1, episode 6, “Meet Me in Daegu”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
By design, you can never quite tell what Lovecraft Country is going to do or be next, so the fact that “Meet Me in Daegu” is a flashback chapter largely in subtitled Korean and focusing primarily on Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung), a new character who, throughout the episode, becomes an integral one, isn’t really a surprise. If it was, though, it’d be a pleasant once, since the change of pace and the near-complete absence of B-movie schlock-horror gives this latest outing the sensibilities and style of a more cinematic character study that really wants to interrogate its difficult themes and ideas.
Lovecraft Country episode 6 opens with Ji-Ah fantasizing a joyous song and dance routine set to Judy Garland’s Meet Me in St. Louis, which is where we get the title from, and a sense of the transporting power of film, its romance and color, for someone who, like Ji-Ah, is trapped in a stifling reality of struggle, service, and obligation. In 1949 Daegu, South Korea, Ji-Ah and her mother Soon-Hee (Cindy Chang) are hard-up, fearing the winter, and in desperate need of the financial stability that comes from men – needless to say, and true to form for this show, Ji-Ah has a rather complicated relationship with men, her sexual abuse at the hands of one – her father, no less – being the root cause of why she’s a vengeful nine-tailed fox spirit known as a kumiho.
Look, I didn’t say “Meet Me in Daegu” had no schlocky stuff at all, did I? Besides, the idea of the kumiho, culturally and gender-specific, since it manifests as a beautiful woman to take revenge on men who have wronged them, is a classier breed of ghoul, one rooted in trauma and history and thus theme. It’s a bit unclear to what extent Ji-Ah is her former pre-possession self; Soon-Hee recognizes her daughter in her, but Ji-Ah claims to have none of her memories ever since a long-ago deal with a shaman made by Soon-Hee to do away with her abusive husband. It’s equally unclear what the ultimate outcome of the kumiho’s feasting might be; its goal is to ostensibly devour 99 souls of men in order for Ji-Ah to be released from its thrall, but Ji-Ah herself doesn’t seem particularly confident in this outcome or indeed particularly hopeful for it.
James Kyson plays the sacrificial fella whose job is to show us how all this works; Ji-Ah takes him home on the pretext of getting jiggy with him, and then tendrils emerge from her body, hoist him in the air, and burst him while she internalizes his soul and all his memories. It’s a messy endeavor and works as a minor revelation for the audience after gradually realizing that things aren’t quite right with Ji-Ah and her life.
I said at the top that Ji-Ah is a new character, but she isn’t, really – this is just the first time we’ve met her. Tic has spent a lot of the first five episodes glimpsing her in dreams and making long-distance phone calls to her, so we knew she was important before this, though perhaps not to what extent. We also had no sense of her personality or predicament; no reason to connect this young woman to the hopeful romanticism of Judy Garland or the soul-sucking horrors of a folkloric monster, or any kind of context for her relationship with Tic, beyond the fact that, in the Summer of 1950, the American military roll into town, bringing with them tanks, personnel, and propaganda.
“Meet Me in Daegu” is clear about its stance on the war, and on violence in general, and makes no secret of the American military’s general indifference to it during a scene in which Atticus himself murders a young woman in an attempt to root out a communist sympathizer. Ji-Ah’s bestie Young-Ja (Prisca Kim) confesses to being the dissident to stop Tic shooting Ji-Ah next, and she’s dragged away. This proves important in multiple ways. For one thing, it shows Atticus in a different light; not a principled man, but a dutiful one, willing to blindly follow orders even if those orders instruct him to senselessly murder innocent people. He’s a tool here of Western culture and ideology, the same kind that ostracizes him at home, which doesn’t go unremarked upon. It also works as motivation for Ji-Ah and context for the relationship between her and Tic that Lovecraft Country episode 6 spends the rest of its time developing. She intends for him to be her final collected soul to avenge Young-Ja, but quickly – perhaps too quickly – begins to care for him, reciprocate his affection, and recognize his contrition for the things he has done at Uncle Sam’s behest.
This all comes to a head – after the two almost have sex and Ji-Ah “saves” him by throwing him out before their relationship is consummated – in an excellent argument scene during which both characters lay things out. Ji-Ah confesses to having initially desired to kill Tic as revenge for Young-Ja; Tic reflexively regurgitates weak just-following-orders rhetoric to justify what he did. Tic is, clearly, in the wrong, and in a position of vulnerability, physically and emotionally. Ji-Ah essentially grants him mercy, acknowledging that he was a weak man contorted into a cruel one by war. They get together and have sex without any otherworldly interference, and all is well.
Until it isn’t, obviously. In the Winter of 1950 – the episode is structured according to seasons, in case you haven’t noticed, just like Meet Me in St. Louis – Tic is told he can go home. He wants Ji-Ah to go with him, in part because she knows she can’t ask him to stay given his feelings about the war, and the next time they have sex the furry tendrils come out, but Ji-Ah’s powers seem to work in reverse. Instead of internalizing Tic’s memories, she instead sees his future, his inevitable death if he returns to Chicago. She begs him not to leave, but he does, and she’s left behind with Soon-Hee and the unclear prognostications of the shaman.
This is, obviously, an uncharacteristically low-key climax, but it’s also soaked in dread and ambiguity, and a tenderness, a tragedy, that the show often neglects in its hurry to be provocative and striking. Jamie Chung carries the whole thing with aplomb, proving her star credentials in an episode that deliberately evokes the idealized romanticism of a doomed love story in star-making cinema. It’s different to what Lovecraft Country usually does, but that’s intentional and, in this case, to great effect. You might never be able to tell what his show will do or be next, but it’s usually something good – or interesting, at the very least.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.