Lovecraft Country season 1, episode 7 recap – “I am.” identity politics

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Summary

“I Am” is the best episode of Lovecraft Country since the premiere; a powerful, dreamlike examination of identity that builds to an emotional and satisfying payoff.

This recap of Lovecraft Country season 1, episode 7, “I am.”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.


Lovecraft Country’s season premiere was one of the best single episodes of television not just of the year but perhaps ever, and since then HBO’s show has spent every episode trying to make lightning strike twice. Lovecraft Country episode 7, “I Am”, doesn’t quite manage it, but it comes the closest yet with a final half-hour that indulges in a surreal whirlwind of imagination that feels quite unlike anything else airing right now – not to mention giving a thus-far neglected character, Aunjanue Ellis’s Hippolyta, her time in the spotlight.

Hippolyta, George’s widow, has spent the entire season until this point in the background, but the show has made no secret of her intelligence and determination to get to the bottom of what really happened to her husband. Here, we see her and Dee visit Ardham and the ruins of the Braithwhite lodge and find evidence of George’s presence. In Chicago, we see Hippolyta trying and failing to get the orrery working again, and apologizing to George’s side of the bed for not being able to do so. Then, we see her succeed. We see the device come alive with light and motion and the potential to go somewhere, anywhere, that might lead to more answers. A lot of “I Am” is about this promise of possibility, the freedom of movement between times and places, the idea of freedom taken to its logical extreme. We’ll return to this shortly.

In the meanwhile, there are other characters and subplots to take stock of. We see some strained domesticity between Montrose and Sammy, and we see Tic and Leti – looking for more information on the Book of Names – walk in on an argument between the two. It’s obvious what’s going on, and Tic takes it badly, deploying the F-word, of all things, and leaving. Leti remains to dig into Atticus’s family history, including a friend of his mother’s cousin who wants Tic to visit in St. Louis.

The sting of Tic using that slur stuck with me for a while; to see the ostensible hero of a show largely about prejudice be as free with his hatred as any of the bigots who have marginalized him for the color of his skin. It’s true that, in this case, Tic is using that word as shorthand for all the issues he and Montrose have had over the years, but it still lands with a palpable thud. Lovecraft Country has been adamant throughout that it wouldn’t treat anyone, much less its protagonists, as uncomplicated do-gooders, and it’s admirable that it continues to stick to that, especially with Tic.

The same applies to Leti’s relationship with Ruby; she continues to be shady about the source of the money that allowed her to purchase the haunted house. On the subject of Ruby, “I Am” catches up with her in the aftermath of the revelation that William was in fact Christina all along, and within both of these subplots, Ruby is afforded the agency to forgive on her own terms, to have been wronged but not forced to live in bitterness or as a victim. She and Leti look after Dee while Hippolyta digs into the time-traveling meat of the episode, which is where things get bonkers in the best way possible.

It begins in Mayfield, Kansas, where Hippolyta is led by the orrery’s coordinates, and where she finds a machine in an observatory that fits the key. She’s able to turn it on, but not without attracting the unwanted attention of the police, who with Tic’s help she’s able to fight off as reality is torn asunder in the background. Hippolyta shoots one of the cops; another is tossed by Tic through one of the tears in time. Hippolyta, too, stood too close to the commotion, is sucked through time and space, landing first in an Afro-futurist crucible of possibility that she initially mistakes for a prison.

Led by a tall Black woman with a giant afro, Hippolyta is nudged towards her fantasies, given the option for perhaps the first time ever to be who and where she wants to be. Her first choice is Paris, dancing on stage with Josephine Baker, which is where she promptly arrives, halfway through a dance number. She spends a while among the feathers and sequins, learning not just how to dance but how to be free from expectations, her own and those of others. Hippolyta ruminates, at length and out loud, on the circumstances that have led her here; not the circumstances of time travel, you understand, but of society, her perspective suddenly freed and brought into sharper focus. She ruminates on her own guilt and anger, at others for making her feel small, and herself for allowing herself to feel that way. It isn’t subtle stuff – Lovecraft Country never is – but it is powerful and emotional.

These themes of freedom and anger begin to recur in “I Am”. Next, Hippolyta is a warrior woman, training and learning under a no-nonsense tutor until she, herself, assumes the mantle of leader, having channeled her righteous rage into martial ability. She leads the women in a battle against white Confederate soldiers and hacks through them in a flurry of battle cries and body parts. She declares to the women she leads, “I am Hippolyta; I am George’s wife.” To George, in a redo of a previous scene, though one framed in this new perspective, she declares, “I am Hippolyta: Discoverer”. Together, they venture to an unexplored planet of peace and discovery, and together, they help to order it and find their own place within it.

There is never a sense in Lovecraft Country episode 7 that Hippolyta might stay here or in any other of her fictions. These are the manifestations of her hopes and dreams, her fears and anxieties, her loves and losses; they’re the vastness of her experience, the complexity of her identity, and all she has seen and done within them she’ll take with her into a reality where she finally knows how to put her anger to use.


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Jonathon Wilson

Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.

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