The past becomes the present in “Rewind 1921” as Lovecraft Country reimagines historical tragedy with extraordinary power.
This recap of Lovecraft Country season 1, episode 9, “Rewind 1921”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
With a title like “Rewind 1921”, it’s no surprise really that Lovecraft Country season 1, episode 9 is a time-travel episode. In many ways, it’s the time-travel episode, the one we’ve been building towards all throughout the season, the one that takes us back to the event which formed the crucible for everything we’ve seen. George and Montrose Freeman, and Atticus’s mother Dora, were all forged in the fires of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. The show might contrive a particularly genre-specific means of traveling there, but its argument is that some, and not just those like Dora’s family who died there, never quite left in the first place. A multiverse machine gets Atticus, Leti, and Montrose back there physically, but the past and future of their family were there all along.
Tulsa is the scene of a fiery horror, of grave injustice and evil, but it’s also where the themes of Lovecraft Country burn as brightly as the flames. Legacy. Lineage. Love. The determination of all these things to not be cowed by prejudice and hate is integral to the show’s identity and that of its characters. Many lives were lost in Tulsa, many homes decimated, but the spirit of an entire people became fireproof. They endured. And it’s their endurance, far more than a swirling portal, or magic, or any of the show’s other contrivances, that allows the past to be revisited.
This is all to save Diana, who remains cursed by Captain Lancaster’s magic after having been left to her own devices by all the adults last week – something that Ruby is quick to remind them of. Even Christina’s powers aren’t enough; without the pages from the Book of Names that were burned in the fires of 1921, Dee will die. To retrieve them, Tic, Leti, and Montrose must return through the observatory time machine – powered by Hippolyta’s wrist sockets – to Tulsa, where Montrose’s greatest shame remains. As previous episodes have honed in on individual characters in one way or another, “Rewind 1921” very much belongs to Montrose.
Montrose has been difficult to sympathize with throughout the season. He has been obviously troubled, haunted by the fires he can still smell, the alcohol he depends on, the stern, abusive parenting that was all he ever knew, the knowledge that his son might not biologically be his, and the lie of straight manhood he has always maintained. The heart-breaking scenes he is forced to tearfully re-live in Tulsa aren’t intended to absolve him of all the responsibility he carries for the mistakes he has made, but to explain, in some way, how a man so haunted by his past and ashamed of his true self might make them. For Montrose, the first night of the massacre isn’t defined by the fires or the deaths of his closest neighbors, but by the “first in a long list of sacrifices” he made to eventually father Atticus. He was a young boy named Thomas.
Shortly after arriving in 1921, Tic, Leti, and Montrose watch Montrose’s father beat him on the lawn outside their house. At least twice, Montrose justifies what’s happening, says he deserved it, for rooting around in George’s prom outfit and wearing his corsage. We know he doesn’t believe that, but it’s obviously the lie he has always repeated to himself. After the beating, Montrose flees and goes to meet with Thomas. Ashamed of who he is, Montrose tells Thomas that he isn’t a f*ggot like him. Like most of the other people in his life, he pushes him away out of fear. But during their conversation, a gang of white men arrives to terrorize them. In their fear, the two boys hold hands. And for that crime, Thomas is shot in the head.
Montrose is forced to witness this again, from a distance, explaining to Atticus how he could save him, and being ultimately unable to once again. But that conversation is extraordinarily powerful because it forces Montrose to admit, in his own way, how much he loves his son, and how it never really mattered that he might have been fathered by George. Even by saving Thomas, Montrose reasons, little would be affected; he would still be led along the same path of denying who he truly is to become what he was expected to be. He was a man. And men have sons. Montrose has lived a lie his whole life, but Atticus is the truth that emerged from it. He could only ever be his son.
This, “Rewind 1921” suggests, is how it was always meant to be. As the men who shot Thomas round on Montrose, George and Dora arrive to fight off the group. This part of the story, we’ve heard it before, how a mysterious stranger swinging a bat like Jackie Robinson saved them all. Atticus has dreamed of Jackie Robinson. But at this moment he becomes him. When it seems like time has been distorted and the stranger isn’t going to arrive to save the day, Tic sees the bat at his feet. He’s the mysterious stranger. The past and the future become his destiny. He sets about the white men with the bat and saves his father’s life. “I got you, kid.”
Leti, meanwhile, goes to retrieve the Book of Names from Dora’s family home, burdened with the knowledge that everyone there will die no matter what she does – that, in fact, she must ensure they die to preserve the timeline. Initially, she tries to blend in as another townsperson fleeing the massacre, but her shoes give her away to Nana Hattie (Regina Taylor), who catches her frantically searching for the Book of Names. Leti is forced to confess who she is and where she came from. And Nana Hattie is forced to accept her fate and that of her family, to stand and be consumed by the flames. This might perhaps have been too gratuitous, but it’s given exceptional power by the reading of Sonia Sanchez’s 1994 poem “Catch the Fire”, which plays while Leti and Nanna Hattie hold hands and pray in the fire. The tragedy of this sequence is obvious: Evil cannot be averted. Lives must still be lost. But it also reframes this moment of tremendous loss and seemingly senseless violence as a purposeful sacrifice. Hattie says that when her great-great-grandson is born, he will be her faith made flesh. Leti eventually carries the Book of Names through the bombs dropped on the streets by planes overhead, impervious to the fire. But she carries that sentiment with her too. She carries the past, quite literally, into the future.
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