This review contains spoilers for Lovecraft Country episode 9, “Rewind 1921.” To see where we left off, read our Lovecraft Country episode 8 review.
The ninth and penultimate episode of Lovecraft Country is a story of beginnings. While we’ve glimpsed the origins of Atticus and Christina’s mutual family line, and the budding romance of Atticus and Ji-Ah’s tragic love affair, “Rewind 1921″ brings us back to the time and place that would go on to shape Atticus’ tumultuous relationship with his father before he was even born, so that we might understand it in its entirety for the first time.
Dee is incapacitated following her long, yet ultimately futile stand against the malacious apparations summoned by Lancaster’s curse. Atticus and co. argue over what can be done to save her, before reluctantly deciding to turn to one person with the knowledge to help them: Christina. It’s a serviceable opening scene, establishing the status of Dee’s condition following the cliffhanger near the end of the last week’s episode, while efficiently bringing each of the main characters up to speed on what’s transpired so far with regard to Christina’s pact with Leti and the status of Titus’ lost pages. Where the scene, and frankly the episode as a whole falls short is in answering the most immediate questions in the wake of last week’s episode: What happened in the aftermath of the shootout at Leti’s house? Are Atticus and Leti now wanted criminals following their standoff with the Chicago branch of the Order of the Ancient Dawn? And what exactly happened to the Shoggoth that Atticus summoned, where is it now? Questions which, on their face, seem glaringly obvious following the climax of last week’s episode, but which Lovecraft Country nonetheless chooses to leave unanswered— at least for now. There’s precious little time left for the series to address these and more questions in the build-up to the season finale, so here’s hoping we get some resolution soon.
[widget path=”global/article/imagegallery” parameters=”albumSlug=lovecraft-country-season-1-photos&captions=true”]
In order to perform the ritual needed to save Dee’s life, her closest blood relative has to be present. And in the absence of her mother Hippolyta, that duty falls to Montrose. However, given the outstanding question of Atticus’ parentage, Montrose is reluctant to take part. With no other option but to explain the situation, Montrose finally reveals to his son the suspicion that his uncle George may in fact be his father. Atticus is visibly shaken by this news, full of indignation, sorrow, and fury both for having been kept in the dark for so long, but for what might very well be the greatest betrayal by his “father” against him. Faced with this dilemma, Atticus and co. are at a loss for what to do— that is until Hippolyta, now for all intents and purposes the analogous Dr. Manhattan of Lovecraft Country, enters the scene on cue like a proper Deus Ex Machina. It’s a welcome, if inauspicious return for the character considering the state in which we last saw her, and the question of why she would choose now of all possible times to return when she has what is presumably freedom of movement across the totality of space and time remains, like several other aforementioned questions, frustratingly unanswered.
Christina’s ritual is a success, but only temporarily. To fully cure Dee of the curse placed on her by Captain Lancaster, Atticus and co. will need the Book of Names— long since destroyed in the fires that decimated Greenwood on the night of the Tulsa Massacre. With no other recourse, the group journey to Hiram’s observatory in order to travel back in time and retrieve it. The scene of Hippolyta repairing Hiram’s machine and tearing a rift through space-time back to the eve of the Tulsa Massacre feels like a story beat straight out of Bioshock: Infinite, sans the ham-handed jingoistic stereotypes, as Atticus, Leti, and Montrose make the quantum leap backward in time in their quest to save Dee’s life. As was briefly mentioned in our review of Lovecraft Country’s sixth episode, the depiction of the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 in episode 1 of HBO’s Watchmen series was, for many viewers, their first introduction to that historic and horrifying event, and Lovecraft Country attempts to top that depiction by not only thrusting its cast and audience into the maw of the fray, but immersing them in the magnitude of what happened in order to understand the fullness of what was lost in the carnage and fires of that terrible night.
While Atticus and Leti certainly lead as the two most prominent protagonists of the series, the star of “Rewind 1921” is undoubtedly Montrose. After all that Montrose has been through throughout the course of the series—- being kidnapped by the Braithwhites in order to lure his son to Ardham, facing monstrous demons and life-threatening situations beyond his imagination— Atticus’ father is now forced to relive the one of the most traumatic and consequential moments of his entire life.
As Atticus, Leti, and Montrose pass through the streets of downtown Greenwood, we see Montrose walk as if he’s experiencing an out-of-body euphoria of indescribable relief and guilt. Here he is, with over a lifetime’s worth of knowledge and experience and the power to resolve his most deep-seated regrets, and he’s somehow still incapable of doing anything about them or even protecting his loved ones from harm. Michael K. Williams’ performance is captivating, convincingly portraying a man stumbling through his own history and pained by the reopening of emotional wounds he had suppressed in order to heal. Majors, to his credit, is an equally compelling partner to Williams in these scenes, as a son exasperated and resentful towards an emotionally absent father who, as it turns out, may not even be his real father to begin with.
The scene outside of Montrose and George’s childhood home, as Atticus, Leti, and Montrose watch as a younger version of Montrose is beaten and whipped by Atticus’ grandfather, is a bracing one to stomach. As we witness the scene a young man being publicly brutalized and shamed by his father for his supposed effeminacy, and the older version of that same man meekly attempting to reason with himself and others as to why he deserved to be beaten, we see the roots of Montrose and Atticus’ own tortured relationship laid bare. After all that has happened, all that’s been said and done between them, the act of witnessing his own father being beaten by his grandfather may be the only thing that could compel Atticus to reluctantly sympathize with Montrose in spite of the years of abuse between them. There is more sorrow and pain present in that one scene alone than what can be adequately conveyed in words, and it’s a tremendous emotional lynchpin not just for this week’s episode, but for the entire series as a whole.
There’s a wealth of little nuances peppered throughout the episode that bring the longstanding tragedy of Montrose and Atticus’ situation into salient focus. From the single teardrop that streams down Atticus’ cheek as he watches his mother walk back inside her family home, to Montrose recounting one of the greatest regrets of his life to his son as they watch the story play out before their very eyes, to Montrose tearfully confessing to Atticus that, although he long ago acknowledged the possibility that Atticus might not be his biological son, there is nothing Montrose wanted more in his life than to be his father. It’s a genuinely beautiful scene, the latest in a long line of terrific performances between two actors operating at the height of their craft, capped by a climactic revelation that brings a familial story of perseverance, defiance, and salvation in the face of unremitting American horror full circle.
To her credit, Jurnee Smollett is no slouch in this episode either. While Majors and Williams carry the bulk of the emotional weight in “Rewind 1921,” Leti bears the burden of her own emotional journey through not only the open admission of her pregnancy to Atticus, but her impassioned plea to his maternal great-grandmother to entrust her with the Book of Names. “When my great, great-grandson is born,” Atticus’ great-grandmother says as she hands Leti the book, “He will be my faith turned flesh.” Leti’s survival, and the survival of her child, means much more than either of their lives; it is the endurance of a hope entrusted to her by generations spurned and forgotten by the annals of history, beating forward undeterred by the senseless violence that surrounds her.
As Leti walks through the decimated streets of Greenwood, impervious to the flames lapping at her heels, Sonia Sanchez’s 1994 poem “Catch the Fire” can be heard playing over the scene. It’s a powerful piece punctuating an equally powerful moment, as Atticus and co. manage to safely escape the onslaught and return to their own time. With the Book of Names now safely in hand, Dee’s survival can be secured, and the final, fateful confrontation with Christina Braithwhite is nearly at hand.