A muddled story filled with inconsistencies provides only the broadest form of social commentary — but “Lovecraft Country” is also just bad at having fun.
[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Lovecraft Country” Season 1, Episode 10, “Full Circle,” including the ending.]
Pinpointing the bloodiest, most batshit moment of any “Lovecraft Country” episode, let alone the finale’s, is an exercise only for those with stomachs of steel — likely literal steel, given the frank show we’re talking about. But with hands over our eyes, let’s look back at the finale’s final death for just a second: Diana (Jada Harris), wielding the furious power of her cousin’s Black shoggoth (again, subtext is text in “Lovecraft Country”), walks up to the half-crushed body of Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee) and stares down at trapped villainess. Christina pleads with the teenage girl to save her; hoping, even expecting the young Black woman to help this once invulnerably privileged white lady — even though Christina just murdered Diana’s dear friend and family member, Tic (Jonathan Majors).
Naturally, this being “Lovecraft Country” — HBO’s latest off-the-wall horror show masquerading as prestige TV — the most extreme choice plays out: Diana first reveals a sleek, new, far-too-advanced-for-1955 robot arm and then proceeds to use said arm to crush Christina’s throat until blood explodes through her gleaming metal fingertips.
This is… extremely gross, but even before the Black shoggoth finishes snarling in front of the full moon, the finale’s closing scene starts to fall apart. So… Diana is a murderer now? Are we supposed to be happy a young girl who’s just gone through the brutal death of her best friend and a demonic clown possession that cost her an arm is so quick to resort to killing? Or is this more of a classic finale moment — the kind that typically shows up in post-credits scenes these days, where next year’s big bad is introduced as a tease for our heroes’ next quest?
Either way, it’s hard to process, and worse still, the scene feels like something fans are supposed to enjoy. Like so much of the show that precedes it, the final shot looks cool. If this were any other year, “Full Circle” would be playing at a theater or two in Los Angeles or New York, likely as a midnight screening, and when the shoggoth finished spitting all over the moon, the audience would whoop and holler along with the credits. But others would be sitting in silence, still trying to figure out exactly what they just saw, what it meant, and if there was anything more to think about as they made their way out of the theater.
Eli Joshua Ade / HBO
Far be it from me to cast moral judgment on any Black American’s vision of justice in an entirely unjust United States — especially a vision of justice cast through the lens of fantasy TV. Christina definitely had to die, for thematic closure as much as a need for a new villain in Season 2. (Christina was fine, but she never felt like an adequate threat compared to other monstrous individuals, like the pilot’s despicable sheriff or the perfectly named Chicago police blowhard, Captain Seamus.) But, from both a logical and emotional standpoint, why didn’t Leti (Jurnee Smollett) kill her? Christina not only killed the father of her child and love of her young life, but she also murdered her sister, Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku)? And Leti was right there! She could have finished Christina off much faster, and then the four adult survivors wouldn’t be waiting for Diana to walk back to the car.
Honestly, that would’ve been a pretty fun post-credits scene: The four of them, having just finished pallbearing Tic’s body all the way back to Woody, the family station wagon, are sitting and sulking, checking the time and wondering why their emotional teen passenger is taking so long. Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) would be pissed! There’s shit to do! The funeral isn’t going to plan itself, and all Diana had to do was sit in the car!
Looking back on Season 1 and heading in to Season 2, this is the biggest problem facing “Lovecraft Country”: The show simply does not know how to have fun.
Yes, the finale’s primary goal isn’t a good time: Tic dies, Ruby dies, it’s very sad… except it isn’t. Not really. “Lovecraft Country” killed off Leti in the second episode and brought her back almost immediately; the moment only worked then because Smollett is such a dedicated, intense performer, but in the long run, her revival still set a standard: Dead doesn’t mean gone in “Lovecraft Country,” and there’s no reason to believe we’ve actually seen the last of Tic or Ruby.
Moreover, details haven’t been a strong suit throughout the season. Tic and Leti’s romance was sped through via the pilot’s montage, then slammed on the brakes to make room for more plot, then amped back up again when we needed to feel for these two lovebirds. The same could be said for most of the characters overall. Majors and Smollett push their tiny waists to the limit, time and time again, and Majors is especially proficient at finding fresh reactions to similar emotional terrain. But they’re doing more work to earn our devotion than the scripts, which also struggle with world-building. Barely any of the magic/monster stuff makes sense, and the rules change too often for audiences to be in the moment with the characters. (Hippolyta shouting, “The spell isn’t going to work unless their bodies are connected” followed immediately by a Ji-Ah flashback about “becoming one with the darkness” is a hysterically quick fix to a poorly set-up final fight.)
Eli Joshua Ade / HBO
That’s after the finale spends a whopping 40 minutes setting up the final 20, which still requires a climactic montage for more condensed exposition (the dreamy series of flashbacks when we learn Diana was gifted the shoggoth + more steps in the plan to stop Christina). Their plan shouldn’t need that much explanation, and if you’re going to make your audience sit through that much groundwork, then you need to lace those scenes with substantial character development and good old-fashioned fun. (Remember the first fight scene? When our two leads conjure ghosts… to fight… and kill… again? Yeah, that’s not fun either, just confusing.) The only scene that’s pure pleasure in a bloated finale is the road trip sing-a-long (which is great, love it, give me more car rides).
If “Lovecraft Country” was weighed down by its social commentary, that would be one thing, but the series seems content to let the bulk of its racial discourse play out in the background: Parallels between these mystical stories and today’s world clearly convey how overt racism of the ’50s still exists, and that it’s still horrifying. Declarative moments that force you out of the supernatural narrative exist — like Diana saying “I can’t breathe” when being tortured by two cops in Episode 8, or Montrose (Michael K. Williams) reciting names of real victims from the Tulsa Massacre in Episode 9 — but the conversation never progresses past what was obvious in Episode 1: Monsters are scary, but racism is scarier.
Unless “Lovecraft Country” gets a lot better at balancing its convoluted plotting with precise character development, Season 2 needs to lean in to its most entertaining elements. Aside from its excellent production design and costly VFX, this isn’t a prestige TV show; it’s a bonkers TV thriller. And that’s OK! Take the big budget and make more bloody, batshit TV; it’s often just as vital to audiences as those steeped in import, and such a talented ensemble and ambitious producers can certainly turn this one into something special. Right now, between the messy narrative, bendable rules, and buckets of blood, it’s just too hard to get a grip on “Lovecraft Country.”
“Lovecraft Country” Season 1 is streaming now on HBO Max.