'Lovecraft Country': Jonathan Majors Breaks Down Season 1's Time-Bending Penultimate Hour

Lovecraft Country
Eli Joshua Ade/HBO

Everything is on the line for Atticus (Jonathan Majors) and his family as the ninth episode of Lovecraft Country heads to the past and sets the stage for the deadly season finale.

In "Rewind 1921," directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff and written by Misha Green & Jonathan Kidd & Sonya Winton, Tic, Leti (Jurnee Smollett) and Montrose (Michael K. Williams) head to the past via the multiverse machine to retrieve the Book of Names from Tic's grandmother. In the process, they meet the teenage versions of Montrose, George, and Tic's mother Dora. While the rules of time travel follow those laid out by Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future (1985), there are no moments of levity to be found, and no Doc Brown to save the day. Tic and company arrive in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 31st, 1921, the start of the Tulsa race massacre. In what is arguably Lovecraft Country's most emotional episode, none of the characters return the same.

The scratch that Dee (Jada Harris) received on her arm from the demonic "pickaninnies" in the previous episode have not only put her in an unconscious state but also left her transforming into the image of her demonic tormentors, the image of how white people view her. Tic turns to Christina (Abbey Lee), planning to bargain the pages from The Book of Names in exchange for Christina's help in saving Dee. Unfortunately, Leti has already given Christina the pages in exchange for her own invulnerability. Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) says that Christina will help her, and reveals her relationship to her family, though in very loose terms — body transformations omitted, in other words. Christina obliges on the condition that Tic come to her willingly on the autumnal equinox so that she can sacrifice him and gain immortality. Christina can only restore Dee for a limited amount of time, but it's time they can't afford to turn down. Dee's life is still on the line, and with Captain Lancaster (Mac Brandt) dead, the curse cannot be removed without a spell from the complete Book of Names, a spell not in the pages Tic already transcribed.

Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) returns, after having been gone 500 years in her own time and equipped with the knowledge of hundreds of worlds, and knows that the only way to save Dee is to head to the past via the multiverse machine and retrieve The Book of Names. While it's gratifying to see the family finally come together, it's not long before new revelations and old wounds threaten to tear them apart again. Montrose finally tells Tic that George (Courtney B. Vance) might be his real father, and Tic takes it as well as you might expect, telling his father that when they're through with saving Dee he doesn't want to see him again. Ruby thinks Leti is stupid for sticking by Tic and Montrose, and heads off with Christina. Ruby gives into darker impulses, turning off the oxygen supporting Dell's (Jamie Neumann) comatose body, the blood of which she used to transform into Hillary. She then tells Christina that when she imagined herself as a white woman she always envisioned a red-head. It seems Ruby is on the path to kill a white woman and take her body, and aligned with Christina, she may be being set up to become the series' next big bad.

Hippolyta, Montrose, Tic and Leti head back out toward the observatory. Once there, Hippolyta repairs the multiverse machine and jacks the controls into the future tech she had embedded in her wrists in episode seven, becoming a "mother-board." The strain of keeping the portal open eventually causes her hair to turn blue, and she grows ever closer to becoming Dee's comic book character, Orithyia Blue. In the past, Montrose begins to have a panic attack, remembering the events of Tulsa that he'd forced himself to forget, remembering his father's beatings, and his first romance with a boy named Thomas who was killed during the onset of the riots. Leti goes after the Book of Names and meets Tic's grandparents and aunts who are set to die in a fire that night. Montrose and Leti struggle with the edict of not changing the past. Over the course of the episode Leti comes to better understand the family the man she loves comes from, the family her unborn son is a part of, and reckon with the hurt trauma embedded in the racial memory of the Freemans. Tic also comes to understand his father, his struggle with anger, with his sexuality, and the bond he shared with George and Dora. Montrose tells Tic that regardless of who his father is biologically, he is still his father because he had to be, because that was the defining aspect of masculinity in his life, the thing that kept him safe and alive. "All I've ever wanted to be was your father," he tells him. Tic breaks down, realizing all the sacrifices Montrose has made for him over the course of his life so that he could be his father, even if he didn't always know the best means.

In a stunning moment, Tic plays a part in the story Montrose and George had told him growing up about a mysterious stranger who came in with a baseball bat to save them from a mob. Tic is that stranger, and always was. He picks up a baseball bat, and batters the group of attackers, before approaching the frightened young George, Montrose, and Dora, and looking Montrose right in the eyes, saying "I got you kid." Tic saved his father in the past so that Montrose could save him in the future. With the Book of Names in hand thanks to Leti, who literally walks through the fires of a burning Tulsa, protected by her invulnerability, the three head back to the present with the means to save Dee, and maybe Tic before the autumnal equinox — that is, if Christina and Ruby don't already have their own measures in place.

For more on season one's penultimate episode, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Jonathan Majors about the Tulsa massacre, Tic's heroic journey, blood memory and more.

Last time we spoke, we discussed the stoic and as the season has gone on we've certainly seen Tic move further from that idea, showcasing some of that mean-streak you mentioned before. Is Tic a better man or a worse man now compared to when we first met him? Or has this whole ordeal with magic simply revealed who he always was?

I think what we're watching is the becoming of something else. I think the magic element is beneficial to him. I believe that it's pushing him to really be his full self, and in being that stoicism really falls to the wayside because the stakes get so high. The stakes get so high that he has to communicate his emotions. He has to express his pain. In episodes eight and nine we really get into the idea that it's not just personal, it's not just about his father. It becomes about his entire family. One of the things that I believe is that the arc of Atticus is from son to patriarch. He's moving into the patriarchal position. We see that with him, potentially, bringing in a child to this world with Leti. And then the fact that Atticus is actively going after his own legacy, dealing with his mother's bloodline. All of these things that he didn't know he had and all of the things he didn't know were going on in those first five episodes we talked about, he's now dealing with. And I think he's becoming a better man for it.

On that note of the patriarchy, Tic finds out that George may be his father. To be honest I wasn't expecting that info to be revealed to Tic this season given everything else he's processing. But it's crucial to him understanding who George, Montrose, and Dora were, and part of his own journey to becoming a father.

Yeah, I agree with that. One of the moments that really stood out to me is where he, Leti and Montrose see the young versions of George, Montrose and Dora. It's not disclosed how Dora passed, but Atticus is holding onto her. But now with the new information about his father, the feelings are more complex. He says to Montrose, "Momma cheated on you?" He wants to understand what he's made out of, and who the people are that made him in order to have a better grasp on moving forward. There's so much humanity in the complexity of it. Atticus is still a younger man than George and Montrose, and he has experiences, but not the same journey. He doesn't know what it was like to be in Tulsa in those moments, to be a homosexual male, all of these things that we see in Tulsa. He doesn't have those experiences, and yet those experiences are in him. And in episode nine we're really getting into the nitty gritty of that.

In terms of going back to Tulsa, situating yourself in the massacre, and a part of history that still isn't talked about enough, what was your experience recreating those moments and giving voice to real people who had everything taken away from them?

Reading this episode early on was quite moving. We all have parents and grandparents with stories, and to see what Atticus's grandparents, his great-grandparents, his cousins all experienced in that moment was quite spiritual. The thing with the massacre, and thank you for saying that because it was a massacre, was really the tip of the iceberg. That was happening in multiple Black, affluent areas, but Tulsa was one that really rocked things. I mean the Harlem Renaissance wasn't new shit. That was us trying to come back from something. We as a people, after the diaspora, we found our way with that Black Wall Street, we had our places. So to go there, to tell that story, and live there for the episode, and know that we were bringing what happened in Tulsa into people's homes, was monumental.

Partly because Tulsa was also significant to Watchmen, but one of the things I thought about while watching this episode was raised in that series and that is intergenerational trauma and blood memory. This idea of the trauma of our ancestors being ingrained within our DNA, passed down on a genetic level in a way that affects how we move through the world is something I think rings true when you look at Tic's grandfather, Montrose and George, Tic, and the possible future for his son, not just in terms of the trauma of Tulsa but the entire system of racism in America.

That's right. I think the rage that you see in those characters comes from a great frustration as Black people. In Africa, no not every one of us was a king or a queen, but we did have tribes, and there was a hierarchy in that tribe, and all of us come from that lineage. What I'll call the first issue for us was that of slavery. Imagine having royalty in your bones, in your blood, and then to be put in chains. Frustration is when there are two things and your body and your spirit is fluctuating between the two. It can't settle on one and can't accept what it wants to be because it is in chains. So you imagine that, and you compound that with the people of Tulsa, or any Black early entrepreneurs, or any Black family that is unchained in society, which is the lineage of the Freemans, to then have that taken from you again is a whole other level of fuckery. So that's two traumas. These are events that happen. Right now we're dealing with it with societal, systemic racism. But back then it was brutal, people were literally burning Black people's houses down, burning their business down, throwing our people in chains and taking them across the river. Those are real events. That's not mental warfare. That is physical warfare.

Imagine what this new George Freeman is going to be like. His father, Atticus, fought in the Korean War and then experienced all this monster shit. Now that's in his DNA. And what we've seen Leti experience up to this point, that's also in his DNA. So it's a very real thing. And it just adds clarity to me. And what does Baldwin say? If you are half woke you are one pissed off Negro. I'm paraphrasing, but yeah that blood trauma is a very real thing that we're still battling with today, and society continues to add more to it.

I listen to the Lovecraft Country podcast and one of the hosts, and writers for the show, Shannon Houston has discussed how over the course of the season we've seen Tic make some mistakes or questionable choices, but we've also seen him move closer to a more familiar heroic figure recently as he becomes more in-tune with magic and his family. So I wanted to talk about the baseball bat scene. It's this heroic, mythic moment almost like Arthur pulling the sword from the stone.

I love that analogy of Arthur pulling the sword from the stone. But I find what sister Houston said about Atticus very interesting. You know, Atticus is a young person, but it is his destiny to be a hero. That's where the idea of fate comes in, Atticus is being pulled toward that. The hero's journey puts him in many positions where it appears as if there is no other choice and he makes the best choice he can by listening to his heart. It does backfire occasionally, but for the most part it's because he has a hard decision to make. I don't think he did anything wrong in the Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung) of it. I don't think he did anything wrong with the Leti of it. Actually, I don't think I agree with the remark about him making mistakes. (Laughs.) I want to say yes and, but I don't know if he's made any mistakes. I think he's made hard decisions. Y'all may not like it! (Laughs.) But from my point of view that's what had to happen.

But yeah, this overall idea of the baseball is key. What happens at the very beginning of the season, if you remember, is Atticus is saved by this idea of Jackie Robinson from Cthulhu. Atticus holds onto that mythical story of mysterious stranger that's been told to him by his father, his uncle, probably his mother. We have a story in my family about my grandfather punching a bull in the head and knocking him out. It's a story you pass along. But if I went back in time and it was actually me who punched a bull, I'd be like "Whoa, what the fuck?" (Laughs.) And that's essentially how Atticus is feeling. But there is this sense of each one teach one, and that the Freeman family is intricately connected on a mythical and spiritual level. And you see it in the dynamic between Montrose and Atticus. On set Michael and I talked about how sometimes it feels like Atticus is the father and Montrose is the son. I think that's a beautiful thing.

Lovecraft Country has been really impactful to me personally. Since we're heading towards the end of the season, what did you take away from Lovecraft Country in terms of looking at being Black in America today? And what do you hope viewers take away?

That's interesting, man. My experience of playing in Lovecraft and being blessed enough to embody the role of Atticus really expanded my internal territory. And in doing so it expanded my ability to love, to experience life, to be heroic, to stand up and speak out, to live fully in my Blackness. And it also expanded my idea of what it is to be a Black man. I'm pretty with it, but there are things that the show offered me that really just stretched me and gave me a huge education about my experience as a human being. So I can only hope that the audience gets that same thing, and that after viewing Lovecraft Country they have an expansion of self so that they can expand their love, expand their kindness to their neighbor, expand their hope, expand their courage. But yeah, I thank you, brother. It's for us. It's for the culture.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.