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[This story contains spoilers for the second episode of HBO’s Lovecraft Country, “Whitey’s on the Moon.”]
With an opening scored to Ja’Net DuBois’ “Movin’ On Up,” best known as the theme song for television’s The Jeffersons, the first few minutes of Lovecraft Country’s second episode suggest things are indeed moving on up for Tic (Jonathan Majors), Leti (Jurnee Smollett) and George (Courtney B. Vance) — but the old Hermetic rule that has guided alchemists and astronomers remains true: “As above, so below.”
“Whitey’s on the Moon,” directed by Daniel Sackheim and written by Misha Green, introduces several new characters, leans heavily on new plot elements and mythology, and concludes with a tragic loss of life. In a major departure from Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel on which Lovecraft Country is based, the show shockingly kills off Vance’s George, the show’s resident horror expert and author of the Safe Negro Travel Guide, leaving Tic and Leti without a much needed resource and confidant. To say they’re now in uncharted territory would be putting it lightly.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter about his character’s tragic fate, Vance admitted that he knew about George’s early demise from the beginning. And while the departure of such a major character and star surely knocked viewers for a loop, Vance took his exit in stride: “Whenever there was a Black character in a [horror] film he or she was killed off in the first five minutes of the movie, and unfortunately most of the characters are Black in this … so somebody Black has got to die.”
Despite ending in tragedy, there’s laughter and joy to be found at the start of this episode. Following their encounter with the vampiric creatures in the woods, Tic, Leti, and George have been welcomed into Braithwhite Lodge, a manor at the edge of Ardham’s forest. Initially, this luxurious hospitality suits them well — for two of the trio, at least. George immediately gravitates to the library of first editions in his spacious room, and Leti is enchanted by her closet and all the outfits it contains, perfectly fitted for her. While George and Leti are enjoying a taste of the good life, Tic is haunted by the events of the previous night, full of monsters and dead cops. George and Leti’s tailor-made gifts of hospitality only serve to further his suspicions that something isn’t quite right at Braithwhite Lodge.
William (Jordan Patrick Smith), the manservant who greeted Tic, George, and Leti at the end of the first episode, tells Tic that his father, Montrose, was at the manor but is currently on a trip in Boston with a Ms. Braithwhite, and left no instructions about when they might return. While William isn’t much help on the whereabouts of Montrose, he does provide Tic and company with a brief tour of Braithwhite family lore. The manor, currently owned by Samuel Braithwhite (Tony Goldwyn), was built by a distant cousin, and Ardham’s founder, Titus, as a retreat for his fellow lodge members. The original manor burned down in 1833, during the autumnal equinox, and killed everyone inside. “Well, almost everyone,” William admits, looking pointedly at Tic.
A painted portrait of Titus depicts a sinister looking individual, clad in dark robes. Tic immediately notices a gold ring on one of Titus’ fingers. When George asks how Titus Braithwhite came about his fortune, William replies, “shipping.” Leti whispers in George’s ear: “That’s code for slaves.”
Once William leaves the trio to themselves, Tic confronts Leti and George about their strange, nonchalant behavior after what they’ve been trough. It turns out, only Tic can remember the events of the previous night, leading Leti to doubt his sanity and question if it’s a result of his time in the Korean War. George defends Tic, saying he only killed in the war when he had to. Not wanting to spend more time at Braithwhite’s than necessary, Tic suggests they search the town for Montrose and get out.
The town of Ardham turns up a new lead in the form of a stone silo, guarded over by racist groundskeeper Dell (Jamie Neumann) and her dogs. Tic is convinced that’s where Montrose is being held, and decides they will free him and make their escape that night. It’s then that George makes the connection between the history of the Braithwhites and Tic: “Something your mother told me years ago… she told me her great ancestor was a slave named Hannah, and that she escaped her master’s house after a fire.” Hannah was pregnant with Titus Braithwhite’s child when she escaped, making Tic a direct descendent.
Before Tic can process this new information and cement their escape and rescue plan, the vampires from the previous night emerge from the woods. The creatures are quickly called away by Christina Braithwhite (Abby Lee), the blonde woman who aided in the trios’ escape from the racist mob in the previous episode. George and Leti immediately forget their encounter with the monsters, and Tic is taken to meet Christina’s father, Samuel, in his laboratory. It’s here that viewers learn of the darker purpose intended for Tic by way of a secret brotherhood called the Order of the Ancient Dawn. Samuel tells Tic about the power of naming in accordance to proper hierarchy of beings. “At the dawn of time, just for a moment, everything was where and as it should be,” Samuel says. Samuel intends to return to paradise, and he needs Tic to do so.
“Biblical literalism is for the simple,” says Christina, highlighting a division of beliefs between herself and her father, one partly founded in Samuel’s view of Eve, and perhaps women in general, as the corruptors of perfection.
Once Samuel sends Tic away, Christina tries a softer approach, attempting to earn his trust by restoring George and Leti’s memories. But the removal of one spell only leads to another. Leti, George, and Tic are all confronted by visions they believe to be real. Leti shares an intimate moment with the illusion of Tic, who becomes increasingly aggressive. Tic is confronted by a Korean soldier he calls Ji-Ah, marking the second appearance of actress Jamie Chung in the series, following her appearance in Tic’s dream during the start of the first episode. And George is met by a woman named Dora, who he shares a romantic history with. These personal confrontations with illusions are all being gazed upon by members of the Order of the Ancient Dawn, who take great pleasure in the spectacle.
Once Tic, Leti, and George’s strange encounters end with the ringing of a dinner bell, the two men are invited downstairs to dine with the Order of the Ancient Dawn. Unsurprisingly, the brotherhood of aged white men are unhappy to be in the presence of the Black men they just watched for entertainment. Dinner takes a further awkward turn when George interrupts Samuel’s speech, revealing that he’s found a book detailing the rules of the Order of the Ancient Dawn and knows that Tic is the last direct descendent of Titus Braithwhite. Tic orders the other members to leave while he and George confront Samuel about his plans for him.
“Titus used the book of names to spell his body to be more powerful,” Samuel tells Tic. “And you’re the reservoir of that power. Diluted, no doubt, and also tainted somewhat, but still useful for the work I have to do.”
And with that, Tic, Leti and George hightail it back to the stone silo to find Montrose (Michael K. Williams), who’s begun his own escape by digging a tunnel under the silo prison. Montrose is not happy to see that his family has become caught up in this, saying “I didn’t need y’all coming for me.” The reunion is short-lived as they all hop into George’s station wagon and begin to flee Ardham. But escape isn’t that easy. The car crashes into an invisible protective barrier, forcing the four to exit the wreckage. Samuel pulls up in his own car, alongside Christina, and without warning, fatally shoots Leti. Leti dies in Tic’s hands, and before he can even come to grips with that loss, Samuel shoots Uncle George.
Captives back at the manor, Montrose tends to George’s wounds, while Tic makes a deal with Christina. “What I know is our destinies are not decided by our fathers,” Christina tells Tic, giving him a ring that looks like the one he saw in Titus’ portrait earlier. Christina then resurrects Leti from the dead, in an act of good faith that Tic will follow through with the ritual in the morning. But every act of magic seems to have a cost, and just as the restoration of Leti and George’s memories forced them to confront their deeper fears, the resurrection of Leti seems to spell doom for George. As above, so below.
As George grapples with the dawning awareness of his own mortality, he tells Montrose he should try to give Tic the love that he knows is in him. Montrose says he doesn’t need advice on how to raise his son. And then George drops a bombshell on the audience, giving further weight to the illusion of Dora he saw earlier: “He might not be your son.” It seems George may well be Tic’s actual father.
Only in George’s dying moments can he voice out loud the fact that the boy he’s been an uncle to could very well be his son. The abuse that Tic suffered as a child from Montrose could have been spared if he had been a father to the boy. While viewers don’t learn why George chose to keep this potential truth a secret, Vance has his own thoughts about George’s departure and things left undone. “Nobody wants to talk about and deal with the inevitability of life while they’re living,” Vance tells The Hollywood Reporter, highlighting the long history of black men, famous and ordinary, who died before getting all of their affairs in order.
The morning finds Tic robed and surrounded by energy-harnessing contraptions, all part of the Order of the Ancient Dawn’s ritual to open the gates of time and space to Eden. Tic screams in pain as arcane energy passes through him and the seeds of creation begin to spill out through the doorway of time and space, wildlife blooming on the stone floor. As the ritual takes place, Gil Scott-Heron’s spoken word poem, “Whitey on the Moon,” from which the episode gets it title, forms the soundtrack. Just as Tic reaches the height of his pain threshold, the ring that Christina gave him opens up and a black mist pours out, disrupting the ritual.
As the ritual goes off the rails and the Braithwhite Lodge begins collapsing in on itself, Tic sees a ghostly apparition of his ancestor, Hannah, pregnant with Titus’ child. The portal to Eden closes with a wave of energy, turning Samuel and all the other present members of the Order of the Ancient Dawn into stone. The statues are quickly crushed by the falling debris, and Tic follows the specter of Hannah out of the manor, his escape from the crumbling ruins recalling her own escape from the fire hundreds of years prior. She looks at Tic and smiles, as though her own act of escape was not complete until she helped Tic escape so many years after her death. It would seem that every action in the past, creates a much larger, and similar reaction in the present. This is the history of Black Americans, and it is also the meaning of as above, so below.
Outside the ruins, Tic reunites with Leti who escaped the falling manor with Montrose and George. But relief and celebration are short-lived. Wordlessly, Leti communicates that George has passed away. Tic, finding George’s lifeless body in Montrose’s arms, breaks down and cries — “I’m sorry, Uncle George” — as Leon Bridges’ “River” plays over the scene.
“Whitey’s on the Moon” sees the return of one father, Montrose, and the death of two others, George and Samuel. One of the throughlines of Lovecraft Country that Misha Green has highlighted is legacy. When asked about what legacy means to him through the perspective of George’s death, Vance tells THR, “There is no success without a successor. You must have someone or something in place for your business, your life, your family, to go on after.” In some ways, legacy is a ghost, a means of living on after death. Given the supernatural exploration in Lovecraft Country, it’s difficult not to wonder if this idea of legacy as a ghost, which was already shown through Hannah, will eventually be explored with an appearance of a ghostly Uncle George.
For now, George’s legacy will live on through Tic, Leti, and Montrose, but also his wife, Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis), and daughter, Diana (Jada Harris). But his absence leaves a big hole in the lives of the characters, and the show itself.
“Either it can take you down or it can take you up, when loss happens with a character who looms as large as George did in all of their lives,” Vance says about his character’s death. “Structurally, when deaths like these happen in books and films, they serve to propel the action forward. They’ve got to reconfigure the team.”
We’ll just have to wait and see how that team, and its new dynamic, will go about dealing with what’s coming as Lovecraft Country pushes ahead without the wisdom of George.
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