The penultimate episode of the first season of Lovecraft Country involved a trip back in time. The series thus far has loaded every episode with numerous asides, Easter eggs, and references to Black history and culture, but hanging around in the background, like a spectre at the banquet, was the 1921 massacre of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That was where the relationship between George, Montrose, and Atticus’ mother Dora was cemented, and it was the last known location of the Book of Names, and it wall went down on May 31, 1921, the setting for tonight’s episode.
Getting back to Tulsa involved a trip back to Louisville, Kentucky and the observatory that houses the time machine, which wasn’t really a time machine but a multiverse machine. Hipployta returned home like nothing ever happened, just as everyone had reached an inpasse on Dee’s condition. Lancaster’s curse was powerful, and all Christina could do to help, without the Book of Names, was to “restart” the curse from the beginning so that it doesn’t eat Dee alive. If Dee was to be saved, it required a trip back in time to the dark past of America.
“[This week’s episode showed] where the relationship between George, Montrose, and Atticus’ mother Dora was cemented […]”
Now many of us only became familiar with the Tulsa massacre through the first episode of HBO’s Watchmen. Series creator Damon Lindelof included the scene after reading about it in an Atlantic article by Ta-Nehisi Coates called “The Case for Reparations” in which the acclaimed author and essayist mentioned the Tulsa massacre as an example of the terrorism inflicted on Black people in the early 20th century, especially after World War I when returning White soldiers and returning Black soldiers were pitted against each other for what few jobs that were available.
In Tulsa, the Greenwood area was called “Black Wall Street” because at the time it was the wealthiest Black community in the United States. The newly booming oil business actually trickled to Black people in the area, and an entire commercial district sprang up with Black-owned business, and professionals including doctors and lawyers. Segregation was a reality in practice, if not in law, and at this time in Oklahoma lynchings were not uncommon and the Klan was adding new chapters. And then came the Tuesday after Memorial Day in 1921.
It started with an apparent misunderstanding. Someone at Drexel Building accused 19-year-old Dick Rowland of trying to rape 17-year-old Sarah Page, and Rowland was arrested. When word got out that a White mob was going down to the jail to lynch Rowland, they were met by a group of Black residents who came to the sheriff’s office to protect Rowland. After the sheriff offered assurances that no harm would come to Rowland while he was in custody, the Black residents were persuaded to leave but they were further harassed by the group of White residents until a shot was fired. The powder keg and been lit, and almost 48 hours later, when the Oklahoma National Guard had restored some kind of order, as many as 300 people were killed, 35 city blocks were destroyed and 10,000 Black people were homeless.
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This was the danger that Montrose, Atticus, and Leti were walking into. How? Hippolyta had spent 200 years on Earth 504 where the full extend of what’s possible metaphysically speaking was revealed to her. She was able to attenuate the machine to open a porthole to Tulsa on May 31 1921, so that the others could sneak into the home of Dora and her family, steal the Book of Names, and bring it back to the future to save Dee.
For Montrose especially, the trip back in time would be difficult because it would mean confronting the source of all his demons. Montrose’s own abusive father was killed that night before they were ever given a chance to reconcile, and it was also the night that Thomas was killed, Thomas being the first man that Montrose ever loved.
Montrose could never take back the hateful things he said to Thomas, last words that would haunt him forever because they were the angry bigoted words any closeted gay man worries about hearing. Thomas was the first, Montrose observed, in a long list of sacrifices that ended up in the birth of Atticus, but even that fact is in doubt with confirmation this week that there’s as good a chance that Atticus is George’s son as he is Montrose’s. Another Freeman family revelation that was not taken very well.
“For Montrose especially, the trip back in time would be difficult because it would mean confronting the source of all his demons.”
Montrose wanted to break one of the cardinal rules of time travel: don’t change the past for personal gain by saving Thomas, but it still happened. As Mostrose and Atticus looked on across the square as the White mob killed Thomas, just as Montrose remembered, one couldn’t help but be reminded of the classic Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever” where Captain Kirk follows Dr. McCoy back in time to New York City in 1930 where he falls for social worker Edith Keeler, but Kirk then lets her die in a traffic accident to stop history from being altered much to his shock and grief. Michael K. Williams brilliantly played the tumult and trauma with just the look on his face as we watched his younger self take the first step to an angry and isolated life he knows too well.
But fate played out in more than one way in Tulsa as Montrose recalled that he, George and Dora were saved from the mob by a baseball bat wielding man who told him that everything was going to be alright. Young Montrose’s savior was his time traveling son in another scene that was reminiscent of Jackie Robinson’s appearance at the beginning of episode one. It was also also reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, where James Cole was a vision of a foot chase in an airport that was at once his past and his future.
In the end, the only one that broke the rules of time travel was Leti who had to convince Atticus’ great grandmother to give up the Book of Names as the mob, and fate, closed in on the family home. Because she’s magically impervious, Leti watched from the inside as the house, and the grand grandmother, burned before meeting up with the others again at the porthole. Montrose looked out over the burning city and remembered the people who were dying as he watched, including Peg Leg Taylor who supposedly repelled an entire mob single-handed on Standpipe Hill. It was an obituary for a city and a way of life that had long since died.
So Dee is saved, but Atticus‘ fate is far from certain. Christina phrases it as a matter of fact, Atticus’ blood is a component for Christina’s spell to achieve immortality, and she needs all of it, but unlike her father, the goal isn’t power, or to conquer the world, the goal is to to experience the world. All of it. The final move sets up a classic struggle between Atticus whose fighting for family, and Christina whose fighting for her own advancement. How will this work out in the end? Only one more week till we find out.
Revisit your favorite moments of Lovecraft Country or give yourself a refresher before next by reading our previous recaps of the series HERE. Continue the conversation with us and be sure to let us know all your thoughts on the dark shadow looming over the characters of Lovecraft Country on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club.