In it’s foremost episodes, Lovecraft Country has displayed that it’s greatest strength is a narrative that merges historic tragedy and current affairs in a futuristic fashion. This week, we explore the wake of navigating terror through Leti’s attempt at purging her boarding house of mysterious spirits. “Holy ghost” isn’t your regular “filler episode” where the sidekick gets screen time to appease eager fans. Letitia-fuckin-Lewis of House Southside Chicago, first of her name, mother of retro fashion and breaker of car windows demands that there is more to life than just trying to get by. We must strive to get free.
The recurring theme of death complicates our understanding of grief by illustrating that the hardest part about grief isn’t in the processing, it’s acknowledging where to start. The first scene paints a solemn picture of Leti consumed by her thoughts as she attends a church service. The choir welcomes the congregants into their embrace of hymns and a parishioner seems to have caught to the holy spirit. A poetic voice over asks, “What did you do to leave your mark on the world?” Though much of her past is still a mystery, we know Leti’s been on the run for most of her life, moving between several different states. Whilst confronting her feelings is the most logical thing to do, she turns to her latest act of escapism in hopes of seeking instant relief. She gathers all her savings and buys a skeleton of a house in the whitest neighbourhood in Chicago.
Despite Leti’s superficial attempt at burying the past, her nightmare turned american-dream seems too good to be true. She isn’t just interested in renovating the house, but is using it as a stepping stone to rebuild relationships with those closest to her. After much convincing, Ruby agrees to move in with her and Tic stays in one of the rooms until he decides his next move. We know that her stay will be far from comfortable because this is foreshadowed. In the opening intertitle it reads, “In the summer of 1955 a group of Negro men and women moved into a house on the North Side of Chicago.Ten days later three people went missing inside the house, never to be seen again”.
In good spirits, Leti plans a housewarming the best way she knows how, a party with booze, laughter and lots of music. When her and Tic finally have sex, it’s a far cry from the passion filled fantasy she initially envisioned in episode 2 (relatable). It's another marker that seeking pleasure is sure to be a short-lived interlude in a world of impending chaos. So far, her noisy neighbours have erected warning signs and bricks on their steering wheels to disrupt Leti’s newfound peace. When they interrupt the party by igniting a burning cross on the lawn, it’s not just an ominous sign we are familiar with in horror movies. It’s symbolic of just how far white folks will cross the picket fences to uphold their reign of terror.
Baseball bat in hand, Leti literally takes matters into her own hands in an action sequence where she smashes each of the car windows. In full view of her neighbours, she makes an audience out of them and gives them the performance of her life. Right on cue, when the police arrive, it’s unsurprising that they arrest her despite ignoring dozens of harassment complaints that Leti filed.
It’s at this point of the episode where two different kinds of horror organically intersect: the horrors of the spirit world, and the harsh reality of white supremacy. The racist policeman who interrogates her on the way to the station reveals there is more to the house than just a shaky foundation. Leti follows a trail of clues after her arrest and discovers the house's previous owner was an astrophysicist known as Dr. Hiram Epstein. The policeman supplied Epstein with innocent Black people which Epstein used for experimentation. Those are the tortured souls trapped in the house along with Epstein himself.
Delving into the spirit world isn’t just Leti’s way of proving to herself “that she’s gotta face this new world head on, and stake [her] claim in it”. Seeking the guidance of a Voodoo priestess resurrects the realities of numerous Black folks who were burdened by the racism of the American medico-legal system. We are reminded of Black women like Henrietta Lacks, “the first immortalized human cell line” whose cancer cells were harvested without her consent. Two of the ghosts named Lucy and Anarcha were two enslaved women in 1840s who were subjected to numerous surgeries without anaesthesia for the purposes of gynecology. In discourse that often reduces their lived experiences by dehumanising Black people to “black bodies,” their inclusion in this episode reminds us of the importance of dignifying African American trauma. In a full circle moment, when Leti calls upon the ghosts’ help, she completes her cycle of grieving by fighting beside what she feared most- death. It’s no coincidence that Jurnee Smollet’s acting in this scene is Leti at her best. When she channels her ancestors energy, and tells Hiram to “get the fuck out of my house,” it revives the charismatic and comical woman we’ve all come to love.
So far, we’ve encountered racist sheriffs, bloodthirsty vampires, wizard cultists and now, the latest introduction is ghosts. It’s hard to predict what we’ll encounter next in our catalogue of creatures, but Alan Sepinwall notes that there is a method to this madness. The creators are most likely following an X-Files anthological structure where introducing a different monster each week is part of an elaborated world. The final scene reveals that Leti didn’t actually buy the house through inheritance money from her mother as she believes. Christina Braithwaite is using her as a pawn to gain access to the house that could be the answer to decoding the language of Adam. In the best episode of the series thus far, viewers who may not be fans of traditional horror genres may realise that this concerted effort is a taste worth acquiring.