Welcome to another week of Scaredy Cat recaps, where I, a habitually terrified person, review what is and is not nightmare fuel on HBO’s horror allegory Lovecraft Country.
The truth is, heretofore, I haven’t really been feeling it for Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku). No shade at all to the performer, who is giving this complicated character depth and verve. But over the last few weeks I just haven’t been here for the good sis, with her talented tenth-esque worldview and her willingness to be seduced by a man who was basically like “What if I stole your soul… I’m just kidding… unless 😂”. I just have questions about her decision-making is all. I want the best for her. I’m rooting for everybody Black and not undead. (Although if Courtney B. Vance’s Uncle George came back to life, I’d be fine with it, too.) This week’s episode pivoted sharply away from Leti (Jurnee Smollett) and Tic’s (Jonathan Majors) pursuit of Titus Braithwaite’s pages to give us a lot of psychological insight into Leti’s sister, who finds herself asking if the grass is whiter on the other side in an adventure that is a little bit Big and a little bit Big Business. But how scary is it? Let’s get into it!
Spoilers for Lovecraft Country episode 5, “Strange Case.”
How scary is the butterfly effect?
We open on a white woman (Jamie Neumann) splayed in the middle of a circular bed in an empty room like the star of a mid-’90s music video. We soon find out that this woman is Ruby and her tryst with Winklevoss (Jordan Patrick Smith) has turned her white. Honestly, this is not the result I expected when he drank her blood and performed amateur chiropractic by having sex with her on a staircase. It’s not the result that Ruby expected either, as we see her hit all the tropes of a body swap comedy: mirror shock (hi, Freaky Friday), stumbling around the street in night clothes (greetings, 13 Going On 30), and then being split open like a chrysalis by Winklevoss as a news report about African locusts plays in the background (okay, that last part is new).
Interestingly, Neumann also played the Scary Woman from Scary Town in episode 2. It’s unclear if Winklevoss has turned the Scary Woman from Scary Town into a shell for Ruby to climb into (and eventually through) or if the white version of Ruby just looks like Scary Woman, but either way, Winklevoss has created a potion that he says gives the drinker the power of transformation. He compares it to the process of becoming a butterfly, and while it seems clear that the journey might be more Kafka-esque, it is nice to have some respect put on the originator of transformation, emancipation and butterfly studies: Mariah Carey. Mariah could write Metamorphosis but Franz couldn’t write “Touch My Body” so let’s get our priorities straight.
After the gruesome first transformation, Ruby changes back to her old self but gains the power to become the white version any time she wants if she drinks the potion. The scenes of her discovering what life is like on the other side have the slightly satirical quality of the SNL sketch where Eddie Murphy finds out what it’s like to be white. White Ruby, now named Hillary, has great interactions with cops, gets a free ice cream cone for whiteness, and eventually gets an interview at the department store that reveals she’s so overqualified they immediately make her assistant manager. She takes it all in with a sort of shocked but delighted wide-eyed hunger.
I have to give huge kudos to Jamie Neumann, who gives a deft interpretation of Wunmi Mosaku’s performance while clueing us into a dawning awareness of the dark possibilities now available to this hybrid character. Neumann also reveals an incredible physicality, performing Hillary’s transformation back to Ruby as if the latter is actually breaking out of the former. She is giving us physical and emotional layers for days. It’s extraordinary to watch every time. Verdict: not scary.
How scary are closets, in general?
We get an answer to the question of Montrose’s (Michael K. Williams) in a segment that ticks every box on the Closeted Tortured Gay Person on Film/TV BINGO card. After Tic attacks Montrose for killing Yahima in episode 4, Montrose retreats to the apartment of Sammy the bar owner (Jon Hudson Odom), with whom he is apparently in a relationship. They have Brokeback Mountain-style sex (check one box), while Frank Ocean plays (check another box), then Montrose cries as he climaxes (check), and then refuses to kiss (check).
Later, Shangela shows up (check) as a ’50s-era drag performer in a club where Sammy is doing an African locust-themed number. Montrose is transformed by the inclusive environment, at one point being hoisted on to the shoulders of the drag performers and spun around (and that’s a BINGO). For all of the sequence’s familiarity, it was really delightful to see a period-appropriate drag club with period-appropriate drag. Often, onscreen depictions of drag and gay clubs feel overly glamorized. Who has all that money? (Besides Shangela, who famously does not not have a sugar daddy, everything she has she worked for, but if she wanted a sugar daddy she could go out and get one because she is what? Sickening!) But the reality, then and now, is that sometimes people without World of Wonder budgets like to dress up and express themselves, and it can be a beautiful thing. Verdict: not scary, although Montrose is still a murderer so it’s a very mixed bag.
How scary are closets, specifically?
Ruby knows, and Winklevoss acknowledges, that in exchange for the potion, Ruby will eventually be called upon for a favor. I assumed this was going to be getting Winklevoss into Leti’s house. But it turns out that Christina (Abbey Lee) wants Ruby to don a maid’s uniform, infiltrate the police lodge, and place an amulet in the chief’s office which will apparently give Winklevoss power over him. It’s interesting that as powerful as Winklevoss and Christina are, and as powerful as the potion’s transformation makes Ruby, they need her in her Black form to gain the access they seek.
Ruby succeeds in her mission but ends up having to hide in a closet when the chief arrives. There she discovers a man who’s had his tongue cut out hanging from the closet bar, still alive. As if that’s not wild enough, the chief changes his shirt and reveals that his chest seems to be stitched together from other skin. Babe, this is a whole mess and gross to boot. Verdict: pretty scary and also have I mentioned gross?
How scary is a girl, interrupted?
Ruby tells William, “I don’t know what’s more difficult: being colored or being a woman. Most days I am happy to be both but the world keeps interrupting and I am sick of being interrupted.” But she keeps finding herself, whether as Hillary or as Ruby, being interrupted nonetheless. Later, in a particularly electrifying scene, Ruby, disillusioned with the white world and back in her original form, encounters Christina, who tells her that the currency of magic is “unmitigated freedom.” “Who are you really, uninterrupted?” Christina asks. This results in Hillary quitting the store and exacting violent, slightly 9 to 5-ish revenge on her “nice guy” sexual predator boss. She then gets back to Winklevoss’s place just in time to see him transforming out of his form and into who he’s been the whole time: Christina.
Okay, I was shocked. To quote Sally Field in Mrs. Doubtfire, another kind of body swap movie, “The WHOLE TIME? THE WHOLE TIME?!” The whole time. It’s unclear what this means for Ruby going forward or for Leti and Tic’s plans, but it seems clear that Christina has no intention of being interrupted anymore. Verdict: not so much scary as foreboding. Everybody is in trouble!
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