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.
I don’t want to sound like the dad from Footloose, but I just don’t think people should be having sex on Lovecraft Country. Look, I’m all about people getting their monster mash on. Put your thing down, flip it, and reverse it, I always say. But there’s not nary a time when two people have done the deed on this show where it turned out to be a good idea for them. Well, I guess you could say that when Tic and Leti had sex in the bathroom at her party, that didn’t have supernatural consequences. So, that’s one. One nary. But everything else—Ruby climbing the stairway to heaven with Winklevoss, Leti being seduced by Fake Tic at Fitzgerald Grant’s mansion, and now this episode, which focuses on a woman who literally explodes men when they climax—has been a disaster. They should show this episode in 1990s sex-negative health education classes. But how scary is it? Let’s find out!
Spoilers for Lovecraft Country episode 6, “Meet Me in Daegu.”
How scary is Judy Garland?
We’re going to spend this episode in 1949 and 1950 South Korea, following Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung) a nurse who turns out to have been the voice on the other end of the phone when Tic (Jonathan Majors) called South Korea in episode 2 and again in the last episode. Ji-Ah is a lot of things but mostly she’s a romantic, enthralled by the verve and light of Judy Garland pictures of the time like Easter Parade and Meet Me in St. Louis. But it’s not just a cultural divide keeping her from living her best Clang Clang Clang Goes the Trolley life. There’s also a supernatural barrier. See, Ji-Ah is a kumiho, which the show describes as a nine-tailed fox spirit that can be summoned into the form of a woman to avenge the wrong done by men. Sounds great, I’m in. The kumiho has taken the form of Ji-Ah after being summoned by Ji-Ah’s mother to kill Ji-Ah’s stepfather, who abused her.
There’s a lot going on in Ji-Ah’s story, and though it all leads back to Judy Garland, in a way, it takes a minute to get there. Like every episode of Lovecraft Country, “Meet Me in Daegu” functions more like a short film that plays with genre than a traditional episode of television. Sometimes in the first six episodes that’s been spectacular; sometimes it’s been frustrating. Episode 6 falls somewhere in the middle. Ji-Ah’s story—of a monster who learns to love through the magic of movies and, later, a romantic encounter with Tic, and chooses to stay a monster rather than kill the man she loves—is rich and complex. But we end in the place where we ended in the last episode, with Ji-Ah predicting Tic’s death. Also, by shifting the view to Korea and the cultural reference point to a white artist, Garland, we get a little unmoored. The episode even closes with audio of Garland giving a searing monologue about how she’s been mistreated, in the same vein as we got a monologue from James Baldwin early on. But to what end? Verdict: Judy Garland would never scare you darling! But the kumiho is quite a fright!
How scary is Elizabeth Jennings from The Americans?
American troops come to South Korea in 1950, interrupting a screening of Easter Parade and passing out flyers announcing they’ve come to save the people of South Korea from Communism. If there’s one thing we don’t need, it’s more merch. The pursuit of Communists escalates countrywide and becomes personal for Ji-Ah when she discovers that her best friend at the hospital, Young-ja Unni (Prisca Kim), is a Communist. Very Stan from The Americans internal struggle happening here.
American soldiers round up a group of nurses, trying to suss out which one of them is passing information to the Communists. In a brutal scene, a soldier shoots one woman before even interrogating anyone. His gun jams and Tic, a private, emerges and shoots another woman. This show seems to be resolute about showing each of its characters doing terrible—what will later be labelled monstrous—things. I can’t help but wonder to what end, again, though? Again we get a Black man murdering a non-Black POC femme, again it is sudden, even capricious, and again the man is essentially absolved of it by romantic affection. There is definitely a narrative in here about the ripple effects of inherited trauma but I struggle, in the re-watching, to fully comprehend what this show is telling us and to reconcile the cavalier violence in this light. Verdict: troubling.
How scary is old timey healthcare?
Ji-Ah is about to be killed next when Young-ja Unni dives in front of her and confesses. Young-ja Unni is carted away and Ji-Ah lives.
Later that year, Ji-Ah discovers Tic lying injured in a bed in her hospital. Filled with rage, she becomes fixated on him. The kumiho has found another soul to take. Looking at Tic convalescing, I cannot imagine being sick in the past. All Tic has is a low-to-the-ground twin bed and what looks like a clamp light above him. Everyone’s back must have hurt in the past. No thanks! I’ll pass on sickness! Thanks very much. Verdict: terrifying. Medicare for All and Posturepedic beds, please!
How scary is watching a movie for a book report?
Tic asks Ji-Ah to read The Count of Monte Cristo to him because his glasses are broken. Turns out she’s read it because she tells him how it ends. But, twist, he knows that she hasn’t actually read it because she’s telling him the ending of the movie, not the book. He tells her to read the book, it’s better. Hipster. I tell you what, I have heard too many stories of book vs. movie diversions that you will never catch me out here trying to pretend I read something when really I caught 30 minutes of it on a plane before nodding off to sleep. I don’t even go to my book club with that kind of subterfuge (which would be sort of silly anyway; why be in a book club if you’re not going to read the book?) (Oh, right! Wine!)
Ji-Ah and Tic fall in love over their shared fondness for reading and their attempts to be part of a world that rejects them. I’m here, I suppose, for a Falling in Love with The Person You Meant To Kill plot line but it feels, to me, like the love Ji-Ah had for Young-ja Unni was foundational and woke her up to the possibility that she wasn’t all monster. It seems perplexing that she would double down on this feeling for one of the men who carted her love away, tortured, and killed her. But that’s apparently what happens, culminating with Tic hosting a private screening of Summer Stock for Ji-Ah on the base and then them having sex in front of the screen later on. I don’t understand what the rules are around reserving this tent at the base. Do you go to the Sergeant like “Sir, I need the use of the Sex IMAX at oh-eight-hundred hours, sir”? Is that how it works? Verdict: logistically scary.
How scary is sex?
Tic doesn’t die when they have sex because Ji-Ah is able to control her fox tails. I wonder what this says about women’s sexual desire and the need to control it to be accepted by men. In any case, everything seems to be going great for these two, one of whom was on the other’s To Murder list but now is not. But then Tic decides to go back to America and they have passionate goodbye sex and Ji-Ah’s tails come out to play because it’s just that horny. Tails go into Tic’s eyeballs and Ji-Ah sees his entire life, past and future, including his death. She releases before killing him but begs him not to go back to the U.S. because he’ll die. But he’s all freaked out and sex dumb, so he runs away and does it anyway and now he’s going to die. Verdict: SEX = DANGER. DO NOT SEX.
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