Lovecraft Country episode 4 spoilers follow.
If you've been paying attention to Lovecraft Country, HBO's gut-wrenchingly moreish new dark drama, you will have noticed by now that it's layered with as much metaphor as mystery. This week's episode (September 6) was no exception, serving a bewildering plot twist that might have left you shook.
In episode four, Atticus, Leti and Montrose embark on a nail-biting, macabre quest to find the key to harnessing Atticus' ancestral magic. As they battle with booby traps, we see the first signs of genuine affection shared between Atticus and his dad.
After much tribulation, the trio are victorious and they have Yahima, Titus' enchanted ex-captive, who may be able to help decipher pages from the Book of Adam. In the end, father and son share a heartfelt chat and then, behind his boy's back, Montrose slits Yahima's throat.
Montrose's apprehension towards magic has been known from the beginning, but what exactly was he so afraid of that would have him murder in cold blood? Perhaps it is his desperation to keep Atticus away from the toxic, stolen sorcery of the Sons of Adam that drives him to kill Yahima?
Aptly named 'A History of Violence', this episode centres colonial theft, fraud and appropriation. Just as the Sons of Adam sequestered the magic of Yahima's people and then enslaved her as their translator, imperialists throughout history have had a lurid fascination with foreign practices of spirituality and the occult, which has led them to do morbid things.
This particularly twisted colonial inclination is little known, as the favoured historical narrative is that colonialists were disgusted by the 'witchcraft' of Africa and the East – a clever thing to tell people if you want the magic all to yourself.
A subversion of the racist fantasies of HP Lovecraft and other early sci-fi horror authors, the series is in part a cautionary tale against the dangers of spiritual appropriation. The Sons of Adam have been working on cultivating their burgled spells for hundreds of years, yet all who have come close to the ultimate enlightenment the group seek have met a violent end. The only character in the show who appears cautious of this is Montrose, perhaps because he knows more about the mystical cult than he lets on.
Much of this episode is set in a museum, drawing a direct parallel with how, to this day, looted treasures are displayed shamelessly in cultural centres all over the West. The bones of Ethiopian prince Alemayehu, kept by the British Royal family on Queen Victoria's orders, have sat in the V&A museum for over 150 years. Many spiritualists believe that the possession of bones of powerful figures within a community can be used to manifest power over said community.
Alemayehu is not the only notable captive corpse: the bodies of formidable Zimbabwean warriors Mashayamombe and Chinengundo were kidnapped and brought back to England in the 17th century and in 2000, the Bush family were famously sued by the descendants of Native American leader Geronimo for custody of his remains.
Real-life histories of colonialism are rich with sordid content from which the Lovecraft writers will surely pull for future episodes. It will be interesting to see how this particular storyline progresses, specifically Atticus' reaction when he learns Yahima's fate at the hands of his father, and what that might mean for their already-strained relationship.
We can only suspect that Montrose did what he did to protect his son but for someone so obviously sensitive and usually upfront with his protests, such a secret act of murder could have catastrophic consequences.
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