Photo: Courtesy of HBO Max
“I’m saying where’s your fire? / Can’t you feel it coming out of our past? “ – Sonia Sanchez, “Catch the fire”
It was inevitable that Lovecraft Country would return to Tulsa. Even before there was any talk of a time machine – or a “multiverse machine,” as Hippolyta insists – Tulsa kept popping up in the memories of Montrose and Uncle George. In a show about lineage, horror and family history, we had to have a look back; the Freeman brothers, along with Atticus’ mother Dora, survived the Tulsa race slaughter in 1921, unlike the rest of Dora’s family. Since this is a genre show, it makes sense that the flashback comes in the form of time travel, so we can get a glimpse into the lives of Montrose, George and Dora, from the decades before our Lovecraft Country crew present.
So, “Rewind 1921 ″ is a time travel episode, something familiar in the sci-fi genre, and something in which we even have a few traditional black-led entries. (Already seen with Denzel Washington and Paula Patton, anyone?) The show felt unwieldy at times with so much ground to cover, so time travel turns out to be a good vehicle to tie the threads together.
If last week was meant to destabilize, this week was meant to find some peace in all that is troubling. Diana is still cursed, the adults try to save her. The episode opens with a recognition that nobody looked after Dee well last week: “Stop pointing fingers, you all are to blame, ”Ruby tells the adults in the room. The spell is locked by Captain Lancaster’s magic, so it’s a bit beyond Christina’s capabilities when they ask her for help. Without pages from the Book of Names (which was lost in the fires of 1921), Diana will die. So when Hippolyta arrives just in time, they all head to the observatory. With Hippolyta back, her purple wrists as channels, they can turn back time.
Montrose is a troubled and haunted character. We encountered Montrose as an alcohol addict, often dazed or in a run from his own memories. Even the smell of burning reminds him of Tulsa. We know Montrose carries a lot of shame about his homosexuality, and we know he will do anything – and too much – to protect and preserve his family. But what we didn’t know was how much this traumatic massacre was shrouded in Montrose’s gay shame. The first night of the massacre would have been one of the worst nights of his life, anyway, but it is all exacerbated by someone else he sacrificed along the way: Thomas, another young man for who he had romantic feelings for.
After being booed and berated by his father that day in 1921, he made a decision: he would “cut off all the soft parts” from himself. So he lies, meets Thomas and tells him he’s not gay the way he is. Montrose puts an end to things, only for the couple to be met by a group of whites in the midst of the massacre. Frightened, the two hold hands, although they were so afraid to do so in public. The imagery is heartbreaking. Additionally, we watch the adult Montrose and Atticus watch, Atticus kissing his father. One of the white men shoots Thomas in the head and likely would have killed Montrose afterwards if George and Dora hadn’t arrived in time to fend off part of the group. We had heard that part of the story before, how then, “a mysterious alien swinging a bat like Jackie Robinson” came to save them all. Atticus knew this part of the story so well that Jackie Robinson appears in his dreams. But on looking, the adult Montrose and Atticus see something that doesn’t fit: the stranger isn’t coming. Atticus has a hunch that he must be that stranger, so he walks over and hits “the home runs on all their heads.” He knows history so well that it becomes his destiny. The past and the future are collapsing.
While Atticus helps Montrose, Letitia has been tasked with retrieving the Book of Names. Letitia goes to Dora’s family home to try and blend in with the city. Nana Hattie (Regina Taylor) feels that she is not who she claims to be, so Letitia explains that she is from the future and why she came. The show, for better or worse, really wants us to witness violence (often for gratuitous purposes), but this episode really shows us the potential for such engagement; the imagery and the juxtaposition of the images that follow are quite astonishing. The musical signal does much of the work here, imbuing the stage with a sense of wonder: it’s a track by Robin “Rob” Coudert called “Don’t Kill Dub” which features a poem by Sonia Sanchez, ” Catch the Fire “.
Hattie gives Letitia the Passed Name Book for her to keep, and we watch her come to terms with her family. The newborn, his great-great-grandson, will be “his faith made flesh”. The two say the Lord’s Prayer together and we watch it burn alive. For the lineage to endure, this 1921 family must stick to its unhappy fate. This happens at the same time Atticus swings the bat across town. Tic and Leti each bring life and solidify the death of the others here. It’s heavy, but it’s presented in a breathtaking way. We know the family is burnt alive. This episode confronts us with the violence of that, but also gives us another way of thinking about it other than devastation. Sonia Sanchez’s poem reads: “Catch the fire… and live./ live./ livelivelive./ livelivelive./ live./ live. The family will live through our protagonists.
This episode is a story not only of generational sacrifice, but of generational relationship. How we expand and return to our ancestors before us. Montrose tells the names and stories of lives lost in the race massacre, honoring the real victims. What if the horrors of the past were not just a destructive fire, but a fire that animates us? “The fire of living… not of dying”, as the poem suggests? Leti returns to the portal as aircraft bombs explode behind her; it’s waterproof and carried by the sacrifice of her unborn son’s great-great-grandmother, even mimicking Hannah’s actions in front of her. Time is collapsing. A lyrical version of the poem carries the episode in the credits.
Christina is helping our black protagonists this week in exchange for Atticus’ voluntary return to Ardham during the fall equinox. She wants to taste the freedom that immortality will give her, to experience “an eternity of firsts”; it looks like she might want Ruby by her side. Will she succeed? Will Atticus survive the final?
• The black shoggoth… when the world needed him most, he disappeared.
• “We were lucky with our shit. We need someone who knows what he is doing. —Atticus, on his family’s lack of knowledge of the nine magical episodes of
• Blue-haired Hippolyte, who lived the equivalent of 200 years on Earth 504, will save the world!
• Ruby: “Shit, you have to get in that car with me!” The dialogue in the early parts of the episode was so funny. Jurnee Smollett’s delivery of “We Should Call Him George” is glorious. I know they prove themselves here, but I would love to see them in a comedy.
• The stone that Christina had Ruby placed in Captain Lancaster’s office in “Strange case” had one purpose: to disrupt the magic that kept him alive. Stone seemed to have assured that the next time he was maimed or killed, his “regeneration” spell would not work. In this case, regeneration was like using body parts of a missing black man to restore his body (talk of macabre, damn it). With the stone in place, his injury will keep coming back. The attack on the shoggoth last week triggered his death. Christina, like William, watches him die. And good riddance!
• Where could Ji-Ah be?
• In my screener, the title indicates that the observatory with the multiverse machine is in “KENTUCKY”. However, in “I Am”. it looked like the observatory was in Mayfield, Kansas: Hippolyta was holding a map of Kansas when she was on the road, with the observatory coordinates scribbled on the page. I don’t know if this is an error or if I am missing information.
• It’s quite heartbreaking to see Leti discussing with the young girl, Beulah, in the house whose fate is sealed: “Everything is going to be fine, right?”
• I don’t know what to make of the fact that Ruby turned the switch on Dell’s makeshift hospital bed, and how, when she “imagined herself to be white,” she “always saw [herself] like a redhead. Will they be looking for a new person to embody? Is it just a reference to the novel and it just indicates that she has finished using the potion? I’m still frustrated that Ruby’s bow is so related to whiteness. Hope that means she’s done with it.
• Gaywatch: There are some interesting things below the surface here about how easy it is to be plunged back into queer shame when the world around you tries to make you feel bad about it – Montrose even says, “I earned it “as he watches his own beat. There is something nice about Atticus being able to say, “I had you, my child” to his young queer father. Christina to Ruby: “The only variable was the weather, and now you.”