Skip to main content

'Lovecraft Country' 1.04 Review: A History of Violence

Everyone's cranky this week.

Tic (Jonathan Majors) Leti (Jurnee Smollett) and Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams) look on at the museum.
(Image: © HBO)

Our Verdict

A maddening character episode with plenty of story progression to make up for it.

For

  • 🌊It's gotten to the point that we should just keep a space for Leti here every week.
  • 🌊Ruby's story is given some attention.
  • 🌊Adequate utilization of tension in place of traditional monsters.

Against

  • 🌊Infuriating character choices for everyone!
  • 🌊Concern over how a certain character's sexuality will be handled.
  • 🌊Racist, sexist police Captain hasn't had his teeth punched in yet.

This post contains spoilers for Lovecraft Country.
Check out last week’s review here.

Sometimes episode narratives grant characters great progress. Others, you watch those characters joyously skip backward, laughing the whole way. “A History of Violence” is a frustrating combination of both, but there’s enough pushing the story forward in the episode to save us from the scream-worthy character choices.

After his run in with Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee), Tic Freeman (Jonathan Majors) heads to the library to dig into the history of The Order of the Ancient Dawn so he can learn enough to find the lost pages of the Book of Adam. Regrettably, he found that to be more important than telling Leti Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) that the money that had enabled her to purchase the house was not a late inheritance from her mother. Christina, being the friend that she is, happily lets Leti in on the secret.

The two will butt heads over it, but it’s not until Leti reaches out to his father, Montrose Freeman (Michael Kenneth Williams), that Tic becomes uncharacteristically cruel. He and Leti will remain at odds for the majority of the episode, but first they all have to come to the begrudging agreement that they’re headed to Boston to try and find Titus Braithwhite’s vault. Small hitch: Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis), young Diana (Jada Harris) and Tree (Deron J. Powell) will be joining them on the excursion.

Despite the unexpected additions, the trip to Boston and breaking into Braithwhite’s vault goes about as smoothly as expected. The three run into some booby traps, and Leti eventually lets a huffy Tic have it for pretending like he’s the only one having to deal with everything, but they find the papers from The Book of Adam and more. If you were worried that you wouldn’t be getting any spookies in “A History of Violence,” there’s a mummy reanimation scene to calm those fears (and to give you whole new ones, it’s a solid scene).

The mummy they find is that of Yahima (Monique Candelaria). She is the soul of both a man and a woman in one body - the episode identifies her preference as she – and she was captured by Titus Braithwhite to translate his pages of the book. He tortured her, killed her people, and turned her into a siren so she’d never be able to speak the words of the book off of the ship she was imprisoned on.

Before we hop to the end and analyze the rest, we need to talk about two key sub-plots from “A History of Violence.” The first is the pushback Christina Braithwhite is receiving from the men who deem themselves worthy of the Order in Chicago. Captain Lancaster (Mac Brandt) was never initiated into the Order of Braithwhite’s family, but the man who was never even invited to play helpfully reminds her “no cunts allowed.” Braithwhite might not be the friend to Tic and Leti that she insists she is, but I look forward to watching her take this schlub down all the same.

The other is the story of Ruby Baptiste (Wunmi Mosaku), who is having a no good very bad day. As it happens, it’s still tied to Braithwhite and her plot to break into Leti’s house to steal the orrery that’s no longer there (Hippolyta knicked it during the housewarming party) Christina sends William (Jordan Patrick Smith) – who apparently very much survived the mansion’s explosion – to go seduce Ruby after her miserable day of finding out the job she wanted was gone and a terrible audience at her evening gig. Ruby’s no fool, so it takes some finessing on William’s part, but she’s also had a hard time as of late. Christina’s henchman very much gets what he’s after.

Narratively speaking, this week’s episode does a lot to drive the season’s story forward. We learn that Tic can be as cruel as his father when he’s worried for the ones he loves (don’t worry, he and Leti make out before the episode’s close), and that him, Leti, and his father are just a fraction of a step ahead Christina and William in the goal for the pages. As a bonus, they have Yahima while their opponents do not.

Or, at least they do, until Montrose slits the poor woman’s throat.

The decision to have Montrose show a glimmer of hope and then immediately turn around and do something monstrous will undoubtedly serve the overall series story quite well. But damn is it ever frustrating in the meantime. His motivations were most certainly protecting Tic from gaining the magic that he believes will corrupt him or put him further in Braithwhite’s crosshairs, but those motivations completely ignore the big picture. In short: Montrose remains maddening, but his impending redemption arc is evident.

Christina’s progress is fettered by Hippolyta having possession of the orrery and the former’s subsequent quest to find out what really happened to her late husband. Tic and Leti are stymied by Montrose’s betrayal. So, really, no one’s getting any closer to their goals, but everyone’s largely frustrated by each other.

What we’re left with is a perfectly adequate mid-season episode. Yes, even HBO has those. There are some unanswered questions, like how the vault connects to Leti’s basement. While that can easily be brushed aside by “magic, duh,” there’s also the minor situation with Tree. As in, I’m pretty sure they just left him in Boston.

While he chills out in the museum (and hopefully thinks about the fact that he’s a complete creep) we should probably address the fact that Tree calls out Montrose as gay. His calling it out isn’t so much the issue (though it is despicable to out another person). The real problem is Tic’s response to the information. It’s nice to see them giving him flaws, and there’s a level of “sticking with the times” that will be leaned into, but the initial handling of the subject stresses me out. We’ll see what happens as that continues to unfold.

“A History of Violence” is Lovecraft Country’s weakest episode, but their worst is still better than some lesser series’ best. Leti Lewis remains the series MVP, driven by spectacular writing and a constantly impeccable performance by Jurnee Smollett. Not a single member of the cast can be called anything close to a slouch, either. Even at their most frustrating, these characters have a realness about them that helps ground an otherwise otherworldly show.