'Lovecraft Country' keeps shapeshifting week by week, but "Meet Me In Daegu" feels a bit too caught in its own narrative to reach the depths in storytelling other episodes have thus achieved.
- 🦊 Jamie Chung in the spotlight.
- 🦊 Horror imagery.
- 🦊 Beautiful Korean landscape cinematography.
- 🦊 Folklore gets tangled in itself.
- 🦊 Too much of a departure?
- 🦊 Thinkin' about the missing cast.
This post contains spoilers for Lovecraft Country.
Check out last week’s review here.
For its sixth episode, “Meet Me In Daegu,” Lovecraft Country throws a disruptive curveball. Until now, we’ve followed Atticus (Jonathan Majors) along his border-crossing quest as some anointed "special" with ties to magic, mystery, and murder. One of the many question marks presented is a Korean woman who first pops from a wardrobe, instigating a brawl, then who we hear on the other end of Tic’s telephone receiver at the end of last week’s episode. We know the two connected while Tic fulfilled his military duties, but not in what capacity.
“Meet Me In Daegu” jumps focus from Atticus in America to Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung) in Korea, pre-and-post 1950s, where Tic’s platoon stations and the two form a romantic bond that gets, uh, weird. Allow me to explain.
Korea is still rebuilding since the exit of its Japanese oppressors, under governed fears of Communism. Ji-Ah is a nursing student who lives with her umma, (Korean for "mother") and their banter quickly exemplifies cultural pressures of the time, including “bringing a man home.” We assume umma is another status-worried mother whose daughter requires a big strong man to achieve worth. Ji-Ah attends speed dating events, trying her best to appease umma through male partnership. Still, her obsession with Judy Garland and American cinema suggests the studious wartime medic has grander ideas about her future. Then we learn why umma so desperately pushes her daughter to bring men home, and we’re right back to the Lovecraftian inexplicability of this nightmarish fantasy world.
As we discover, Ji-Ah is a kumiho, a nine-tailed fox entity from Korean folklore. Ji-Ah seduces men to lure them home, drawing them into a candle-surrounded bed chamber so that she can devour their souls in a form that would look akin to hentai if it weren't tails instead of tentacles. One minute we’re watching what appears to be a relatively typical sex scene; the next, hairy tails emerge from Ji-Ah’s orifices and dock into her mate’s corresponding openings. Ji-Ah “eats” their memories, which are then implanted in her brain forever, and the climax of her victim bursting like a blood-filled water balloon finishes the ritual. Enter umma, scrubbing the floors until Ji-Ah claims her 100th soul, and the curse lifts. Unfortunately, Ji-Ah doesn’t seem rushed to complete her mission.
Lovecraft Country hasn’t hidden that Atticus is haunted by demons, which “Meet Me In Daegu” introduces. In one particular glimpse, we see Ji-Ah’s entire shift of nurses interrogated by Tic’s sergeant, every woman kneeling roadside until the Communist is outed. Tic doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on one innocent Korean woman, and watches as Ji-Ah’s best friend, Young-Ja (Prisca Kim), is carried to her inevitable death. With Tic’s sins newly revealed sins, the blood on his hands becomes apparent. Ji-Ah is mortified, but that doesn’t prevent the two from romantically coupling after a wounded Tic finds himself in Ji-Ah’s ward. She first chooses Tic as her 100th target, much to umma’s pleasure, but falls for Tic’s complexities and psychological tortures, which suggests he’s not another soldier-boy scoundrel.
Except, we just watched Tic murder in cold blood. In the name of preventing “Communism.” Tic’s arc just became deeply more complicated, as his “man of redemption” angle now has concrete examples showing the man he wishes to leave behind.
“We’ve both done monstrous things. But that does not make us monsters.” Ji-Ah sees Tic, yearns to heal his pain, but there are further complications when she cannot recall her tails mid-coitus. A shellshocked Tic bolts out the door, butt-naked, but Ji-Ah gains more than his memories: she foresees his death. Now that phone call last week makes a lot more sense, which explains why Tic’s so shaken every time Ji-Ah is mentioned, or his brain recalls being eye-sucked by furry appendages (at least he didn’t get spit-roasted like some others).
Director Helen Shaver steps from the Lovecraft Country comfort zone as thus far’s tonal shaping has remained stateside, trademarked by racial injustice. The locational shift into Korean brings more folklore-based horror and oppression of a different kind. Subtitles are a requirement, as Ji-Ah’s supernatural origin talks of umma’s daughter buried inside the man-eater she now cleans up after. I found myself questioning exposition at times instead of digesting information, as Ji-Ah’s abusive familial past comes to light. It’s a radical departure from the Lovecraft Country we know, that feels a bit stuck in its contained substory, jammed into place so we can further Tic’s current timeline next episode.
Then again, Jamie Chung is a highlight as Ji-Ah. She’s always studying her surroundings, trying to learn the normalcies of human behavior with this otherworldly curiosity. Chung’s inviting gazes and performance in the more adults-only sequences hit upon proper feminine hypnosis to promote more jarring reactions when those extra extensions slither from her body. Shaver delivers some of my favorite imagery in Lovecraft Country to-date, as Ji-Ah’s companions are hoisted into the air, shadows connecting into one wriggly monstrosity, only to then coat Ji-Ah in a thick layer of blood. Of course, this would be nothing without the humanity Chung bestows unto Ji-Ah, who sings-along to American musicals and objects to her classification as a creature without capable emotions. The quote mentioned above that Ji-Ah uses to console Tic stings with openness and damnation.
“Meet Me In Daegu” is unexpected as Lovecraft’s cataloged works. It strives to unite Tic’s and Ji-Ah’s different-but-similar struggles across decades and oceans. As Lovecraft Country revels in swapping perspectives, settings, and more episode by episode, it's once again newfound territory. Maybe that’s a positive aspect, and you’ll adore slipping into Ji-Ah’s skin for an hour’s worth of Tic’s now-exposed secret. Perhaps you’ll be too tangled in a narrative that rushes into Ji-Ah’s history, her entanglement with Tic, and all these other introductory necessities that sometimes feel crammed, whizzing by like we’ve missed context somewhere. Me? I land in the middle somewhere, nodding to my favorite visuals of the series while acknowledging storytelling shortcomings. Here for the adventure, yet eager to reunite with Leti (Jurnee Smollett), Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku), and the rest.
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