The Safe Negro Guide to Lovecraft Country: 'Full Circle'

Hanna escapes Ardham, but not before explaining the legacy of the Book of Names to Tic.
Hanna escapes Ardham, but not before explaining the legacy of the Book of Names to Tic.
Screenshot: HBO/YouTube

I have been telling y’all from the very beginning of our journey through HBO’s Lovecraft Country: Genre matters. So (major spoiler alert), Tic and Ruby are dead? Lies from the pit of hell! This is another reason why genre (and the knowledge of its tropes) is important. Ain’t nobody ever really dead in a horror series. Buffy diedTWICE—on her own damn show. Supernatural’s Sam & Dean Winchester die so much that the reapers (entities who collect the dead and bring them over to the other side) refused to bring them back again...because they were tired of their bullshit (you know it was a Black woman reaper).

Think about it: Leti died in the second episode (and again in the finale), Hippolyta has reincarnated herself repeatedly throughout the time/space continuum, George died and popped up in an alternate universe, and Christina done died at least 50-11 times (she took a header through a windshield, people!) Death not being an end also ties in with the African diasporic belief of how ancestors are made—it is only a transition and one can have as full a life beyond the veil. As Dora tells Tic when speaking of his self-sacrifice: “This is a beginning, not an end.” Tic was literally crucified as a Christ figure—and what does Christ do? *stage whisper* Come. Back.

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Meanwhile, we know Ruby ain’t dead because in order for Christina to make the potion from her blood, she has to be in a comatose state! Come on, y’all! In case you didn’t know, I’m a fat-bodied, brown-skinned Black woman and if Ruby was being mistreated, I would lead the charge. But the writers are likely opening the path for an even more interesting storyline for this breakout character next season, a journey showrunner Misha Green has teased interest in continuing. Green has taken the time to earn our trust as a creator—why are we going through her phone like she’s cheating on us?

In fact, Green took a little more time just ahead of Sunday night’s finale, as she and I discussed how deeply she trusts the Lovecraft Country audience with such rich and layered material.

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“We’re all so adept at how you tell stories and probably predict what is happening in the show before it even happens,” she told me. “So I don’t think there was ever a need to trust them because I always trusted them. There you have it: she trusts us, so why aren’t we returning the favor?

Reflecting on my 9-week analysis of this series, I would like to revise my previous thesis that Lovecraft Country is a meditation on Black trauma and its effects. That is not wrong; but I believe a truer statement is that it is a meditation on rage, most especially the righteous rage of the women in the series—and even more specifically distilled down to the Black women. As ancestor Audre Lorde teaches in her powerful essay, “The Uses of Anger,” righteous rage acts as a catalyst, “focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.” Green insists that the entire season of Lovecraft Country has been a rumination on righteous rage—“and how do you channel that to change the situation?” she asks.

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The prominence of Tic’s maternal ancestors and their plan to stop Christina demonstrates how the “just love” from last week’s episode has led to the empowered knowledge we see manifest in the finale. Green asks us to consider, “Is that something we should be afraid of?” She doesn’t offer a definitive answer, but the final scene of the young Dee squeezing Christina’s throat until her eyes pop and her larynx bursts certainly gives us pause.

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Green uses the gore and terror of the horror genre to access our stories, largely blocked by trauma. Dr. Andre Carrington, Associate Professor of English at UC-Riverside, reminds us that “[t]rauma frustrates our ability to tell stories...Horror turns that around where [we are] witnessing and remembering...the violence of the past..instead of suffering its symptoms without connecting it to its cause.” This is the power of genre in processing trauma, a power that Green relishes.

“That’s partially why I love the horror genre so much; because it is a safe space to contend with...those emotions [from the trauma],” she shared with me. Horror gives us the opportunity to commune with the ghosts of our ancestors without the burden of grief. In horror, we can skin the white enslaver who raped his way into our ancestral line without consequence. And in horror, we can stab our lover’s killer with a sword, just after she has bathed in the lifeblood that drains from his body. Horror offers agency mobilized by rage.

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So much of this season has been about achieving just the right balance of righteous rage, just love, and empowered knowledge—for as Lorde reminds us, this balance must be “expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future [as] a liberating and strengthening act of clarification.” The importance of the ancestors has been a recurring theme throughout the season, but it is in the season finale that it reaches its zenith. Determined to achieve immortality, Christina has the rage of a birthright denied and empowered knowledge but she is made dangerous because she lacks the just love of her ancestors—and therefore develops none in return.

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The power of the ancestors is also denied to our dear Ruby, who is overwhelmed with righteous rage. Cultural critic Demetria Lucas discusses this rage, reminding us how Ruby enacts “a rape scene towards the rapist [her manager].” But Ruby also has just love, as seen through her determination to protect her sister and unborn nephew through the promise she extracts from Christina and the attempted theft of Christina’s blood that causes her own (temporary) demise. Yet, Ruby has no enduring connection with her ancestors; in fact, Leti only receives that connection through Tic, as her and Ruby’s own family has long been fractured and cut off from its past. The results of the lack of ancestral empowered knowledge are evident in each scene we find Ruby in Christina’s lab; Ruby literally hungers for the knowledge, the theory, the intentionality needed as Christina outlines her plans for Tic’s ruin and her own magical ascension.

Instead, the ever-escaping Hanna becomes the primordial example of how to achieve the balance of righteous rage, just love, and empowered knowledge: “The fire was my rage made manifest, that it could be tamed,” she tells Tic in the opening scene of the season finale. “Once I made this a safe place for our ancestors, I realized this magic was not something to be feared...but a gift to pass on.” Hanna materializes her rage, uses just love to make it a safe space for her loved ones, and learns to shift her own perspective on magic in order to create an empowered system of knowledge, turning it into a gift of love for her descendants.

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It is necessary to highlight that it takes work for Hanna to reach a place of balance, it does not happen right away. She, like Leti in previous episodes, blames the existence of the book for her family’s woes, bespelling it to prevent its use by those descendants who could have used its powerful knowledge. Could you even begin to imagine what Nana Hattie could have done to those white folks in Tulsa with even a few spells under her belt and the language of Adam to give power to those incantations? But Hanna must learn and grow from her own experience and those of the generations that follow. In Hanna’s characterization, Green is demonstrating the diasporic concept of ancestors’ responsibilities to grow and do the work to become stronger for themselves and their descendants, even in the afterlife.

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The finale centers on the generational power of Black women to change the path of history; the natural culmination of these characters’ purposeful move from the margins of the show to the most catalytic forces in the plot. Remember, we started this show focused on Tic’s journey, and though we come to its conclusion in this final episode, he is still an almost ancillary figure in the story of his demise. Green admits this is intentional.

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“I think that Black women are so important to the story we tell in history,” she says. “I feel like I look back [on]so many moments...there was a community of Black women making those moments happen and being a part of those moments.” With Lovecraft Country, Green channels her own righteous rage, using horror to shift the center of history from whiteness and maleness to the Black women who have too often been silenced.

The maternal ancestors temporarily separate Tic and Leti to help them understand that they have separate yet intertwined purposes in defeating Christina and removing the vice grip white folks have on magic. Tic is empowered by both Hanna and his mother, Dora, who gives him guidance and the emotional fortitude to make the ultimate sacrifice. Hanna explains the legacy of the gift as Dora reveals that he is the gift. Yet Tic’s gift would be moot without the practical knowledge to empower it, and this is why Leti’s time with Mama Hattie is actually the most important function of their time in the ancestral space. Yes, Tic’s death is the gift, but it means nothing without the power of the word to undergird and contextualize his sacrifice. Someone must always live to tell the tale. If Tic is our Christ figure, Leti is his Mary Magdalene.

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Christian themes continue throughout the final episode as, like Hanna, Leti must learn to reconcile her already challenged Christianity with multiple spiritualities necessary to save herself and keep her unborn son’s ancestral line alive—a journey Green has also taken her audience on throughout this season. Dr. Carrington appreciates this complexity: “Unlike The Exorcist and unlike Lovecraft’s writing, there isn’t the antagonism of belief systems...where one [system] has to be evil in order to show how good the other one is,” he says.

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Leti’s core belief system expands to recognize the fluidities of Christianity and to open space for other systems of belief, as she explains: “All this time, I’ve been chasing faith when I should have been discovering it in myself. Because that’s where He is, in all of us.”

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Leti asks Tic to be baptized with her before they head off to battle, and it is here that Tic’s positioning as a Christ figure reemerges as he sits in the pew, contemplating his faith and his fate, reminiscent of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the next scene, Nina Simone’s “I Am Blessed” plays as he reminisces over his family, knowing that he will soon be hung on a wooden structure and bled to offer everlasting life...to Christina.

While this is all going on, we must be continuously aware of the child Leti carries. It is him, not Tic, who brings his mother to the ancestral plane; young George is participating in his own liberation, though he has yet to be born. Green reminds us that “Our present moment is our past moment, you know, and it’ll be. And it’ll be our future moment if we don’t acknowledge that.

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The incorporation of future George’s agency shows the past being actively recovered, the present being healed of trauma, and transitioning into a powerful and (hopefully) healthful future. This is Afrofuturism personified: the conflation of time within the collapsing of generations, all moving towards one unified goal, the liberation of their family and their people.

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Though Hippolyta is the first to effectively articulate the rage of the many female characters in the show, it is her daughter, Dee, who gets the last word on rage in the end. I loved the reckoning she has with Hippolyta, for they are both right. I enjoyed that we got to see a Black girl rage against her mother freely without being gaslit, diminished, or physically punished for daring to “talk back.” Here we see that Hippolyta is establishing a new pattern, refusing to let her daughter be diminished the ways she herself experienced for so much of her life. For the time being, at least, Dee is no longer able to draw. Yes, her mother gifts her a bionic arm, but when we see her in the dark car, she is reading, not drawing as in so many of her other solo scenes. Here, Dee begins to remind me of Toni Morrison’s warning of her titular character, Sula: “Like any artist without form, she became dangerous.”

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But we are left with the question of how to characterize that danger. Is it only towards white folks? Dee’s rage is righteous. Her love for her family is just. And she is receiving empowered knowledge her mother received from her own ancestors. But we are left with the question of balance and must speculate on what we have left for our future generations. Dee and the yet unborn George are descendants who have fully participated in this revolution for liberation. So it becomes a question, not whether they are ready for this world they have taken part in creating, but is the world (including us) ready for them?

Even in writing this column, I recognize that I am contending with my own righteous rage at where things stand. I am continuously aware of who we, as a people, give grace to—and who we expect nothing short of perfection from. That shit feels gendered AF and we need to keep this conversation at the forefront: Why is Misha Green not getting her flowers??? Jordan Peele has been declared an auteur, rightfully celebrated for resuscitating Black horror on a large scale, but I know we not gonna sit around and act like y’all knew what the hell was going on in Us. I wrote two articles about it but still got hella questions yet none of this has taken away from his acclaim; even his farts are considered genius.

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Some of the response to Green’s creation is straight-up misogynoir. Not the critique—because mind you, no one is above critique—but the severe lack of rapturous praise seen for this show. (And hell, for Underground before it!) There has been valid criticism of Green’s adaptation and interpretation of her source material and the Lovecraft universe at large, but even that has been overwhelmed by contrarian bullshit my editor won’t let me link to. (Editor’s note: Why hand out clicks to contrarian bullshit when Google is free?)

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At the time of writing this, Lovecraft Country has yet to be renewed—even as less buzzy and frankly, subpar HBO series have been after just a few episodes—but my editor won’t let me link to that, either. (Editor’s note: Nope.) There have been few declarations of a new player in town—who, by the way, created ten densely interwoven hours of highly-watchable material—yet of her genius, we’ve largely heard crickets.

It’s like when the pastor gets up to preach and says “Good morning,” and all he gets is a tepid response. Y’all ain’t gonna act like Misha Green ain’t up here doing the exultant work of helping us process Black trauma within the protective distance that horror provides us, and that her work ain’t worthy to be praised!

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“Contending with history, contending with those stories that have come before is part of how you move forward,” Green contends. “And you can’t ignore that. You can’t unmake it. You know, I think that that for me, at least, what I found is that you have to contend with it to move forward.”

I said, GOOD MORNING!


Glossary: a list of terms and descriptions to help you along your journey into Lovecraft Country.

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Afua Richardson - comic book artist who is responsible for the drawings attributed to Dee throughout the series. She is the woman behind the visuals of Orithyia Blue. Hippolyta shouts her out in the episode, saying she learned to draw from a woman named “Afua.”

Ancestral Plane - a spiritual plane that operates as a resting place for those ancestors still deeply involved in the day-to-day lives of their descendants. In Black Panther (2018), it was constructed as a serene meadow with a baobab tree. I asked Green why she chose to construct her ancestral plane as a house engulfed in flames. She said wanted it to be a space where “You get mad enough to fight back.”

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Salt - historically, salt has been used as a repellent of evil in the folklore in many cultures, including Ancient Rome, Ireland, and Egypt. It has been incorporated into modern pagan practices as well as our everyday practices of bringing good luck. The use of salt in ghost rituals has been popularized by the cult television show, Supernatural.

Recommendations: If your interest is piqued and you would like to take a deeper dive, here are some media suggestions that will help you better understand the Lovecraftian universe and other themes in this episode.

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Film:

Monster Squad (1987), Fred Dekker

Cast A Deadly Spell (1991), Martin Campbell

Readings:

Conjure Women: A Novel (2020), Afia Atakora

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem (1994), Maryse Condé

Stigmata (1998), Phyllis Alesia Perry

Television:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003)

Supernatural (2005 - )

Additionally, HBO’s Crafting Lovecraft Country will debut Monday, Oct. 26 from 11:45 pm to 12:15 am ET/PT. Per a press release from HBO, this behind-the-scenes presentation will feature “exclusive interviews with showrunner and executive producer Misha Green, along with the series cast and crew.

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“[T]he special will give audiences a look inside the production of Lovecraft Country,” the release continues. “The behind-the-scenes presentation also dives into Green’s ambitions and processes, explores the adaptation of the novel and examines the historical references woven in the show.”

The special will air on HBO and be available to stream on HBO Max.

Kinitra Brooks is a New Orleans native who writes about conjure women, monsters...and Beyoncé.

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DISCUSSION

So Montrose not only gets away with murder and child abuse, he gets a redemption and a do-over with ‘Tic’s child and with Tic’s blessing?

The abused child inside of me is like “This is why I kept my mouth shut. Fuck this shit.”