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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant murder Emmett Till once more in Lovecraft Country’s “Jig-A-Bobo”

Jada Harris stars in Lovecraft Country
Jada Harris stars in Lovecraft Country
Photo: Eli Joshua Ade (HBO
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They murdered Emmett Till, and it hurts all over again. Directed by Misha Green, “Jig-A-Bobo” sees Tic, Leti, Diana, and Ruby discover the impact that the murder of a 14-year-old child leaves on a community. The beautifully written and hauntingly gory tale reaffirms the rules of magic, as most of the crew’s secret are brought to light.

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The details of the day, the unrelenting heat of the summer, the smell of his rotting corpse wafting in the air, the reality of the brutality of his murderers causes mourners to become physically ill as they left the church. Everything, every aspect of that reality, feels like horror gripping the fabric of reality and dancing gleefully. As one woman proclaims, the only thing left to do is pray. For Diana, who believes a sheriff murdered her father, who has not seen or heard from her mother in days, who recently lost her best friend, the day is unspeakably cruel. Tic proclaims this reality as a “rite of passage” for every Black American child. He speaks, not of murder, but the reality that the life of a Black child, and anyone who resembles that Black child, means nothing to the country in which they reside. Cops can barge into a home unannounced, steal your life for no reason, and business will continue as usual. Much worse, the system that should protect will do everything in its power to make loved ones, acquaintances, and other brown folks responsible for that theft of life before taking ownership of its responsibilities. Learning this lesson breaks the heart and fractures the mind. Home should be a safe place. Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” takes on an entirely new meaning.

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The police discover Diana after she’d run off from the funeral. Her hurt manifests as rage when she hears the sound of children laughing. A simple joy her best friend won’t ever have again. For a while, I wondered why Emmett Till. Foolishly, I hoped magic would protect him, but this show has never shied away from the reality of being Black in America. Poor Emmett would still be kidnapped, beaten, and eventually murdered.

Misha Green and the team choose to point their lens at an oft-overlooked reality, of those left behind after a hate crime. How does a community process violence done to a child? How do friends and family cope? How are they treated by their community? On the South Side of Chicago, stores closed and an entire city stood vigil to mourn a lost child. The police bum-rushed Emmett’s best friend, harassed her, terrorized her, and spit on her for very little information. Then they delighted in her terror. Home should be a safe place.

Jada Harris
Jada Harris
Photo: Eli Joshua Ade

When Diana finally makes it home, Montrose and his anger await her. He chastises her for running off and bangs on the bathroom door after her outburst. Her rage meeting his rage doesn’t allow for much communication. He tries to explain what he wishes he had known when white folks took his friend’s life. The initial pain is only the beginning. The indignities will keep coming in the form of Rastus on the Cream Of Wheat box, or a drawing of a pickaninny playing with a pristine white girl on a book cover. Reminders of Diana’s second class citizenship follow her everywhere. No safe place exists. Two caricatures of dirty Black girls follow her to the train, to Leti’s house, and the home of the Police Chief.

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Anger drives Diana right into harm’s way. Watching the cops stand over her and demand she answer questions about her mother was horrifying. Diana understands that how she answers could mean the end of her mother or the end of her own life. But it’s thrilling to watch her spit on the cops who terrorized her, to hear her name her mother with conviction, to watch her bravely march into whatever reality might be waiting for her. As she faces society’s racist, minimalist of an 11-year-old Black girl, Naomi Wadler’s “March For Our Lives speech plays over the scene.

“I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news.I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential. I am here to acknowledge their stories, to say they mattered. To say their names. Because I can. Because I was asked to be. For far too long, these names—these Black girls and women have been just numbers. I am here to say NEVER AGAIN for those girls too. I am here to say that everyone should value those girls too. People have said that I am too young to have these thoughts on my own. People have said that I am a tool of some nameless adult. That’s not true. My friends and I might still be 11, and we might still be in elementary school, but we know. We know life isn’t equal for everyone and we know what’s right and wrong. We also know that we stand in the shadow of the Capitol and we know that we have seven short years until we too have the right to vote.”

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Diana tries to beat the demon girls out of existence with a lead pipe, but when Montrose appears, he can’t see what’s causing her pain. His understanding of her hurt and pain doesn’t grant him access to her view on the world, or how it hurts her. To be so loved and still so alone in her pain must be devastating for Diana.

Jonathan Majors
Jonathan Majors
Photo: Eli Joshua Ade
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Meanwhile, Tic’s kept Christina waiting in a mausoleum, and she’s none too happy about the inconvenience. But when Tic reveals the key she’s been looking for, her attitude changes. The distant relatives decide to make magic. This isn’t hocus pocus; this series takes the rules and boundaries of spellcasting seriously, as seen with the Orisha in episode three. According to Christina, the materials needed to cast a spell are three-fold: energy, intention, and a body. “That’s how you upset the balance of nature without a disaster,” she explains. I think of the ways laws support unjust actions, the bodies that pay the cost of those actions, and who profits. A protection spell requires blood or piss instead of chalk to stick. Only hard work and sacrifice bring about safety.

Ji-Ah knows all about sacrifice. She brings a bit of troubling news to Tic and Leti. Ji-Ah knows Tic will die, but not when. Leti correctly guesses that Ji-Ah’s still in love with him. Of course, these two hotheads devolve into their worst behaviors. Tic takes on the hero’s assignment and tries to rush off to save everyone from impending danger. Leti pushes him away.

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Tic runs into his father on his way to be a hero. With everything going on, the question that Tic asks surprises him. “Did you cheat on my mama?“ Montrose explains that he had desires, but he never acted on them. When he was a child, Montrose’s pastor was caught in the park with another man, and subsequently arrested at the pulpit, and later lobotomized. “I chose a life over a damn asylum, or a jail cell, or being found dead on the toilet in the park.” So Montrose entered a marriage of convenience. Both he and his wife wanted a family, so they made one. Then he calls that family a blessing, and the look on Tic’s face suggests he never thought the man who raised him viewed him in such glorious light. Then, the power is cut. As the city descends into darkness, the pair share a drink. Tic reveals that he, too, went through the portal that took Hippolyta, where he found a book, Lovecraft Country, written by his son, George Freeman.

Book lovers can rejoice, as the show explains some of the main changes between the original Lovecraft Country text and the television series. Of course, Tic read the book cover to cover. It’s the Freeman family history. Christina will sacrifice Tic to become immortal. Tic can’t fight the future, nor his instinct to try and be there for his child. Montrose tells him dying by magic is much more “jazz” than dying at the end of a rope or a white man’s bullet. Then he makes the declaration Tic made: He’ll do everything in his power to protect his son and his grandson. He can’t feel the spell working, and both fear they failed.

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Jurnee Smollett
Jurnee Smollett
Photo: Eli Joshua Ade (HBO

Leti’s faith grows as Tic goes off to be the hero. To her God, she can confess that she loves Tic, that she feels the devil is after them, and he comes in the form of magic that never does them good. Christina can’t help but chide Leti for her beliefs. As a magic caster, she believes all the credit for Leti’s resurrection goes to the caster: “Most men with god complexes want to live in heaven instead of hell, failing to realize God is both.” Leti offers Christina the page of Adam if she’ll use her magic to make Tic invulnerable. Christina says she won’t do it for Tic, but she’ll do it for Leti. She gives her the mark of Cain. (Quick Bible lesson: Cain slew his brother Abel. God punished Cain by forcing him to wander the Earth. Cain thought his punishment too great, terrified that the first person who found him would kill him. So the Lord put a mark on him so that whoever found him would not slay him.)

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Later, when the cops come to Leti’s building, she realizes that she’s bulletproof. Amidst the chaos that is a police shootout, she recognizes how powerful she’s become. Tic can’t play hero anymore when faced with a couple dozen officers with raised guns. But it turns out, Christina didn’t lie about the spell. When the guns go off, one of those many-eyed were-rabbits, from earlier in the seasons, bursts from the ground to shield Tic. Then it takes off, devouring the entire unit of officers.

Let’s chat about Ruby and William’s sex scene. After a neighbor refers to Ruby as a maid, Ruby refuses to take the comment on the chin. The only person who made it inside the church, Ruby lives with the vivid memory of Emmett’s caved-in and puffed-out face. In his casket, the child barely looked human. To look upon a child in such a state takes a personal toll on a person.

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Wunmi Mosaku
Wunmi Mosaku
Photo: Eli Joshua Ade (HBO

William takes care of Ruby by undressing and bathing her. He does not ask her how she feels, he gives her the space to feel it. When he kisses her, Ruby withdraws, uncertain. There’s not a lot of trust between these two for obvious reasons, but they do often understand one another; usually without words. Watching them have sex in their borrowed bodies made me wonder again about the differences between Christina and William. Where Ruby and Hillary always seem like the same person, there are subtle differences between Christina and William. I wonder if Christina can only embrace her homosexuality as a straight man. I wonder if William truly loves Ruby. If he does, why not put that asshole at the gate in his place? I fear that Christina is using Ruby as a tool for her autumnal transformation.

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When Ruby later interacts with Christina, she’s able to express her anger, in a way she never does with William. She asks them to feel empathy for all the hurt Black Americans feel daily. Unconcerned with the pain of others, Christina only understands aspirations of greatness. In Ruby’s rage, she can only see the desire for personal gratification. They both understand that by taking the potion, Ruby was attempting to hide, but neither understands why. In that skin suit, Ruby looked an awful lot like Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman who claimed the 14-year-old Emmett grabbed her by the waist and told her he’d been with white women sexually. In 2017 she recounted the statement saying, “That part wasn’t true.” I think Ruby needed to destroy that woman from the inside out. I think having some ownership over what happened to a woman like that, of using that image as she saw fit, was cathartic.

Christina, given her conversation with Leti earlier, believes herself to be closest to godlike, understanding both heaven and hell as essential operating systems for the Lord. As a god, she chooses not to recognize the troubles of those beneath her; forgetting that all power comes from people. If they stop believing in God, God ceases to exist. In an attempt to understand Ruby, Christina asks three men to murder her like Emmett. They beat and shoot her. Her neck is wrapped in barb wire as she struggles to breathe and is then tied to a large fan and dumped in a river. The experience has a profound impact, but does it change her? We’ll have to wait until next week to find out.

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Abbey Lee
Abbey Lee
Photo: Eli Joshua Ade (HBO

Stray observations

  • The irony of thinking white folks own entitlement is dumbfounding, Christina!
  • Will someone please go get Diana? Y’all should have protected her. She just lost her best friend. I’m livid.
  • Okay, Christina has taken us on an awful emotional journey. Is she evil, a victim, abusive, a liar, well-intentioned? We don’t know! That last act made me think maybe she does love Ruby, or at least respect her. I don’t know what to make of her, but I do not trust her. What do you think?
  • That better not be the last time we see Ji-Ah. She had very little information to share, not sure why she was here other than to let Leti know Tic had been with another woman and almost died.
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A contributor for Playboy and Hollywood Reporter Joelle writes about film, television, and comic books. A speaker, host, and avid podcaster her reviews have been featured on NPR, BBC1, and ET.

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