Old Hollywood comes to Lovecraft Country, as the show takes a trip to an American-occupied Korea in 1950. The truth of Atticus’ military past comes to horrifying light, and most importantly, the mystery of Ji-Ah, the woman on Tic’s phone with premonitions of his death, is revealed. Classic musicals, enemies to lovers romance, and a creature feature roll into a beautiful—if slightly baffling—episode of Lovecraft Country, “Meet Me in Deagu.”
Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung) loves Judy Garland. The wisp of a girl, with big brown eyes, and the deep rich voice filled with sorrow falls hopelessly in Meet Me In St. Louis. Multiple watches have branded the moving images on Ji-Ah’s brain. In her fantasy, after the theater empties, she sings along with her idol, performing beautifully in the flickering light of the projector. But even alone in the theater, Ji-Ah can’t express this secret side of her.
Training as a nurse, making kimchi with her mother for the winter, and seeking a husband to bring honor to her family after her mother’s husband passes, Ji-Ah’s like every other young woman trying to figure out what she wants her life to look. Of course, nothing is quite what it appears. Ji-ah’s struggle to self-identify comes with an extra layer. The body belongs to Ji-Ah, but the spirit inhabiting it is a kumiho. A nine-tailed fox, found throughout Korean lore, a kumiho changes its figure to devour humans. Like legendary monsters like vampires or the chupacabra, the story varies depending on the storyteller.
I am not an expert on Korean legend so I’ll try to clarify how the kumiho works in this story. Ji-Ah’s mother gave birth out of wedlock and was shunned by her community. Desperate to be accepted once again, she fell for the first man to treat her kindly. Unfortunately, he was a pedophile who raped Ji-Ah when she was still just a child. Soon-Hee (Cindy Chang) summoned the kumiho at a high cost. The demon replaced her daughter’s spirit. But when her husband visited her daughter’s bed, the fox’s tails ripped him to shreds. To get her daughter back, the kumiho must sleep with and destroy 100 men.
The fox spirit believes the woman who called her into this world is her mother. In Ji-ah’s body, Soon-Hee ses the remnants of the little girl she wanted to save. As long as the kumiho inhabits her daughter, she failed as a mother. Soon-Hee struggles with her duty to her child, and the love she holds for this new being. Often it leads her to verbally abuse the person inside her daughter’s body. She calls her a monster and forces her to kill.
So, Ji-Ah escapes into the movies, and the one friend who understands her, Young-Ja (Prisca Kim). Young-Ja possesses all the favorable qualities of a good girlfriend; she dates a lot of fine men but takes no particular interest in any of them. In fact, she offers one of her finer men to Ji-Ah without a second thought. She’s got her unique style, but she’s not a snob—she gets along with just about everyone. Best of all, she encourages Ji-Ah to embrace self-love and acceptance. “It’s okay to be different,” Young-Ja assures Ji-Ah.
Young-Ja believes communism will uplift her community, but as a member of the communist party, her life is threatened by the hero of Lovecraft Country’s story. Tic bursts on the scene in the middle of this beautiful story of friendship, when the U.S. Army determines a spy is working in the hospital. They narrow their list of suspects down to a shift of nurses. Without investigating their politics, or figuring out where the women went after work, a soldier began executing the same nurses who thanklessly saved the lives of his men. These men called the nurses horrible slurs as they reattached limbs, and sacrificed digits to stave off infestation. But their lives were useless. When the soldier’s gun jams, he calls for a lieutenant. Tic appears out of nowhere to point his gun Ji-Ah, prepared to end her life, but Young-Ja bravely places herself between her friend and the gun. That’s the last time Ji-Ah sees Young-Ja. The army drags her away into the dusty light of day.
Weeks later, Ji-Ah sees Tic in the hospital. Though she vowed not to take another life, she’s filled with thoughts of revenge for her beloved friend. But Tic is charming, very easy to look at, and he’s got a good spirit. It doesn’t take long for Ji-Ah to see these attributes as they debate over Alexander Dumas and the proper ending for The Count Of Monte Cristo: the story of lovers betrayed, and deceptive friendships mirror their journey. Over and over Ji-Ah musters, and then loses, the desire to kill Atticus. When she goes to his camp, he surprises her with Garland’s Easter Parade. That’s the night she decides she loves him. Ji-Ah brings Tic to her bed, but Tic confesses he’s a virgin, and it freaks her out a bit. There are so many layers to this person she once saw as only a murderer. She sends him away.
When she reveals to Tic that he killed her best friend, the breaks come off of their relationship. This awful thing that should shatter them now bonds them. They’ve both been changed by the war, they’re both starved for unconventional love, and they choose to be together. In the most tender and vulnerable moment, we’ve seen from Tic, he allows himself to be guided through his first time having sex. Ji-Ah treats him like a tender being, afraid to bring harm to her precious love. It’s deeply romantic.
Later, Ji-Ah tries to tell Tic what she is, but he’s got to make a decision. Does he do another tour to stay close to Ji-Ah, or should he return home and put the terrible war behind him? No decisions are made as they go to bed, eager to make physical the pure love they share. Ji-Ah loses her focus in her passion, and her nine tails begin to appear threatening to take Tic out for good. She tries to pull them back into her body, but two tails leap from her eye sockets and attach to Tic’s eyes. During this attachment, Ji-Ah sees the life Tic’s led, and events yet to happen. Tic with his mom, Montrose beating a young Tic with his belt, showcases the uncertainty and fear of Tic’s childhood. She also gleans an image of Tic holding Young-Ja’s jaw open as an unseen soldier ripped out her teeth. In his future, she sees a new woman he’s sleeping with, and someone attaching him to a machine that will kill him. Ji-Ah pleads with Tic not to go home, but he’s too frightened to stay despite his recent promise to love her no matter what.
Distraught at her loss, and unsure of what to do for her mother Ji-Ah decides she and her umma should return to the shaman for guidance. As they walk an interview from Judy Garland plays over their hike through the snow. In the recording, Garland describes her disgust with the way the papers portray her as an unfit woman, a woman she does not recognize as the true version of herself. “What kind of people are they?” Garland asked a tape recorder as she recorded her intended autobiography. “They’re dead people. They tried to kill me along the way, but my God they won’t! They won’t.”
“I don’t honestly understand... why I’ve been the victim... and been made the victim... of so many untruths. Perhaps you don’t understand what it’s like to pick up a paper and read things about yourself that aren’t true. Read loathsome things, that have nothing to do with your life, or you, or your heart, or your beliefs, or your kindnesses...”
The Shauman tells Ji-Ah that her mortal concerns are useless: Soon-Hee is not her mother, Tic’s future will be a blip in her thousand-year memory. But Ji-Ah persists. She wants to know if Tic will die. The Shauman informs Ji-Ah she’s only begun to see death. She has no idea what is coming.
- Ji-Ah’s vision is so vague. We know Tic should stay away from any futuristic looking machines with straps
- I wonder if Ji-Ah’s tails will get their 100th victim. My guess would be she outplays Will/Christina at their own game. Or maybe that awful police captain.
- Do we think the original Ji-Ah will return if the Kumiho completes her mission? Given the series of events we’ve lived through so far, I don’t think so.