Picking up from my last review on Lovecraft Country, episode two “Whitey’s on the Moon” examines the Braithwhite Lodge, its residents, and the village near it along with the central mystery that started the series in the first episode. Tragedy, power dynamics, and the question of lineage all come in to play in an episode that ends with heartbreak.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the episode.
One of the hallmarks of Lovecraftian fiction are secret societies, fraternal orders, and worshippers of long-forgotten secrets. The Sons of Adam showcased in this episode fit the bill exactly: old, rich white men who already have significant power but cannot help but crave more. Everything about the Sons of Adam screams occultist zealots, particularly Samuel Braithwhite, their leader (played with calm uneasiness by Tony Goldwyn).
Atticus is revealed to be part of the Braithwhite lineage, which are clues picked up by George Freeman from a conversation had with William, the house-man who cares for the trio during their brief stay. The phrase used is that Titus Braithwhite was “kind to those in his employ”, which is a soft euphemism for a slave owner raping the female slaves that they owned. But due to this lineage, Atticus has a special part to play in Samuel’s grand plan, which I’ll cover later on.
The village near the Braithwhite Manor is just what one would expect: quaint, idyllic, and secretly evil under a nice veneer. The female Sheriff with her German Shepherds is a familiar sight for anyone who’s spent a small amount of time studying photographs of the Civil Rights era. The casual racism of the sheriff in her conversation about “black bears” was particularly revolting to listen to. My skin crawled as I heard her speak with overt venom and hatred. The fact they are holding Montrose Freeman hostage in order to lure Atticus to the Lodge is a sinister touch. Michael K. Williams has been one of my favorite actors since his turn as Omar in HBO’s The Wire (which you should definitely check out if you haven’t already).
And then there’s Christina Braithwhite, portrayed by Australian model Abbey Lee. Beautiful with an underlying malevolence, Christina stands as an outsider within her father’s order. As Atticus points out, the organization is called the Sons of Adam, not the Daughters of Adam, making Christina an outsider to the power her father wields and only a partial recipient of the privilege gained from that association. Abbey Lee manages to convey a burning desire for far more power than she is given under a mask of civility, not unlike her father. But beneath that, there is a person chafing under the yoke of control. In this regard, Atticus and Christina share a few similarities but not enough for them to be anything but potential enemies.
The goal of the Sons of Adam is to open a gateway to the Garden of Eden, the paradise Yahweh created at the dawn of time where immortality awaits. Atticus’ blood, tied as it is to the founder Titus Braithwhite, will serve as a key in the spell to breach the Garden, granting Samuel and his sycophants the power they so desperately crave. It’s a wonderful subversion of expectations when the ceremony fails, resulting in the second destruction of the Braithwhite Lodge and the death of Samuel. In a different story, Samuel would have been the “big bad” of the season. But in the end, the quest for immortality ends as it normally does in a Lovecraftian story, with the cultists dead and their home destroyed.
Unfortunately, the episode does not end on a triumphant note, which is also in keeping with stories of cosmic horror like this one. For defying Samuel, Atticus is forced to watch as Leti and George are shot in front of him. Leti is resurrected, which is a harrowing experience as you can see the terror in her eyes as she comes to grips with her death and rebirth. George, on the other hand, dies from his wound. As much as I would have liked to see Courtney B. Vance continue in the story, mainly because George was such a richly written and performed character, there had to be a price paid for this victory. During the brief dinner scene, Samuel Braithwhite spoke of sacrifice to bring the world back into order. While he was a repugnant character, his words in that scene are true: sacrifice is essential for change, growth, and overcoming adversary. For Atticus to overcome Samuel’s plan and create a catastrophic ending for the Sons of Adam, there was going to be a sacrifice and it was George, who had proved to be the solid foundation Atticus and Leti relied on as the nightmares of this horror story unfolded.
But since we’re only two episodes in to a ten episode season, the story is not finished and the horrors are only just beginning.