Note: This recap contains mentions of racially motivated violence against Black individuals that can be disturbing or triggering. For a deeper look at the historical basis that provides context for the events described and shown in the series, you can listen to HBO’s Lovecraft Country companion podcast Lovecraft Country Radio hosted by Ashley C. Ford and Shannon Houston.
When we left off in episode one, Atticus (Jonathan Majors), Letitia (Jurnee Smollett), and George (Courtney B. Vance) had barely escaped a pack of grisly monsters and had found refuge and a big estate in Ardham, where they were greeted by a rather unsettling individual, the help of the house, Winklevoss (Jordan Patrick Smith). For some reason, looking into his and his female boss’ eyes is even scarier than the actual monsters in the woods.
The episode opens with Atticus and his fellow travellers waking up in their respective rooms, all of which have been equipped with just the thing they wanted or like. In George’s case, it’s books. Letitia’s is a filled wardrobe. And for Atticus? He’s still deep in thoughts about the other night, while we see the other characters dancing along to “Moving on Up” — although hearing the lyrics of “moving to a big apartment in the sky” gets a rather sinister meaning as far as this big mansion is concerned. All worries from the previous night seem to be forgotten, but the mood is still not relaxed or calm, it’s more frightening than ever, even though it is bright as day outside. When the camera quickly zooms out of Atticus’ room and pans to a bird’s-eye view of the building, one wonders what lies behind the perfect facade and in every last corner of the house.
Roused by a bell, Atticus, Letitia, and George gather back in the hallway, and while Winklevoss leads them through the house, the nature of the owner takes more and more shape. We see painting depicting biblical scenes, medieval references, and of course a big portrait of the house’s first owner, Titus Braithwhite. His appearance is not only unsettling because of his demeanour, but mainly because of his clothing, which uncannily resembles this of a clan of people dressed in white robes and alluding to medieval knighthood. It is also revealed that the house is not the original building, but a replica of the first version that burned down – with one lone survivor.
While the interior of the house is intimidating enough, it is Winklevoss’ behavior and his way of talking that creates the atmosphere of fright and fear, especially since it is made clear that while the travellers are welcome guests, they can’t call for assistance (no phone) or are allowed to leave the premises after dark. It’s also revealed that no one but Atticus remembers the events of the previous night, which explains the carefree opening scene. So what powers are at work here? It also doesn’t help Atticus convince Letitia and George of their previous adventure when they find their car in perfect shape and not crashed like it was the night before.
On a mission to find Atticus’ father, they travel to the nearby village to look for him. Not only does it become clear that this is not a normal town, but it is also a town where they don’t feel welcome at all, proven by the sheriff and her two dogs, who are only called back when it becomes clear that Atticus is a guest of the estate and Mr. Braithwhite. The dogs are called off with the same whistle that called off the monsters the night before, which establishes a connection between them and the villagers, especially when the sheriff mentions that they should head home before dark to not miss “dinner.”
On their walk back, the group decides that the tower’s dungeon is where they’re keeping Montrose Freeman and that they need to come back to find him at a different time. They also discover that there is a connection between the Braithwhite house and Atticus’ family, as George tells the story of their ancestors who almost died in a house fire and that the “notoriously kind” treatment of Braithwhite’s “workers” could well mean that he had fathered children with one of his slaves.
Just after this realization, however, the monsters return and are surprisingly called back by none other than Christina Braithwhite and her dog whistle, accompanied by the sheriff and her dogs. Just moments after their encounter, Letitia and George have already forgotten it has happened, while Atticus remembers clear as day.
When they return to the mansion, Atticus stumbles upon some sort of ritualistic operation that is being performed by a hooded figure. For the time being, no explanation is given and it is being treated as a completely normal occurrence by the woman behind him.
Meanwhile, George finds a secret passage behind the bookshelf in his room, where he finds the rules and lore of the secret society The Order of the Ancient Dawn that was founded in this place and is the possible connection of the rituals, the mysterious “dinner,” and Braithwhite senior’s clothing.
Atticus then meets Christina’s father, Samuel. The latter shows Atticus his view of creation, of hierarchy, and of breaking the pattern of creation by seizing control of this hierarchy, just like Adam did in the bible.
On his way back to his room, Atticus accuses Christina of hexing them to forget about the monsters and also confronts her about the Klan-like structures of this cult. Christina denies neither, and only explains that the Klan is “too poor” to be a part of their group and the spell is there to protect everyone from the memory of the monsters, who serve as their “guard dogs.” Upon Atticus’ request, she revokes the spell, making George and Letitia remember.
In a rather quick transition, Christina rushes to help with an animal in labor, a cow who turns out to be birthing one of those little guard dog monsters, a strange scene that doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest, but like everything, will come together at some point. It is also an interesting way of framing Christina as independent and rebelling against her father when her criticism of his ideas and plans was clear in the scene before. She now takes matters into her own hands, quite literally.
Having gained their memory back, the group tries to make plans for their escape and for retrieving Montrose Freeman, but they are caught in some form of hallucination whilst they are locked in their rooms – all of them start as a normal dream where something seems a little off and turns into a strange encounter altogether. It turns out they are being watched by the “dinner” guests in their rooms, entertainment, like zoo animals in cages. An interesting connection is made in George’s vision, though, where we find out that his family is from Tulsa, a place that is known for the Tulsa massacre, one of the biggest and most brutal attacks on Black America, where hundreds died and hundreds more where injured. These events can become relevant again as the show progresses, especially since there have been several other points of connection to the African-American experience in history in the show. We also learn that George could be Atticus’ father, which is another realization that could become more important later on.
During the dinner, that is reserved for male guests and members of the Order only, George finally reveals his findings, which show that Atticus is indeed one of the only direct relatives of Titus and by that, he has authority over the other members, whom he asks to leave immediately after they had been asked to become “one” with their leader by completing the ritual. Atticus orders Samuel to return his father to him, but Samuel instead explains to him that he needs Atticus to perform a ceremonial ritual and that he doesn’t think him indispensable. He still lets him go to rescue his father, although the sheriff tries to stop them, the group manages to not only rescue Montrose but also escape the village – or at least attempt to escape. Their car crashes, again, on the bridge that leads out of the village and they are forced to return to the mansion, where Samuel wants to complete the ritual. He forces Atticus’ hand by shooting Letitia and George, leaving them critically injured. Accompanied by the song “Killing Strangers” by Marilyn Manson, the atmosphere that is established becomes more threatening and hopeless, building up to what could be the end for all people involved.
Before the crash, George had told the group that the ritual was a key to figuring out the way to immortality and to become a creator, but it killed everyone who tried it before that night. So will Atticus be the key “ingredient” to getting it right? The following scene opens up that possibility.
In the next scene, we see more of Christina’s criticism against her father, when she says, “We call it family to make it okay,” emphasizing the fact that she is not on board with all the ideas and ideals her family has bestowed upon her. She also adds that Atticus’ friends will be healed once the ritual is completed, granted that it works. Adding to that, she gives Atticus a ring that will become significant for his survival and his resilience in the ritual.
Meanwhile, George and Montrose discuss the question of who is Atticus’ father and who will take responsibility of him, but they agree to fight together and to help him, although it is never revealed who’s the real father.
The ritual itself is underlined with Gil Scott-Heron’s song “Whitey on the Moon,” a song that depicts the struggle of Black people and their work being exploited for the sake of white prosperity, a true metaphor for the scene (and the show in general). When Samuel has started the ritual, a source of energy rushes through the room, catching both him and Atticus in a stream of light, connecting them in their shared authority of the Order. Atticus, however, discovers something within the ritual. Also, the ring that Christina gave him helps him withstand the powers of the energy circle.
During the ritual, an older housemaid appears to him, probably his ancestor Hanna, the one who escaped the last house fire (that was probably caused by the first trial of the ritual). Hanna is the one who helps him escape through the ritual when it becomes clear that it won’t work, as Atticus manages to take himself out of the circle. While Atticus breaks the ritual, Samuel and everyone in the room turn to stone and the house starts collapsing, burying all other Order members, the library and the remainders of the ritual. Atticus and his fellow travellers manage to escape, albeit barely.
With smoke rising from the ruins, Atticus is reunited with Letitia and his uncle and father. Letitia is healed, but George is not. He’s lying in his brother’s arms while Leon Bridges’ “River” plays in the background. Although it isn’t stated, it becomes clear that George is dead, without ever having told Atticus of his involvement in his life that goes beyond being his uncle. As the song fades out, so does the episode and while some questions have been answered, even more have come up.
Just like episode one, “Whitey’s on the Moon” was a visual and technical masterpiece, with a perfect soundtrack to accompany each dramatic turn, each tragic character fate, and each choice that is made in the story. The cinematography and acting remain stunning and leaves an audience wanting more.
Lovecraft Country airs every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. C on HBO. Check back next week for our next recap and find our previous recap here!