Recap: Change Has Many Faces in ‘Lovecraft Country’ Season 1, Episode 5: “Strange Case”

12 Min Read
Courtesy of HBO

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.

The episode opens with a white woman (Jamie Neumann) waking up, and we soon learn the woman is Ruby. Scared and disoriented, she stumbles into town among the Black community, where bystanders gawk at her. Still struggling to understand what’s going on, Ruby bumps into a young Black boy, and almost immediately after, the cops show up. Ruby reacts as though she were still presenting as a Black woman, but the cops instead prepare to harm the boy, thinking he attacked Ruby. She stops them and they bring her home. Only, home is William’s. On the ride back, the cops talk to her, but she isn’t listening. She’s focused on something bizarre happening to her body. When she arrives at William’s, he puts her on a plastic tarp on the floor, unphased by what’s happening to her. Instead, he moves the transformation along, removing the white woman’s skin from Ruby.

Courtesy of HBO

At Leti’s, Montrose sits brooding in the room where he, Leti, and Atticus were holding Yahima. Leti and Atticus enter, asking about Yahima and realizing Titus’ pages are missing. Atticus is furious, taking his anger out on Montrose. He rushes to the darkroom, frantically asking a frightened Leti if she took photos of the pages. He storms upstairs before she has a chance to respond. Later, she brings the undeveloped film to Atticus while he tends to his wounded hand from hurting Montrose.

Ruby begins to stir, this time as her real self. William tells her about his fascination with metamorphosis and his connection to Hiram wanting to open magical doorways. He mentions he wanted to try the transformation on humans but couldn’t until Ruby. In the process, he reveals it was a potion, and Ruby is shocked to learn about magic. She mentions how differently she was treated when she was a white woman, and on his way out, William leaves behind a vial of the potion and a wad of cash, in case she wants to go out again. She does, while looking white, enjoying her new way of moving through the world.

Later on, Ruby relaxes in the bath. She questions William’s motives, who tells her he’ll need a favor from her soon, but he won’t tell her what just yet. He then asks her why she didn’t take the money. She tells him it’s because her then whiteness was currency enough, stating she doesn’t know if it’s harder being Black or being a woman. She does know that she’s tired of the world interrupting.

Courtesy of HBO

The next day, Ruby explores what her uninterrupted life would look like, transforming once again into the white woman. She goes to the Marshall Field and Company store, where she talks with Paul, the manager, about a job, saying her name is Hillary. He asks her thoughts on working with Black people, and she treads carefully with her answer while also defending Black people. Paul decides to hire her as Assistant Manager, just as she begins to turn back to her normal self, barely making it to the elevator. Meanwhile, a very mopey (and lonely) Montrose goes to meet with Sammy, his secret lover, where they have sex.

Ruby as Hillary begins her first day of work. She notices Tamara, the only Black employee of the store, and goes to talk with her. During their talk, Ruby realizes Tamara may be underqualified and becomes frustrated. Later, she converses in a back room with a few of the other women who work at the store. She brings up Tamara’s qualifications, which prompts the others to make racist remarks. They discuss going to the South side of town, acting as though it would be some major achievement. They continue with their conversation, which only angers Ruby and she gets defensive (as she should).

As she leaves for the day, she finds William waiting outside for her. He’s ready to cash in the favor: he needs her to attend a party. He tells her there’s a box in the back of the car for her, which excites her. However, when she opens it, she finds a worker’s uniform, realizing William wants her at the party as real Ruby, who will be attending as a server.

Courtesy of HBO

During the party, Ruby moves around the room with an obvious disdain for the attendees, who are Lodge members. She finds Christina, who tells Ruby she needs to plant something – a rock with a symbol engraved on it – in the police captain’s office. Ruby immediately says no, because William didn’t mention cops would be involved. Christina explains the captain tried to kill William to gain control of the Lodge and wants revenge.

Back in the darkroom, Leti develops photos while Atticus, surrounded by papers, sleeps at the table, having a nightmare about Ardham. When he jolts awake, Leti goes over to him. He shows her what he’s working on – deciphering the Language of Adam. Leti mentions Yahima again, believing they left of their own accord. Atticus confesses that’s not what happened. Leti freaks out when she realizes everything happening is because of the pages, citing them as evil. Atticus tries to tell her it was for protection, but she doesn’t buy it.

Ruby goes to plant the rock in the captain’s office. When she hears a noise coming from the closet, she opens it to find a man, tortured and bloody, chained inside. Moments later, the captain and a few other men enter and Ruby hides in the closet. The man makes desperate noises, and Ruby tries to keep him quiet. She also fights to hold down vomit. The other men hear the noises but are unsurprised.

During her next day at work, Ruby/Hillary scolds Tamara for doing something wrong. Ruby claims she only wants to help Tamara succeed, reminding her that as a Black person, she needs to work harder than her fellow employees to prove herself. Paul checks on the two of them, and Ruby covers by saying Tamara agreed to take them to the South side.

Ruby (still as Hillary), Tamara, Paul, and the women from earlier go to a bar on the South side, where Tamara and Ruby both look uncomfortable. As everyone eventually gets up to dance, Ruby goes out back as another transformation back to her normal self begins. During it, she crushes a vial of the potion, allowing herself to go back to normal. Afterwards, she witnesses Paul attempt to take advantage of Tamara. Any doubt she had about what she was doing is soon written all over her face.

Courtesy of HBO

Montrose, still mopey, attends a ballroom drag competition where Sammy is performing. Soon, Montrose is able to celebrate with everyone else, opening himself to the surrounding happiness, embracing it. In his euphoria, he kisses Sammy, unapologetic.

Ruby waits back at William’s, still not cleaned from the transformation. Christina enters, trying to relate to Ruby, who shuts her down. Christina tells Ruby that William gave her “unmitigated freedom” with the potion. Who is Ruby truly when she’s uninterrupted? In answer to the question, Ruby/Hillary returns Marshall Field, where she gives notice to Paul. She tells him it’s because she wants to have sex with him, using that to her advantage. She takes off his tie and binds his wrists together with it, then removes his belt and wraps it around his neck. Paul is speechless, going along with what he thinks is sexy time. Ruby has other plans for him, and she gets her own revenge.

Courtesy of HBO

Leti soaks in the bath, reading. Atticus enters, and she says she was trying to pray for Yahima and couldn’t, bringing up the doubt she feels towards her faith. The pair soon discuss their relationship and whether it’s real. Atticus mentions he never really had a good example of love. Leti tells him that her mother always fell in love quickly, as does Ruby. This led to cynicism regarding love for Leti; she isn’t sure if what her and Atticus have is special. He reassures it is.

After teaching Paul a lesson about being a creep, Ruby (back to normal) waits for William to return home. When he does, she finds out that William is actually Christina who took the transformation potion.

The episode ends with Atticus working on the Language of Adam again. He unveils something that makes him panic. He rushes to the phone to call someone, asking how they knew. What they knew is yet to be revealed. He then asks what they are, and the final shot is the paper Atticus holds, with “D-I-E” written on it.

Lovecraft Country airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, streaming on HBO Max.

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By Julia
Julia is a writer/editor/content assistant for Nerds who joined the team in 2019.
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