Note: This recap contains mentions of racially motivated violence against Korean 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.
In this week’s episode of Lovecraft Country, we finally learn more about Jamie Chung’s mysterious character Ji-Ah as well as the truth of Atticus’ time in Korea. It’s an interesting episode that is anchored by an excellent performance by Chung as a woman who has to reconcile the human part of her with a darker, monstrous side. Read on to find out what happened in “Meet Me In Daegu.”
In 1949 in Daegu, Korea, Ji-Ah excitedly sings along to a Judy Garland movie in the local theater. Heading home, she talks with her mother Soon-Hee about what she will do to help her mother once she passes her nursing exams. Soon-Hee is less than optimistic and ominously states the only way their family will be safe and whole again is for Ji-Ah to bring home more men. That night at a gathering with her friends, Ji-Ah is oddly fixated on finding a man to go home with. Her friend Young-Ja sympathizes, saying that all mothers want to see their daughters settled, but it’s clear there’s something else going on between Ji-Ah and Soon-Hee. Ji-Ah does eventually find a man, but when she brings him home to have sex, she morphs into a nine-tailed monster and attacks him. She views his every memory before killing him brutally. Soon-Hee walks in and simply says “ten more.”
One year later, the Americans have arrived and occupied their town. Soon-Hee is making a special meal for Ji-Ah’s birthday, and Ji-Ah brings up her stepfather, who is dead. It’s revealed that Ji-Ah killed him when Soon-Hee summoned a creature called the kumiho. The kumiho possessed Ji-Ah’s body and resides there now. Once the kumiho kills 100 men, the spirit will leave and Ji-Ah will return to her body. But the kumiho is the Ji-Ah we’ve been getting to know so far – and she seems less than malevolent. Soon-Hee reminds Ji-Ah she only has two souls left and suggests she go after one of the newly arrived Americans.
Ji-Ah and Young-ja work together in the hospital tending to American servicemen, who have a less than stellar attitude towards the Korean workers. Young-Ja confides to Ji-Ah that she is secretly working with the Communists. As she does so, the women see a man hung in public for being a Communist sympathizer, horrifying Young-ja. Ji-Ah brings home one more man, and Soon-Hee is relieved that only one more man must die before she can have her daughter back. Ji-Ah asks Soon-Hee about why the “love” Ji-Ah’s stepfather had for her before his death was wrong, and it comes out that Soon-Hee called the kumiho because the stepfather had been raping Ji-Ah. She thought it would just kill him and didn’t realize it would allow the kumiho to possess Ji-Ah’s body. Soon-Hee says of course Ji-Ah wouldn’t know the difference between love and what happened between Ji-Ah and her stepfather because she is a monster. But Ji-Ah is genuinely confused and tells Soon-Hee that she can’t take the last soul’s life: she doesn’t want to be a part of killing anymore.
The next day, Ji-Ah and the other nurses on her shift are rounded up by the Americans. They state that they know one of the nurses has been working with the Communists – and they intend to find out who it is. One soldier then shoots a nurse in cold blood, and it’s clear they will all be killed if the spy doesn’t come forward. Atticus is among the men, and Ji-Ah watches him shoot the nurse next to her. Young-Ja, terrified, confesses it was her and throws herself in front of Ji-Ah, who was next. They drag her away as a blood-spattered Ji-Ah watches.
Weeks later, Atticus is brought to the ER with injuries. Ji-Ah watches him from afar, rage in her eyes. She fixes his bed, and it seems she has decided who her last soul will be. But then Atticus surprises her by asking for a favor: his glasses have broken but he still has some chapters left in his book. Would she read them to him? Ji-Ah spoils the ending instead based on the movie version she saw, but Atticus simply says the book is different. She declines, but Atticus keeps up the pursuit, introducing her to his fellow soldier Sung the next day. Sung is Korean-American, putting him in a terrible position. Ji-Ah is curious about America despite what they have done, and is especially interested in whether the men have met her idol Judy Garland. Both laugh at the idea they’d know a famous Hollywood star personally. Sung mentions he was drafted but that Atticus volunteered. Later that night, Ji-Ah agrees to finish the book. Atticus confesses he enlisted to get away from his father, and Ji-Ah confides that she and her mother have a complicated relationship too. But she insists both of them have to stop letting their parents shape their lives.
The next evening, Sung acts as a go-between to get Ji-Ah onto the base for their first date (which is immediately made horrible by the fact that Ji-Ah has to pretend to be a “comfort woman” to get past the guards). Atticus has set up a private screening of the new Judy Garland film Summer Stock, a romantic gesture that Ji-Ah appreciates. It seems she really is falling in love, and she brings him back to her home. Atticus nervously confesses that he’s a virgin, but before they do anything Ji-Ah stops him, not wanting to kill him. She tells him to go as Soon-Hee arrives home. Soon-Hee is angry when Ji-Ah tells her about her feelings for Atticus, with Soon-Hee reminding her that Atticus killed her best friend. Ji-Ah reveals that the “real” Ji-Ah is gone, which Soon-Hee doesn’t want to believe.
Ji-ah, angry again, confronts Atticus the next day. She reveals she was one of the nurses there that day, and Atticus offers the weak excuse that he was following orders. ji-Ah tells him he can’t keep skirting responsibility for his actions by hiding in his books. Atticus asks why she even agreed to go out with him, and she confesses she meant to kill him (leaving out the monster part). But once she got to know him, she realized she wanted to be with the person she saw inside him, and she wanted him to be with the real her. Atticus cries and they kiss, managing to have sex as Ji-Ah hides her tails and controls her powers.
Months later, Ji-Ah appears to be trying to tell Atticus the truth as she reads him a story about the kumiho. Atticus tells her he will be heading home and wants her to join him in America. She says he doesn’t know everything about her, but Atticus states he loves her no matter what. When they have sex that night, however, Ji-Ah loses control. She manages to stop short of killing him but sees his past and future: something deadly waits for him in America. Thoroughly scared, Atticus leaves as Ji-Ah desperately warns him not to go home, that death awaits him there. Soon-Hee finds a shaking Ji-Ah sitting on the floor, and reacts sympathetically. The two visit the shaman as Ji-Ah asks if her vision is true. The shaman does not confirm or deny, simply stating that Ji-Ah has not become “one with the darkness” and that her journey is not done yet.
Lovecraft Country airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.