Sundown is the series debut episode of Lovecraft Country. Written and directed by Misha Green, with executive producers Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams, it is the story of Atticus Freeman and his search for his missing father. Along with his Uncle George and friend Leticia, they set out on a road trip that takes them through 1950’s Jim Crow America, having to battle both racism and the supernatural.
Check out the series trailer for Lovecraft Country:
Sometimes you are introduced to a property and you can just tell that something special is on the way. This is one of those times.
Suddenly, HBO has become the home of “the rest” of American history. After the explosive open to Watchmen brought attention to the Black Wall Street Massacre, Lovecraft Country educates the masses on “sundown towns”. These are areas where, as explicitly as possible, black people were not to be once the sun went down. Should they find themselves within the limits of a sundown town at sunset, they are open to all sorts of wicked behavior and attacks. If you are anything like me, this is your first time hearing about sundown towns. We can go ahead and mark that down with the other “things I never learned about in school”. We also got a quick trip down memory lane regarding why exactly the White House is white. That immediately rolls into one of my new favorite GIFs for when my introversion has peeked and my social battery has expired:
Lovecraft Country will not be short on action. We get two car chases in this opening episode and while one may be more stereotypically exciting (high speed, guns, crashes), the other is somehow more pulse pounding. Our protagonist trio are told by a police officer that they will need to leave the entire county before sundown or else their freedom and lives are in jeopardy. They have less than 10 minutes to make the county line. Our group must not speed because that gives the officer reason to pull them over, closing their window to escape. There is something about racing the clock but not being able to move as quickly as possible that is absolutely panic inducing.
3. Lovecraft and Racism
Just to be clear, we are not saying we love Lovecraft and/or racism, only the way the show deals with them. The show opens with a sprawling supernatural spectacle. When you think Lovecraft, this is what you see. They waste no time indoctrinating you to the style of monster that is in store. They also do not beat around the bushes addressing Lovecraft’s racist views. Misha Green’s writing and direction make it clear that innovators and legends can be monsters too. That does not mean that their contributions should be neglected, rather put into proper context to display a full picture.
By the time actual Lovecraftian beasts are on camera, the audience has long been run through the ringer with the racist human behavior. You’re lulled into a false sense of “security”. You believe if our leads can just evade and manage a tangible threat, they will be fine, then boom; blood thirsty, thousand-eyed creatures turn an ugly scene into a night of unrelenting horror. Do not miss the imagery as well; the racist cop is the only one we see transmorph into a creature. To our black protagonists, both the police and the flesh eating animals are equally life threatening.
Before I wrap this recap, we must stan a queen. Jurnee Diana Smollett is stealing this show. If you are new to the bandwagon, welcome; there is space for all. Some of us have been here since Full House and On Our Own (yes, I’m that old), but we do not judge latecomers. Jurnee plays a girl that –
Excuse me. Smollett plays “Leticia F*cking Lewis” and she is absolutely owning every scene. Whether she is giving a knowing glance to racists’ stares, doing her own stunts, or giving us the greatest monster sprint this side of Jurassic World, Smollett is captivating and a joy.
Sundown is an excellent series opener to Lovecraft Country. Working with a theme of “no safety after sundown”, our protagonists are threatened by both supernatural creatures and the racist townships they attempt to traverse. Misha Green is crafting an intriguing tale of sci-fi mixed with social commentary. Jurnee Smollet must be protected at all costs.