Lovecraft Country: Strange Case   Show Only 
September 13, 2020 7:25 PM - Season 1, Episode 5 - Subscribe

After making a devil's bargain with William, Ruby steps into the charmed shoes of a white woman, but her transformation only fortifies her resentment of the racial divide. A betrayal by Montrose unleashes Atticus' pent up rage, leaving Leti deeply disturbed and sending Montrose into the comforting arms of his secret lover.
posted by oh yeah! (42 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Mmm, Edgar suit. :)

I like that we've finally resolved (most of) the William mystery, although I think Christina is eliding some unpleasant details which are down in that basement. It looks like you can only transform into a specific person, so I guess you need some bits as raw material.

People make entire corpses (and sloughed-off meat suits) disappear way too easily in this show.

I missed something significant about the sheriff in the office scene -- I had to go back and rewatch it after reading the comments on Reddit. That's not a t-shirt!
posted by confluency at 5:27 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


That really rustled my jimmies. Anyone else think we'll be talking about this episode 10 years from now?
posted by LegallyBread at 6:16 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


(Captain, not sheriff; I was looking that up and got distracted.)

There was certainly a lot going on in this episode that was memorable!
posted by confluency at 6:18 AM on September 14


Ruby-as-nice-white-lady getting the free ice cream cone has to have been a shoutout to Eddie Murphy's White Like Me sketch, yes?
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:01 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]


Michael K Williams, man.

In this one episode, he made me go from hating Montrose to feeling sorry for him to being happy for him when he was finally able to overcome his internal barriers and be who he is.

This whole episode had me riveted to my couch. All the themes of identity and transformation; the authentic self vs the performed self; how one can hate the other but also be drawn to the other -- or even have a part of the other within oneself (literally, for some of the characters).

So many levels to this one.

I loved it.

And I think I want to be Letitia Fucking Lewis when I grow up.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:19 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


It seems to me that William was a separate person, and that the story Christina told was true in some ways -- he was an heir and someone tried to kill him for that. But probably they succeeded, and possibly it was Christina who did the killing.

Montrose's big scene was heartbreaking in a lot of ways, including the fact that he's still a murderer. Before the dance scene, I was nervous that he was going to snap and hurt one of the queens. Possibly he still could. This is a really complex character.

I screamed aloud and hid my eyes at the rape revenge scene. I did think that guy had it coming, but I also thought she was going to leave him tied up to be found, and that would be bad enough.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:49 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


Notable that the visual language of the metamorphosis comes from post 1981 werewolf movies, but instead of transforming into a wild animal they become people of a higher caste.
posted by Grangousier at 2:58 PM on September 14 [5 favorites]


(or is it that they transform from the person of a higher caste "back" into the "werewolf"? Transformed werewolves don't have much of a personality, so it's difficult to tell.)
posted by Grangousier at 3:16 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


"People make entire corpses (and sloughed-off meat suits) disappear way too easily in this show."

There's also the issue of Ruby being able to leave situations as a bloody probably nude black woman without much issue particularly an office at Marshall Fields. I mean I can hand wave it away as "She learned the ins and outs of the store and was able to leave the office unnoticed, shower, and change into clothes she hid in advance. But there are at least 2 circumstances where she changed in public unexpectedly. So how did she pull that off?
posted by miss-lapin at 3:36 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


The transformations put me in a Clive Barker frame of mind. But I concur that leaving around several pounds of sloughed-off flesh seems like it should be a bigger problem than it is.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:21 PM on September 14 [4 favorites]


I've been greatly enjoying the show, but I have a few problems with this episode. The rape scene was uncalled for, period. There's no justifying putting rape in media.
And two, I feel like montrose was a little let off the hook for having horrifically murdered an indigenous woman in cold blood. I'm typically a sucker for closeted gay story arcs, but couldn't find myself feeling anything for him so soon after the brutalization of Yahima.
posted by FirstMateKate at 5:18 PM on September 14 [11 favorites]


I think people arguing the plausibility of Ruby fleeing Marshall Field after having sloughed off the full complement of an adult white woman’s skin are possibly applying the concept of plausibility a little too selectively.
posted by hwestiii at 7:24 PM on September 14 [10 favorites]


I really do enjoy the show, but was originally expecting something a little more, oh, “Alien”, and less “Indiana Jones” or “National Treasure”. That said, it’s much more fun than I had expected, having no knowledge of the source material. Lovecraft yes, but not the Matt Ruff novel.
posted by hwestiii at 7:28 PM on September 14


I am also deeply conflicted about this episode. On the one hand I loved how the body horror was handled, practical questions aside. And the poignancy of Ruby’s first day of wish fulfilment as a white woman will stick with me for a while. Just wanting small graces in the form of free ice-cream and being able to read a damn newspaper in the park without being hassled.

On the other I am really uncomfortable with an explicit sexual assault being presented on some level as a righteous act, no matter who the victim was. I wanted to vomit watching it, maybe that was the point but I didn’t really get the feeling it was meant to represent some moral event horizon for Ruby, and even if it was, just ugh.
posted by arha at 7:30 PM on September 14 [9 favorites]


This episode was directed by Cheryl Dunye, director of The Watermelon Woman and The Owls (Older Wiser Lesbians).

Also Drag Race alum Shangela is in this episode.
posted by larrybob at 10:35 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


I thought that we were supposed to be horrified by how far Ruby went, or at least to be made extremely uncomfortable. We've seen horrible people die horribly in this show before, in ways that were presented as them getting their just deserts, but there's a difference between someone getting eaten by shoggoths or a haunted house and someone being brutally injured by a sympathetic protagonist. We're watching a character being seduced to the dark side of magic.
posted by confluency at 1:13 AM on September 15 [6 favorites]


On the other hand... recall that in the opening scene of the episode Ruby sees a bunch of white cops very nearly beat the shit out of a young black boy on the mere suspicion that he has molested a white woman. And the inclusion of Emmett Till in earlier episodes reminds us that this fictional depiction is toned down from similar historical events.

The show is set in a world where brutal retributive violence happens all the time -- it's just happening to people like Ruby, and it's unthinkable for them to mete it out and get away with it. So how abnormal is her reaction when she is given the power to do exactly that?

I don't know if I'm really disagreeing with myself here, but I think that the show absolutely wants us to be thinking about this, and it's part of what is making this episode stick with me.
posted by confluency at 2:51 AM on September 15 [8 favorites]


Yeah I definitely think this is meant to be a “seduction of the dark side” thing. I mean it happened right after our most important bad guy character told her that magic means doing whatever the fuck you want.

I didn’t like watching it either. But if she had just beaten him, or even just killed him (I was expecting staged autoerotic asphyxiation), it wouldn’t have played as such a turn to the dark side. And I wouldn’t be surprised if her actions wind up affecting the poor coworker, because why wouldn’t that guy assume she set this up?
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:40 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


PS: was the woman Ruby turned into the same woman from the village in the second episode?
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:42 AM on September 15 [7 favorites]


The show is set in a world where brutal retributive violence happens all the time -- it's just happening to people like Ruby, and it's unthinkable for them to mete it out and get away with it. So how abnormal is her reaction when she is given the power to do exactly that?

I think we also have to consider Ruby's anger during the rest of the episode is mostly directed at Tamara and earlier in the season, Ruby is angry with other Black people for not trying as hard as she does. Ruby has to live as a white woman to see that she can't ever try hard enough, and with a nudge from Christina, she finally lashes out. Honestly, I think the "Bodak Yellow" music cue really undermines the seriousness of what Ruby did. I don't mind the modern music, but that scene didn't need the winking. My god, Wunmi Mosaku is amazing. I've never seen her in anything before, and she's totally magnetic when she's onscreen.

PS: was the woman Ruby turned into the same woman from the village in the second episode?

Yes, Ruby turns into Dell from the village.

I hated Montrose's storyline; it felt facile and unearned. Especially right after he murders Yahima, who it seems was entirely unnecessary to the story after all.

Gore factor: I haven't felt like the show has really awful gore until this episode —the transformations, the flesh sloughing off were too gory for me to watch.
posted by gladly at 6:58 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]


showbiz_liz: Yeah, same actress, anyway.

I'm kind of curious whether we had ever seen Christina and William together previously, or if they had always been separate? Not curious enough to like go hunt up a download site and run thumbnails though.

And I swear the show just sort of dropped Ruby losing the potion out of her clutch during the first interview. Or was it really her perfume, as the manager believed?
posted by Kyol at 7:01 AM on September 15


I hated Montrose's storyline; it felt facile and unearned. Especially right after he murders Yahima, who it seems was entirely unnecessary to the story after all.

I kind of agree. I mostly just wish that story had been given time to play out over more than one episode. I've been seeing positive reactions to it but, as a gay person who has watched that same basic narrative in a lot of stories, it felt like the Cliff Notes version. At the least, I'd have much preferred just the sex scene in one episode and then the rest of it in a future episode.

And I swear the show just sort of dropped Ruby losing the potion out of her clutch during the first interview. Or was it really her perfume, as the manager believed?

That was just to show why she couldn't stop the transformation after it started. The manager probably just returned it after she came back later (I'm assuming with an excuse about Her Womanly Times, to explain why she just dipped out of the interview.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:20 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


I wonder whether death isn't as permanent a condition for Yahima as were assume, given she's dead the first time we encounter her.

Also, I haven't been watching out for alchemical or rosicrucian or whatever symbolism (though the symbolic world of the formative years of the United States is riddled with it), but Yahima is surely related to alchemical notion of the hermaphrodite, yes?

Secret tunnels that connect everything ... This is an occultist cliche that I'm not familiar with, yes? In the novel Good Omens some Tibetans emerge from a secret tunnel leading to Shambhala (one of the things Adam Believes enough to make it real), but I never encountered the story it was a reference to. Although, obviously, I can guess.
posted by Grangousier at 7:43 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


(Sorry - I should have linked to something there - the hermaphrodite or rebis represents the fusion of the male and female principles - here is a link almost at random, because if I go searching for a really good one, I'll disappear down the rabbit hole and I have work to do).
posted by Grangousier at 7:45 AM on September 15


Secret tunnels that connect everything ... This is an occultist cliche that I'm not familiar with, yes?

Massive hidden tunnel complexes under buildings are very Lovecraft. There are a lot of examples but the first one that came to mind was The Rats In The Walls. Guy decides to restore his family's abandoned estate and

Upon investigating further, and through recurring dreams, Delapore learns that his family maintained an underground city for centuries, where they raised generations of "human cattle"—some regressed to a quadrupedal state—to supply their taste for human flesh. This was stopped when Delapore's ancestor killed his entire family in their sleep and left the country in order to end the horror, leaving the remaining human livestock and a surviving relative to be devoured by the rats inhabiting the city's cesspits.

And of course the final outcome for the protagonist is "gibbering madness," as per usual.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:01 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]


Oh, re: Ruby's whole turn-to-the-dark-side thing, I think it's very telling that one of Tic's relatively few scenes this week was all about how "this magic stuff isn't INHERENTLY evil, what could be so bad about protecting ourselves?" Like, asked and answered. I expect The Temptation of Tic to be a big thing in the latter part of this season.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:45 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]


"Strange Case" is a reference to Lovecraft's "Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward," in which a young man meddles with magic and ends up being replaced by his nearly identical ancestor, who is of course evil. I didn't associate that evil with Ruby's incredibly violent behavior. Maybe it was meant to be a heel turn; I hope so, but it wasn't presented that way.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:33 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]


My god, Wunmi Mosaku is amazing.
She absolutely is. She's been on my list of favourite actresses for a while, and I'm delighted that she has such a major role in such a prestigious show. Up until now I've only seen her in much less famous British productions.
posted by confluency at 1:42 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]


The book equivalent of this episode (re: Ruby) really turned me off the book (iirc, the transformation mechanism was quite different?). I've had Matt Ruff recommended to me by enough people that I've read the first, gave up on the second, and read LC. I'm not sympathetic to his views on race, nor social power.

I think the show treats this better? Transformation of one's outside presentation is a deep subject. Altered Carbon deals with some aspects of it, but deliberately set it in a mostly post-racial setting.

Ruby's capacity as a singer is a function of her physiology, changing physical shape would definitely affect it.
posted by porpoise at 8:26 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]


This one was a lot. Wow. Leti and Tic, was intense and scary. Montrose, man, he didn't speak, and you felt so much in those scenes of his metamorphosis, paralleled with all the magic stuff, which, just wow. Memorable imagery, that, the skin shedding. Going to remember this episode. Unsettling.
posted by eustatic at 10:08 PM on September 15


I'm super uncomfortable with the rape scene, but totally do understand the urge to dehumanize someone in the way you've been threatened with/abused your entire life just to finally turn the tables. The problem with that is, he's just a symbol of Ruby's oppression. This will undoubtedly produce anything but the desired results -- especially since she took so much time to gloat over him, real face and body on full display.

I think my response to this episode, in hindsight, is very much going to depend on how the next episode shows Ruby dealing with the psychological fallout of this week's actions. Same for Montrose.

I'm still meditating on it -- this one deserves an uncomfortable re-watch. Especially that captain wearing a human skin vest-looking scene! Mayhaps Christina is just one of many skinwalkers in this world... and how, exactly, that relates to the SoA (indirectly or not at all) is still part of the show's mystery.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:44 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]


I thought that we were supposed to be horrified by how far Ruby went, or at least to be made extremely uncomfortable.
posted by confluency


My partner hates horror, superheroes, and hates Batman, but she loved this scene, and said it was a "superhero" scene. So, I couldn't watch the scene, but I agree the scene is basically "Misogynoir Batman vs the Sales Department", and that's why it's a stiletto.

And yes, the scene is presaged by Tic and Leti talking about "well, magic isn't evil, is it?" [NARRATOR: Dudes, magic is sooo evil, look at this cop wearing a black person's skin like a flak jacket]



But I think we are also supposed to enjoy the scene itself, within the intellectual frame of "Magic: it's gory and evil."

I can type a statement like "Rape culture's misogynoir excludes Ruby from gainful employment in her field despite her constant pursuit of education and dignity", and it's true (and sad and even kinda boring), and it's even dramatized in the show.

but also my dad will laugh at me for saying "rape culture." Did you hear that antifa is setting off the california fires?

But my dad can understand and enjoy the vicarious pulp thrill of vengance in the shopping mall. The Violence proves the misogynoir exists, in the stomach of all the people who always say "why didn't she fight back?"
posted by eustatic at 9:41 AM on September 16 [3 favorites]


Also, the "Magic: it's gory and evil" stuff in those two stories is set against Montrose, a coward and murderer, forgiven and exultant, basically in drag ball Heaven-On-Earth.

God, those scenes are amazing and memorable.
posted by eustatic at 9:46 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it's pure fanwanky wishful thinking to hope that Yahima is still alive, but... I thought it was weirdly anticlimactic and narratively unsatisfying to introduce this cool and interesting character towards the end of an episode, go to all the trouble of bringing them back to the "real world", complete with a plot setback in the form of magical voicelessness, only to abruptly and unceremoniously kill them off, and barely deal with the fallout.

So for Doylist reasons I hold out some hope that a plot twist is coming. There's certainly a Watsonian mechanism for their survival -- I mean, we saw them come back to life after being a dessicated skeleton. It's possible that they can't be killed by conventional means.
posted by confluency at 3:23 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


I don't know if it's pure fanwanky wishful thinking to hope that Yahima is still alive, but... I thought it was weirdly anticlimactic and narratively unsatisfying to introduce this cool and interesting character towards the end of an episode, go to all the trouble of bringing them back to the "real world", complete with a plot setback in the form of magical voicelessness, only to abruptly and unceremoniously kill them off, and barely deal with the fallout.

So for Doylist reasons I hold out some hope that a plot twist is coming. There's certainly a Watsonian mechanism for their survival -- I mean, we saw them come back to life after being a dessicated skeleton. It's possible that they can't be killed by conventional means.


I definitely think it's possible Yahima comes back, and if this was a non-adapted show I'd be pretty much certain of it. But it's also possible that this was an issue of adapting what I'm told is a book of interconnected short stories into a TV show. Say the Yahima chapter as written was just the story of what happened when what's-his-evil-face met her for the first time - unless you want to do an entire episode that's mostly a flashback with none of our principle characters, you just have to cram it all into a monologue, and then it winds up feeling glossed-over. But you also don't want to cut Yahima entirely because fans of the book would definitely miss that character, especially Native and trans fans who connected with her personally. It reminds me of Rogue One, which clearly had an entire subplot cut out and repurposed as a lengthy monologue by a character who didn't get much screen time in the final cut.

I'm planning to read the book after this season is over, and "but wait what's the deal with Yahima though" is one of the big reasons why.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:29 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]


thought it was weirdly anticlimactic and narratively unsatisfying to introduce this cool and interesting character towards the end of an episode, go to all the trouble of bringing them back to the "real world", complete with a plot setback in the form of magical voicelessness, only to abruptly and unceremoniously kill them off, and barely deal with the fallout.

Kind of like introducing viewers to an incredibly cool mansion and then blowing it up?

The killing of Yahima is meant to be another subversion of a trope: a mystical character who holds the key. We expect them to be more important and integral to the plot after all the work to get to them, but nope.

Unfortunately, unlike the destruction of the mansion, the killing of Yahima is much more loaded.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:27 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]


I really doubt Yahima is even in the book, though; and they killed off Uncle George, all of the writing suggests the show is about these particular characters, and not the side characters
posted by eustatic at 12:15 PM on September 17


Maybe it was meant to be a heel turn

I see what you did there.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:14 AM on September 18


Was that cop wearing a black persons skin? Or did he somehow have a black person's torso? I thought I saw frankenstein like stitches on his arms and neck.
posted by museum of fire ants at 5:53 PM on September 20


I found the rape scene really uncomfortable to watch. I'm not sure how much of that is because it was filmed as the sort of horrible assault that it was, vs how much is grimdark for the sake of grimdark.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:40 AM on September 24


I’m also hoping Yahima isn’t gone forever. My partner pointed out though that Sales Rapist probably is, antibiotics aren’t that widespread yet and he probably won’t want to get treatment for it.
posted by corb at 12:08 AM on October 6


Jordan McDonald article on this episode published on the website of Bitch Magazine
posted by larrybob at 1:02 PM on November 5


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