After the stupendous and deftly handled supernatural finale of last week’s episode welcomed us to Lovecraft Country, Whitey on the Moon may well feel like a major shift from what came before. Following on from creatures of the night and the most intense car chase within the speed limit, Lovecraft Country’s second episode unfolds like it can’t decide whether to put its foot on the accelerator or the brakes, and battles between the two throughout.
From the off, Whitey on the Moon drops us into a place in the story that’s so jarring, it feels like we’ve missed a beat. After finding refuge in a beautiful lodge (belonging to the supposed captors of Tic’s father) last week, it takes seconds to establish that there’s no place like this home, and Atticus is well aware of it. While the son in search of his father tries to case the joint, Uncle George is revelling in a bedroom crammed with his favourite books, and Letitia is going through a wardrobe with clothes just for her to the theme tune from The Jeffersons. To make matters worse, neither of Tic’s allies remember what they fled from when they found this place, but the certainty is they need to get out of it.
In the realm of sci-fi and fantasy television, seeing your favourite characters wind up in a twisted paradise isn’t anything new (Patrick McGoohan was jailed for an entire series of it with The Prisoner). To its credit, Lovecraft Country tries to work against the usual formula. It’s the morning after the nightmare before, and our travellers found themselves on the doorstep of the estate inhabited by an Aryan family with an ageless Tony Goldwyn at the head of the table. If Dracula was referenced in the pilot episode, this may as well be his castle, and you want to spend some time exploring it, but the whole chapter feels like it’s ploughing through the most interesting moments and spending too long on the wrong ones.
Monsters, cultists, and inter-dimensional portals, oh my. Whitey on the Moon is crammed with elements that could’ve been spread across at least two episodes, but here we’re only given an hour to absorb it all, with not all of it landing as is clearly intended. Revelations and air-punching successes don’t feel that rewarding, with even the most emotional beats falling flat. It’s only thanks to the three great talents at the centre, trying to escape this mouth of madness, that our attention is drawn in at all.
In between the vampiric-looking Braithwhites themselves and a racist but slightly redundant dog handler (honestly, did we really need her at all?), Jonathan Majors still proves himself to be a solid lead, as the gears in Atticus’ head are working overtime, to not only find an escape from his captors, but also turn the tables on them. His efforts to do so are only successful thanks to his fellow travellers on this adventure, chiefly in the form of Jurnee Smollett’s Leti, who makes a heartbreaking confession to Tic’ (kind of) that peels back a layer from this charismatic heroine.
Then there’s Courtney B. Vance, as the Van Helsing of the piece, wise and welcome with every bit of dialogue he delivers, it’s impressive for Uncle George to have become such an easy favourite only two episodes in. It’s just a shame that the key element he’s a part of this week is handled so poorly. To put it bluntly, if this is his final appearance, I’ll have a bite of Braithwhite.
Then, of course, there is the often expertly-delivered commentary that hangs over the show so perfectly. Even among the carnage and the cult-chanting chaos, Whitey on the Moon still has time to tackle racial horrors and remind you that the fear of real evils of the world are always present.“When have you ever showed up to a white man’s house and he didn’t want to get you out in 2.5 seconds?” Atticus proposes as they’re bound to this mysterious lodge run by ‘wizards’ that aren’t the kind they’ve grown to fear, constantly showing just how sharp the terrain of Lovecraft Country can be, as well as those that cross it. In the case of Whitey on the Moon though, it feels like this may have been a poorly handled bump in the road. Here’s hoping they can get a steady grip on the wheel next week.