Things take a turn into another unexpected genre this week, with Lovecraft Country getting a taste for adventure in A History of Violence (directed by Victoria Mahoney), and it feels like two steps forward one step back for the series as a whole, both in story and execution. Once again, while its often expert display of social commentary hits every nerve, it’s the dabbling in the dark arts and supernatural elements that sends the show a little off kilter.
Following on from the spooky installment from last week, Tic has learned that Leti bought her new and now ghost-free home with Braithwhite money, and is now set on breaking down the Aryan adversaries defences, and building up his own in the process. To do so, he needs to find the missing pages from the Book of Names, and in turn learn more about the Order of the Ancient Dawn, much to his father’s reluctance, who still has secrets of his own.
From the off everyone is on their last nerve with one another, which allows the friction between the show’s core trio to spark in just the right way on occasion. Tic is set on playing hero and keeping everyone safe, which Leti won’t stand for when she learns the Braithwhites are back on the scene, and which Montrose believes his son can’t do anything about. It leads to heated altercations between parties that keeps these characters worth watching, particularly Jurnee Smollett, who crackles with an energy that continues to outshine even the show’s leading man.
Making it easier to understand why Tic has fallen for her with every week, their chemistry in A History of Violence is bubbling particularly well, whether it’s fighting over trunk space, to spending a night at the museum, or when the clock is ticking and they’re trying to figure their way out of it. She’s the one character that’s been consistently brilliant since the beginning; unphased by the testosterone that’s constantly surrounding her and pushing through it all, to be an invaluable core element of the show.
Meanwhile, Tic’s family affairs are also starting to be tested and they couldn’t be clashing with anyone better than Montrose, played by Michael K. Williams; a go-to for HBO over the years, in shows such as The Wire and Boardwalk Empire. Montrose continues to push and patronise his son, leading to an obvious divide that has every reason to mend. However, as great a presence as he may be, it is the plot developments surrounding him in this chapter of the show, that end up being the most glaring issues of the entire episode.
After sneaking into the museum after dark, the three go tomb-raiding to obtain the missing pages that could turn the tide against the Braithwhites, but the way they are recovered has some downright baffling moments. Riffing from the likes of The Goonies and Indiana Jones (particularly The Last Crusade, given the father/son antics), the clues aren’t cleverly revealed so much as either barely in view, or pulled out of thin air. In the case of opening the hidden door that sets them off on the road, Montrose deduces that it’s revealed by moonlight, casting onto a hidden switch that opens up the door. Does that mean that this happens every night a full moon passes the museum? Hardly a secret, Titus. Then there’s the disappearing bridge across to a coded passage that simply has too many obstacles and not enough time to build the tension within them. Instead it feels like a collection of flukes, making you wonder if this tunnel of traps and tests is as tough as its made out to be. Never mind though, at least they can literally get a Leti’s lift back from Boston to Chicago because… sci-fi.
There’s also the added frustration of supporting characters being moved around the board and almost completely forgotten. Tree, who hitches a ride with them and disappears during the museum tour serves no purpose but to hint at Montrose’s hidden sexuality, and as for Hippolyta and Dee – there’s no conversation from the main leads before they head off on their nightly stroll and she ends up taking her own detour, this time to Devon County to find out what really happened to her husband. It’s great for the latter, as she and her daughter are given something to do, but the process of setting her on this path could’ve been handled a lot better.
And how can we forget what feels like the biggest wasted addition to the episode in the form of Yahima (Monique Candelaria) – the revived member of a forgotten tribe that was lured by Titus to be ‘educated’ and ultimately eradicated along with their people. An interesting addition that again highlights a prominent and horrific chapter in history, Yahima’s value to the story is quickly extinguished when Montrose kills them in secret. Dying twice must really suck, but even more so when it seems to make so little impact in the overall story. Now we know how Uncle George feels.
Overall, A History of Violence might land as one of the weakest episodes of the series so far. Weak in delivery and unrefined in its conclusion, we can only hope that next week comes back stronger for a show that had a lot of promise and is losing it far too quickly.