No matter which side of the fence you might have found yourself on with Lovecraft Country so far, taking us completely out of the events of the uneven-and-utterly-bonkers main storyline (or what there is of it) to backtrack this week is a bold move that pays off…to an extent. Since the beginning, Tic’s been haunted by a past that has left our hero rattled – in between uncovering more about the Ancient Order – we just haven’t known why. It has been caught in hushed phone calls and glimpses of secrets literally bursting out of the closet during Tic’s first encounter with the Braithwhites. Now in Episode 6 – Meet Me In Daegu we finally see the origin, and it sets up what might be one of the show’s most refreshing and interesting episodes.
While it may be an unseen chapter from Tic‘s past, he barely fills it himself, and instead, the show’s sixth episode leans into the mysterious woman that has lingered throughout the story so far; Ji-ah, played by Jamie Chung. Opening in a nearly empty cinema showing Meet Me in St. Louis, we see Judy Garland dance across the screen as Ji-ah herself fantasises about getting up and being caught in the movie magic. If first impressions are everything, it’s easy to see why Atticus found a kindred spirit in this girl overseas, as both find escapism in their own fantasy; Atticus on the page and Ji-ah in the picture shows. The latter’s reality seemingly consists of trying to help her mother, study to become a nurse and dealing with the societal pressure of finding a man to be with. It’s a testing life Ji-ah’s living, but then as is suddenly revealed, this isn’t Ji-ah’s life at all. In fact, this isn’t even Ji-ah.
After bringing home a man from a night out, a moment of passion turns into something much darker. Ji-ah is actually a Kumiho; a nine-tailed fox spirit that was summoned when the real Ji-ah’s stepfather sexually assaulted her, and her mother swore vengeance. Ji-ah’s ‘umma’ (or ‘mother’ played by Cindy Chang) got what she asked for, but lost her daughter in the process, leading to the Kumiho staying in Ji-ah’s body, only departing after the spirit takes the souls of 100 men (read: kills them in tentacle-tearing fashion).
It’s a lot of information to absorb given we’ve spent so long in Tic’s corner of the supernatural world, only to be thrown to another. Thankfully though, it’s with these heated exchanges between mother and not-quite daughter, that we’re kept up to speed, which is all sparked from that signature Lovecraftian mess of pulp and gore. It also adds pressure, not just for what is expected of Ji-ah, but the spirit inhabiting her. This Kumiho is reluctantly performing monstrous deeds by night, to be released from a life she’s longing to explore but doesn’t own in the day. It’s a very busy batch of character elements to tackle. Still, Chung handles them impressively, allowing you to (pardon the phrasing) get under her skin and figure out what’s going on below the surface. So much so, that when tragedy leads her to finally cross paths with Tic, it sets up what feels like a classic wartime romance and a tale that is distant from the main events of Lovecraft Country that still feels bound to the show’s core.
These two ill-fated lovers are doomed from the start; we just don’t know to what extent. Both are products of violence and bloodshed (with Tic being literally at war) and are on a road to self-destruction, so watching them find a spark of happiness in each other feels a refreshing change of pace from what we’ve seen so far. There’s a different kind of chemistry here than back home between Tic and Leti; less passion and more a genuine affection, albeit with its own more shocking and dangerous issues. Ji-ah originally plans to take Tic as one of her 100 souls, but soon finds it a difficult task to complete when hatred for the enemy becomes something else entirely. So much so that when their first night together happens, there’s a palpable fear that Atticus’ ‘first time’ will be his last, even though we know it’s a prequel to events we’ve already seen unfold.
Of course, secrets can’t stay hidden forever, and soon the beast beneath the beauty reveals itself, terrifying Atticus, but also leading to the reason as to why Ji-ah is still a presence in the current timeline. During her soul-shredding process, the Kumiho can see her prey’s entire life unfold, including their death. As a result, Ji-ah sees Atticus bound to a chair before the lights go out, assuring her that if her new love continues where he’s headed, her vision will come true. We know she’ll go on to attempt to warn him plenty of times in the future, but will he finally listen and change his path? We’ll have to keep watching to find out, if only to see if his old flame returns to the fold and winds up in Chicago. Leti will no doubt have a few words on the matter – nine-tailed spirit or not.
Overall, Meet Me In Daegu is a break from routine and a welcome one. Distancing itself from a show that has at times lost itself in murky plot threads, to focus on one that has very little connection to everything else is a real treat, and even more so with its central performance. Jamie Chung might just be the most welcome surprise of the show since Jurnee Smollett, so here’s hoping some sparks are set to fly as we lead into the second half of the series.