The purpose of a pilot episode is to intrigue the viewer enough to make them watch more of the show. Unsurprisingly, due to the team that put it together, “Lovecraft Country” does this successfully. Directed by Cheryl Dunye and Yann Demange, both prominent Black directors known most notably for “The Watermelon Woman” (1996) and “’71” (2014), respectively. “Lovecraft Country” is based on, and builds off of, the 2016 book of the same name by Matt Ruff, who accompanied Misha Green and Jordan Peele in the writing of the script.
The episode opens with a black and white war montage in the trenches of a battlefield, then quickly devolves with a surprise element of science-fiction rendered in full color — flying octopus-like creatures and giant metallic robots on spindly legs that are setting the land on fire. In the air, a stereotypical disk-shaped spaceship lined in neon green beams down an alien that descends to embrace a soldier right up next to the camera. And then … a Dodgers player saves the day?
The main protagonist, Atticus “Tic” Freeman (played by Jonathan Majors), wakes up from this dream abruptly, but the scene is nonetheless the first indicator that this show will not be the typical 1950’s drama. Tic is on a bus home after being summoned by a letter from his father, who has since disappeared. The audience is also introduced to the cultural climate within the show. Tic’s uncle, George Freeman (played by Courtney B. Vance), makes a living creating a guidebook that outlines safe places for Black people to stop while they travel in New England. The conflict of the episode, as well as the show at large, is for George and Tic, alongside Jurnee Smollett as Letitia “Leti” Lewis, to find Tic’s father and uncover the strange circumstances surrounding his disappearance. This main plotline is underlined and intensified by the racism that the Jim Crow laws allow and the white people show towards the three. One scene takes place in a little diner, where the main characters were checking whether the owners were racist so they could log it in Uncle George’s guidebook. Leti gets up from the table to go to the bathroom and overhears the waiter implying over the phone that the police are about to run them out of the town. This leads to a car chase that feels painfully slow, in part due to the 25 miles per hour speed limit, where they are trying to cross the county line out of a “sundowner county.” The car chase derails them from where they were trying to go and eventually leads them into danger in the middle of the woods.
Dunye and Demange successfully present an old fantasy quest story told in a new and refreshing way. There are jump scares, terrifying creatures and just a little bit of blood. It’s a well-done pilot episode, and it’s well worth watching. It can be streamed now on HBO Max.