In the seventh episode of Lovecraft Country, a Black woman, surrounded by a sea of glowing equations, scribbles frantically as she works out the fix for a machine that will soon warp her across dimensions of space and time. Viewers watch as Hippolyta, a housewife played by Aunjanue Ellis, names herself a discoverer of new worlds—embracing an identity not usually afforded to Black Americans in sci-fi (and one that is more historically associated with white colonizers). It’s a potent example of the show’s biggest selling point: the transcendence of tropes that all too often plague Black characters in cinema.
Produced by showrunner Misha Green, Lovecraft Country is a dark fantasy series that premiered on HBO in August of last year. It’s based on Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel of the same name, a book that reimagines the otherworldly horror of known racist H. P. Lovecraft through the eyes of Black folk in the Jim Crow ’50s. Jonathan Majors plays Atticus “Tic” Freeman, a Korean war vet who has returned home to search for his missing father, Montrose (the late Michael K. Williams), with help from love interest Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett). The trio is soon sucked into a tale driven by monsters, racialized horror, and the inherited magic that is Tic’s unexpected birthright.
In July, HBO announced abruptly—to the disillusionment of fans—that the series would not be returning for a second season. Not two weeks later, the Television Academy nominated Lovecraft Country for a whopping 18 Emmy Awards, news that made HBO’s decision look even more ill-advised. Outraged viewers took to social media to express their discontent. “Lovecraft Country got 18 Emmy nominations and HBO canceled it,” one Twitter user wrote. “Shit don’t make no sense.”
But maybe it does. Lovecraft Country made its point. It empowered a cast of Black heroes to take on the forces of magic, racism, and privilege wielded by evil white folks. Rather than the imminent death of Black characters we have come to expect at some point in horror flicks, it instead disposed of its white characters with Quentin Tarantino levels of pulp gore. And Lovecraft Country did it all with a stellar cast, beautiful cinematography, top-notch visual effects, and a genre-bending soundtrack spanning everything from Nina Simone to Cardi B. Perhaps it doesn’t need a Season 2; considering how much it fell apart at the end of its first run, a second might only besmirch its good name.
A gripping story has its twists and turns, but those winding roads have to be coherent enough to follow. Lovecraft Country is jam-packed with an abundance of storylines, many of which are haphazardly planted and never satisfyingly fleshed out because there’s just no room for actual depth. It made a mission of squeezing in every Black historical event and cultural reference that it could into its convoluted plot: the Tulsa race massacre, Chicago’s Trumbull Park riots, the lynching of Emmett Till, the existence of sundown towns, and the publishing of the Negro Motorist Green Book, to name a few. Sometimes it worked; other times it felt contrived. Always, it felt like too much.
This could just be an artifact of the source material—the book was, after all, an anthology of intertwined short stories. But it was as if the writers of Lovecraft Country couldn’t decide if the show should be serial or episodic, so it ended up being a weird mix of both. Or perhaps it’s a case of too many cooks in the kitchen: The plot starts to get unnecessarily thick around episode four, when Misha Green is no longer the sole name listed on the story credits. By the time we reach Hippolyta’s montage of exploration in episode seven—as stunning as it was to witness—the plot has really gone off the rails. It feels murky and disjointed; the pieces don’t come together until a repeat watchthrough, when viewers already have an idea of what’s to come.