Both her White neighbors and ghosts haunt Leti Lewis.
Lovecraft Country Season One Episode Three “Holy Ghost,” directed by Daniel Sackheim, starts with Atticus, Leti, Montrose, Hippolyta Freeman (Aunjanue Ellis) mourning the loss of Uncle George. The mourning is depicted in multiple visual ways like Leti sitting still in the church while all the other Black practitioners dance around and sing. After inheriting some money from her dead mother, Leti buys the broken-down four-story Winthrop house in a White neighborhood. She turns the property into a boarding house for Black Chicagoans. Soon both the White neighbors and ghosts start terrorizing the Black residents of the Winthrop house.
I love when television shows plant something early in a season, and it pays off later. In Lovecraft Country, the payoff of Atticus’ dream on the bus ride home occurs in the episode “Holy Ghost.” In the dream sequence, Jackie Robinson whacks the head off a giant monster with a baseball bat. After killing the beast, Robinson tells Atticus that “I got you, kid.”
We learn that this dream comes from a story that Uncle George used to tell Atticus all the time about when he and Montrose were boys. White boys surrounded young Montrose and George during the 1919 Chicago race riots. The boys were about to be beaten about when a tall Black stranger who swings a bat-like Jackie Robison saved them. The stranger knocks all the White boys out. Before the man walked away, he told George, “I got you, kid.” Atticus tells his father, Montrose, that he now dreams about the story. This story echoes the theme of the whole episode; if Black people stand up for each other, they can defeat the racist White power majority who wants them to stay second class citizens.
The theme of the episode is expressed throughout the whole Winthrop House ghost story. During her housewarming party, Leti’s White neighbors burn a cross on her lawn. She retaliates by bashing in their cars. The police arrest her. While the police torture her in their van, one of the officers tells Leti that they had found body parts from eight Black people in her house’s basement. Leti investigates the police officer’s claims; she discovers that the Winthrop House belonged to a disgraced physicist named Hiram Epstein. Epstein experimented on Black people from the South Side of Chicago. These victims were taken to the scientist by police officers. The ghosts are in all the photos that Leti took of her family and friends when they moved into their new home. Leti matches all the spirits to Black people who went missing in the Southside. Throughout the episode, ghosts creep up behind Leti, warning her about how Epstein is haunting the house. At first, the Black ghosts appear scary since they are all scarred up, some with missing body parts or looking like Frankenstein’s monster, but after this story, you realize that they had been used up by White society.
Atticus and Leti ask a Santeria priestess to help them exorcise Epstein from their home and free the tormented Black ghosts. While the trio starts to chant in creole to cleanse the house, White neighbors break into the Winthrop House to kill Leti and Atticus. Ruby (Leti’s sister) and all the other tenants already moved out. The ghosts murder the White tormentors to protect the living. The spirits are avenging themselves by destroying the type of White men who never valued their lives. After the priestess and our two heroes finish their chant, Leti thinks her troubles are over. Then Epstein’s ghost uses the sprinkler system to wash off the protection marks on their foreheads.
Epstein’s spirit first inhabits the priestess leading her to try to strangle Atticus. He knocks the priestess out, but then the ghost takes over his body. Atticus’ head shakes around, and his eyes go white. The possessed body stalks toward Leti, ordering her to leave his house. Epstein’s face appears on Atticus’ head as it shakes around. Leti calls on all the Black spirits who were experimented on by Epstein to help her. The mishappen ghosts appear through the walls. The ghosts are all between the ages of six months to somewhere in their seventies. They hold hands and circle around Epstein.
The ghosts and Leti all chant in creole together and banish Epstein. Epstein rises out of Atticus, but everybody continues to chant. The Black ghost’s wounds heal, and their body parts grow back. The ghosts are taking back their power from Epstein. Leti shouts for the White spirit to get out of her home. Then the lights come back on, and all the ghosts disappear. Everybody coming together banishes the Mengele like Epstein from their space. Now Leti can move poor Black families who are like scientist’s victims into the boarding house. Without Atticus, Leti, and the Black ghosts banding together, they would never have defeated the system that made it impossible for Black people to live safely in the White wealthier part of Chicago.
“Holy Ghost” left me with a lot of questions. Diana (Uncle George’s daughter) and her friends play with a Ouija board during the housewarming party. The Ouija board’s arrow is taken over by a ghost that spells out George Freeman’s name. Is Uncle George a ghost now? Or was it the ghost of Epstein taking over the board to torture Diana?
At the end of the episode, we discover that it is Christina who sent Leti the money to buy the Winthrop house. Atticus tries to attack Christina, but she uses a spell to freeze him in his tracks then tells him to contact her when he is ready to learn about their family. Is Christina his ally or a complete enemy? From last week’s episode, Atticus appears to have magical abilities. Is he a wizard?