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‘Lovecraft Country’ Recap: The Skin I’m In

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A review of this week’s Lovecraft Country, “Strange Case,” coming up just as soon as I finish the Little Orphan Annie radio puzzle…

“I enjoyed my entire day, using the only currency that I needed: whiteness.” -Ruby

Is whiteness in and of itself a superpower?

This is the question asked and answered by the fantastic “Strange Case,” in which Ruby wakes up transformed into a white woman and discovers just how much easier life is as “Hillary Davenport” than it’s ever been inside her own flesh.

First, though, the hour is a spectacularly gory piece of body horror. As someone who has not borne witness to all the adventures, magical and otherwise, that her sister has had over the previous four episodes, Ruby is understandably shocked and terrified to wake in the morning and face a reflection not her own — particularly with William not around to explain what’s happened to her. After being “rescued” by a couple of racist white cops who assume she’s in danger among her South Side neighbors, Ruby-as-Hillary is delivered to William, who poses as her concerned husband. Meanwhile, the borrowed body begins to crackle and break even as she’s moving around in it. The sound design alone is unbelievably gross, and then it all gets more stomach-churning as we see things moving around underneath her skin, followed by William dragging her by her ankles to a rug on the floor, and plunging a carving knife into her body.

And this is all fairly mild, blood-and-guts-wise, compared to what’s coming.

It won’t be clear until later in the hour that William wasn’t attacking Ruby in that moment, but simply cutting away the rotting husk of Hillary as the spell wore off. (It also won’t be clear until even later that William isn’t William. But we’ll get back to that.) In that moment, we are watching the seeming assault from a distance, but we are otherwise entirely in Ruby’s POV: disoriented, disgusted, and terrified about everything that’s happening.

Neumann as Ruby’s alter ego Hillary.

Eli Joshua Ade/HBO

After an explanation from William about the work of Hiram Epstein (the mad scientist whose ghost caused Leti so much trouble in the haunted house episode), Ruby begins taking advantage of this newfound gift. She starts small, with an afternoon in the park and a free ice cream she gets simply for being white(*). Then she returns to Marshall Field, where Paul the creepy manager not only hires her right away, but gives her an assistant manager position rather than the salesgirl job Ruby had once hoped for.

(*) At the risk of comparing every other episode to an Eddie Murphy routine, the free ice cream bit — and Hillary’s adventures in general — conjured up the classic SNL short film “White Like Me,” where Murphy used a team of makeup artists to pose as a white man. At one point, a convenience store clerk refuses to let him pay for a newspaper, since there are no black people around to witness the transaction.

There is nothing outwardly special about Hillary. She is put-together and confident, but it seems like Paul and other characters on the show respond to her fundamental whiteness itself, rather than, say, that she’s a bombshell like Marilyn Monroe or as hilarious as Lucille Ball. She’s like the limp Pat Boone cover of “Tutti Frutti” that the other salesgirls listen to in the break room, as opposed to the Little Richard original that we hear later in the episode: Nearly all that’s unique and soulful about Ruby has been stripped away, yet this version is inherently more acceptable to white folks, because they recognize themselves in it and see Ruby/Richard as exotic novelties at best (note how excited the girls are to “let” the lone black salesgirl, Tamara, show them the South Side), hostile alien invaders at worst.

The magic never lasts quite as long as Ruby needs it to — her face explodes open as she rushes out of the job interview with Paul(*) — but she very much throws herself into the Hillary role, becoming haughtier by the day. (Though her scolding of Tamara plays less as her cosplaying bigotry than it does her being tough on someone from her part of town whose work will reflect on any other black people to apply for such a job.) Eventually, though, it stops being fun. First, William makes Ruby (as herself) go undercover as a maid at the lodge so she can retrieve an item from Captain Lancaster’s office, where she also encounters a tongueless man bound in the closet, whimpering for help. Then, during the Marshall Field staff field trip to her neighborhood, she spots Paul trying to rape Tamara in an alley. Tamara is able to fight him off and get back inside, but it’s the last Ruby seems to want of Hillary Davenport’s life — or, at least, of her job at the department store. She has walked a mile in this white woman’s shoes, and ultimately she wants to use them as a weapon, repeatedly stabbing a bound-and-gagged Paul with the stiletto heel as punishment for his sins. She times the attack so that Hillary’s skin will slough off midway through, ensuring that Paul will know it was a black woman who so thoroughly hurt and humiliated him.

(*) I suppose one could ask exactly how Ruby made it home each time the spell wore off, since she would be a naked black woman covered in blood and guts, but where would be the fun in that? In general, the less you try to think about logistics, the better Lovecraft Country tends to work.

As powerful as Ruby finds herself when she can pose as Hillary, she’s still a woman in a society run by men. In the episode’s last big twist, it turns out the magic can be used this way, too, as “William” is revealed to have been Christina all along. The clues for this were hiding in plain sight: the two never appeared together, ducked questions about the nature of their relationship, and Christina has complained to Atticus about the unfair nature of her gender excluding her from power. Christina’s bursting out of William is a disgusting cherry on top of this wonderfully nausea-inducing sundae — at one point, you can see her frailer arms and hands moving up his back and along his limbs — and a reminder that no matter where you think you’re standing on the ladder of society, there’s always going to be someone on a higher rung trying to kick you down.

“Strange Case” is not for the faint of heart, or stomach, but it may be the best, most memorable Lovecraft Country episode yet.

Williams as Montrose.

Eli Joshua Ade/HBO

Some other thoughts:

* While Ruby is strutting around town as Hillary, Sammy the bartender — who is, as has been suggested in previous episodes, Montrose’s lover — assumes a different identity of his own by participating in a drag queen show. It’s remarkable how many different aspects of the black experience in the 20th century this show is able to cover, with the horror genre somehow binding it all together. That’s true even when we get a subplot like this that, at least for the moment, seems entirely non-magical. Then again, there’s definitely some magic in Michael Kenneth Williams’ performance, as Montrose is able to briefly shed his usual internal self-loathing and let loose at the show with Sammy and the other drag queens.

* Misha Green (here sharing the writing credit with Jonathan Kidd and Sonya Winton) opts to end the episode not on the William/Christina discovery, but on Tic finally translating the word “DIE” from the pages, then calling a woman (his former flame from Korea?) who appears to know something of what’s happening. It’s a confusing scene (Lovecraft tends to be much stronger at emotional clarity than the narrative kind), and thus a far more anticlimactic note to end on than an incredulous Ruby snarling, “You’ve been William this whole fucking time?”

* When Ruby is hiding in Lancaster’s office closet, she gets a blurry glimpse of him with his shirt off, and it sure looks like he has had a black man’s torso transplanted onto his body, Frankenstein-style. We’ll see if there’s more to that story down the road, or if it’s just meant as both a garish minor detail and a literal bit of appropriation, akin to what happens in Get Out. Ruby is enjoying the benefits of white skin at the same time that Lancaster is secretly using black skin for his own nefarious purposes.

* Hillary is a more prominent and complicated role for Jamie Neumann than Dell the racist dog lady was back in the second episode. The re-use of Dell’s form suggests that the spell borrows the images of people Christina already knows, which would mean that Lancaster actually killed the real William to take over the lodge, and that Christina has been impersonating him ever since.

* The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story playing on the TV set in Paul’s office as Ruby attacks him is from a 1955 episode of the CBS anthology series Climax!. Later called Climax Mystery Theater, the show is most famous for featuring the first filmed version of a James Bond book, with a version of Casino Royale starring Barry Nelson as “Jimmy Bond.” Like the newscast earlier about the Kenyan locusts shedding their skin (which plays while William is cutting the Hillary skin off of Ruby), the archival footage not only echoes what’s happening on screen, but offers us a bit of a visual respite from the blood in what’s already a very gory hour of television.

* Finally, lots of great out-of-the-box song choices this week, particularly using a selection from Ntozake Shange’s 1976 theater piece For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf to accompany the sequence where Ruby enjoys an ice cream cone as Hillary. Other tunes: “Tonight, You Belong to Me,” by Patience & Prudence; “Return to Love,” by Black Atlass; “Money,” by Cardi B (a fine pick for Hillary’s job interview at Marshall Field); “Bad Religion” by Frank Ocean to accompany Montrose and Sammy’s sex scene; “Please Give Your Love To Me,” by Robin Robinson; both the Pat Boone and Little Richard versions of “Tutti Frutti”; “My Baby Dearest Darling,” by The Charms; “Lonely World,” by Moses Sumney; “Bodak Yellow,” by Cardi B; and, once again over the closing credits, the Alice Smith version of “Sinnerman.”

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God, Brad Pitt Is So Good at This

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He’s a master class in how to play the game as a celebrity. Case in point: his Fast Times at Ridgemont High table-read performance.
Photo: CORE/YouTUbe

To succeed at celebrity is to master the art of image construction and management. It is to turn yourself into a brand in which performance is the method and the point. The step and repeat on the red carpet. The reaction to a seemingly impromptu paparazzi swarm. The interviews. The magazine covers. The charity events. It’s all in service of an image created, not born. Throughout the history of Hollywood, there have been figures who buckled against the weight of the personas they walked behind, like Errol Flynn and Lana Turner during the height of the studio system. There have been others whose image-making was so refined as to make it hard to tell where the real person began and the star ended, à la Archibald Leach, better known as the debonair Cary Grant. After the fall of the classic studio system in the 1960s, much changed in the imagination of what Hollywood could be. Chiefly, stars were free agents unwed to a single studio. But the tricksy, mercurial alchemy that goes into becoming and remaining a star endured. No one has proved more adept at playing this game lately than Brad Pitt.

In the wake of his contentious, ongoing divorce from Angelina Jolie — on the heels of their grand, volcanic romance that bloomed on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, when he was still married to Jennifer Aniston, causing a tabloid obsession that continues to this day 15 years later — Pitt has played the celebrity game with slippery splendor. While Jolie has kept relatively quiet, Pitt has been more forward-facing. His star persona is that of the high-school quarterback: charismatic and beloved. (If anything, Hollywood at large comes across as a more knotted version of petty high-school politics anyway.) Pitt hasn’t played the game perfectly so much as invisibly — his relationship with his new 27-year old girlfriend, whom he took to the chateau he shared with Jolie, might read like a rote, midlife-crisis sort of scenario. And one of the most cunning turns in Pitt’s recent approach to his own image is to once again position himself in solidarity with his ex-wife, Jennifer Aniston, an alliance that bloomed during the 2019–2020 awards season, perhaps helping him nab an Academy Award for his supporting performance in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, he’s sidling up to Aniston once more, for a recent Fast Times at Ridgemont High table read.

What better way to shore up goodwill than painting yourself as the breezy, charming man who easily spends time with an ex-wife — with whom people are still obsessively hold out hope you’ll reunite? “Hi, Aniston,” he croons. “Hi, Pitt” she replies before calling him “honey.” I could practically feel the heat index increase on Twitter in that moment. Personally, I have never been invested in the Pitt and Aniston relationship; I was far more intrigued by the sexual heat and emotional complexity between Pitt and Jolie. But the dynamic between Pitt and Aniston demonstrates the ways in which the personal can be leveraged for the professional for celebrities. And Pitt isn’t just good at it, he ranks as one of the best, a talent fully on display during this table read. He’s more than merely charming, he’s a supernova of lightning-bright presence. He’s more than willing to be silly and carefree, listening with full-bodied attention. It’s a way of being he’s mastered, that helps him to create indelible moments in celebrity history, like his suburban-themed photo shoot of curdled domestic bliss with Jolie in the pages of a 2005 issue of W magazine and now this video alongside Julia Roberts and Morgan Freeman. Pitt’s unique skill comes in how effortless he makes everything look, which takes his star image away from feeling studied and makes it seem natural. Every celebrity is playing the same game. But the ones who make it seem like they aren’t performing, and instead are speaking directly to us with some conspiratorial intimacy, are able to carve the kind of immortality actors dream of.

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Tyler Perry Tells Emotional Story About Grandmother While Accepting Emmys Governors Award

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Tyler Perry Tells Emotional Story About Grandmother While Accepting Emmys Governors Award | Entertainment Tonight


































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Pete Dunne Set For WWE NXT UK Appearance, WALTER And Ilja Dragunov Face Off, More From Relaunch

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The WWE NXT UK brand officially relaunched with today’s new episode on the WWE Network.

The new episode, the first since April, was recently taped on the new NXT UK set at BT Sport TV studios in London, England. The show opened up with a relaunch video package, which you can see above. The video features WWE Hall of Famers Shawn Michaels and Triple H, who are instrumental behind-the-scenes with the brand. The NXT UK bosses mention the relationship that NXT UK now has with BT Sport. The video also features various NXT UK Superstars introducing themselves.

This week’s show opened with Andy Shepherd and a returning Nigel McGuinness on commentary. Sid Scala, Assistant to the NXT UK General Manager, was the authority figure shown, but GM Johnny Saint was nowhere to be seen. The opening segment saw Ilja Dragunov interrupt Scala until Noam Dar interrupted, to set up the main event. The main event ended with Dragunov fighting off a distraction from Alexander Wolfe of Imperium, to go on and hit Torpedo Moscow on Dar for the pin to win. Dragunov celebrated after the match until NXT UK Champion WALTER came out and they had an intense staredown to hype their upcoming title match.

The first match of the night saw NXT UK Tag Team Champions Mark Coffey and Wolfgang of Gallus win a non-title match over Amir Jordan and Kenny Williams. A post-match segment saw several tag teams confront Gallus – Flash Morgan Webster and Mark Andrews, The Hunt, Pretty Deadly, Ashton Smith and Oliver Carter, and Imperium. The women’s division was also featured this week as Piper Niven and NXT UK Women’s Champion Kay Lee Ray had an in-ring showdown to build to next week’s title match. Aoife Valkyrie then defeated Isla Dawn in singles action.

The Heritage Cup Tournament did not begin this week but it was announced that Pete Dunne will make a special appearance next Thursday to host the Heritage Cup Tournament Drawing. Dunne will be picking the match-ups for the 8-man tournament. There’s still no word on the final competitor but the other 7 confirmed names are Noam Dar, Alexander Wolfe, Flash Morgan Webster, A Kid, Dave Mastiff, Trent Seven, and Joseph Conners. The tournament will be held under British Rounds Rules, and the Heritage Cup winner will move on as the first-ever NXT UK Heritage Cup Champion, with title defenses that are also held under British Rounds Rules.

A video package did air this week with a special look at the Heritage Cup competitors. You can see that video below, along with overall highlights for this week’s relaunch episode.

Stay tuned for more on the NXT UK relaunch.

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