[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Lovecraft Country, Season 1, Episode 1, “Sundown.”]
HBO’s Lovecraft Country started off with a bang during its Sunday, August 16 premiere. The series, which hails from series creators Misha Green (Underground) and Jordan Peele (Get Out) and is adapted from Matt Ruff‘s 2017 novel of the same name, incorporates sci-fi, horror, and themes centered on race and American history into its story about a group of Black Americans who discover just how deeply their fates are tied into this country’s history. The opening scene of Lovecraft Country‘s premiere episode kicks things off, ushering in all of these aforementioned elements to both set the mood and get viewers to think critically about what’s going on.
What Happens in the Opening?
Lovecraft Country starts in media res. A black-and-white dream sequence plops us into the middle of a trench battle in the Korean War. Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors), a young Black American soldier, runs through the trenches with other Black soldiers. He’s panicked, dodging gunfire, watching planes fly overhead and drop bombs. It’s unclear if he’s looking for a way out of the battle or he’s trying to find the best way to fight back before he’s killed. He climbs out of the trench and stands, surveying the hellscape beyond him. A voice narrates to us: “This is the story of a boy and his dream. But more than that, it is the story of an American boy in a dream that is truly American.” As the dream gets washed in otherworldly colors, a battlefield stretches before Atticus. We see thousands of faceless soldiers torched by tripod robots. Overheard, glowing flying saucers move through the sky and zap airplanes. Winged squid beasts flying around, looking to scoop up unsuspecting human prey. War is hell, but with a science fiction twist.
Atticus stops and looks heavenward. A female alien with red skin (Jamie Chung) beams down from a flying saucer. She lands, hugs him, and whispers in his ear. Suddenly, the couple spins around. A squid beast emerges from the ground, opening its maw and preparing to swallow them. Suddenly, it’s cleaved in two, with each half falling to the wayside to reveal Jackie Robinson as the hero. His bat is covered in green monster slime, as is his L.A. Dodgers uniform. He comforts Atticus, telling him, “I gotcha, kid,” before turning around to face the same squid beast, which reassembles into its original form.
So, uh, What Am I Looking at Here?
There’s more than meets the eye with this opening dream sequence. References to some iconic science fiction works are made. This makes sense considering Atticus is an avid reader of sci-fi and thus, his dreams would auto-populate with the monsters he’s read so much about. If you need a little sci-fi brush-up, here’s every reference made in the opening:
- War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells: The tripod robots seen flaming the ant-sized soldiers on the battlefield refer to Wells’ 1898 novel. War of the Worlds is a foundational sci-fi text, so it should come as no surprise that a reference to its alien invaders is made in a dream sequence about American invaders on Korean soil. In the book, the tripods are referred to as “three-legged fighting-machines.”
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs: Atticus is seen later in Episode 1 reading Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, the first novel in his eventual Barsoom series, so it’s likely his current reading material has seeped into his dreams, as we see here with the appearance of the red-skinned alien woman. This is likely a reference to Princess of Mars character Dejah Thoris, a red-skinned princess, courageous hero, and John Carter’s love interest. It’s also worth noting that in Burroughs’ Barsoom series, there is a hierarchy among the alien races with skin color playing an important factor. The Barsoom lore says the red alien race is the dominant one but has resulted from the generations of fair-skinned, yellow-skinned, and black-skinned alien races producing children. And yes, if you’re thinking that this all sounds very thematically relevant to the show at hand and also problematic considering this springs from the mind of a white man, you’re right on the money.
- At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft: Those flying squid beasts? I’d be willing to wager those are Lovecraft Country‘s take on shoggoths, the cosmic horror shape-shifting beasts first seen in Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness which are also mentioned in Ruff’s novel. Shoggoths are essentially sentient flesh blobs and the genetically-engineered servants of the Elder Things, a much more intelligent alien lifeform. Shoggoths are depicted as having squid-life tentacles, numerous eyes, and flesh sacs hanging off their bodies.
- The Rosewell UFO Incident, 1947: The flying saucers don’t have a blatant literary link. However, given that Lovecraft Country picks up post-Korean War (so, sometime in the mid-1950s), it’s likely sci-fi lover Atticus is well-versed on the Roswell UFO incident, which occurred during his childhood. Since that event, flying saucers have been frequent guests in pulp sci-fi novels, movies, and TV shows, including the pop culture Atticus encounters in the ’50s.
What Series Creator Misha Green Says
Collider’s Liz Shannon Miller had the opportunity to ask Green about the opening scene during a Lovecraft Country press event ahead of the season premiere. In response to our query about what the inspiration for the opening scene was and what the impetus was in making it a reality, Green shared this:
The conception of our kind of big, pulp monster dream in Atticus’ head, the idea is that I just wanted to come in big. You know, I just wanted to go for it. I think that the series as a whole across 10 episodes goes for it, and I just wanted to start that way and kind of get introduced to this world with that feeling that you don’t know what’s about to happen in this world. I think that that opening was laying the groundwork for where we were going using found audio, having aliens, having all these monsters, and then really setting up this idea is life is but a dream, and it’s kind of in the way that magic is in this world. It’s like you can kind of use it to create what you want it to be. And so, that was all thematic, I think, to the show as a whole. And, you know, you always want to start with a bang.
And there you have it! This Lovecraft Country opening scene packed a lot into a short amount of time. But, hopefully, it’s also got you curious about the monsters, mystery, and lore awaiting us in the rest of Season 1.
New episodes of Lovecraft Country air every Sunday on HBO at 9/8c. For more, check out our recap of Episode 1, “Sundown.”
Allie Gemmill is the Weekend Contributing Editor for Collider. You can follow them on Twitter @_matineeidle.