Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Tony Goldwyn on tonight’s explosive new Lovecraft Country

Tony Goldwyn
Tony Goldwyn
Photo: Mike Pont/WireImage (Getty Images)

This post discusses plot points of the Lovecraft Country episode, “Whitey’s On The Moon.”

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Tonight’s episode of Lovecraft Country saw our band of heroes—Atticus (Jonathan Majors), Leti (Jurnee Smollett), and Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance)—make some real progress on their journey. The series premiere, “Sundown,” ended with the trio on the doorstep of some imposing manor. Turns out, it’s the home of Samuel Braithwaite (Tony Goldwyn), the scion of a shipping family, and the father of Christina (Abbey Lee), the elven-looking woman with a magical Bentley who saved the team from the shoggoths in the woods.

As Leti rightly points out, “shipping” is just code for transporting enslaved people. That open secret plays a key role in “Whitey’s On The Moon,” but early on, it’s the least of the trio’s troubles. They’re psychologically tormented by the Braithwaites for the amusement of the Sons Of Adam, a secret order with designs to rule the world—or rather, return it to its original state of Paradise. No one believes in this mission more than Samuel. But Tony Goldwyn, who plays the aristocratic character, tells The A.V. Club in a post-mortem interview that his character doesn’t believe he’s an actual zealot because “being a zealot implies emotion, implies a kind of reliance upon one’s emotional intensity to support an argument or support a behavior, and Samuel doesn’t see it that way at all. He has done the hard work and dedicated his life to science and alchemy, in this sort of nexus of spirituality and science. He’s rising to his destiny because of that hard work, that sacrifice and commitment. It’s not about zealotry for him. It’s about, in his view, intellectual rigor, discipline, and breeding.”

When we’re introduced to Samuel, he doesn’t exactly look like the lord of the manor—he’s being carved up by someone in a robe. But we learn it’s a bit of misdirection once we see bits of Samuel’s liver being served for dinner to the Sons Of Adam and Atticus and George. Goldwyn got a kick out of the scene: “It’s very campy and operatic, and a perfect example of Samuel believing he’s worthy—It’s a kind of sacrifice, and a tolerance of pain and suffering.”

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Lovecraft Country blends storytelling genres, including fantasy and horror, and Samuel Braithwaite sits right at that intersection of magic and science. Goldwyn says Samuel feels destined to be the new Adam, who will re-order the world. He thinks of Wolf Hall and Damian Lewis, who “played Henry VIII with so much entitlement and power and you were like, “Yep, that’s the king. There’s no doubt.” [Laughs.] There’s no sense that of lording it over everybody. He is god-like in that way, and I think Samuel Braithwaite feels the same thing, but also feels he’s earned it by doing the work.”

Goldwyn says joining Lovecraft Country was “an easy ‘yes.’ I thought it was just a great piece of writing and a really fun character and an incredible cast.” But what stood out most for the actor, who played President Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant on Scandal for seven seasons, was the alchemy of the source material, its interpreters, and the important reminder that racism in this country hasn’t been limited to the Southern states.

What Matt Ruff wrote in his book, and what Misha Green really elaborated on, and what’s right in the sweet spot of what Jordan Peele likes to do is take a genre that’s really entertaining and popular and put it in the context of social commentary. I love that this road trip doesn’t take place in the South. We presented that the Jim Crow South represented all the racism in our society, but we’ve whitewashed the fact that New England and the Northern United States have been equally racist.

So to play a character who is the embodiment of that, I thought was really cool. Samuel is a multigenerational New England aristocrat, a product of a time gone by. He’s a member of secret societies and someone who views himself as a Renaissance man and a scientist, and an intellectual and ultimately a member of a superior strain of the human race really. And he’s gonna put that to its ultimate use.

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But in revealing his character’s backstory, Goldwyn points out that “what we think of as racism is sort of irrelevant for Samuel Braithwaite.” Samuel doesn’t believe in white supremacy, exactly, but rather his own: “He has a more authoritarian view of the world. It’s easy to think, ‘Oh my god, he’s so horrible.’ But I think that a lot of people in our society aspire to that kind of thing, and still do. There’s a reason we’re still wrestling with the issues we’re wrestling with, in terms of oligarchy.”

Samuel does manage to force Tic to participate in the ritual to open the door to the Garden Of Eden, but everything goes wrong for him at the end. It’s not Adam, but the spirit of Hannah—an enslaved woman at the Braithwaite manor in the 19th century, and Tic’s ancestor—who appears. Her power flows through Tic, turning the Sons Of Adam into stone, including Samuel. The building comes crashing down all around them, destroying the petrified figures, but Hannah is able to guide Tic (and maybe the Book Of Life?) to safety.

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Goldwyn describes his character’s final moments as having a “supernatural force turned against [Samuel], turned on him. Tic flips it on him, and it’s like holding a mirror up to him. The circuit is turned inward. He’s redirected the explosive power, this force of nature, back onto the person who’s opened Pandora’s box.” Of course, Goldwyn can’t reveal if this is the end of the road for Samuel. But if what we’re seeing is competing legacies—Tic is also a son of sons—as much as competing types of magic, his specter is likely to loom.

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