There are only two ways to leave Sunday night’s Lovecraft Country episode, “Strange Case:” smug or unable to ever sleep again. Because, Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee) is William (Jordan Patrick Smith) and William is Christina Braithwhite. Lovecraft Country’s creepy Aryan schemers are one in the same thanks to a spell. If you figured this out ahead of the HBO drama’s fifth episode — like my roommate did with last week’s “A History of Violence” — it’s a reason to pat yourself on the back for a sleuthing job well done. However, if you didn’t see the Christina-William twist coming, it’s likely the episode’s nightmarish conclusion of bloody body horror left you reeling.
Ruby Baptiste (Wunmi Mosaku) is in the second camp and ends the episode horrified to see Christina claw her way out of William’s frame. Although Ruby is right to be terrified, Lovecraft Country has been dropping breadcrumbs about this twist since the very beginning — and this episode very subtly explains the plan Christina has been working on all along.
“Strange Case” explores the newfound partnership of “William” and Ruby following their staircase hookup last week. Although Ruby assumed the rendez vous was a random pickup, viewers know William planned their meeting and his subsequent seduction. This episode reveals the immediate aftermath — Ruby waking up in the body of a white woman (Jamie Neumann) — and William/Christina’s long con of getting a magical tchotchke into the office of Chicago PD captain Seamus Lancaster, the head of the city’s Sons of Adam lodge. Ruby is the one who completes the spy mission since she is indebted to William. He allows her the privileges of a white woman over the episode by slipping her a potion that “mimics” the process of metamorphosis.
Ruby isn’t the only one taking the potion, as the end of “Strange” confirms. The episode closes with William seemingly suffering from a case of the shivers. Then he falls to his knees and Ruby sees another person struggling to escape his skin. William’s skin begins to fall off in explosive chunks until Christina’s face bursts out of his face. “You’ve been William this whole fucking time?” Ruby yells.
The answer is yes, Christina has been drinking the potion since the series premiere of Lovecraft Country, which introduces “William” in its final scene. The William we see in that moment is Christina. William attempts to convince us otherwise, claiming Christina is in Boston with Montrose Freeman (Michael Kenneth Williams), father to Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors).
Yet, second episode “Whitey’s on the Moon,” confirms Montrose is actually being held captive nearby. That means Christina must also be somewhere in the Braithwaite mansion, especially since her signature silver car can be seen in the driveway when Atticus and his companions initially arrive at the manor. Although Christina does pretend to return home later in the installment, we never see her and William in the same room — a classic “they’re the same person” giveaway.
Christina barely tries to conceal the oddity of her relationship with William when it is first interrogated. When Atticus asks Christina if William is her boyfriend, she cryptically replies, “He is a boy and a friend sometimes.” That’s because sometimes William doesn’t exist.
William and Christina continue to switcheroo from there (William is noticeably pushed to margins of the Sons of Adams banquet in “Whitey”). In last week’s “Violence,” the pattern manifests in Christina showing up to intimidate Letitia Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) while William beguiles her sister, Ruby. In “Strange Case,” Ruby notices William and Christina are constantly filing in and out of the locked basement. As these bizarre instances stack up, we’re meant to wonder if Christina is simply using her William suit to achieve some semblance of the patriarchal power she is denied by her gender, even in the magical Sons. After all, in the eponymous Matt Ruff book Lovecraft Country is based on, Christina’s analogous character is a man.
“From the jump, I was reading the book like, ‘Oooh, this would be so interesting if Chrisina were a girl in this world, because then she’s also being oppressed,” Lovecraft Country co-creator Misha Green told reporters ahead of the series’ premiere. “But that doesn’t make it okay for you to oppress other people.’ Then obviously with the potion, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s going to be amazing.’”
But, there appears to be more to Christina’s plan than simply walking around in the body of a handsome white man some of the time. At the midpoint of “Strange Case,” Christina tells Ruby about William’s backstory. He was the heir to the Sons of Adam lodge in Chicago. The current leader of the group, Captain Lancaster, performed a successful coup prior to the events of Lovevraft by shooting William in the back and dumping him in a river. Lancester believes William is dead. Christina explains that William only survived “with her help.”
It is likely Christina is lying. As we see in the episode, the potion turns Ruby into a dead person: Dee (Jamie Neumann, again), the racist white woman Leti kills in Ardham during “Whitey.” It is possible William is also actually dead, allowing Christina to take his form as the inspiration for her potion spell. If that theory is true, Christina is probably doing all of this work to use the potion to pose as William. That way, she can take over “his” rightful place as the leader of the Sons of Adam in Chicago. Christina isn’t trying to help some woebegotten friend — she is capitalizing on the demise of Ardham’s Sons of Adam chapter to grab the power that was denied to her by her father Samuel (Tony Goldwyn). With Samuel dead, Christina can be the lodge leader Samuel never wanted her to become.
When Atticus sent Braithwaite aflame, he may have also unleashed Christina’s wildest, bloodiest dreams.