Lovecraft Country and the Master/Slave Romance as Seen Through Christina and Ruby.
Spoilers ahead! At the writing of this, five episodes have aired and the fifth one, Strange Case, ended with Christina cracking out of William’s skin to reveal, to Ruby, that she is William, begging the question, who is or was William? Is Christina keeping the bodies of real William and Dell, the dead white woman Ruby’s been wearing, in the basement to maintain her and Ruby’s connection to them?
I CANNOT wait until Sunday, so in the meantime let’s look more closely at Ruby and Christina/William, because the ways in which the show explores human sexuality, power and race is why I love it so much.
Christina does not appear to be attracted to men. In episode two she sits in front of a naked Atticus as he stands like the Vitruvian Man and women wash his skin with sponges to ready him for the Garden of Eden ritual. In spite of the fact that both actors playing Christina and Atticus are arguably two of the most beautiful people in the world, there’s nothing sexual about this scene at all. In fact, Christina seems distracted. The camera, positioned behind Atticus, shows her facing his naked form, only glancing at him occasionally but never to assess his body.
Christina, a manipulative psychopath, is the type of person who wakes up each morning and asks, “Who can I use today?” She’s also beautiful and while she may not be every man’s cup of tea, as a 1960’s Barbie replica come to life, it’s safe to say, she’d be all the tea for most men of any race. So, why doesn’t she use sex as a tool to manipulate Atticus? Most psychopaths, in real life, are sexually-charged people who enjoy a lot of sex because it allows them to manipulate any partner they seduce. It’s not something we see in Christina, but it is something we see in William.
Through William we’ve seen Christina leer at and flirt with Letty and seduce and fuck the sick and tired right out of Ruby. What’s more, I propose that the only time we see Christina as Christina aroused is when she and Ruby meet, ostensibly for the first time, at the Lodge.
Christina gives Ruby a stone talisman with a symbol on it to hide in the police chief’s office. Ruby’s like, “A cop? You’re trying to get me killed,” and turns to leave, but as she does, Christina grabs Ruby’s arm, very much like William might. It’s a sexually-chared gesture. We’ve seen it in a million movies and television shows. It’s often followed up with a passionate kiss, or fucking even. Ruby doesn’t respond as she might have if Christina were William. In fact, she’s not afraid, she’s not excited, she’s enraged and if Christina knows what’s good for her, she’ll step off her arm. But it’s like Christina forgets she’s Christina in that moment, her carefully constructed personas bleed together. She leans in close to Ruby and asks, “Do you care for William?” And tells her how he almost died but survived, “with my help.” Those seem to be the right words to get Ruby to put her life on the line, revealing that she may have feelings for William after all. But this then begs the question, is it a lie to get Ruby to do the thing? Is it a test to see if Ruby has feelings for William? Is it partially true? All of the above?
When William and Ruby first meet, everyone including Ruby knows it’s a terrible idea for her to go home with him. Yet, like most of us might, she does, but not because she believes in his lies. No, she wants to forget her pain for just one night.
However, the booze-soaked excitement she feels in his arms on the stairs in his mansion evaporates quickly in the harsh morning light of episode five. It’s then that Ruby learns why you don’t play with men like William, even for just one night.
After she has recovered from her coerced metamorphosis, Ruby asks William if she’s free to go. He says, “You’re free to do whatever you please,” and places the metamorphosis potion on the bureau next to a wad of cash. While Ruby is not in the vice grip of his ownership, she soon finds herself caught in his snare of addiction.
All of this seems to be exactly what Christina/ William wants. Ruby appears to be as easy to manipulate as anyone else. She even begins to open up parts of herself to William that no one else knows.
“I don’t know what is more difficult, being colored or being a woman,” she says to him, “Most days I’m happy to be both, but the world keeps interrupting and I am sick of being interrupted.”
It’s unclear if these moments of intimacy move William/Christina in any meaningful way or if she’s impressed or even surprised by Ruby’s intellect, strength and courage. To be sure, it’s unclear if Christina has any feelings at all. Yet I don’t think that’s the end of it for Christina. She gets more than she anticipated in Ruby and I guess it’s the romantic in me that wants to assume Ruby moves her. Before my marriage I had a thing for toxic, powerful men and I think I’m locating myself in Ruby’s narrative a little bit.
The exchange at the Lodge about William’s close call with death isn’t the only time Christina pokes around the subject of Ruby’s feelings for William. Earlier, William washes Ruby’s back while she’s in the tub and teases her with the idea of another woman, who turns out to be Christina. One might easily dismiss it as just another of William/ Christina’s tactics to make Ruby think he’s caught feelings for her. Ruby’s too smart to take the bait, but it might be that strength in Ruby that flips Christina’s switch, serving as an aphrodisiac.
To me, that would explain Christina’s reveal at the end of the episode. She stands before Ruby naked and covered in blood and gore, like afterbirth. It struck me as a sort of intimate, albeit sick, gesture, one final attempt to gain Ruby’s trust and perhaps…love?
Track with me, at the same time across the city, Montrose, Atticus’ violent and troubled father, is finally embracing who he is and who he really loves, another man. The juxtaposition of these two “coming out” stories, serves as a kind of photo negative of one another. Montrose, who has been fucking his partner for years, has never kissed him, never embraced him. Tonight, he does and in that way, it’s like he’s coming out to himself, letting himself in on how much he loves this man and needs his love.
Christina, whose true self may be so twisted and dark she’s merely a sucking void of horror, could be “coming out” to Ruby because she’s no longer useful to Christina. Alternatively however, Christina’s reveal might be an invitation asking Ruby to want her for her and not for William. This wouldn’t negate her more monstrous nature, but it would make her more human.
It even casts Ruby and William’s relationship in an even more horrific light, driving it into a kind of fun house mirror reflection of the master/ slave relationship. The masters who raped their female slaves sometimes fell in love with them. Some slave masters did this to create more slaves, yes, but others freed their slave mistresses to marry them or freed the children in their wills. Some children even enjoyed the privilege of education and the bequeathal of land and property.
We have such an awful and complicated history.
Whether or not Christina has feelings for Ruby, she has a drug Ruby enjoys and Christina isn’t done with Ruby. She’s only just begun, which makes her reveal even stranger. A long and complicated affair with William is an easier sell than one with Christina, isn’t it? I mean because they’re already sexually involved and Christina is standing there naked, so what could she possibly be doing and what will it mean for Ruby, Letty, Atticus and Montrose? Whatever happens, Sundays are my new favorite night.