‘Strange Case’ had a lot to unpack. Overall, I think the episode was good, but there were uncomfortable moments that I’m struggling to process.
First, let’s start with the discomfort that I can process. I’ve said over and over again in my Lovecraft Country reviews that if we feel uncomfortable with any aspects of the race discussion, that’s important and we need to listen to what’s being said. Well, fellow white women, ‘Strange Case’ was a discussion aimed squarely at us. And, like always, we need to listen to what it’s telling us.
‘Strange Case’ focuses largely on Ruby Baptiste, who has been given the ability to shapeshift into a white woman by William. She uses this ability to accomplish goals that have been out of reach to her due to her race, like getting a job at the department store or simply walking in the world without harassment due to the color of her skin. She doesn’t seek the power and control that William offers her, but chooses to simply move through the world unimpeded, which says a great deal about her character.
In doing so, she gets a glimpse at the privileged world of white women, which is predictably filled with intolerance and prejudice against Black people. Her first encounter before she even understands what’s happening involves her bumping into a Black boy and watching as the police immediately assume he assaulted her. It’s very Emmett Till, and highlights a problem that hasn’t gone away even with time. White women still blame Black men for crimes they didn’t commit even today. This is an ongoing pattern that has been going on for literally centuries.
A lot of her experience also comes from interacting with other white women. While they try to convince themselves they are being ‘nice’ by using the less vulgar term for Black people, they still display a huge amount of prejudice towards them, such as when they say they hope the store doesn’t hire anymore ‘people like Tamara.’ They find uses for Tamara to further their own goals, however, such as when they want to go to the South Side to ‘let their hair down’ and party, using her as a tour guide for Black culture, whether she wants to or not.
They treat the neighborhood and its residents as something that’s there to be their entertainment, instead of a place where the Black citizens of Chicago live, work, and play for themselves. The people are props on their adventure and nothing more. This activity reminds me of the trend of white women taking pictures with children in third world countries as a sort of prop, not thinking that these are actual children they are using for their photo ops.
The context is different, of course, as the latter is often under the assumption that some sort of charity work is being done and the white women in Lovecraft Country are very much not doing that – they are just there to party – but that’s the closest example I could think of in the present day off hand. I’m sure there are more closely related examples out there that’ll come to mind long after this review is published. This isn’t at all an uncommon phenomenon and examples are probably plentiful.
One random thing I want to note about this whole shapeshifting plot in ‘Strange Case’ is that the actress who plays the white version of Ruby is the same one who played Del, the dog wrangler from episode two. It’s not uncommon for shows to reuse actors after a long period of time, but this is only three episodes apart in the show’s freshman season. I can’t help but think this means something.
Do these fake bodies have to be modeled after real people? Was Del a fake person to begin with? Or is this more of a commentary on character parallels, like how plays often use the same actors in roles throughout their narratives? Did they just really like this actress.
I have no idea what this means, frankly. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything. Maybe they were just running low on acting talent (doubtful, but how knows) and threw her in twice hoping nobody would notice. But let’s be real, Jamie Neumann has a lot of acting credits to her name, so people have clearly noticed. It’s gotta mean something.
So the same Actress who played the person rangling the dogs in episode 2 also played White!Ryby/ Hilary…??
Interesting. Was that deliberate or just a happenstance. Is the potion Ruby takes just poly juice Potion?🤔 pic.twitter.com/r1rEMdefPr
— PhenomenalBrat 🍷☕📕🤔 (@JacksonBrittsny) September 14, 2020
We’ll find out at some point I guess. The actress is listed on IMDb for a couple more episodes, but they aren’t always right so that could be a mistake.
The shapeshifting plot in ‘Strange Case’ wraps up with two plot points that were uncomfortable for me on a deeply personal level. I’m not entirely sure how to process them in an unbiased way and have been struggling to put words down about them. That said, I’m going to try my best to unpack this.
Please be advised that the next several paragraphs will contain a TRIGGER WARNING for rape and sexual assault. Please skip to the next bolded text to avoid this trigger.
Ruby quits her job at the department store and lets her lecherous boss continue his sexual advances on her. She then transforms back into her own body and sexually assaults him with a high heel shoe.
I’m seeing the general reaction to this on social media as a positive thing, with people saying he deserved it and it was a triumphant moment for Ruby. He also sexually assaulted Tamara, so it was an act of revenge against a sexual predator. But I struggle to find triumph in sexual assault, regardless of the context.
I feel like I’m alone feeling that this wasn’t a good thing, so I’m not really sure how to process it and judge it accordingly. I’m not going to judge those who found value and catharsis in the moment, though, so I’ll just leave my commentary on that moment at that for now. It is what it is, but I’m not equipped to discuss it further without my own feelings clouding an honest review of the issue.
There was a second moment with ambiguous consent, however, that I feel is even more overlooked. It’s revealed that William was actually Christina Braithwaite the whole time. She’s been using the skin changing potion to walk through the world as a man and have all the privileges that come with it. However, this makes her sexual encounters with Ruby questionable. Ruby consented to sex with William, not Christina.
Ruby doesn’t react with horror over this revelation, however, so I suppose we need to take that into consideration while unpacking it. While the consent was questionable, the character seemed to deal with that aspect of the reveal relatively calmly as there are clearly much bigger issues to tackle at the moment. I’ll be interested in seeing how their sexual relationship is addressed, if it is at all. It might not ever be addressed, or it might get addressed later down the line when the more pressing matters are dealt with. Who knows?
This is the end of the trigger warning.
The Christina-William reveal in ‘Strange Case’ brings up an interesting issue of intersectionality and the different types of struggles that marginalized groups face. Christina feels that she is unable to navigate the world in the way she wants to as a woman, so she needs to don the skin of a man to succeed. But she’s still a white woman and she’s still incredibly wealthy, which gives her an advantage in the world when compared to a working-class Black woman like Ruby.
The concept of struggling and wanting to wear a mask that will bypass the challenges they are born with is a similar desire, but the struggles themselves are not the same. Christina will never understand what Ruby goes through on a daily basis and it’s disingenuous to pretend that all struggles are the same.
To a degree, Christina seems aware of this as she hasn’t hesitated to use her whiteness to her advantage before – she threatened Tic previously with it. But she still struggles being a woman in a man’s world and, while it’s clearly not the same, it’s still a valid concern for her. The context and differences just need to be acknowledged.
As I’ve mentioned before, I very much feel that Christina is in a ‘the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend’ situation with the protagonists. I don’t trust her and she has a load of privilege that she uses to her advantage, but if she can help push back against the Order of the Ancient Dawn, they can perhaps form an alliance of some kind. It’ll be an uneasy alliance, sure, but valuable anyway. Now that she has a fairly intimate relationship with Ruby, I look forward to seeing just how far a potential alliance develops.
While ‘Strange Case’ primarily focused on Ruby, the other characters were still present with their advancing plot lines. The secondary arc of the episode revolves around Montrose, who has an entirely new side of himself revealed during this episode. It’s revealed that he has an interest in men and ties to the Ballroom scene in Chicago.
This hasn’t been addressed in the narrative, but whether or not this is an open part of himself that others are widely aware of is a bit unclear. I assume this has been largely kept secret as the scene at the party where he’s being literally lifted up above a celebrating crowd felt like a moment of freedom and a moment of clarity. It’s obvious that Montrose has a lot of baggage and inner turmoil, but in that moment he experienced some peace. It was a revelation.
— jurnee smollett (@jurneesmollett) September 14, 2020
If this was a first for him – which I assume it was – it’s interesting to note that it was triggered by an act of violence from his own son. He only accepted a queer part of himself after having his traditional masculinity challenged with a thorough beating and seeking to reclaim it through an act of aggressive sex. It’s an emotionally heavy and questionable route to go, but if it helped him connect with a part of himself that was previously buried deep inside him, I hope he finds more peace as he explores this part of himself.
I am, however, still struggling with his actions towards the Two-Spirit character last week. I find it interesting that the character they chose to have a queer revelation is the same that committed an act of violence against a marginalized gender an episode prior. Maybe when I feel this show ‘missteps’ I need to have more faith that there is a reason for it. This show is brilliantly written and the insensitive scene last week felt like an anomaly, but perhaps there was a purpose for it.
I initially read Montrose’s motivation for that murder as an act aimed at protecting his son, but maybe there were layers to it relating to his masculinity and his own hidden sexual desires? It was still uncomfortable and not something I would prefer to have watched, but there’s more to consider in regards to the context of that scene now that he’s had his personal revelation. I’m not sure it entirely erases the brutality of that scene, but it at least gives it some more depth.
Tic and Leti didn’t have much screen time in ‘Strange Case,’ but I’m more than understanding of that considering just how much there was to unpack between Ruby and Montrose’s plots alone. They’ll be back in no time and we’ll continue furthering the overall plot accordingly.
I’ve been wanting this show to slow down with the plot and enjoy the quieter moments anyway, and that seems to be exactly what we got this week so I’m overall happy with the pace ‘Strange Case’ settled into. It was an improvement from the extremely fast trip from the first few episodes.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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