At long last, this chapter finally allows Hippolyta Freeman (Aunjanue Ellis) the spotlight she has deserved ever since the HBO drama’s series premiere. In the episodes that followed Lovecraft’s debut, Hippolyta has seemed to know — in some small piece of her soul — this truth about her worth and the upsetting lack of attention she has received. “I Am” fixes this egregious problem by tossing Hippolyta through countless worlds; from 1930s Paris to the far reaches of the galaxy and even an alternate version of Hippolyta’s own life. Eventually, Hippolyta is confronted by a goddess named Seraphina/Beyond C’est (Karen LeBlanc) who can allow the grieving widow into a society of higher-level beings.
It is an experience that raises many more questions than answers about what, exactly, has happened to Hippolyta. At least Lovecraft Country has given us enough information to unravel some of the cosmic mysteries of “I Am.”
The central element to understanding Hippolyta’s adventure is the orrery — or solar system model — of Hiram Epstein (Miles Doleac), the man who previously owned the home of Letitia Lewis (Jurnee Smollett). Hiram was a follower of Horatio Winthrop, a founding member of the Order of Ancient Dawn, who fled the cult’s Ardeham chapter and moved to Chicago. Hiram hid the orrery in his home and, as we learn in the fourth episode “A History of Violence,” Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee) believes the model can help her find Hiram’s missing pages to the deciphered Book of Names. The Book of Names, as we learn throughout Lovecraft Country, is the key to using the magic of the Order of the Ancient Dawn.
The only problem for Christina, Leti, and Lovecraft hero Tic Freeman (Jonathan Majors) is that Hippolyta ended up in possession of Hiram’s orrery in Lovecraft Country’s third episode, “Holy Ghost.”
In “I Am,” Hippolyta figures out how to open Hiram’s faux solar system. The orrery gives her a key and a series of coordinates; the coordinates send her to Mayfield, Kansas (the numbers really do correspond to a random patch of greenery in northeast Kansas, according to Google maps). In Mayfield, Hippolyta finds an observatory that, when she cracks its very difficult math, opens a portal of ever-changing dimensions. Hippolyta is sucked into the portal.
While the first planet Hippolyta ends up on seems wildly different from our own, she is technically in the same spot as before — just on a different version of our world. We know this because the coordinates at the bottom of the screen are the same as the ones Hippolyta finds in the orrery, which send her to the observatory (the numbers are 39.805499 and -95.159492). It is here, in this alternative version of Mayfield, that Hippolyta begins her journey of understanding.
The being in the Mayfield spaceship, whom we will call Seraphina, describes herself as “I am” with complete conviction and understanding. Hippolyta, on the other hand, is terrified and only tethered to this multidimensional existence through a purple substance implanted in her forearm. Hippolyta’s ensuing encounters are meant to help her reach the level of enlightenment — and power — as Seraphina. As the robot/goddess tells her, “Where do you want to be? Name it. Who do you want to be? Name it.”
Originally, Hippolyta responds to this prompt as a joke, saying she wants to be dancing in Paris with Josephine Baker, the famous Black American ex-pat and entertainer. However, Hippolyta’s jaunt into Baker’s life proves to be serious. The jaunt reveals the full realm of possibilities available to Black women outside of America. With Baker, Hippolyta can be a free and sensual single woman who attends all the queer dance parties she wants. “I see what I was robbed of back there [in my America],” Hippolyta tells Josephine (Carra Patterson). “I feel like they just found a smart way to lynch me without me noticing the noose.”
Hippolyta is left “furious” and desperate to kill the white folks who have put her in this kind of spiritual bondage. So, the sci-fi magic of the portal sends her to a version of what appears to be the 1800s American Southwest, where Black women who escaped slavery train to fight Confederate soldiers. Here, Hippolyta learns the physical skills necessary to defend herself from white aggressors. Subsequently, she confronts a still-living version of her now-dead husband George Freeman (Courtney B. Vance) for helping her minimize her sense of self. Finally, the pair travel into deep space to explore the cosmos together as a “real-life” version of their daughter Diana’s (Jada Harris) comic book series, Orithyia Blue.
At one point, George asks if any of this is real. “I don’t know what exactly it all means, but, God, it feels real,” Hippolyta responds, signaling to viewers the ultimate message of the episode.
Seraphina is pleased with Hippolyta’s growth. She summons Hippolyta to space to offer her place in a new, higher plane of society. We can assume this is real in some way, since many people saw the multidimensional portal the orrery created. Seraphina exists in at least one of those dimensions. However, it is probable Hippolyta’s experiences within the portal are unique. After all, it is unlikely a Black goddess appeared to the white supremacist cop that also got thrown into the portal. It is even less likely that goddess offered the racist police officer a lifetime in her intellectually evolved social circle. Hippolyta, on the other hand, used the powers of the portal to create her most actualized self. So she was rewarded.
Still, Lovecraft Country is a show about family above all. That is why Hippolyta turns down Seraphina’s offer to flourish as an interdimensional goddess to continue to take care of her daughter back on “her” earth. But, will Diana recognize this new, enlightened version of her mother?