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Series / THEM (2021)

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"This is how it begins. It starts with one family. They came from someplace worse. We'll have to make this place worse."
"What's worse than worse?"

THEM is an 2021 series on Amazon Prime, created by Marvin Little and executive-produced by Lena Waithe.

The first season, Covenant, set in the 1950s, follows the Emory family, Livia "Lucky" Emory (Deborah Ayorinde) and Henry Emory (Ashley Thomas), a loving African-American couple and their two daughters, Ruby Lee Emory (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Gracie Emory (Melody Hurd) as they move from South Carolina to an all-white neighborhood in Los Angeles.

Compare Lovecraft Country and Jordan Peele's Get Out! and Us.


Tropes in this series include:

  • Adult Fear: As the first trailer shows, starting a new life over with your family (including your two young daughters) in a seemingly idyllic town, only to discover horrifically that despite initial appearances, they don't take kindly to your kind...
    • Also your child being murdered in front of you while you are being held down and raped.
  • Alpha Bitch: Betty is the adult version of this, being the leader of the neighborhood's white women and has connections with other groups like school PTAs and being driven out of self-righteousness to drive the Emorys out of her racially-pure neighborhood. In the first episode, both Henry and Lucky mutter to themselves upon seeing Betty and her posse intimidating them from across the street that she's a "dumbass bitch".
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: The Wendells and their friends discuss ways they could harass the Emorys and suggest giving their dog Sergeant a bleached bone. That night, Sergeant is found dead in the basement... but it wasn't by the neighbors.
  • Aspect Ratio Switch: The aspect ratio changes during Gracie Jean's nightmare sequence at the end of the first episode.
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  • Being Watched: In the first trailer, Betty and the neighbors lounge on her lawn closely together to watch the Emorys from across the street.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Betty, Miss Vera, Da Tap Dance Man, Doris, and the Black Hat Man. Betty leads the racists against the Emorys, Miss Vera tells Gracie about what happened to Chester, Da Tap Dance Man mocks Henry and encourages him to give into his anger, Mrs. Johnson/Black Hat Man wants Lucky to kill herself and her family because being black is sinful according to him, and Doris wants to strip Ruby of her identity as a black girl into a white girl. All are trying to drive the family crazy.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lucky rescues her family and makes amends with them, they come to terms with their traumas, and defeat Epps and his goons. However, they still have to contend with an entire neighborhood of whites and an armed squad of cops who literally want them dead for killing Earl, beating up Marty, Betty's disappearance, and maybe the bizarreness of the Emorys' property being surrounded in a sudden magic fire.
  • Blackface: At the end of the first trailer and throughout the "Down the Hallway" teaser, a man in blackface with large black pupils appears in the dark and on the television, threateningly and tauntingly asking "Whatcha gonna do?".
  • Book-Ends: Lucky and Chester were home alone and attacked in a home invasion without anyone to help them, and the season ends with Henry, Ruby, and Gracie being home alone and attacked in a home invasion until Lucky rescues them and helps them defeat their ghosts.
  • Call-Back: When Epps drops his crucifix in Episode. 9, he starts searching for it in the sand without much luck because his sight is failing him. Martha picks it up and hands it out to him. Feeling humiliated and enraged at her for touching his crucifix and hallucinating her as a monster, Epps rails at her, calling her a witch and a whore. He grabs her in fury and her waters break prematurely. He subsequently has her and Grantham locked in a barn and later blinded and killed, all because she tried to help him. When Lucky confronts Epps in the denouement of Episode. 10, she rips the crucifix from around his neck and throws it on the ground. As his powers desert him, his sight starts to fail him and he scrambles about for his crucifix on the ground and is unable to find it.
  • Cassandra Truth: Lucky warns Henry that there is something very wrong with the place and it’s not just the neighbours. Henry deep down knows that she’s right but initially refuses to confirm that he agrees because he knows she’s mentally unstable and fears for his own sanity.
  • Casting Gag: Shahadi Wright Joseph once again plays the eldest daughter in an African-American family being terrorized by monstrously violent people.
  • Children Are Innocent: Henry and Lucky believe Gracie Jean claiming to see a Miss Vera is just one of her imaginary friends, and Henry is worried that this is going to lead to trouble with the white folks, as shown when she tries to explain to the police that Miss Vera was in their house.
  • Content Warning:
    • The fifth episode has a content warning for graphical content and violence, including sexual violence and violence against a minor. Helen is threatened with rape, Lucky is raped, and Chester is killed by being swung and thrown around.
    • The eighth and ninth episodes have content warnings for graphic violence. Both episodes have Cold-Blooded Torture scenes.
  • The Corrupter: The demons goal. Each one targets a member of the Emory and other black families in Compton, and uses their trauma dealing with racism and other personal issues to drive them insane enough to commit horrible acts. The Emory family realizes this in the end and are able to defeat the demons because of it.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The Emorys new neighbourhood in Compton is depicted as this, being a perfectly manicured and seemingly respectable, sunny Stepford Suburbia where damn near all of the neighbours are vindictive racists with dark racists.
  • Crapsack World: The United States has a feel of this for the Emorys as they flee the openly racist Deep South for a place where racism is just as prevalent but in a more respectable and upmarket area. Unfortunately Truth in Television as much of America was like this for black people at this time in the 50s.
  • Creepy Child: Subverted Gracie Jean talks to an "imaginary friend" named Miss Vera, a fictitious character from a book she carries about how to be a Proper Lady. The entity within the house takes on the form of Miss Vera to speak to Gracie Jean and teach her a song that holds a dark significance for her mother. Gracie Jean also blacks out and starts chanting a Madness Mantra in front of the class when she sees Miss Vera outside the window. The subversion is that she's a perfectly well-adjusted young lady who is being tormented by the malevolent presence within East Compton as much as the rest of her family.
    • Played straight with Miles, who is always present whenever something goes wrong in the episode in which he appears, never speaks a word, grins evilly when two people are lynched and set on fire and ultimately turns out to be Satan.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Nearly all of the characters have this to some extent, even some of the villains.
    • The Emorys left North Carolina to move on from a traumatic home invasion by four white people (who were also impossible to track down), who raped Lucky and killed Chester in front of her when she was home alone with him.
    • Henry himself was in WWII and is a high-functioning Shell-Shocked Veteran as a result.
    • Betty was molested by her father, while her mother did nothing to stop it.
    • Hiram Epps lost his son, though we never find out how, although this triggers his Rage Against the Heavens and subsequent temptation by the Devil, causing his Face–Heel Turn from Nice Guy to Sinister Minister.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: This being 1950's America and the show being about an African American family's struggle in it (and then some), what do you think?
    • Obviously, now-offensive racial terms like Negro, Mongoloid, Jap, etc. are thrown around casually and used in disdain, and calling people the N-word or a faggot are only seen as harsher but true by straight white people.
    • It's implied that Clarke is a Closet Gay, yet rather than display intersectionality with blacks and other people-of-color, he only does the minimal and chooses to continue hiding away because if he knows that if he says anything, he's next.
    • Betty has doubts about leading the racists against the Emorys because she knows people will won't take a female leader seriously, and when she's forced to make a Rousing Speech in place of Clarke, she thinks it was embarrassing despite everyone surprisingly being all for it even if she is a woman.
    • Speaking of feminism, a more sympathetic case can be seen with Helen, who gets talked down by her older male colleagues for suggesting an idea and told she should not let her womanly instincts bring down her career.
  • Dirty Old Man: Played for Horror in the flashbacks, where it's revealed that Lucky was raped by a white man old enough to be her father.
    • Betty was sexually abused by her father, which may have left her infertile.
  • Double-Meaning Title: A covenant is an agreement, like a promise, a deal, or a responsibility. It can also be used in a legal context and a religious context.
    • The outdated legal covenants that unfairly restricted black people from owning houses in certain areas.
      • The laws at the time that segregated white people from people of color and enforce racial discrimination.
    • Lucky and Epps's grief over failing their covenant to protect their children.
      • The parent's covenant of protecting their family, which is what drives various characters.
    • Epps's Deal with the Devil that caused the story in the first place.
    • Epps's covenant to Martha and Grafton that he would safely host them in Eidolon, and the breaking of that covenant.
    • Betty and Clarke's marriage or "covenant" breaking due to a lack of commitment between them, like the both of them cheating on each other and Clarke stealing her money.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Deconstructed as Marty sees the Emorys as a threat to his family, future children and community. Epps also had a son who died but unlike Lucky who recovered from her Sanity Slippage and devoted herself to caring for her living family, Epps let it madden him into misanthropy.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Clarke, Betty's husband, participates in her and their friends' racist activities against the Emorys, though he objects to throwing rocks through their windows when coming up with ways to drive the family out because he's worried they may hit one of the kids. He isn't as outwardly racist as them, though it still doesn't change the fact that he's still racist.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Livia Emory is always known by her nickname of Lucky, which becomes an increasingly Ironic Nickname as time goes on. Lampshaded by the Black Hat Man.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: In the first episode, the family dog Sergeant suddenly runs towards the basement door and barks at something. Subverted when he ran up, licked and fussed the old woman who went on to murder Chester.
  • Evil Will Fail: The neighbours fail to drive the Emorys out of Compton and the ghosts fail in driving them insane. Good conquers evil.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Most of the villains on the show are good at pretending to be polite whilst delivering stealth insults. Each of the ghosts with the exception of Black Hat Man initially pretends to be a friend to the family member they are haunting. Even Black Hat Man promises to reunite Lucky and Danny in death if she surrenders to him, presumably with the intention of telling the rest of the family that he will reunite them all in death if they follow suit. Lucky is having none of it.
  • Da Tap-Dance Man and Miss Vera in particularly look like ghosts out of Insidious or The Conjuring.
  • The whole sequence in episode one and episode three depicting Lucky’s assault and Danny’s murder is stylistically very reminiscent of Ari Aster, being filmed on a sunny day with a sickly, sepia font, featuring disturbing close-ups of faces and sickening violence.
  • Flashback: We get flashbacks to 1947 in North Carolina, seeing what drove the Emorys to move to California.
  • Foreshadowing: Betty notices that the kitchen wallpaper is getting loose on the corners and makes a Rousing Speech comparing colored people to mold — it easily festers and is hard to get scrub off, ruining whatever it grew on. She later gets frustrated enough that she rips off the wallpaper and reveals the entire wall is covered in mold.
    • Miles, aka: the Devil, tells Epps that if he fails to destroy one black person who lives on the land then his suffering in Hell will be tenfold. Laser-Guided Karma promised at this point!
  • Freudian Excuse: For the Black Hat Man, the death of his son. Betty Wendell is revealed to have been raped by her father.
    • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: [[spoiler: Neither the Emorys, nor any other black people were responsible for the suffering of any of the villains, so this doesn’t come close to justifying their racism.
  • God and Satan Are Both Jerks: Miles/Satan is behind the supernatural terrors of the show, but both Lucky and the villain Hiram Epps question the mercy of a God that would let their children get killed.
  • Hate Sink: It would be shorter to list which villains aren't outright horrible — Helen, Clarke, and Bull. And even then, complete sympathy is avoided because Helen can be interpreted as just being pragmatic and experimental in the housing market, Clarke's allyship is limited to trying to hold off his wife and neighbors and running off (along with some shady things going on in his marriage), and Bull believes it's the Emorys' fault for not playing along if anything bad happens to them.
  • Hope Spot:
    • It seems Ruby is able to make at least one friend at school... except she's actually her personal demon, tormenting her and feeding on her vulnerabilities to make her go crazy before killing her.
    • At the end of the eighth episode, the Emorys finally decide to book it... and then Henry discovers Lucky took Chester's coffin with them, leading to him hesitating and having Lucky be sent to the asylum.
  • I Just Want to Be Beautiful: Ruby's dilemma throughout the show. The racism she experienced has her believe that she is ugly because she is a Black girl. The Demons of Compton play on this by sending her one in the form of a pretty white teen girl named Doris to drive her to further hate herself. It almost works before she figures it out during the Season Finale.
  • Imaginary Enemy: Ruby Lee sees a monstrous lady named Miss Vera in her dreams. She attacks her in her dreams and Ruby claims she was the one who killed Sergeant.
  • Infant Immortality: Horrifyingly averted.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Lucky is raped while Chester is being murdered.
  • Jump Scare: Lucky is wandering the hallways at work when a crazed, growling, red-faced black man suddenly jumps at the window in front of him.
  • Kids Are Cruel:
    • Kids join in on the adults making death glares at the Emorys.
    • Ruby Lee's classmates make fun of her by acting like monkeys around her. The teacher punishes her for starting it.
    • Lucky catches a boy named Tommy urinating on the sheets she hung to dry and he attempts to pull a stick on her. The neighbors see this as her trying to attack an "angel", as Betty puts it.
    • Gracie Jean is the only black kid in her class and is also given strange stares and the cold shoulder by her classmates. They also laugh at her when she stops reciting the pledge.
  • Mama Bear:
    • Lucky has loaded guns in case the neighbors "get squirrelly", and she has no intent of giving any warnings.
    • Lucky, in fact, is the one who saves their family from the Black Hat Man and his monsters in the end, fighting through their personal hells to rescue them from their demons.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The official synopsis describes the horrors that the family is subjected to as next-door and otherworldly. In the official trailer, Betty gets the other neighbors to help her harass the Emorys, though Gracie Jean says there's something wrong with this house, with the trailer then showing the monstrous blackface man...
  • No Ending: The first season ends with the family defeating their demons and walking outside to their angry neighborhood baffled as to what the hell the huge fire was and the cops pointing guns at the Emorys. The credits roll before we get any idea of what happens next.
  • Nosy Neighbor: Betty, who is shown before the Emorys move in to have regularly bothered the real estate agent and is the self-righteous leader of the racist white neighbors.
  • Outside-Context Problem:
    • Nobody has any idea who George is, which is how he's able to lure Betty to his home, lock her up, and kill her without anyone knowing. This also leads to the neighbors accusing the Emorys of being responsible, leading to the climax of the season.
    • Almost no one outside of the Emorys has any reason to believe something supernatural or paranormal is going on and assumes that the family is just crazy. In the finale, when the house gets surrounded by Epps' fire as Lucky marches in and the fire dies down after the demons are defeated, the neighborhood can only watch in bewilderment.
  • Paranoia Fuel: The official synopsis describes what the Emorys are going through as "terror". Indeed, the promotional material makes it unclear if which horrors they're being subjected to by the town are real or paranoia-induced — the "Hair on Fire" sneak peek confirms that Henry is getting hallucinations.
  • Parents as People:
    • Lucky is traumatized by what happened in North Carolina, leading to her being overly aggressive or zoning out whenever she feels she and/or her family is being attacked.
    • In the flashback at the start of the second episode, Henry throws a plate of pie that his daughter had made at the wall, snapping from the stress of racism at work. He feels guilty about it afterwards.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The official summary states that the Emorys, an African-American family, have moved into an all-white neighborhood in California from South Carolina during the Second Great Migration. In the official trailer, Betty gathers the neighbors to torment the Emorys together to drive them out of town, with Ruby Lee being mocked for being a "monkey" and the Emorys discovering their porch is filled with lynched dolls of black people.
    • It's a concern by Betty and the housing committee that property values might go up because white people don't want to live in neighborhoods with new colored people. The committee specifically mentions Japanese Americans, Mexican Americans, and African Americans as the major colored populations that are making their work a struggle.
    • There's also casual misogyny, with Helen (the Emorys' real estate agent) being the only woman in the housing committee and being told by her male counterparts upon making a radical statement about how they should make competitive property values that she better stay in her place if she wants to keep being a lucky woman with a job.
  • Playing with Syringes: In the first trailer, a shot of a syringe briefly appears.
  • Properly Paranoid: In their first night in the house, Lucky loads up their guns in case the white people get "squirrelly".
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Helen, the real estate agent, seems to be one, welcoming the Emorys to their new homes and doesn't seem to be holding their race against them.
    • At the start of the second episode, the lead cop calmly points out to Betty that Lucky may have been a threat to the neighborhood when she was waving her gun around in the lawn, but once Henry took her inside, she stopped being a threat. He then calls down his more aggressive subordinates from restraining the Emorys and allows the family to explain what happened. However, later that episode, he tells Lucky after she stays on the bus too long that she's making it hard for him to be "on her side" and that she has to make other people "feel safe" if she wants to feel safe.
    • Subverted with the teachers.
      • Ruby's English teacher seems to be giving her chance by letting her answer her questions, but then sends her to the office for distracting class when her classmates make fun of her.
      • Gracie's teacher lets her recite the pledge in front of the class and tries to calm her and the class down when she hesitates and goes Madness Mantra during the pledge. However, she thinks that Gracie is just "not ready" for this class yet.
  • Religious Horror: The Black Hat Man is a Sinister Minister who works for the Devil yet still believes he is following God. He made a Deal with the Devil to make black people suffer, as the Devil drove him crazy and made him believe black people are literally monsters.
  • Repetitive Audio Glitch: The various trailers and clips are backed by "Windmills of Your Mind" by Sting, only for the song to start glitching at the "your" of the Title Drop and the music becomes more frantic as more disturbing and unsettling scenes are shown.
  • Sanity Slippage: The entire family is terrorized by their own monsters who prey on their racial traumas and vulnerabilities, driving to murderous degrees and paranoid insanity.
  • Senior Creep: In the opening scene, Lucky meets an old white woman who creepily asks if she can take her baby Chester.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In the first episode, Henry jokes that a guy they see in town looks like Bela Lugosi and Lucky notes that he's seen too many movies.
    • Also from the first episode, the Emorys drive by a theater showing Peter Pan, which places the story in 1953.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • In the first episode, Judy Garland's song plays as the Emorys arrive in Compton, but the song becomes distorted at the lyrics "It's all so peaceful on the other side." when Henry and Lucky notice their neighbors are all white and staring at them.
    • The dreamy '50's music is offset by the uncomfortable atmosphere that the Emorys are enduring.
    • "Dream a Little Dream of Me" plays in the finale's Cold Opening, playing over Lucky's nightmare sequence of her family arriving in their neighborhood while being glared and screamed slurs at by the entire neighborhood.
  • Subtext: The "Mold on Wallpaper" clip shows Betty, frustrated after watching Henry from the window, has a silent tantrum and rips open her living room wallpaper when she notices that a small tear showing mold behind it, revealing that the entire wall is covered in mold — it's quite an appropriate metaphor for a seemingly idyllic town revealing their violent and reprehensible nature towards African-Americans.
  • Surprise Creepy: The Cold Opening suddenly ends with the exposition, in red ink, that "The following takes place in 10 days." and we transition to the creepy intro.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Epps when the Devil makes him an offer of eternal life and power. Henry nearly slips into this but Lucky pulls him back from the brink.
  • Tantrum Throwing: In the "Mold on Wallpaper" clip, a frustrated Betty has a silent meltdown over a small tear in her house's wallpaper, revealing that there's mold beneath the wall and a lot of it when she rips open the tear.
  • Title Drop: The real estate agent explains to Henry and Lucky that "covenants are no longer enforceable" when telling them that despite the contract reading "no persons of Negro blood" can own the house — in other words, it's dated.
  • Trigger:
    • Lucky gets triggered when Gracie Jean sings to her the same song that the creepy old woman sang to her in the Cold Opening, aggressively grabbing her and slapping her, though she immediately apologizes and is horrified by what she's done.
    • At the end of the first episode, after Sergeant is found dead and Ruby Lee wakes up with scratch marks on her neck, Lucky flashbacks to the unwelcoming stares they got when they arrived and pulls out her gun, waving it around on her lawn and screaming at the neighbors to stay out of their home.
  • Victim Blaming:
    • On her first day of school, Ruby correctly answers a question and gets made fun of by her classmates. The teacher tries to quiet the class to no avail, then calls up Ruby to the front... to give her a slip to the office for "distracting the class".
    • Wheatley, while otherwise a Reasonable Authority Figure who is willing to attempt to see past races, is still a Noble Bigot with a Badge. After dealing with two incidents of Lucky presumably "disturbing the peace", Wheatley tells her that it's up to her and her family to make themselves safe by making their white neighbors feel safe — an ignorant statement since white people can find an excuse in anything no matter what the Emorys do.
  • You Are Not Alone: Lucky helps her family overcome their demons by reaching out to each one of them and assuring them that they're in this together.


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