The remaining Macon runaways are still far from safety and the promise of freedom, so it’s no surprise that “Black and Blue” feels rushed and confusing. It’s a disappointing setback for Underground, given how great the last few episodes have been. This week, plot takes precedence and character development suffers as a result.
We open with Rosalee at a slaughterhouse, after Jeremiah Johnson captured her in the last episode. She’s being manhandled by his men, who tell her to take off her dress because it’s “white woman’s clothes.” Rosalee tosses the dress into a nearby fire. August leaves her in another room with Ben, then warns Jeremiah that Noah and Cato will be coming to stage a rescue.
True to August’s prediction, Noah and Cato have hijacked a carriage, taking out its driver and passenger. The carriage is broken, and when they set about fixing it, Cato discovers that it’s full of money. True to his survival instincts, Cato thinks they should just take the money and leave Rosalee to her fate. After some bickering, Noah calls Cato on his callous act, saying that he’s seen him with a carefully folded bonnet — and that answers a lingering question from “Cradle,” when Henry caught Cato hiding something. Noah guesses the bonnet belongs to someone Cato hopes to see again. Cato seethes, but remains silent.
John Hawkes purchases a slave woman at an auction held by a man named Bazil Abbot (Anthony Marble). Under the guide of a not-so-clever nom de plume, “Hawkins,” he tells Abbot he’s looking to buy and sell slaves and is new to the business. Abbot gives him some advice about runaway slaves and references one of his own who failed at escaping. It’s Clyde, a runaway whom John and Elizabeth aided before his re-capture.
Meanwhile at the Hawkes residence, Elizabeth reads to Boo, who’s fallen asleep on her lap when Sheriff Kyle comes calling. After he sees that John is still out of town, he gets aggressive with Elizabeth. She thwacks him over the head with a candlestick, knocking him out cold.
Back at the slaughterhouse, Rosalee asks Ben for a drink of water. After he obliges, she tells him her name, which he says he already knew from the slave bill. She then tells him a few personal details about herself. “I ain’t just a name on a slave bill. I ain’t just a runaway. And I ain’t just $5,000.” Jeremiah interrupts then, giving Ben a book (which turns out to be Moby Dick) and Rosalee a change of clothes — Ben’s clothes.
When John returns home, Elizabeth introduces him to Boo. Let’s just pause for a moment, though, to gripe about just how disjointed the Hawkes’ story line is in this episode. Each scene with them is much shorter than the show’s other scenes, perhaps because their plot just doesn’t make much sense. After a few flashbacks, we learn that John offered Abbot the chance to win back the slave girl he purchased in a wager, with Clyde being John’s prize if he won. But somehow, Abbot knew all along that John was Tom’s abolitionist brother. After an altercation, John knocks Abbot out, then leaves Clyde to try to escape again on his own. (I don’t really get it, either.)
Rosalee and Ben have a bit of a heart-to-heart. She tells him her father has hardly ever spoken to her. Ben apologizes for capturing her and says they need the money to save their land. He begins reading Moby Dick to her aloud to pass time. The smoke from the still-burning dress is really getting to Rosalee.
Noah and Cato have finally reached the slaughterhouse. Before Noah rushes in, Cato confesses that the bonnet did belong to someone he cares about: his daughter. He also had a wife, but they were both sold in Louisiana. He says he doesn’t hope to see them again. He believes his heart is just meant for pumping blood — not caring for anyone else. “Remember that before you get yourself killed for that girl,” he says. Whatever happened to his feelings for Rosalee? I’m still convinced that he fell for her during the last episode, or at the very least, he was utterly smitten just before she was captured. Maybe in the harsh light of day, he’s reassessed his priorities?
They kick their plan into gear: Cato drives the carriage by the slaughterhouse, raining down money as he passes, which distracts Jeremiah’s men. August warns Jeremiah that it’s just a distraction, but Jeremiah leaves to collect some of the loot. Noah emerges from a trough of bloody water when the coast is clear.
We jump back to the Hawkes, as Elizabeth confesses to John about her hookup with Sheriff Kyle, who we discover she’s been holding, bound and gagged, in their underground spot for runaway slaves. We never find out what John does with Sheriff Kyle, though, as the scene promptly ends. John later gets into an argument with Elizabeth, which leads Boo to pick up John’s unattended gun and fire a shot. No one is injured, but now we know how Elizabeth and Boo have grown attached to one another — and how far they’re both willing to go to preserve that bond.
When August returns to the slaughterhouse, he too is affected by the smoke. He hallucinates a vision of Ernestine, who tells him that Rosalee put devil’s snare, a hallucinogenic plant, in the pocket of her dress before tossing it into the fire. Ernestine also warns him — while suggestively rubbing his (yet again) bare chest — that he’s ruining Ben and himself with his slave-hunting obsession. They kiss and it’s weird and uncomfortable to watch. But it also gives us some insight into what August’s uninhibited mind is like: He’s as worried about the effect of slave-catching on Ben as everyone else who’s been warning him. And he’s also into Ernestine, likely for the same reasons Tom is: She’s brilliant and sexy and insightful. In the absence of his own wife — who may have had all of those traits before the onset of her illness — it’s telling that Ernestine is the woman who appears to him in fantasy form.
Ben is finally feeling the effects of the devil’s snare. When a copy of August’s letter about the value of their estate falls out of the book, he reads it, realizes his father lied, and cuts Rosalee free, saying they don’t need her anymore. He gives her the knife and tells her to run.
And that’s when it all gets dicey. Rosalee has a hard time running, due to the effects of the devil’s snare. Her hallucinations intensify until she believes the slaughterhouse is the Macon plantation. She imagines herself in Tom’s study, where he taunts her, claiming she isn’t fit for running and that her life was easier “at home.” She also hallucinates a bloody-necked Bill. As Tom and Bill’s goading reaches a fever pitch, she uses the knife to stab Tom in the gut. But after she follows through, her hallucination dissipates. She has stabbed someone else — Ben! That’s right. Ben, my favorite white person on this show, has been stabbed. I’m devastated.
Noah finds Rosalee and they run out of the slaughterhouse. Cato isn’t there with the getaway carriage. While they contemplate their options, he rolls up. They decide to go the rest of the way on foot, with Jeremiah in hot pursuit, but they’re not 20 yards out before Cato is strung up by the ankle in a rope trap. Rosalee cuts him free as Noah tries to shoot the men back. They’ve reached a crossroads: Noah can run off with Rosalee, or stay and try to help an injured Cato. To Noah’s credit, he doesn’t immediately ditch Cato. After a few fraught seconds, though, he drops his knife at Cato’s side and abandons him. Cato chuckles bitterly. The last time we see him, he’s alive.
I just have to say: I don’t want Noah and Rosalee to be the only adults of the Macon 7 to reach freedom. I’ve grown to like Cato. The odds that he survives are infinitesimally slim, but I hope he makes it.
As the episode ends, we return to the Hawkes. Moments after Boo fires her warning shot, there’s a knock on the door. It’s Noah and Rosalee, who say a friend of a friend sent them. Boo and Rosalee hug but there’s no real comfort in it, given all the lives lost just to get here. The Hawkses’ not-so-safehouse isn’t salvation. It’s purgatory.
- The whole “devil’s snare” plot device was such a disappointment. Though we learned about August and Rosalee’s inner lives, the episode wasted valuable minutes that couldn’t been used to unfold the escape plot in real-time. I would’ve much rather learned what actually happened to Ernestine after she was left in the hole than watch a hallucination of her seduce August.
- I love this ongoing theme of Rosalee saving herself. Though Noah is committed to assisting her, she generally executes her own plans before he catches up. It’s great.
- Seriously, Cato better survive.
- Ben, too. I’m not playing.