Underground Recap: Cannon Fodder


Things Unsaid
Season 2 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating *****
Aldis Hodge as Noah. Photo: WGN

When Harriet Tubman was a teenage slave, an overseer hit her in the head with a heavy weight. The injury proved traumatic, leading to a lifetime of narcoleptic, hallucinatory episodes and painful headaches. On Underground, Rosalee has witnessed her friend and guide slip into these states for months now, and she can assure Georgia that — while the condition and any corresponding visions might contribute to Harriet’s mystique — they are definitively not the stuff of rumors. Early on in “Things Unsaid,” Harriet rouses from one such spell surer than she was before that Rosalee will soon find herself at the Ohio River’s edge, on the precipice of freedom. It’s hard for Rosalee to fathom — having just lost John, failed to rescue Noah, and fallen short of her goal to locate Ernestine and James. Not to mention that the only padding between a pursuer’s buckshot and her pregnant (surprise!) belly is a crude mess of turkey feathers and medical wrap.

Harriet isn’t wrong, despite the doubts of Rosalee’s male cargo. They make it to that river’s edge, but only on account of her physical strength and hunger to survive. What none of them anticipate is that infamous slave hunter Patty Cannon stands armed on the opposite bank, eager to corral the Macon 7 member known as “Black Rose.” (Rosalee, who detests nicknames, would certainly take no pleasure in that notoriety.) The episode concludes with a rifle blast and Rosalee narrowly escaping capture, thanks to her makeshift bulletproof vest. But she’s stuck in the woods, terrified, cradling her swollen stomach, her fate uncertain and faith shaken.

Much as Harriet compelled Rosalee to head north toward independence, rather than south in the name of saving Noah, these young lovers seem destined to endure all manner of hell until being delivered back to one another — a new family, born of the old horrors that bound Rosalee to her mother, father, brothers and John. (And if history is telling, Harriet’s lack of romantic sentiment may come from a real-life attempt to find her husband after escaping, only to discover he’d remarried.)

The sight of Rosalee risking it all for her unborn child is in powerful, purposeful contrast to Clara — a Roe Plantation slave impregnated by Ernestine’s lover/abuser Hicks — who is dazed and bleeding by the sacred tree. Her pregnancy was terminated against her will by a scared, monstrous Hicks, who was in turn abetted by Ernestine at her most unfeeling. Ernestine’s hallucinations have manifested in more vivid dimension than Harriet’s, only they’re fixed on ghosts and self-loathing rather than a way forward. The device of Pearly Mae and Ernestine’s deceased husband — who we gather was murdered by a slave owner — taunting her and tilting her toward no-way-out is a dramatic one, though useful in spelling out the complex set of circumstances that has sent Ernestine into a suicidal spiral. But something about the way she sets eyes on Clara — with streaks of red against the white of Clara’s dress all that is offsetting the darkness — foreshadows a slow journey back to life. At minimum, Hicks and Mr. Roe better watch their backs.

Elizabeth still has some ways to go — her descent has only begun. Stunned and simmering in the wake of John’s death, she meditates on grief with Georgia, Valentine, and Rosalee. They are all sympathetic and kind, and no doubt also hopeful that this will mean Elizabeth — who confesses that she initially supported the railroad as an emotional response to her own infertility — will begin to feel the abolitionist cause with something closer to their essential urgency. Georgia intervenes with great concern when she finds Elizabeth camped out on a bench across from the steps where John was slain with a pistol in her purse, glaring at his former colleagues with the intent “to disrupt their happy little lives.” It’s an instinctive rage against victimization, but more constructive when meted out patiently, in accordance with what the sewing circle’s been planning so carefully for so long. There’s no sense to be made of what Elizabeth rightly terms a “senseless act,” but Georgia — who watched her husband die slowly from illness — reminds her that impulsive action will only cloud any hope of real justice.

One needn’t look further than Noah as proof positive of Georgia’s pleadings for patience. His current captors — a group of Scottish nitwits who couldn’t carry Noah’s intellectual luggage — think their bounty’s a fool for wasting away in jail all that time, mistaking his diligence for complacency. Noah, however, is the only one laughing as they try and fail to repair the wagon he’d spent three days expertly disassembling, en route to God knows where. After a prolonged series of scenes at Roe Plantation, the relative lightness and bracing action of Noah’s efforts to upend and shake off the boys from Edinburgh (buoyed by frequent Banshee director Greg Yaitanes at the helm, plus Apashe’s breakneck trap banger “Battle Royale”) was a nice change of pace in an hour that was somewhat all over the place. Tragically, Noah — much like Rosalee — is being unwittingly led into hostile territory that will once again test his resolve. There, beckoning to him at the conclusion of his trip, flashing a wicked smile, is Cato. He’s alive, flush with cash, and has set a trap for his former ally far more sinister than the one Noah declined to help him escape. As Rosalee’s forced to retreat behind the wrong side of freedom’s line, Noah may well have crossed over into unchained territory — only to be subdued by another slave.

Apart From All That

• Daniel hasn’t come out of the margins just yet, but like all of Underground’s downtrodden and disenfranchised, he’s merely biding his time.

• And Daniel’s wife better not die. It’s foreseeable, but it would be heartbreaking.

• Thumbs up for encouraging weekly reasons to read up on figures like Josiah Henson and Arthur Tappan.

• Cannon’s reign of terror predated the period of Underground’s action in real life, but she was a character too tempting to not resurrect.

• Here’s a very interesting read on one of Canada’s popular railroad destinations.

• “Listen to your instincts” echoes were a bit too “if you build it, they will come” for my tastes.

• Something tells me that the journalist following Cannon’s gonna be compelled to join the abolitionists.

• Seriously, where’s James?

Underground Recap: Cannon Fodder