If “Ache” was Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Kill Bill episode, she and co-star Aldis Hodge get their Django Unchained moment in “Auld Acquaintance.” After Noah kneecaps nightmarish T.R. with his pistol, and T.R.’s rifle slug in turn ricochets into Miss Suzanna’s shoulder, Rosalee sets the whole damn Macon house ablaze, and a redeemed Corra rides them and James the hell out of there on horseback. Their uprising recalls season one’s daring escape — just as Noah sizing up Josiah, July, and other potential accomplices mirrored the original Macon 7’s formulation — and serves due notice to Suzanna and the South that slavery will not stand.
Over in Kentucky, Daniel is dealt a devastating blow to his own hopes for survival. After being caught teaching cohorts how to read, overseers brutally blind him. In a cruel irony, he’s remanded to finish carving and polishing a monument inscribed with the Latin “Insipia Ipsa Libertas,” or “Wisdom Itself Is Liberty,” a phrase that was officially recognized as the College of Charleston’s motto in 1843.
The perverseness of that proclamation would not be lost on Ernestine, who finally fled South Carolina’s Roe plantation only to be caught within moments by August and Smoke. But she is no less resourceful than her daughter, who in “Ache” leaned on acquired medical skill, gritted through the added stress of a pregnant belly, and both outlasted and outsmarted Patty and her hunters. Now, we see her mother flex wiles as she withstands opiate cravings and compels August — who drunkenly confesses to exasperation with slave-catching — to murder his partner and steer them further south, far from Patty’s camp.
Although Patty will no doubt be pissed at August’s defiance and furious that her favorite lay is dead, Cato has turned her gaze away from Rosalee and squarely upon Harriet Tubman, whom Donahue deems Patty’s most elusive obstacle. Things come full circle when Cato readies to recite the lyrics scrawled inside that Macon detainment shack, words that encoded the Underground Railroad’s very route. As he arrives at Georgia’s safe house, greeted sympathetically by Elizabeth and her, his intentions — as ever — are open to interpretation. One would hope that his ultimately loyalty to the cause suggests he’s putting Patty on by getting her off Rosalee, Ernestine, and Noah’s trail, or that at minimum he intends to plead with Harriet and her followers to help find and free Devi. But there’s every chance he’s intent on bringing Harriet to Patty on the condition that she re-emancipate Devi herself. Cato, we know, is always either in control or pursuing it.
Conversely, James is young and impressionable, and has been carefully seduced by Miss Suzanna’s comforts and the narrative that Rosalee abandoned him, making the lives of everyone left at Macon that much worse. Underground is most indispensable when it’s unsentimental, even if stretches can be difficult to watch, as last week’s episode was from wire to wire. It certainly wasn’t easy witnessing Rosalee knock her own brother unconscious as they made haste from Miss Suzanna’s, but desperation was truer to the situation than young James seeing through his owner’s ruse in some miraculous Christmas-dinner revelation.
Georgia, however, finally comes around to the reality that justice (or, as it happens, train tickets for Noah and kin) won’t be won through farmers-market fundraisers and pamphleteering. Thoroughly ostracized by her community, which discovers she’s been passing as white and likely harboring runaways beneath her home, Georgia’s aim is now true. In the case of robbing a pro-slavery church’s tithe box, it’s specifically pointed at an enraged Rob Reiner look-alike pastor, whom she warns to “be quiet, turn around, or I will show you a real sinner.” Take that, Rob. (And kudos to Jasika Nicole for giving Georgia some cool verve.) Elizabeth, for her part, is nearly as stealthy sneaking away from those slithering snakes among the pews as she is dressing down prissy Laney Briss for donations to the cause, lest everyone hear about her various states of undress with men other than her sugar-daddy husband.
If we’re continuing the thread of honesty that’s woven through these recaps (and been complemented in weekly comments), Underground could occasionally slow down to remind us explicitly where we are and when, especially with characters scattered in so many directions. But the clarity of everyone’s motives remains this show’s greatest strength, making it easier to bear the wait of finding out how and at what point everyone’s fates will find a common core. At least we can all breathe easy now that miserable Bill is finally dead.
Apart From All That
• Watching Suzanna and T.R. get theirs almost merited an extra star.
• Can we assume Frederick Douglass and William Still will reemerge before season’s end?
• It’s also not the last we’ve seen of Matthew and Clara, for better or worse.
• Cannot wait to see who calls literal shotgun when it’s time to peace out Patty.
• Alano Miller’s phone oughta be ringing off the hook after this season.
• Noah’s really more of an ensemble player this year, huh?
• Has it ever been confirmed that August’s kid is dead?
• Look at Chris Meloni, directing his own monologue!