Underground Recap: Civil Shepherd


Season 2 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: WGN

Change is coming. Daniel has moved to Underground’s front lines, intuiting and sleuthing his way to Georgia’s safe house. Not incidentally, John Brown is Kentucky-bound, where masters are selling off slaves deeper south, unaware or uncaring of the upheaval in neighboring states. Patty’s running out of patience with Cato, who pleads with her for a couple more days to prove he can capture the elusive Harriet Tubman. (Significantly, he doesn’t sell out Noah and Rosalee — yet.) And Elizabeth’s lit a fire that she can’t put out, a manifestation of anger derived from, as Cato puts it, knowing “something you can’t un-know.”

“Citizen” zeroes-in on the deepening divisions within camps that would broadly take sides in the oncoming Civil War, one of the episode’s clearer metaphors for present day. The other is fear, expressed here as capable of both fueling bigotry and creating a kind of victims’ paralysis. Cato inhales it deeply and then overwhelms his enemies with the monster they created. Georgia is almost superstitiously in awe of it, doing everything she can to seek “a sense of safety that transforms the spirit.” Harriet takes an entirely different tack, explaining her faith in God to Noah by arguing, “Ain’t nothin’ great ever happen based on fear or sense. You gotta be desperate and insane.”

But first, Noah needs to clear the air with Rosalee, who’s been hiding her pregnancy all this time (though it’s fairly shocking that he couldn’t see it with his own eyes), at least until she gathered her family safe and sound. “You was willin’ to sacrifice our family for yours,” he fumes, somehow not stirring James with all his door-slamming. Only hours earlier, he’d told James that being taken from Miss Suzanna made him a man with freedom of choice. Yet reflecting on what he and Rosalee have put themselves through, including watching Bill come within breathing distance of harming his unborn child, he’s in disbelief that Rosalee “treated me like a slave” — just like her father did.

The ghost of Tom Macon has, in many ways, possessed more of the season’s spirit than that of John Hawkes. Though the memory of Elizabeth’s slain husband comes to the fore when one of the ruffians who kidnapped her and Lucas in the woods stops by the boarding house to antagonize her. And again when Cato tries to manipulate his way into her sympathies by swapping stories of what brought them to this place of rage and fear. Still, Cato saves Elizabeth’s life when she passes out amid the very blaze she set. His sights, however, remain squarely on Harriet, even as Patty’s gaze is fixed on his manhood — one piece of property he’s damn sure she’ll never own — as he finishes washing off.

This leaves us with the ruffian’s boy, another innocent victim caught in the cross hairs of an older generation’s fight. After Rosalee accidentally stabbed Ben Pullman in season one, she could hardly speak. But Elizabeth is far from speechless about this kidnapper’s kid, coldly sizing him up as a future chip off the racist block, perhaps not unlike Georgia’s bullying half-brother who likely torments her every time she applies makeup to pass in the mirror. But to Georgia, all Elizabeth’s done is ensure this child will grow up with hate in his heart, perpetuating differences and misunderstandings.

Though she may be surprised to know Harriet isn’t so sure that talks, workshops, and the lessons of Frederick Douglass and William Still are the path to tolerance. In a quiet moment with God en route to Noah and Rosalee, we witness one of her conversations with the almighty, and it is far more direct than divine. She confesses to looking upon her male cohorts as “educated but foolish,” and casting herself as humbled by pride and compromise. Her testimony ties together one of the show’s prominent themes: No single person, perspective, president, or proclamation put an end to legal bondage. The nation was ready for change, regardless of who among its citizens clung to awful comfort. Then, as now, America is a fluid idea constantly reshaped by conflict and consolation. As Underground’s characters converge, all that’s left to sort out is who gets torn apart.

Apart From All That

• There had to have been a better way for Cato to earn Patty and Elizabeth’s trust than repeatedly slicing his wrists, no?

• When one needs a ruffian, call Tom Proctor.

• R.I.P., Cora.

• I’m still anxious about T.R.’s revenge.

• Noah will be fine. He’s just gotta move past that fear.

• Harriet didn’t need violence or words to help Morley from Knoxville.

• Oh, right, Boo’s in Canada!

Ripley, Ohio, in Brown County was indeed a safe haven for 19th-century runaways. In 2016, 74 percent of Brown County’s voters cast ballots for Donald Trump.

Underground Recap: Civil Shepherd