Maceo Smedley as James, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Rosalee.
That was a very busy 43 minutes. It’s been a busy season, slowed only by Aisha Hinds’s remarkable, episode-length oratory as Harriet Tubman. In Underground’s season finale, Harriet assumes the cold open from Daniel, and her encounter with John Brown associate George Stearns is itself a preamble to Civil War. Stearns, one of Captain Brown’s “secret six” accomplices, explains that they plan to raid a federal government arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in Virginia. Later, in the epilogue, we see Elizabeth cozying up with an arsenal guard, once again sacrificing body and soul for the cause. Harriet’s answer, we can gather, was a resounding yes, and she’s got accomplices of her own.
Noah is nowhere in this picture at Harper’s Ferry. He isn’t anywhere unless that’s wherever Cato is headed with Rosalee (and Georgia, among others). In the series’ most thriller-y moment yet, Cato creeps up on Rose, reveals himself by lantern light, and taunts her as she bolts and barricades the door like Shelley Duvall in The Shining. And he, in turn, gets the iconic line: “I ain’t never been a nigger. I’m just Cato.” Except we still have no idea who Cato really is. Since fleeing Macon, he’s adopted guises as a European man of leisure, a Philadelphia baron and rebel abolitionist, a conditioned captive, and, now, a Canon killer and conquering slave catcher. It’s plenty for one character over the course of one season, and Alano Miller has delivered everything asked of him and more, but Cato is almost too unknowable. All that’s for certain is Noah wants him dead, and more important, his wife and mother of his child alive.
Their son, at least, is left securely in Georgia’s house with James, following a birth sequence that’s gripping and graphic if a bit melodramatic. Now it’s Noah’s turn to decide what kind of chances he’s willing to take to protect his loved ones, even if it means putting others in harm’s way. The finale’s quietest scene is a powerful one: Rosalee’s reconciliation that fear begets fear, motivating her every action, rings true, although not enough for Noah to forgive. And Noah, while still hurt and betrayed, is channeling his own fear into righteous anger and resolve to do more than provide for next of kin, determined to ensure that their world is a less hostile and prejudiced place. The fact that this couple, thrust into such an extraordinary circumstance, can hardly afford the luxury to let feelings linger and settle without the specter of danger and death is its own heartbreak.
One romance that felt telegraphed earlier this season, between black widow Elizabeth and hunky John Brown general Lucas, never actually came to pass. Who knows if it can or will, with Elizabeth shacking up undercover alongside her Confederate mark. For now, they make a mighty fine pair joining forces with Noah, Daniel, Elliot, Thad, and a ragtag roundup of men and women and blasting the living hell out of Master Fellows (damn, Elizabeth!) and his remaining overseers. A few good fighters come away wounded, but none are lost, and Daniel winds up galvanizing a movement with the selfless pursuit of freedom for his wife, daughter, and infant son.
Meanwhile, Ernestine is bound and determined to reunite with what’s left of her family. That wasn’t the case not too long ago, as she shares with August. Poor Mr. Pullman is at his wit’s end. He returns home to find his wife, Charlotte, and slave Jay buried in shallow graves and the Macon house gone. He can only communicate with what Ernestine would characterize as “the darkest part of ourselves.” She saves him from suicide, though it’s doubtful she’ll stick around to see how he picks himself up. Their journey’s no longer tangled, and they’re each on their own. In Ernestine’s case, the question is for how long.
Odds are that will be a matter of if and when she crosses paths with Cato, who may well look to complete his quest for vengeance by vying for every last member of the Macon clan left to corral. His bitterness goes back deep to his roots with Master Tom, a fury that gets animated whenever he looks at Rosalee or her mother, brother, sisters, and now Noah and their child. But he also wants some version of what Noah and Rosalee have for himself, and he could have it with Devi, if he can find her with the help of decoy Patty and her servile men. But that’s if, and only if, they aren’t caught up in the cannon fire of the historic clash set to erupt in Harper’s Ferry and split America in two.
I know we’re all smiles for the baby, but, um, Rosalee’s gone! (Though Noah assuring the newbie, “You’re so important,” just about restored the right tone.)
• Is that it for Daniel? Hope not. It will be hard to shake how they blinded him.
• So, did Ben Pullman officially die?
• Ernestine and August got a bit too close for comfort for a minute.
• Where’s Clara?
• George Stearns lived through the Civil War, but John Brown didn’t make it much past Harper’s Ferry. We’ll surely see how that plays out … if Underground finds a home for season three.