The sophomore season of UNDERGROUND came to a close in last night’s “Solider,” and what a ride it has been. Underground covered a lot of — well — ground over just 10 episodes, leaving some characters with a new reality, and others, back at square one. Overall, Underground’s second season was excellent, but the show’s final episode didn’t exactly crescendo in the way that I expected, in part because of the very character I praised last episode.
Yep, I’m talking about Daniel, the thoughtful artisan who against all odds escaped from bondage and made it to Georgia’s boarding house. Daniel finally describes the horrible events that led to being robbed of his sight, with lye being poured around his eyes. Hearing the story, and of Daniel’s family left behind, Elizabeth, Georgia, and the rest are inspired to take up his cause. While Daniel’s plight is certainly a worthy storyline, it felt like instead of continuing as planned, we suddenly took a hard right to exit the freeway. To me it felt like we were building toward Georgia and Elizabeth’s sewing circle being leveraged to help get Rosalee and Noah get all the way free.
All of a sudden, though, it becomes about something different. Again, this is not to say Daniel’s story isn’t important or interesting. But it does have to do with what was emphasized and what wasn’t during the entire season. Perhaps this story could have fit into the Underground timeline. But as the culminating episode of the season? The show does seem to try to get around this by focusing not just on the plantation from where Daniel hailed, but on two additional plantations. With paranoid planters worried about John Brown’s raids, the band of abolitionists will need to storm these plantations.
This fits with the more radical turn that Elizabeth has been edging towards all season. And while Georgia expresses some misgivings, she later goes mano e mano with Patty Cannon, Cato, and her gang when they descend upon the boarding house demanding Rosalee. These dual attacks make for great action, but sometimes I found myself losing track of exactly what was happening.
In between all the gunfire, Rosalee and James take refuge in a room of the boarding house, setting the stage for a huge and moving payoff. At pretty much the worst time possible, Rosalee goes into labor, with only her little brother at her side. The two work together so that Rosalee can have her baby. In this way, Underground manages to bring James back to the light and back to his family, without any obvious or on the nose dialogue. Rosalee also makes an enormous sacrifice, turning herself over so that her child hopefully will never know a life of bondage.
This was also a great payoff with respect to Rosalee and Ernestine’s relationship, though the two never cross paths. Ernestine has certainly questioned her abilities as a mother and parent. And when Rosalee found a changed James back at the Macon plantation, on some level she wondered if she let her family down, too. But the moments of the two working side by side reveals what we’ve always known.
Speaking of Ernestine, she and August continue moving through the southern wilderness together. Ernestine tries to escape again, this time using her drugs to impair August for a bit. But they are both brought to their knees when they find all that they knew burned to the ground. The Macon plantation is gone, as is August’s house.
As for Cato, his storyline brings a really satisfying reversal. Seemingly under the heel of Patty Cannon for most of the second half of the season, Cato forges a note written by “Harriet Tubman” and leads Cannon to a remote location. With only Cannon’s nebbish biographer as witness, he blasts Cannon to smithereens and becomes the new ringleader of Cannon’s posse. Quite a far cry from the globetrotter and conflicted abolitionist that Cato embodied at the top of the season. The writers seem to have the most fun with Cato.
Oh, and I should mention that John Brown’s envoy asks Harriet Tubman to take up arms with him at Harpers Ferry, which seems to be an important future location for Underground’s (hopefully) third season. Ten months later, Elizabeth also roams those parts. This show better be back!
Season 2, Episode 10 (S02E10)
Underground airs Wednesdays at 10PM on WGN America
Ade Adeniji | Contributor