In a way, UNDERGROUND has kind of taken a thriller-horror approach to visualizing the inner trauma of key characters. For Elizabeth in the north, in the wake of her beloved husband John’s death, she’s consumed by grief and even vengeance. She visits the courthouse where John was gunned down with a gun of her own concealed in her purse. Maybe shooting some man, any man, will make her feel better. Georgia, a leader of the Sewing Circle, eventually talks her out of it, but for a long time her voice is drowned out. Elizabeth isn’t on her own at all, but for a while she can’t see that much less hear it.
In the south, meanwhile, Ernestine continues to try to escape her reality through drugs and sex with a man who’s pretty unstable himself. She too is presented with an alternative, in the form of a vibrant slave ritual with perhaps Gullah roots. But Ernestine rejects that possibility. Last episode, she was visited by the spirit of Pearly Mae, whom she poisoned to save her own children. This episode, Ernestine is visited by her husband, who passed before the Underground timeline began. He says a bunch of harsh things that really represent Ernestine’s own guilt and pain. Seeing Ernestine, one of my favorite characters, in this depressed and disempowered state is tough, and is a complete 180 from her powerful stature last season.
Between Elizabeth and Ernestine’s respective hurt, this episode certainly puts you through the emotional ringer. But while each of these storylines was powerful, I felt that using similar visual styles to represent their hurt felt a bit redundant and took away from each story’s impact. And for a time, these drama-heavy storylines are all we got. There’s little reprieve.
Luckily we finally catch our breaths when Rosalee (given final words of wisdom from Harriet Tubman) and Noah, each start to unleash their plans on the underground. For Rosalee, she’s headed south to get the rest of her family but is soon shot by a new slave hunter, a woman named Patty Cannon, apparently the most notorious slave catcher of all time. Patty is flanked by a writer and has her eyes set on Tubman, a most elusive abolitionist. For now, getting a read on the Macon 7 will do and might get Patty closer to Tubman.
Last season’s slave hunting father-son duo was one of the most interesting dynamics on the show. On the one hand, as much as I hated the father, I felt some sympathy for his son, who oscillates between doing as told and seeing this evil system for what it is. I expect similar substance between Patty and her not so nebbish writer, who already irks Patty by suggesting that perhaps he should be writing a story about Tubman instead. This new writer character is also interesting in that he only cares about the story, unencumbered by deeper questions of abolition versus slavery.
The always captivating Noah slowly hatches a plan of escape. Off screen, Noah spent five months detained in a cell before Rosalee and the rest almost helped him escape. Now in the clutches of a new band of slavers, Noah chips away at the infrastructure of the wagon, playing it cool each time the caravan stops for a break. Noah is definitely smarter than his captors, and uses a prized ring he got to throw them off his real plan.
Later, the whole wagon team comes apart and crashes, and Noah makes a run for it, not making it too far. But he has one more trick up his sleeve, brandishing a gun when he’s returned a plantation where it appears that Cato runs the show.
This episode featured a bunch of great reveals at the end, and the reemergence of Cato was only one of them. When Rosalee is shot, she strips down and we find out that she’s pregnant! Overall, the second half of “Things Unsaid” was definitely stronger than the first. I feel like those earlier dramatic scenes could have been broken up with action, but instead the episode went a different route. Still, Underground season 2 is off to an intriguing start and I’m excited for next week!
Season 2, Episode 2 (S02E02)
Underground airs Wednesdays at 10PM on WGN America
Ade Adeniji | Contributor