As the old saying goes, the best-laid plans often go awry. In the seventh episode of season two of Underground, plans are shattered spectacularly.
One of the horrors of slavery was the fact that those in bondage could never feel as if they were standing on even ground. There was too much at stake and too many uncontrollable outliers that could tear everything apart at the blink of an eye. Every single character featured in this episode of Underground got the rug pulled out from under them.
As we’ve done for the majority of this season, Underground opens with Bookem Woodbine’s Daniel. Hidden away in the night, he’s teaching a small number of slaves to read. Unfortunately, his secret gets out, and before they even have a chance to act, enraged overseers on horseback surround Daniel and his comrades. From the looks of it, Daniel’s daughter might have been the only escapee. Though the laws varied by state and year, it was forbidden for slaves to read and write. It was also illegal to teach slaves to read or write. For both white and Black people, the punishment if caught could range from public whippings to death.
In “28” we watch Cato revert to his former self. Under the treacherous Patty Cannon’s direction, he’s tasked with capturing sixty free Black people and sending them into slavery. That’s thirty men for his freedom, and thirty men for the freedom of his girlfriend Devi (Rana Roy). When she learns of his plot, Devi is disgusted. She tells Cato that he’s only returned to the States to justify the horrible things he’s done and is going to do. In retaliation, he has her sold away with only 28 people left between himself and his freedom. Like he did when he was a driver on the Macon Plantation, Cato turns his back on his people to look out for his own interest, no matter how despicable his actions may be. Slavery was a horrendous institution, and while he shouldn’t be excused, Cato has learned to turn off his emotions to survive the inhumane and shameful state of his life.
Rosalee and Noah return to the Macon Plantation to discover nothing is as it was before. Ms. Ernestine has been sold away, the drunken overseer that tried to attack Rosalee is still alive, and James has been taken under Mistress Macon’s wing and brainwashed. Though Noah tries to get Rosalee to see reason, after their initial plan proves useless, her emotions, desperation, and determination get the best of her. When she goes to get James from the Big House, he raises the alarm, and she’s captured and branded for her crimes. In the midst of this, Noah discovers that she’s carrying his child.
During the antebellum period, slave owners used branding as an extreme form of punishment to stop flight or escape. Slaves were often branded on their palms, butts, or cheeks as a way to be easily identified if the time came for them to be recaptured. For Rosalee, a cheek branding means she can never move about inconspicuously again. It was horrific to witness.
Finally, in South Carolina, Clara has captured Master Matthew Roe’s heart, and attention and Ms. Thing is truly feeling herself. However, as we all know, no matter how it was perceived from the outside looking in, the sexual relationships between Black women and slaveholders were never equal. Ernestine learned that the hard way last season, and we’re sure Clara will be finding that out for herself soon enough. Though this tenuous power is providing her with some leverage for a better life, we also learn that Clara is out for revenge. After having all of the “devil’s poison” removed from the cabins, she has Hicks beaten and locked in The Scold's Bridle; a cage-like device, made from iron. For forcing her to have an abortion, Clara wants Hicks to feel the pain, suffering, and torture that she endured. For her part in the crime, Ms. Ernestine is made to feel Clara’s wrath as well. When plans of poisoning the older woman don't pan out, Clara gets Master Roe and his men to go and get her. Luckily, Ernestine has slipped away in the night.
As I said previously, there is no breathing easy in slavery or on Underground. As Ernestine steps off of the boat from the island onto the mainland, she runs right into the devil himself. August has arrived to pay his debt and lead Patty Cannon to Black Rose. However, this time, Ernestine won’t be going down without a fight. Just like she told Clara earlier in the episode, “You owed blood, but you can’t have mine.”
What did you think of this fast-paced and compelling episode of WGN America’s Underground?
Underground airs on WGN America Wednesdays at 10 PM ET.