Underground Recap: It’s All About Heartbreak & Survival In ‘Ache’
Steve Dietl
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In the opening sequence of “Ache,” we see Daniel once again. He is still reading and learning. This time, he reads Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman?” to his teenage daughter by candlelight while the young girl looks on enthralled.  In probably the strongest opening of Underground since the series premiere, Daniel reassures his child that she is not just strong in her body; but her mind is also incredible. I nearly shed a tear.

In South Carolina, Ms. Ernestine is spiraling. Standing in the middle of the ocean, she sniffs the drug off of her handkerchief and speaks to the ghost of her dead son Sam. (Can we take a moment to praise the presence of Sam’s lush beard? Why didn’t he have it during season one?)  Ghost Sam asks his mama, “I thought you said, Massa Tom was the last one?” Clearly, Ernestine is feeling guilty about her role in killing Clara’s baby. AS SHE SHOULD.  However, instead of despairing in the ocean, she needs to be plotting against Hicks because that man is clearly the devil.

Apparently, Ernestine had no business being in the ocean at all. As she arrives back to the rice fields, the overseer runs up to her, demanding to know where she’s been. She looks right through him, not caring to answer. For her insolence, he slaps her down to the ground.  Hicks comes to her defense at the last moment.  After helping her up, he tries to pick up where the overseer leaves off. However, Ernestine is not here for his overbearing hyper-masculinity. Hicks stupidly thinks she’s mad at him about Clara, but that’s the least of Ernestine’s troubles.

Up North, Patty Cannon is still searching for Rosalee. She knows that Black Rose was injured from her bullet and has lost a lot of blood. As her men search, Cannon’s aggravating biographer Mr. Donahue assures the slave catchers that Negro women have a supernatural ability to bear pain. Seriously, the things racist white people come up with to justify their demonic ways never fails to shock me.  In the midst of this, we watch a pregnant Rosalee, stumble through the forest losing more and more blood while clutching her swollen belly.

Finally stopping for a rest though still bleeding heavily, Rosalee gags herself and digs the bullet from out of her shoulder. After packing the wound, Rosalee burns it closed. The sheer amount of will and determination that Rosalee has had to muster up already this season is unimaginable. Delirious with pain, Rosalee recalls a young version of herself with Miss Ernestine grasping a small moment of joy. That memory is what pushes her forward.

In South Carolina, poor Clara is being shamed and belittled by her father and the elder male slaves of the plantation. They want to know who the father of her child was and tell Clara that God took her child because of her sin. In the middle of their yelling, a man shouts, and all of the slaves on the Roe plantation turn to see a white man on horseback gazing at them.  Clara is soon forgotten as the slaves wonder if the man is Master Roe, who they’ve never seen before. In the midst of this, Ernestine stands in the crowd remembering French and the happiness that she felt during her pregnancy with Sam. Like Rosalee did in the woods, she returns to a happier time. In her flashback sequence, we learn that Sam was not Ernestine’s first baby; she had a son named Davis who was sold off.  Ms. Ernestine has known nothing but hardship.

Off on her own once more, Ernestine sniffs her handkerchief as Clara’s father approaches her.  He seems to know that Ernestine is being haunted, but he warns her that taking poison isn’t going to get rid of the ghosts. However, Ernestine is done with God; she thinks the white man’s Bible is for white men. The preacher warns her that her pain isn’t new. Losing herself once again in a flashback, she remembers French once more. This time he’s dead. His body has been beaten so horrifically that his flesh is peeling off.  Ernestine weeps over him and tells a very young Sam, that his father endured the beating for him.

Finally across the Ohio River, Rosalee emerges from the water and steps onto the riverbank, ripping leeches from her body. However, Patty and her men are still after her, so she’s still not safe. Back at her camp, Patty gets into an altercation with one of her men, Jack, and demands that he go into the river after Rosalee. He scoffs and tells her hell no because the water is icy cold, but Patty threatens him with her rifle until he jumps in. All the while, the biographer, Mr. Donahue, observes everything.

Later, Ernestine and Hicks are prepping to sing and play at the big house. It’s Ernestine’s punishment for slipping away from the fields. After washing her body and dressing diligently, Ernestine takes one last hit of her handkerchief. Before she can leave her cabin, Sam appears again. He asks his mama why she’s so sad. After all, he says, “The Big House is where you act your best.” The pair have words, with Ernestine claiming she was just Massa Tom’s whore but Sam isn’t convinced. Ernestine tells him that Rosalee was her security with Tom, and James was an accident and she made sure she was done have babies after him. Sam tells her that she abandoned him for 19 years and that he was “Massa’s most exceptional nigger” and all he got for it was the rope.  WHEW.

In the woods, Patty Cannon’s man Jack catches up with Rosalee. Just when we think he’s going to get the better of her, his boot aiming for her pregnant belly, her adrenaline and will to survive kicks in. Rosalee savagely rips a piece of Jack’s eye out of his socket with her mouth — I’m still trying to figure out how Jurnee Smollett-Bell, who was actually pregnant while filming, got through this because I nearly lost my dinner — still, it was worth it because Jack is as dead as a doorknob.

Lying in the dirt exhausted, Rosalee thinks of Ernestine. Despite everything, she has no animosity towards her mother for the things she’s done. She understands now more than ever what a mother will do to protect her children.

Back down South, Hicks and Ernestine are in the Big House. Ms. Ernestine looks like she’s two seconds away from vomiting while observing the young Master Matthew Roe and his boys. There’s a glimpse of what seems to be an abolitionist stream in young Mr. Roe. His friends, of course, are cruel and disgusting.  As Hicks plays his banjo, one of the men continues to ply him with alcohol. Finally called upon to regale the crowd with her stunning voice, Ernestine slowly begins working the room, much to the delight of her onlookers, including the ghost of Sam. Everything is going well until she begins insulting the crowd through her song. Hicks and the house girls look on in horror. It’s clear that Ms. Ernestine is done giving AF, she has come to the edge of her sanity and I can’t say that I blame her. As she finishes her song, cackling gleefully, everyone looks on in horror except Sam, who claps vigorously. This is about to be real bad.

Up North, Patty has stumbled upon the body of her slave catcher, Jack. As she stands over his dead body, Mr. Donahue snaps a photo. The voyeurism that occurred during slavery is astounding, Jack was a horrible, disgusting human being, but his dead body does not need to be memorialized.

Meanwhile, Patty is still trying to drive the narrative for her bio, but Mr. Donahue seems most intrigued by Harriet and Rosalee. His curiosity intensifies further once Patty Cannon makes the connection that the Macon 7’s Rosalee is Black Rose.

In South Carolina, Hicks and Ernestine are back in their cabin arguing. Hicks is enraged about Ernestine’s performance. He tells her that all she had to do was “look pretty and sing.” She tells him “If you want to be the Massa’s bitch that’s fine but leave me out of it.” WHELP.

A volatile fight between the pair ensues, and just as Hicks is about to deliver a final blow to Ernestine’s already bloody face, he pauses. He tries to blame her for his abuse as she lays on their cot sniffing her potion. He begins kissing her, and they have sex, then suddenly we’re in Ernestine’s head.

Is that the iconic Angela Bassett?!!!

As Hicks continues to thrust inside of her, Ms. Ernestine has a flashback. A very young Stine approaches Angela Bassett’s character, who is in the middle of gutting a pig. She tells her, “I hear you help girls around here.” The woman responds by saying, “You ain’t with child.” But that’s not quite why Ernestine is there. She knows what fate has in store for her and she wants to protect herself. Ernestine wants the woman to help her so that she can never have any children. The older woman tells her she can’t protect a body that was never hers, but she has looks, so she better learn how to use them. The woman says, “Your kin done sold you an old and terrible lie, that you can survive this.”

In the dark woods, one of Patty Cannon’s men has just finished burying Jack’s body. Rosalee, who has been hiding underneath the ground this the entire time, lifts herself out of the earth coughing and screaming. (Listen if Jurnee Smollett-Bell doesn’t get an Emmy nom for this role, we need to burn everything down.) As she sits by the edge of the riverbank trying to calm her cough, we hear a snake slithering nearby. (I’m not able to do snakes, so this might be the end for me.) Suddenly, the snake jumps on Rosalee’s leg and bites her. Thinking quickly, she cuts into her wound before the poison spreads. Next, she digs into the river for a leech, which she attaches to the wound to get the poison out and promptly passes out. My stomach is still rolling.

At daybreak the next day, Rosalee awakens covered in blood and dirt. Immediately, she reaches for her swollen stomach to reassure herself that she is still pregnant. Realizing she needs to eat, she bites into the now dead leech just as a curious Mr. Donahue comes strolling through the bush. They spot one another at the same time, and a tear drips from Rosalee’s eye. Looking confused, particularly after he hears his name being called, Donahue strips off his coat and sets his water canteen in front of Rosalee before tiptoeing away.  He might have some humanity in him after all.

In Carolina, Ms. Ernestine is standing at the edge of the ocean. She recalls breastfeeding James and the master’s son, T.R. at the same time. She walks out into the water, holding a rock. Turning back, she spots Sam, French and Pearly Mae on the shore. Diving deep, she’s ready to end it all until suddenly, Hicks and the other slaves are lifting her out of the water.

Up North, Rosalee isn’t doing much better. Fatigued and feverish, she stumbles through the woods finally coming upon the hidden horse and wagon. However, it looks like the snake poison has gotten the best of her. She nearly passes out before being jolting awake and forcing herself to climb into the wagon.

In a carriage somewhere, Donahue asks Patty if Jack‘s death affected her. Unsurprisingly, she’s unbothered. Patty informs Donahue that Jack had no family and that her men are dispensable. However, she does tell Donahue that family men are the best motivators. She also informs him that some of her best catchers are Black. She explains that former slaves don’t want to go back, and free Blacks know she can turn them in at any moment. The carriage reaches its location, and as Donahue and Patty step out, we see a chain gang working in a field.  It looks like Patty Cannon has had August hemmed up in chains, all this time, and she’s ready to sic him on Rosalee.

Episode 203 of Underground was rough. What did you think? Were you able to stomach the blood, violence, and leeches?

Underground airs Wednesdays at 10 PM ET on WGN America