Television

LAST week on Underground

If you missed the latest episode and don’t like spoilers, this isn’t the post for you.

Most shows that cover serious subjects avoid giving children a lot to do. Certainly, when I’ve seen programs depict slavery, the majority of screen time is given to adult actors, while the kids appear merely for minutes, if not seconds. However last Wednesday, Underground flipped this ratio. There are several young performers on the show. Each of the last episode’s acts focused on how one of them was affected by his or her circumstances.

James’ story grieved my spirit. No longer T.R.’s playmate, the show opened with Sam and Ernestine preparing him to begin life as a field slave. Over the course of his scenes, you could see young James transform. As the reality of slave life sunk in, everything about him changed–even his posture. My heart broke when his mother, Ernestine, acknowledged the truth about her youngest child: Before his first day in the cotton fields, he didn’t even realize that he was a slave.

Ben’s segment didn’t deal with slavery. Instead, we picked up where we left off in the previous episode. He and his father, August, went to find his mother. (You might remember that she’s a patient in a mental hospital…) Eventually they located her in a nearby forest. These scenes brought to mind stories that I’d heard about healthcare before the modern age. I felt Ben’s frustration over his mother–a woman who is lost to him, yet very much alive.

Little Boo broke my heart. Moses’ death (seen in flashbacks) has left her all alone. Thankfully, Elizabeth found her, and they were able to spend a few precious moments together. Her fear and struggle over whether or not to trust a stranger really resonated with me. I can only imagine what the real Boos of her day endured.

I won’t spoil this next part in great detail, but by the end of Henry’s scenes I couldn’t help but wonder if he’s okay. In “Cradle”, his dialogue revealed an interesting note about his backstory. Period dramas that discuss slavery usually stick to tales of slaves born either to their parents in bondage, or sold away. I can’t remember one ever referencing a slave born on a breeding farm.

T.R.’s scenes revealed the end end of his friendship with James–with powerful acting by both Maceo Smedley and Toby Nichols. I also noticed a glimpse of something else. Remember the scene in the pilot when T.R. was sticking green beans up his nose? I thought,”What a harmless brat!” Yet as always, Underground‘s writers aren’t here for viewers’ assumptions. I can still hear T.R.’s last line. In spite of his initial good intentions, I believe we’ve witnessed the beginning of his heart being hardened.

Other elements that caught my eye:

Did they use modern music in “Cradle”? I couldn’t tell you. I was too much in love with the sound of the children’s choir. Kudos to Underground’s music supervisors for including their voices.

All of the children’s scenes left me thinking, and in the wake of T.R.’s scenes, I couldn’t help but ask the unanswerable: How many slaves’ lives were ruined by the whims of their owners’ children?

My next question relates to the preview for tonight’s episode:

Why do Tom and Ernestine want Sam’s departure to remain a secret? Is it because of the Reverend, or something else? If I didn’t believe otherwise, I’d think Sam was Mr. Macon’s son.

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