We gave it a B
This week’s Underground starts off a little differently, with the audience greeted by the image of the episode’s namesake, whiteface. Last week’s episode wasn’t just a one-off: Cato’s free world is the new normal, and this episode begins with one of his many new ventures, a minstrel show. Like a lot of Cato’s behavior on the surface, it’s highly questionable, especially as the waiting white patrons talk up the show. But then the show begins — with his black actors in whiteface, talking of lying down with the lamb and the “truth” behind “the city of brotherly love” — and those patrons are absolutely appalled, storming out pretty quickly.
Yes, this is what Cato does for laughs and fun these days, a far cry from his days in England with Devi and his only friend Francis (Alex Collins). If it sounds like a bad idea in the long run, that’s because it is, and Francis calls Cato out for his behavior. But where Francis sees “poking a bear,” Cato sees himself as “putting the bear down” with acts like this. Plus, when he’s not doing the 19th century version of Punk’d with his minstrel show, he truly is working for the cause of abolition. In fact, he hosts a fundraiser party at his home with William Still and Frederick Douglass (John Legend) in attendance, fully putting his money to good use.
“What I’ve learned on my journey to freedom is there is nothing in your past you cannot forge into a weapon. What I got right here was a lesson in how to hurt them. It’s all about the money. They ain’t nearly as much cruel as they are greedy… This is our weapon. This is how we hurt them.”
Underground’s second season has introduced a few ideological concepts, but a lot of them boil down to the fact that money talks. And that is Cato’s most powerful weapon… but it’s not a perfect weapon. As Cato’s living the good life in Philadelphia, that quickly comes crashing down as Patty Cannon arrives at his party — alongside August Pullman, whom she’s just sprung from prison to help her catch her “Black Rose.” August is pretty much a mess, by the way, barely living off prison wine and shutting down whenever his son is mentioned. This coincides with Cato also receiving news that Francis has sent for Devi, so as Cato clears out his party to quickly confront these slave catchers before his two lives cross paths, there’s the expectation that he’ll come out on top like he did last week. That he’ll show them who’s really boss when they see his men and realize they’ve made a huge mistake. That his pre-shootout speech is as cool as it sounds.
But the Cato we see at the party, the one who quips with Frederick Douglass and freely talks about how much he supports John Brown’s methods — because who’s going to stop him? — loses. Then so goes his “whiteface,” his power through money. His hired help that he flaunted in Noah’s face last week? They’re quickly bested by the more desperate Patty and August. August proves to Patty that he’s a dog that “can still bite,” but the fates of Devi and Cato are now very much up in the air… sadly, justifying Cato’s decision to leave Devi behind in London in the first place, as she’s put in peril the second she sets foot on his estate. All we know now is that Patty Cannon is moving in. So things don’t look great.