Underground recap: 'Citizen'
On the brink of war, a few days can feel like an eternity
A lot happens this week, and until we get to the Noah/Rosalee part of the episode, the show makes it easy for the audience to understand what’s going on. But the episode is split into the perspectives of various characters — Cato, Elizabeth, Harriet, Noah/Rosalee — over the span of a few days.
Thankfully Cato is the first perspective in this episode, because after last week’s ending, you’ve got to know what that weasel is up to. And I have no problem calling Cato a weasel, because as the episode opens with this going through all the nooks and crannies of Georgia’s boarding house, Cato obviously looks like he’s taking glee of all this subterfuge and plans of eventual betrayal. He sees certain things as he snoops, things like Georgia doing her make-up (turning on the lightbulb in his head that tells him she’s passing for white). He effortlessly moves through the boarding house, passing by an Elizabeth who obviously doesn’t realize anything’s amiss and even ends up in Georgia’s office… where he’s greeted by Harriet, sweeping up. So if Cato’s two steps ahead of everyone in the boarding house, the exception to that rule is Harriet, as she’s instantly suspicious of him (though he says he just wants to thank Georgia for all her help) and is even smart enough to give him the name “Minty” when he asks her who she is.
Cato also knows how to sneak out of the house, as he returns to give Patty Cannon a briefing. The episode reminds us that Patty is half-vile human being, half-absolute fool as she tells Cato that the woman sweeping floors couldn’t possibly be “the most notorious slave stealer there is,” even though she matches the description of Harriet Tubman. And Patty’s getting impatient waiting for him, thinking he’s getting too comfortable in a safehouse, thinking he’s planning to run up north with the rest of the cargo. So Cato grabs a blade to cut his own wrists, so he can take that back to the boarding house and look vulnerable. “I’m right where I want to be,” he tells Patty. “And I’m staying in that house until we get what we need.”
At the house, it’s unfortunately Elizabeth who tends to his wounds. “Unfortunate” because if anyone’s in the headspace to get conned by Cato right now, it’s definitely Elizabeth in all of her frustration and guilt and anger. Actually, according to Elizabeth, it’s the “fear” that’s the prevalent feeling. “It’s the only thing that’s been constant since they shot John,” she tells him.
And then we get to the part of the conversation that’s supposed to be justification for Cato, but given everything he’s done and continues to do, it doesn’t matter anymore. As Elizabeth says the fear can only go in or out, Cato tells her exactly what to do with it: “Pull it in. Then push it out. Get so scared you got to scare them back. Become the monster that came to eat you.” Yes, that’s how Cato justifies everything he does. Devi sure knew how to pick ’em, huh? Never mind that this speech doesn’t actually fit for someone who’s pretending they just attempted to end their own life.
At night, Cato wakes up and sneaks out of bed, seeing Elizabeth head out in the process. He follows her into the woods… and all of a sudden there’s a horse stable on fire and Elizabeth’s in it, passed out. The next scene is Cato bathing in a river, telling Patty and her boys “we got two days.”
So here’s where things get confusing, because in order to better understand the plot from slit wrists on, you need the Elizabeth side of things.
Earlier, Cato heard part of a basement argument between Georgia and Elizabeth, but the only relevant part to him (and the only part we understood) was that Rosalee and her family would return at week’s end. From Elizabeth’s perspective, we get context: One of her kidnappers walks into the boarding house, trolling her and telling her she’s just as dumb as her husband was. She slaps him, which is great, but she’s obviously shaken from that. That is what the argument is about with Georgia, as Elizabeth sees this as a reason to take action and make sure that man and his kind never come back… and as we know, Georgia is a not about that life. She much prefers safety, which is why she passes for white in the first place. “It’s because a sense of safety transforms the spirit.” And retaliation only threatens the runaways’ safety. It’s easy to understand where Georgia’s coming from, but at the same time: Oh, Georgia. War is on the horizon, girl.
Then we have Elizabeth find a bloody Cato, and we know what happens there. But as for the stable at night, it turns out to belong to the kidnapper who harassed Elizabeth. When he steps out, she sets it on fire… but the harasser’s young son doesn’t know that his father’s not there, so he runs in to save him… and Elizabeth runs in to save him, passing out in the process. She wakes up in the back of a wagon, the implication for the audience being that Cato saved her. But the boy was badly burned, and to that, Georgia gives Elizabeth a piece of her mind. Unfortunately for Georgia, Elizabeth is too far gone, completely agreeing with John Brown’s (and even Cato’s) rhetoric that love, hope, and rage won’t win this big fight: “total and unforgiving” fear will.
So Georgia straight up tells Elizabeth that she’s dangerous if she truly believes that and kicks her out of the boarding house.
Harriet’s side of things begins after her run-in with Cato (who didn’t even give Georgia or anyone else a fake name, by the way) and after Georgia and Elizabeth’s initial basement argument. Funnily enough, Harriet approves of Elizabeth slapping the harasser, but boy could she have helped to possibly prevent the woman from setting a child on fire. (Georgia says Elizabeth “doesn’t need any more encouragement towards violence,” but little does she know that Cato’s the one fanning those flames.) Harriet’s on her way to meet up with Rosalee and company and give them train tickets, but she does ask that Georgia keep an eye on Cato. “Something about him I don’t trust. His answers come too easy from his mouth.”
Does Georgia keep an eye on him like Harriet asks? Who knows? The episode doesn’t get into it, and that’s the end of the Cato-related stories in this particular episode. Instead, we go on to follow Harriet on her trek down South, which is stressful, but as Harriet points out herself, is nowhere as stressful as it would be if she were heading North. Being Harriet Tubman, everything she does seems so self-assured, with the only sign of worry at the sound of her heartbeat when a man is putting up reward signs for slaves. But just as soon as that man is gone, the sound of her heartbeat is back to normal, and she’s taking those signs away for herself. She just keeps on moving, even when she’s dead tired.
And then she stops at a church, and if you thought Aisha Hinds couldn’t possibly steal the show with so much going on in one episode, you’d be wrong. Rarely is it a good thing when a character brings an episode of television to a screeching halt, but Hinds is so captivating as Harriet Tubman that she could. Well, she already monologued for an entire episode, so I suppose she could just do that again. Instead we’re given an abridged monologue as she prays alone to God about how she never planned to be a hero to others and how she really doesn’t want to be. She tells God how she feels like she’s committing the sin of pride, because even though she doesn’t want to speak, the speaking leads to money, and the money saves lives. Even though John Brown calls her “General Tubman,” she doesn’t want to lead. She doesn’t even think she deserves to lead. Believe us, Harriet — given all the other options in this episode, you’re definitely the best choice to lead.
After she’s won yet another episode, Harriet moves on to a station house, and Noah answers the door.
There is just too much in this episode, and while it starts some interesting stories, that’s all it really does: It starts them. The Noah/Rosalee plot in particular is one that absolutely deserves its own episode, and instead, we’re deprived of moments like Rosalee trying to explain things further to James in Georgia (as he’s finally on board with running with them after the fact) or what events led to Corra getting gunned down and caught in South Carolina.
Once they get to North Carolina though, their story gets a little more time to breathe. James is on his best behavior, despite no evidence as to why, but it does lead to a conversation about his future and what freedom really means. Because even though James doesn’t see yet how freedom is any different from his old life, Noah explains to him that he can make his own choices now — as his own master — and those choices decide the man he’s going to be. It’s a speech that Rosalee obviously listens to and realizes that she herself made the right choice in a man.
Virginia is where Harriet meets them, where Noah finally has a one-on-one conversation with the Harriet Tubman. They talk about God, specifically how Noah doesn’t believe, not after all he’s seen in this world. Instead, Noah talks about how, at this point, he can only believe in what he sees, hears, and touches… which Harriet questions, because when it comes to something like the Macon 7 and those 600 miles to freedom, there had to be something more than just what he could see, hear, and touch driving that. She asks him what made him think he could pull it off, but guilt-ridden Noah can only think about how he couldn’t pull it off. But that’s not what she asked, and she eventually gets the answer she’s looking for: “I don’t know, I just believed.” That sense of believing, feeling the impossible being possible, is what’s missing in Noah’s life now. She tells him he needs to get rid of that and fight, even though he has a baby on the way. Tells him that he needs to disregard “fear and sense” and instead be “desperate and insane.” (Now we know Harriet’s thoughts on fear. She really could’ve helped Elizabeth out.)
It’s once they get to the boarding house — once they’re for sure back to freedom — that things gets real though. That’s when Noah stops putting survival at the forefront and instead decides to tell Rosalee just how mad he is at her for hiding her pregnancy. That’s right, Underground wasn’t just ignoring the blow-up, it was saving it for the right time and place. Basically, it’s like Noah pressed pause on their argument, How I Met Your Mother style. Rosalee attempts to apologize to Noah, but he’s absolutely furious that she could keep a secret like that from him. And then for him to find out when she was in danger like he did, that was the worst fear he ever felt. Not only does he say she was willing to sacrifice their family for her own, he tells her that she “treated [him] like a slave.” “You put my baby in harm’s way, and you tricked me into helping you do it.” Worse, she’s “just like [her] father.”
But hey, Rosalee and company are at the boarding house, so where’s Cato now? If he’s still there, he doesn’t have much time to try to avoid them, now does he? No answer.
The final story in this episode is Daniel’s, which is a change from the usual episode-opening we’ve grown accustomed to with this character. At his plantation, his daughter is his eyes, and things are only getting worse as the master is selling slaves and separating them from their families. As mentioned in a previous Daniel opening, their master is just spooked by John Brown and his men, so he’s joining other slaveowners in sending their slaves down to the Deep South. According to Daniel’s wife, only nine slaves are even left, and she suggests Daniel attempt to convince the master to let them stay — after all, Daniel does bring in money on the regular with his work. Though, considering he’s recently been blinded by the master’s men, just how much is Daniel even on the man’s good side?
But Daniel doesn’t want to just be the good slave. He doesn’t just want to be “blind and helpless.” To him, freedom’s “the only answer,” and so he sets forth to find that freedom — on his own and swiftly, so he can get help to save his family.
So when Daniel’s able to go into town — he’s clearly still on the master’s good sign — to get his bag fixed, he heads to Ripley in search of… well, a cobbler. (Also, we learn that while his vision’s not great, he’s not completely blind.) He’s stopped by an official, but he has papers (and quite a way with words, which certainly comes in handy), and he’s able to reach the cobbler. And while he really does need his bag fixed, he also makes his intentions clear by starting a conversation about an article he read on cobblers in Ripley, specifically how the town has more cobblers than usual and some may be fronts that provide shoes for runaways. While the cobbler keeps going on about how he has no idea what Daniel’s talking about (“I fix shoes, I don’t bother myself with politics”), at the last minute, he stops Daniel.
The next moment, we see Elizabeth with her packed bags, on her way out of the boarding house, when she runs into Daniel. Another story started, and that’s the end of the episode.