Underground finale recap: 'Soldier'
For better or worse, the call to fight spreads like wildfire
“Soldier” opens with the one Harriet Tubman scene of the episode, as she’s approached by George Stearns, one of Captain John Brown’s “Secret Six.” Apparently word got back to Brown about Harriet’s call to arms during her “Minty” speech, and he has just the idea for the “larger-scale event” (a.k.a. “act of war”) they need — a hit on the weapons arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. The plan here (and in history) is for Brown and his men to take control of the arsenal, arming slaves to make them “soldiers in the war that’s been waged against them,” and as dangerous as that idea is, Harriet sees how it could be just what the country needs. So she supports it. That’s before she learns that Brown wants her to be part of the raid though. As for her reaction to that, we’ll just have to wait until next season (or a quick look at Wikipedia).
The rest of the episode picks up in the aftermath of Daniel showing up at Georgia’s boarding house, where he tells Georgia, Elizabeth, and company about how his master is planning to sell Daniel’s wife and daughter (while also keeping Daniel’s baby son in the big house, in his bedroom). Elizabeth is of course gung ho about saving Daniel’s family, which means Georgia has to be on the opposite side of the argument; thankfully, she does want to help (she suggests they buy his family), but she doesn’t see why they’re going through all their trouble for just one family. But as Noah points out, “If we ain’t doing this for a good man and his family, then who the hell are we doing it for?” Yes, it’ll be hard, since they don’t know this plantation or gun situation the way they did at Macon, but Elizabeth suggests they simply prey on the fear that this master and others have of John Brown, starting the slave revolt they’re so deeply terrified of — and that settles that.
Meanwhile, Cato is speechifying about “notoriety” and how to “become a legend” with a Patty Cannon proxy. More on that later. “You gotta burn everything that’s useless,” Cato says. “Burn yourself clean. Become one thing and amplify that into the only thing.” In case you’re wondering if this would be the episode that redeems Cato, it isn’t. It actually doubles down on his treachery, from all angles.
As for Ernestine and August, they’re still on their unlikely road trip down South, and they make it to August’s house (which is marked with his wife and slave’s graves). August wonders how everything went so wrong, so you know what Ernestine’s solution is: opiates. Though that at least comes with some strategy, as she waits until August is high as a kite to go running as fast as she possibly can. Unfortunately, she does get slowed down by her own use of the opiates (head swimming with painful memories), and August eventually catches up with her, only for them to stop once they reach the Macon big house. At least, what’s left of it. Ernestine thinks she’s seeing things; if only she could’ve seen her daughter set that evil house on fire. Now that would be a good Mother’s Day present.
Later in the episode, Ernestine spots August with a gun pointed to his head, planning to take his own life. She talks him down from that ledge, even though she doesn’t think he quite deserves it, given all he’s done. But since she herself has technically gotten a second chance, she sees it’s time for him to do the same. “We don’t have to keep feeding the darkest part of ourselves,” she tells him, before walking away with his gun. (Ahem. Cato.)
Ernestine is definitely on her children’s minds, as James worries they’ll never even see her again, especially with how big the world is. But Rosalee reminds him that their mom is pretty smart and tough — she’s a fighter, even though it hasn’t really seemed that way as much this season — and she’ll find her way back to them. She certainly has more of a reason to do so now, with nothing back at Macon.
However, while Rosalee can soothe James with talk of their mother and the kicking of her baby, there’s not much she can do to fix things with Noah. At least not right now, as he’s barely speaking to her, even when she admits he was right about her being like her father. In fact, she admits she was just as “weak” as him, which is why she didn’t tell Noah the truth, but you know it’s kind of too little, too late, at least for now. And as for the fear and how she can possibly let it go, Noah says it’s not that easy: “You don’t. Just can’t let it twist into something bad.” (Ahem. Cato. Again) With that, Noah is off with Elizabeth and John Brown’s men to plan the plantation raid.
Five hours to hit three plantations, liberate hard-to-convince house slaves, and take all the weapons (“the spoils of war”) they possibly can. According to Elizabeth, “One family is why we’re here, but let’s make it about all families, all the enslaved. Turn it into a moment. If they’re so worried that Kentucky will bleed like Kansas, let’s break skin.” Then it’s back home safe, hopefully. Noah’s alone (save for the help of a house slave) in his mission, in charge of taking Daniel’s baby from the big house safely, and while the stress levels are up, that one goes pretty well… as opposed to the one plantation master who escapes his own bondage and takes one of the house slaves hostage against Lucas. There’s a moment where it looks like Elizabeth has gotten so cold she might actually leave Lucas behind, but instead, she simply takes a shotgun and shoots the master so they can go.
But while things are going relatively well over there, Patty Cannon and her crew shoot up the boarding house, demanding “the Black Rose” by threatening to kill everyone else in the house. This certainly isn’t the time to say, “I told you so,” but Elizabeth did tell Georgia that she needs to take more safety precautions with the boarding house. But it’s too late for that, both because the threat is already there and because Cato got all the information he needed to sell out Georgia and the boarding house. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, Patty Cannon’s gang is coming by.
And they really have no problem shooting innocent bystanders in the head — though, luckily, Georgia has no qualms about taking up arms to defend herself and her home. As Rosalee and James try to run, they get to the basement… but not before Rosalee sees Cato and realizes he’s part of all this. From that moment on, Cato is back to calling her “house girl” and insulting Noah. At Rosalee’s claim that he’s just “selling out his own” yet again, he replies with this ignorant gem: “I ain’t never been a n—-r. I’m just Cato.” Apparently being Cato means being delusional, though that’s certainly not the worst thing about him.
There’s a moment in this episode, as Elizabeth’s crew is a little late to meet Noah, Daniel, and Daniel’s family, when Daniel suggests they cross the river without them. Luckily they arrive just moments after that, but it’s an interesting choice: Elizabeth and John Brown’s men are doing all of this to help Daniel and his family, and he has no problem abandoning them at the first sign of trouble. It’s actually quite Noah-esque, focusing on himself and his kin staying safe, and while it’s selfish, there’s obviously a difference between this kind selfishness and, say, Cato’s. But since they don’t have to abandon their people, they do have to fight their way to get to the river. Noah makes a speech about choices, and tonight’s choice is to fight.
Noah’s fight involves arming everyone, rebels and slaves alike, with guns and knives, while back at the boarding house, Rosalee’s fight involves giving birth to their son in the middle of an attack. (James also has a knife and stabs an intruder in the hand. It’s cute.) The show cuts Rosalee’s labor against Noah running through the woods, guns blazing; you have to hold your breath and pray that the baby’s death doesn’t happen at the same time as Noah’s. You know how entertainment goes with these things. Not this time though, as Noah makes it through the woods, free and clear (some of his partners aren’t so lucky). They’ve made it, and now they can cross the river.
While the boarding house is home to bloodshed, Cato rifles through Georgia’s files and finds a letter that states where Harriet is. He, Patty, and Donahue, the author, go to the house to cement Patty’s legacy. (Spoiler alert: The letter’s a forgery. And no, that doesn’t vindicate Cato.) Donahue inadvertently plays to Cato’s plan by questioning Patty’s initial decision to just shoot up the house itself with a shotgun, so they go into the empty house, and once she complains about Cato being wrong, he shoots her in the head with the discarded shotgun. “The mistake Patty made was believing in her own legend. Thinking she was invincible. It was a pretty good legend though. One that shouldn’t die just yet.” Yes, Cato is taking over Patty’s gang with his “new Patty” from earlier, and he plans to get Patty’s men to follow him with their “biggest score yet”: the Black Rose. Meanwhile, I’m sure Devi is either suffering or dead somewhere, not that Cato cares.
So when Noah and Elizabeth get back to the boarding house, they’re greeted by all the disarray and the blood. Then they hear a crying baby upstairs, as James and the baby were hiding in a trunk. As for Rosalee? Cato wasn’t just playing lip service: He took her, Georgia, and everyone else. Noah tries to comfort his newborn son with promises of being free, but…
That’s it. Underground’s second season is over. Given where we started, it’s honestly kind of anticlimactic. Obviously there’s a lot of action in this episode, but like last week’s episode, it feels like there should just be so much more. Ten episodes just aren’t enough, not just because of the Rosalee/Georgia cliffhanger but because of the plots that are just left dangling, like Ernestine/August or even Harriet. Especially since Ernestine as August’s sponsor is kind of like the blind leading the blind, no offense to Daniel. One family is saved, but at the same time, those we truly care about are far from it. And without confirmation of a third season, this ending is even more terrifying.
Then there’s the epilogue, “ten months later.” We find Elizabeth living in a rather small home, in a relationship with a man who is surprisingly not Lucas (though he kind of just looks like Lucas with a haircut). According to the end credits, his name is Connor. She wants him to stay home, but he tells he they’re a man short at the armory, so he goes to work… and as soon as she does, the happy #relationshipgoals look is off her face, and she clearly has plans of her own. She places a lantern at a dock, and we see where she is: Harpers Ferry, where men are handling that previously mentioned weapons arsenal. So it looks like Elizabeth is now a spy for the cause, which was obviously the natural progression of things. Where will this lead? Hopefully we’ll see.