WGN America’s ‘Underground’ leaves us feeling powerless, yet determined to fight!

What’s a man supposed to do when he feels so powerless?

The fear of not knowing where your next step will land. The emptiness in the pit of your stomach right before the storm. The terror of realizing that agony and pain are inevitable. These are some of the feelings and emotions that are evoked as we embark in the latest period drama series from WGN America called Underground.

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The series, created by Misha Green (Sons of Anarchy) and Joe Pokaski (Heroes), is a heart-pounding and thought-provoking journey. Noah (Aldis Hodge) is a blacksmith slave, owned by Tom Macon (Reed Diamond) and his expectant wife Suzanna (Andrea Frankle), whose deep-rooted desire for freedom outweighs any punishment or beating that he could ever receive. Things change when he is given a map that could lead him to liberty, and Noah decides to make one more escape. With the help of others, he must traverse across the deadly south, in the hope of finding the one road that leads him to the North. Also owned by the Macon’s are house slaves Ernerstine (Amirah Vann) and her daughter Rosalee ( Jurnee Smollet-Bell), whom after is whipped and beaten due to an accident, the young girl finds the strength to join Noah’s daring escape.

Underground also follows the other character arcs, such as August Pullman (Christopher Meloni), father and husband to an ailing wife, who looks down on those who hunt down runaway slaves, and John and Elizabeth Hawkes (Marc Blucas and Jessica de Gouw), an abolitionist lawyer and his wife who despise the justice system’s inability to work for slaves. The cast also has showcases the talents of Mykelti Williamson, Adina Porter, Alano Miller, and Chris Chalk.

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Underground is a gritty and real, yet somewhat minimalistic take on the shadowy past of our young nation. The show is minimal in the fact that the show shines away from the overuse of blood and gore, giving the viewers a chance to be able to focus on the show without needing to turn away in disgust. It does act as a double-edged sword, however, as the lack of things we do not see, make up for in the things our imaginations can conjure. The sound and lighting team do a superb job at being able to create eerie and suspenseful atmospheres in the scenes, where the only thing we may encounter for a few seconds could be the deep breathing of someone hoping not to get caught. But take mind, although there aren’t any gratuitous images or scenes throughout the show, Underground has no problem laying all their cards on the table, removing any point of security by making you aware that the topics they will be hitting will hit hard.

Going back to the sound, one of the biggest points of the show was the music. As each second of suspense built, the anthemic rhythms of the music overlaying the scene blended seamlessly. Each moment was structured to pair masterfully with the sounds of the harmonic strings, the electronic drumbeat, the distorted piano pad, and the subtle rhythm of the sound of just breathing. The series opens as a runaway slave fearful breathing mimics the tune to Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead,” giving viewers a glimpse of the style and intensity that is to be expected from the series.

Underground, Season 1, Episode 105 Photo Credit: /Sony Pictures Television

Underground, overall, is still a graphic representation to the darkest times of the U.S., despite anyone’s attempt to sell it any other way. The selling point, however, is that it doesn’t take pride in wanting to only present just how much physical harm occurred during that era, but rather the emotional, mental, and even spiritual destruction that people inflicted on slaves. Noah put it plainly in regards to the spiritual mindset that was possibly the mindset of many at the time: “If He’s (God) picked a side, it ain’t ours.” The show, though it has its minor shortcomings, is a tale that truly represents the way historic stories are supposed to be told: to ignite conversation, and avoid our past fallacies. Underground has created a platform that, although the story is based solely on the plight of the African slaves in America, can open doors for every man, woman, and child to see the skeletons of our country, and make the steps towards to becoming a more understood and well-informed nation. What’s a man supposed to do when he feels so powerless? He leans on the shoulders of the man standing beside him.

Underground premieres Wednesday, March 9th, on WGN America.

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