Underground caps series with incredible season finale: ‘The White Whale’ recap & review

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Recap

Ernestine kneels before James while he is sleeping, praying softly the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis.

“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love,” she utters gently into the night, as we see her continue to go about her duties in the house despite her son, Sam, being hung during Tom’s nomination speech. “Where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.” We hear the pain in her voice, yet see the numbness she exudes through her actions, as she continues to keep the house and care for Suzanna’s newborn child. We see her catch glimpses of Tom’s gaze, as one of the few times she shows her heart, giving him a pleading look of why this happened. “And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life,” she ends her prayer, leaning over to kiss James on the head, and standing straight up. The look on her face is a woman who is spent, having all emotion drawn from her out of loss, and as her eyes peer off distantly, she speaks the final closing word of the prayer coldly, as though they were not spoken as a prayer, but a word on a tombstone: “Amen.”

We find Rosalee and Noah sitting idly, picking at their food at the dining room table, as Elizabeth stands watch at the backdoor. She announces that John’s back as everyone jumps to the ready, preparing for the news that he’s bringing. John tells them that the whole community is abuzz, with the news that the Macon 7 have made it over the river and are hiding in their town. People are taking it upon themselves to cash in on the reward for the group and are willing to do whatever they need to to find them, even if it means going door to door. Noah states plainly that they need to devise a plan, but Elizabeth reminds them that they still have one other thing to worry about still: Marshall Risdin is still gagged and bound underneath the house. Later, while Elizabeth is watching Boo, Noah sits by her and asks why she would risk all that she has and owns by opening her home to runaways, that he doesn’t think he would do that, if the situations were switched. She tells him that, honestly, she didn’t want to, at first, that it was too dangerous and risky, and she still thinks it’s dangerous, but what drives her is the hope that they can get Boo to freedom. We find John and Rosalee digging somewhere out in the dark, as Rosalee tells John how he differs from his brother. John tells Rosalee that he had a good heart when they were young, but that he was an opportunist, and that led most of his decisions. John then asks her if she has any brothers or sisters, to which she replies that she two brothers, James and Sam. John recognizes the name Sam, and, sadly, breaks the news to her about what happened to him.

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Ernestine is sitting in Tom’s office, looking distraught and broken, as Tom begins to lament his apologies to her for the choices he’s made. From the death of Sam, lying to her, and getting her put in the box, he falls to his knees in front of her and begs her for forgiveness. Ernestine tells him, in her grief, that it’s her fault, that she’s being punished by God for doing what she did to Pearly Mae. She tells him that all she feels now is pain, but he offers a sensual touch, trying to give her relief in her time of need. Tom then tells her that he wants Ernestine to come to Washington with him and start a new life, where she can be free with him.

We find Rosalee, grief-stricken and in tears, while in the tub, as Noah comes in to bring her some clothes. She asks him to stay, as he caresses her back. She begins to find solace in his embrace, and as they hold each other, comforting each other over the loss of Sam, they begin to kiss softly. As the fiery passion builds, Noah lifts Rosalee from the tub, and we are left with the water lapping up to the sides of the tub. Later, we find the two in each other’s arms, lying in a bed. Rosalee asks why they deserved to get to freedom and the rest of the group didn’t, despite all the grimy and dirty work they had to do to get there. Noah reminds her that they were just trying to survive, that Freedom has to mean more than that. It isn’t about if they deserve it, it’s already theirs. They can’t let what they do turn them into something else. Rosalee puts her head down slowly, however, and tells Noah, “Ain’t none of us free until we all free.”

Noah-Rosalee

Back at the slaughterhouse, Jeremiah is counting the dead men from the rescue Noah and Cato performed in the last episode. August comes in, stating that his boy needs surgery for the knife wound from Rosalee, and that he plans to kill her for what she did. Jeremiah begins to try to swindle August, telling him that he’s not leaving until they catch the runaways, telling him that they’re at a perfect point to “renegotiate.” August looks stone cold at Jeremiah as what’s left of his men begin to surround him. As the scene switches to a serene shot of the barn door, we suddenly see Jeremiah stumble out, bloody and broken, with August following not too far behind. Looks like he didn’t take too kindly to the renegotiating. August, covered in the blood of his victims, follows Jeremiah as he crawls, points his pistol at Jeremiah’s head, and pulls the trigger.

Elizabeth gingerly walks into the U.S. Marshalls office, as she walks up to the counter to ask for Marshall Risdin. The gentleman behind the counter tells her that they’ve been looking for him, as well, but he’d be willing to take her information down for him. After she insists that it needs to be delivered to Risdin, Noah comes in, pointing a gun at Elizabeth’s head, threatening to shoot her. While all this is happening, John is preparing his wagon for their plan, and ready to leave, when August rides up to his home, asking John for help. He tells John that Tom told him that if he were ever in need, to look up his brother. August needs John to wire a message to Tom for the advance on his work so that he can get Ben to surgery. Weary that August may put a kink in their plans, John decides to invite August into his home so that he can get the wire for him. As August enters the home, Rosalee and Boo are hiding beneath the floorboard, not too far from the bound Risdin.

Back at the Marshall’s office, Noah begins to collect all the guns, as they ask him what he wants. Noah begins to tell them that he wants to be free, that he wants to get a fair day’s wages for a day’s worth of work. He wants a place to lay his head at night. “I want to be counted! It’s our hands that built this country! It’s our blood that running through the heart of it! We keep it beating! It seems that we’re more American than any of you,” he exclaims boldly. The clerk that was at the front desk tells him that he can’t give him any of that, to which Noah then nods that what he can do is open the cells that are filled with slaves from the town-wide manhunt for the Macon 7. As Noah turns away for a split second, however, the clerk pulls out a pistol to shoot at Noah, but Noah is quick on the draw, and guns down the clerk first, to Elizabeth’s surprise. Noah then demands to find out who has the keys to the cell. Once open, he hands all the captured slaves the guns, and tells them to run as far North as fast as they can, following the Drinking Gourd. On their way out, Noah tells the slaves that if they get caught, that they need to do two things: ask for a lawyer, and ask for a particular man who will help them.

Back at John’s house, Marshall Risdin begins to pound his head on the post that he’s tied to, starting to make a thumping noise from beneath the house. August begins to follow the sound, but before it becomes obvious where it’s originating from, Rosalee grabs a rock and knocks Risdin out. Once John comes back, he finds August standing oddly too close to the fireplace, worrying John. August turns to tell John that he has a draft. John reluctantly tells him that it’s an old house, but August begins to poke holes in his story, pointing out that the particular room they’re in was recently remodeled, by the floorboards and such. John hastily hands the wire to August, telling him that he probably wants to get it to the bank quickly so that he can get the help for his son. August looks at John suspiciously, not buying his story, when Elizabeth barges into the house. John quickly introduces August as the man Tom hired to find the runaway slaves, to which Elizabeth states that one of them was just at the Marshall’s office, and freed all the captured slaves. August promptly thanks John for the wire, and leaves the home. John quickly goes down to find Rosalee and Boo, ready to take them out of their, but before he can, August seems to have found the entrance to the underground passageway, and has his gun pointed on them. Before anyone else can do anything, John yells for Rosalee to run as he hits a supporting beam, dropping the floor above them on top of August and Risdin. Later, August finds his way out of the rubble, making his way to the floor above him, and out of the house, with a hellish type of anger overtaking his face.

patty

Noah is soon finding himself trying to help a slave that was captured in the middle of a field, but in doing so, gets himself caught off guard, and knocked out. When he comes to, he finds himself bound and in the presence of the woman who’s hired a lot of men to find the Macon 7: Patty Cannon. She begins to tell Noah how his group has been taxing her men for some time, and that she’s impressed with his exploits, but she began to realize that he isn’t working without help. Someone who is working with the Underground. She wants to know the people who are helping him trying to get to freedom. She offers Noah freedom to be with Rosalee if she tells her the name of whomever is helping him get to the North. All the while this is happening, John confronts Marshall Risdin, as the Marshall begins to try to bargain with John about helping him out of the mess he’s in. He tells John that all this is going to catch up to him in the end, but John tells him that it’s going to catch up, all right, but not to him. He then asks Risdin if he knows what they’ve been up to while he was down there. At that moment, Noah reveals the name of the man who is helping him get to the North, and is working with the Underground: Marshall Kyle Risdin. John explains that he and Rosalee dug another underground passage under Risdin’s house, while Elizabeth slipped some incriminating letters and abolitionist writings into his desk at the Marshall’s office. To top it off, Noah made sure to put the final nail in the coffin by telling all the slaves he’d let out of the jail cells that if they get caught, to do two things: ask for a lawyer, and ask for this one man who will help them. Kyle Risdin. With that, John tells him that it’s his right to kill anyone who helps slaves, as he puts his hands over Kyle’s mouth and nose.

Underground Season#1 Episode #1 Photo Credit : Sony Pictures Television

Things escalate quickly as we find Elizabeth, Rosalee, and Boo riding furiously in a wagon down a dirt road, with August following not to far behind. Rosalee forces Elizabeth to stop, that no one should get hurt because of her. August sees her getting out, and gets off his horse to chase after her. After coming to a point, Rosalee stops, just as August comes up behind her. She turns to face him, stating that Ben was the one who had let him go. August responds, “So you stab him?” Rosalee apologizes for it, but August tells her that he isn’t going to be able to walk again. Rosalee then drops any bit of kindness and tells him that it isn’t her fault, it’s his, stopping him in his tracks. “Ben never should’ve been there. Didn’t even want to be.” She tells him that she isn’t running anymore. August puts his pistol to her forehead, and just when he’s about to fire, another pistol from behind him cocks: it’s Elizabeth. August pulls back his pistol, but in a flash, he drops his gun, and throws his bowie knife at Elizabeth, grazing her hand. Just as quick, however, Rosalee picks up the gun, and points it at August. August, in an act of desperation and defeat, lunges forward, causing Rosalee to fire the gun. “You want to hunt us down like we’re animals,” she coldly discloses, pointing the gun at his head, “Then you gonna die out here like one.” She walks away, leaving him to his wound, as they get back to the wagon to leave.

Underground Season#1 Episode #1 Photo Credit : Sony Pictures Television

We find Ernestine in the wine cellar, pouring two glasses of wine, as Tom walks in talking about arrangements made for them to go to Washington together. They toast to the thought of leaving together, but Ernestine begins to have a pensive look on her face. Tom asks if she was thinking about James, but she tells him that she’s actually thinking about Rosalee. At first, she was upset with her, for leaving and going off like that, putting herself in that kind of danger, but she turns to Tom and asks, “But safety isn’t real, is it?”Suddenly, Herman shows up behind him, and throws a noose around his neck, as Ernestine begins to raise the noose up in the air. Tom kicks and screams, but Ernestine has Herman bind his hands behind him. Ernestine tells him that her daughter was smart enough to see through the false sense of safety, the same safety that Ernestine followed so blindly. Ernestine takes one last look at Tom, and begins to lift the noose higher, telling Tom to not worry; they don’t have to answer to anyone for their sins, anyways. “We both going to Hell; you just a bit sooner.” As Tom squirms and breathes his last breath, Ernestine drinks the wine she poured for herself, unties his hands, and puts a toppled stool nearby, making it seem like a suicide.

August comes to, finding that he isn’t dead. He realizes, quickly, that he is in a jail cell, and placed in their by Patty. “We tried to patch you up before we brought you here,” she tells him. She tells him that, as a slave catcher, they can do just about anything they want,with only one exception: “You can’t kill white people, August. Especially not any of mine.” She turns, closing the cell behind her. We see Noah being held in the cell right next to August, as we hear the prayer that Ernestine prayed in the beginning of the episode. John and Elizabeth dispose of Kyle’s body, hidden under the cover of night. We see someone stumbling, with a wounded leg, to a chest covered in brush. After moving all the shrubbery, we see that it is Cato who was stumbling, and still alive, who has stashed a chest of money for himself. Finally, we come to Rosalee and Mr. Still talking in a garden, as Boo plays innocently in the background. She asks Mr. Still what he wants to know about the Macon 7, to which he responds, “Everything.” Mr. Still tells Rosalee that if they don’t remember their own stories, who will. Rosalee proclaims that she wants Boo to remember everything: how her mother fiercely loved her; how her daddy, Moses, carried her on his own; to remember Zeke, the biggest man with the softest heart; and Henry, the boy who bullets couldn’t even stop. And Cato, the broken man who was just as brave as them all. And Noah, the one who brought everyone together, the strength of the group. Rosalee tells Mr. Still that Noah gave up his freedom for her, that she wasn’t even supposed to be a part of the Macon 7, but that Noah saw a strength in her that she didn’t see. Rosalee tells him that she’s going to go back.

We find Suzanna and Ernestine, draped in black, in stagecoach together. Suzanna reveals that she’s known about Ernestine and Tom, about him fathering Ernestine’s children, but the biggest problem she’s had with Ernestine is that her own kids love her more than their own mom. She was unable to do anything before, because of Tom, but now that he’s gone, she can do something about it now, opening the curtain to reveal Bazil Abbot’s slave auction. Before sending her off, Suzanna tells Ernestine to not worry about James, that she’s going to take him in the house, and raise him as her own, adding salt to the wound that she left on Ernestine.

After the end of the last scene, we get a bonus scene, where we find Rosalee hiding in a wagon, traveling somewhere. The wagon soon stops, as the driver makes small talk with someone nearby. Suddenly, the boards begin to lift where she is, revealing her to the woman she’s looking for. The woman, brandishing a rifle, asks if Rosalee’s the one who was looking to steal slaves. She tells her that she plans to teach her how, introducing herself as Harriet (Tubman?).

Review

Wow, what an incredible ending to a fantastic season! The season finale closing out the series sets up so many great things while giving us a sense of resolution, yet anticipation, at the same time. There weren’t just one or two pinnacle moments in the episode tonight, but rather everyone had their time in the sun to shine, and shine they did! Let’s get into some of the great things that made tonight’s episode epic.

Christopher Meloni has always come across, on-screen, as a calm, cool demeanor type of guy, even when he is losing his cool on Law & Order: SVU. One thing that stood out tonight was a different side of Meloni that I hadn’t seen anywhere else: a desperate and depraved Christopher Meloni. Having his son be on his deathbed, and trying to exact revenge on the girl who put him there, Meloni’s character dove deep into the internal psyche of depravity and desperation, and gave us a glimpse of what it seems to just wish the world worked in your favor for once. Meloni gave a stellar performance throughout the season, but tonight’s role gave us that push off the edge that made us begin to see that even the strongest can be broken.

Aldis Hodge has been one of the most underrated characters of the show. Although he’s known for his roles on shows such as Leverage, Friday Night Lights, and other projects, I honestly never took an interest in the characters he portrayed. I was wrong for that, because if he portrayed those characters with the amount of heart and passion that he poured into this role, I need to start digging through Netflix to catch the reruns. The evolution of his character has progressed throughout the season, going from the man with hope to the man with a plan to the man who gives it all up for something bigger than his freedom: love. I’ve become overwhelmed with a lot of the writing for this character, but his speech that he gives at the Marshall’s office just cleans house for me; it was incredible. To hear him state, with power, “We want to be counted.” That scene gave so much gravitas to the heart of this series, and the heart of the slaves at that time. It was written superbly and delivered flawlessly.

Speaking of evolving characters, that brings us to Jurnee Smollett-Bell, the woman who stole the season, and the hearts of America. Smollett-Bell snuck in like a covert ops team, under the radar, and exploded in the end with boldness and courage, unlike many other female characters in TV today. The evolution to go from damsel in distress to becoming the heroine that nobody expected, Rosalee has become the Jane Eyre of this modern day and age. Her calm reserve ability to stand, toe-to-toe, with whatever opposed her seemed so natural, just shines, brimming with truth. I know I’ve spoken a lot about her all season, and with good reason, too, but I have to say that, hands down, Smollett-Bell was my favorite character of the whole series!

The episode was a hit for me, but to add that little nod to our American history with the introduction of Harriet Tubman, the woman known for leading hundreds of slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad. If you’re not too familiar with this incredible woman’s history, you should check it out, because then you’ll understand how stoked I am that she’s going to be a part of next year’s season!

With all things said and done, you can’t help but feel sadness, with the ending of a great thing such as this. Underground has allowed America to revisit its painful past, and be reminded of the mistakes that we’ve made, we’re making, and what we will continue to make, if we don’t learn from it. The show, in its entirety, is not just a show about slavery and freedom; it’s an example of a time when we, as a Nation, were blind to the basic morals and ethics we once knew as right and wrong as children. As a child, you have no prejudice, no bias, no discrimination. It isn’t until we listen and follow the crowds of many that we begin to take those bias and prejudices as our own. We need to be reminded that this is our time, not just for American’s, but for ourselves, to take note, and remember that even though it’s the past, it could be our future if we don’t get ourselves together. Underground has taught me this. I hope that in time, I can teach my children this, and, maybe, I can teach the world this, one person at a time.

What did you think of the season finale? Are you excited about next season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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