A Series of Unfortunate Events
By Kelisha Graves
19 April 2016
Underground has a million things going on at once….it goes without saying that my mind juggled in vain to keep up with all of it! This episode was jammed packed with a series of unfortunate events.
The episode opens with Daniel (who we haven’t seen since episode 4) teaching a group of enslaved men to read.This “sedition” is promptly interrupted by a group of marauding white men who tackle Daniel and beat him up. Up until this point, Daniel’s best purpose has been to provide an overarching historical context to the narrative. His full integration into the overall plot is still pending.
Meanwhile, Patty Cannon hijacks Cato into her band of raggedy bandits. After “ballin’ outta control” for the last few weeks, Cato Powell has been reduced to a semi-starched black suit and a strange bald-face (Patty Cannon literally snatched away all of his eyebrows and his ego, she takes ownership of his appearance and his arrogance). In order to regain his “freedom,” she intends to use Cato to kidnap other free blacks, 30 for himself and 30 for Devi (who decides to sacrifice herself into bondage). In this case, Devi was way more heroic than she needed to be and more sacrificial than I could have ever been in that situation.
I am reminded here of the alternative movement to the Underground Railroad: the rogue kidnapping of free people of color. Viewers will be most familiar with the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man in New York who was kidnapped and sold south into slavery.However, Northup was by no means the only free person of color who endured the ugly misfortune of being snatched and sold. Carol Wilson’s, , explores in detail the kidnapping and illegal enslavement of free people of color in the antebellum South. Due to emancipation laws in Northern states, private manumissions, and the ability of some enslaved people to buy their freedom, the number of free blacks in the North increased dramatically after the American Revolution and continued to increase well into the antebellum period. Both the Fugitive Slave Acts of and allowed for the capture and return of runaway slaves within the territory of the United States. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of these laws was that it not only deputized ordinary white citizens and enabled local governments to seize and return enslaved people, but also the Fugitive Slave Laws incentivized rogue kidnapping and endangered the status of free blacks in the North.Carol Wilson describes
There is a new order of business on the Roe Plantation and Clara is completely responsible for it. Sista-Caramel-Eyes is a damsel-turned-rebel….she’s grand, she’s wounded, she’s bad, and she’s off the chain (it goes without saying that DaWanda Wise’s eyes are utterly intoxicating...with these caramel-tinted binoculars there is no doubt that this sista will get whatever she wants).Nevertheless, Clara is feeling herself and diggin’ her newly acquired “power.” Everything about this new turn in Clara is completely rogue. She’s intoxicated by the urgency to exact revenge on Hicks (who is caged up in an iron headdress) and she uses her seduction of Matthew as the conduit through which to achieve this primary ambition. What Clara fails to realize is that sex is lousy leverage and only secures flimsy (and sometimes shiny) perks; she can learn this lesson from Ernestine. She struts around the plantation perimeters in a white dress that can never be a wedding dress. She’s not the mistress even if she purports to embody that status. Clara’s ebony womanliness and arched eyebrows make for a powerful concoction, but ultimately these are only briefly potent. She will have to learn that “love” and enslavement can only provide an oxymoronic situation...they cannot coexist neatly. In this slaveocracy she is merely a brown trinket for white male consumption, an exotic utensil called upon to stroke the Massa’s lust. She’s doomed to a messy future.
Clara is entirely impressed with her own abilities until her epic fail: she tries unsuccessfully to poison Ernestine.Ernestine quickly peeped game, she knows how to work (and how not to work) the root: “You owed blood, but you can’t have mine.” Even if Clara prances around the Big House like she’s Queen of the Nile, Ernestine has been there and done that…she ain’t here for none of Clara’s shenanigans and she is not to be tried...not even a little bit...not ever.
Ernestine gets the guts to run and finagles her way onto a steamboat by trading some stolen whiskey from Massa Matthew’s collection. Ernestine is sneaky with a bomb swag! She gulps in some of the freedom breeze and sashays into fugitivity with an off-the-shoulder midriff shirt until she is grabbed up by August. Dang! At this point, I’m ready to be done with August and his nine lives!
Whereas episode 6 sought to contextualize the sanctity of the warrior-woman spirit in the person of Harriet Tubman, it is obvious that episode 7 speaks to the ways in which freedom for black folks is continually sabotaged by life’s series of unfortunate events. This series of unfortunate events continues when James screams and sabotages Rosalee’s plan to snatch him away from his white familiarity and into the black underworld of the Underground. Dang James! When Rosalee is taken hostage by Bill, before he burns an “R” into her cheek, she blurts out that she is pregnant. Noah is stunned silent and Rosalee is scarred anew by Bill...this time on her face.
The Macon quadruplet (Rosalee, Noah, Cato, and now Ernestine) just can’t seem to inhale any smidgen of freedom without some kind of sabotage crushing their ambitions. To be sure, this is good entertainment and valid history inasmuch as we know that numerous trials befell our ancestors in their pursuit of a space (geographical and psychological) without the squeeze of bondage. It will be dangerous to foretell what kind of juicy shock and awe the last three episodes will bring.