Cover Photo: Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot? by Kelisha Graves

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot?

Episode 208

By Kelisha Graves

26 April 2017

...It hurt my heart when James called Suzanna, “Mother.” It's going to take me a moment to get over that.

It goes without saying that episode 8 was exactly the old Underground we've been waiting for all season! This episode was bloated with the kind of the gory excess and succulent action that always makes my heart thump off-beat.

It’s Christmastime on the Underground, but there are no holy nights or peaceful tidings here.As usual, the episode opens with Daniel. The fleshly oblong patches around his eyes reveal that he’s been rendered blind. Daniel’s talent (and the few coins he earns) is tied to his ability to carve what he sees. In the absence of eyes, all he has left is the memory of sight. Thereto, memory is even more powerful than sight because images still incubate in the mind even when the eyes can’t catch enough light to make vision possible. We will have to see how Daniel navigates the world without the ability to absorb sight and words.

Because of James, Rosalee is reduced back into her old crimson garbs, and she’s mad about it. However, this misfortune is only temporary. As usual the Black Rose has a plan that always seems to include some kind of combustible chemical that results in something blowing up!

James is both a culprit and a victim in this episode. He’s a culprit because he sabotaged his sister’s attempts to kidnap him into the black underworld of the Underground, and he’s a victim because he’s been duped into thinking that the white fantasy Susanna has manufactured around him is real.Enough cannot be said about the young actor, Maceo Smedley, who portrays James. He’s a young boy with a grown man’s gait, literally (if you watch him closely in his scenes, Smedley has one of the bossiest walks in the game!)The young Smedley delivers huge moments with remarkable ease. He’s completely natural as James and we gladly gobble up every dose of cuteness and genius he delivers to our screens.

It’s important to understand that nothing in James’s environment is his fault. He’s a child, a butterscotch-colored baby boy. He’s a miniature “Massa” in a big white world that provides him with little more than a fictitious pedestal from which to play with his new pony and toys. Because James is a child, the comfort of his current condition is more preferable to the hell and instability his mother and sister have stirred up. He's living white and he adapts to this role easily. But, James is not white. He's beige, which makes him black in this world. Even if he does carry Tom Macon’s blood, he is mostly Ernestine’s child. Thus, he’s black according to the culture and according to the laws of hypodescent. James is too young to know that Suzanna is setting him up for the okie doke. The luxury Suzanna gives him is her way of ensuring that James doesn't grow up to be a black-man troublemaker, like Noah. By the way, Noah bombards James with all of his colossal ebony presence and reminds the “lil brotha” that blood is thicker than white promises. Neither glitz nor glamour can smother the revolution and Noah brings it to James up close and personal.

But, James isn’t ready for any of this black revolution while conscious, he has to be abducted into the revolution. When little James stands up to protect Suzanna, Rosalee literally knocks him out (this was the only logical option) and they carry him out the front doors of the plantation with all of his good clothes on. Then of course, Rosalee sets fire on Suzanna’s entire life. At the same time, TR is salty with the world and we don’t care because we out! The Macon quadruplet (with Cora steering the getaway carriage) bounce up out of Macon and I throw up a fist pump for family!

Meanwhile, Ernestine got all of her hair wet when she jumped into a river and couldn’t swim.August and Patty Cannon’s raggedy boyfriend drag her through swamps, ditches, and forests. Despite her attempts to be crafty (she tries to run several times and attempts to leave a trail), she fails repeatedly. At this point, I’m not sure where Ernestine’s salvation is...there is bound to be more mud and dirt in her future.

Don’t matter what we got or what we don’t got. We got to give it all to ‘em. They’ll always be our babies. -Ernestine

Ernestine is still spilling her haunted conscience all over the place. Fire and liquor seem to bring the most out of Ernestine. I am reminded of her kitchen confessional during season 1 where she lamented (in front of a fire with a liquor bottle in-hand) over killing Pearlie Mae. Her kitchen confessional (with the Reverend’s tongue-less butler in the background mixing dye and blood) represents one of the most memorable scenes from season 1. Obviously the writers know that Amirah Vann (who never fails in any scene she’s in) is always at her best in these moments where the only requirement is thespian prowess and raw emotion. Both Vann and Christopher Meloni, who portrays August, have the remarkable ability to just be real...utterly real and brilliantly emotional. Both actors perfectly embody two parents whose greatest failure is loving too hard and forsaking all morality in order to make that love evident in the lives of their children.

In the woods, with only fire and whiskey to warm their wounded souls, Ernestine discloses to August that Sam was her favorite because he was a love-child. She admits that she failed James, perhaps knowingly so. Even so, when Ernestine is honest with herself and the world, she can’t catch a break. Perhaps most disturbing is the continued physical abuse she endures, this time at the hand of Patty Cannon’s raggedy boyfriend. He smashes her face into a tree, and prepares to pummel her flesh with every pound of cowardly manhood he can muster until August takes him out.

By the end of episode 8 it appears that August is taking Ernestine back South, likely back to the Macon plantation. However, since Rosalee blew up the Big House and left Suzanna homeless, only smoke and ashes await them….

We hold our breath for episode 9.

Kelisha Graves is a scholar of Africana Studies, her work focuses on African American intellectual history, African American philosophy and the philosophy of education. She  also writes on black film. You can follow her on Twitter at @KelishaGraves