Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What I’m Watching: Underground

Underground: Season 1, Episode 7 “Cradle” (B+)

This episode started out strong with a series of songs, demonstrating what life was like for those still on the plantation instead of first focusing on the runaways who didn’t show up until halfway through the hour. This show’s use of music is tremendously effective, particularly in this episode when it played “Summertime” twice, once to a melancholy beat while James was working in the field and then again when Tom’s son was gleefully running through the house before his run-in with the preacher. James’ experience is a very symbolic one, transitioning from life as a child within the home living alongside the white children to growing up and being sent into the fields. Sam was noble to switch bags with him so that he could take his lashings, and the overseer responded in kind by upping his daily minimum from 300 to 315 as a new way to punish him. James’ refusal to accept candy may just have damned Sam, who was courageous enough to try to buy James’ freedom with the money that he had saved up. Seeing August’s wife in – and out of – the mental institution gives some context to his experience, and it certainly was harrowing to watch his son imagine what he thought she should look like only to see the real thing when he stepped back to truly look. Elizabeth taking in a slave from Tom’s home was one major step to make the world seem smaller, and getting caught by the marshal was an unfortunate development which showed his ulterior motives. That was a very close call out there for our runaways, and even if some of them do make it to freedom eventually, it’s clear that they won’t all make it alive.

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