Underground Season 2 Episode 6 Recap

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Underground Season 2 Episode 6 Recap
By Kelisha Graves

Mother Moses

April 12, 2017| Recap 2.06 for “Minty”

The writers of Underground took a risk when they decided to flip traditional storytelling on its head and feature an extended episode focused exclusively on one character. The fact that Aisha Hinds delivers the entire episode through monologue makes this a landmark piece of cinema. To be sure, there was no guarantee that this format would work, but it does work…and beautifully so. The evidence of a black girl genius are smudged all over this piece of art. Penned by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, the script is lyrical and poetic without being bombastic or mundane. Brilliant writing coupled with the elegant crawl of Anthony Hemingway’s camera keep this episode from becoming stagnant and stale.

As the episode opens the camera creeps close to a hideous bouquet of stripes on Tubman’s back. These scars are not pink and fleshy (like the fresh ones we’ve seen on Ernestine’s back) and they haven’t been manipulated into tattoos (like the ones we’ve seen on Noah’s back). Instead, Tubman’s scars have had time to keloid and harden. We are allowed to see this because it clues us to the fact that even though this woman has been fundamentally wounded, she persists because her mission is sacred even above the self.

It goes without saying that Harriet Tubman endures unmolested as a gargantuan totem in African American history and Aisha Hinds’s incarnation is nothing short of impeccable. In fact, there is something undeniably perfect about the way she exhales Tubman. She decreased every piece of herself in order to allow Tubman’s essence to incubate in her person. The actress implicitly understands that the “work is way bigger” than any talent she could have conjured alone. Perhaps enough cannot be said about the genius that resides in Hinds’s delivery of Mother Moses. She morphed into our revered ancestor for the time it took to film this portion. As I mentioned earlier in the season, Hinds channels all of the grit, gravitas and ungrammatical profundity of a mid-life Tubman with brilliant forte. She gives flesh, blood, sweat, and tears to Tubman in a way that we have never seen before. Her aesthetic is specific because her body brings a 3D effect to a hitherto two-dimensional character we have only read about. From Hinds, we get a mocha matriarch who is tough yet sensitive. She gives us a woman who is kind and completely otherworldly.

Tubman’s monologue takes us through her journey from childhood to adulthood. She was born Araminta Ross in Dorchester, Maryland and like Frederick Douglass, Tubman never knew her true age. She estimated her age to be 67 years old on a pension application in 1890, placing her birthdate at 1823. To add to the confusion, her death certificate indicates that she was born in 1815 while her gravestone reads 1820. Even if her age is a hazy fact for historians, her heritage is certainly more clear. Due to slave trade patterns in the Chesapeake area during the 18th century, according to historians, Tubman’s African heritage traces back to the Ashanti from Ghana or the Ivory Coast. Historians also argue that Tubman’s maternal grandfather (her mother’s father) was a white man.

Like most enslaved children, the first lesson she absorbs is fear and grief when her two sisters are snatched away by white men. Tubman expounds upon how slavery contorts the human being into little more than a pliable “thing;” yet it was her mother, “the real Harriet,” who knew how to move through white folks’ world “like a spirit.” Even if her mother is an expert at navigating white folks, Young Minty immediately understands that “there ain’t no such thing as ‘trying’ under the conditions of slavery.” She would make her first escape in 1849. It is believed that she walked north east along the Choptank River and through Delaware, crossing the Mason-Dixon Line to freedom into Pennsylvania. Her journey was nearly 90 miles and it is unclear how long it took her.

In December 1850, Tubman took her first trip to guide her niece Kessiah, her niece’s husband, and two children to freedom. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 (which allowed for the capture and return of runaway slaves within the territory of the United States) would force Tubman to re-route the Underground Railroad to Canada. Prior to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, escapees from the South could exist “relatively” unmolested in free territory. After the passage of the 1850 law, the most troubling aspect was that it established blackness as the predicate for fugitivity; or better said, being black in America meant that one would exist perpetually and exclusively as a fugitive. Moreover, while the law both deputized ordinary white citizens and enabled local governments to seize and return enslaved people, it also incentivized rogue kidnapping and endangered the status of free-born blacks in the North. The ferocity of the Fugitive slave act is best espied in the example of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who was kidnapped and enslaved for 12 years.

What is most moving about this episode is the intimate nuance we get from Tubman’s character. In history books we generally get snippets of Tubman as more of a warrior than woman. Through Hinds’s performance we see Tubman as a fully-rounded woman with hips, hair, and other female things. She wears a corset, she loved a man, and she worries about her hair (and edges…obviously edges are an ancestral concern). We see her woman’s heart bleed openly when she conveys the pain of going back to rescue her husband who she discovered had taken up with another woman in her absence. It seems almost impossible to fathom that the great Tubman was cheated on.

What might be most surprising to the audience is the fact that Tubman sympathized with John Brown’s push for violent revolution. In 1858, Tubman met John Brown and helped recruit supports for his violent raid at Harper’s Ferry. Brown would hang at the gallows for his treason. Like Brown, Tubman was convinced that slavery would only end through war. It bears noting here that as early as 1785, Thomas Jefferson predicted in his Notes on the State of Virginia that slavery would inevitably lead the nation into a Civil War. Jefferson: “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever […] The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us [white people] in such a contest.”

Perhaps the most satisfying part of Tubman’s speech is the shade she throws from the grave at our Trump era. She peers into our world from the 19th century: “He [God] will provide, but you gotta do your part. You gotta find what it means for you to be a soldier. Beat back those that are trying to kill everything good and right in the world and call making it great again. We can’t afford to be just citizens in a time of war. That would be surrender. That would be giving up our future and our souls. Ain’t nobody get to sit this out, you hear me?”

Harriet Tubman made 19 trips down South and rescued nearly 300 enslaved people.

Clip – Opportunity For Defiance

Clip – How I Came To Be Free

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