The Underground Railroad: Review:
Cora was hiding in an attic in a tiny village when Ridgeway happened across her. Grace, a girl she shared the attic with, was her roommate. The fire in that town has been started — backwards in time from the previous episode, from the lantern thrown at the wooden building by the Irish servant girl so driven by hatred for people of colour that she was pleased to burn down a structure where they’d be hiding.
The issue is that the fire spread quickly amid the close-cropped buildings, engulfing the entire village. It’s difficult to sympathise with these people’s situation given what they believed and did.
Other White people haul her away and beat her for her deeds, but then they all return to stand and stare at what they’ve done, which is to burn their town down.
This event is profoundly lyrical in that their hatred ultimately destroys everything they’ve constructed. Personally, I find it difficult not to wish them a more permanent form of misfortune, but Jenkins is correct.
Hatred consumes itself.
After assuming Grace was doomed, we discover she is able to flee the flaming house through the back door (in scenes so beautifully rendered I could have left the shots on freezeframe and watched them for minutes).
Grace makes her way down into the tunnel her benefactor blew up and begins a slow trip along the subterranean railroad, unsure of what she will encounter but surely better off than if she stayed above ground in the blazing house.
She eventually comes upon the back of a locomotive, which is lighted in the darkness like a skull, its warm yellow glow enticing her in.
As she boards, she is greeted by the conductor, who informs her that they have been waiting for her, and it is a magnificent moment of reignited optimism and scared vulnerability. There’s a feeling that there are other forces at work in the world who don’t want her to die.
Grace apologises for not being able to bring everything with her, but the conductor tells her that our tales exist inside us, and that all she’s lost is ink and paper. It’s possible that the records of those who died as a result of slavery or persecution are lost to history, never to be remembered, but the message is that they live on in the landscape, in who we are. As though their memories and experiences are woven into the world’s fabric, shaping it.
If that is the case, depending on your perspective, it is both a good and a negative thing.
Grace is asked about her background and identity, but she refuses to say anything beyond that.
When she’s left to her own devices, she begins to write, and we realise she’s constructing her own witness – which is exactly what she should be doing. I was eager to see what she had written, what storey her words had brought to life.
Conclusion: This episode is a terrifying interlude in which we are given unexpected hope, the aftermath of tragedy, and the potential that others are waiting for us to be free, to discover a shape in the world that isn’t dictated by those who want us to suffer. 7 out of 10
Stewart Hotston is a character in the film Stewart Hotston