Underground, a drama about the Underground Railroad in Georgia in the 1850s, is a troublesome and painful series. A beautifully curated violent melodrama full of harsh truths and plot twists, built around an immoral past in American history. Several scenes in the pilot alone are unwatchable in the best way. Among the most harrowing is one in which Rosalee takes the blame for her brother mistakes and begs to be lashed instead, and he does, striking her repeatedly on the forearm and tearing bloody strips off her skin. The cracks of the whips and Rosalee’s screams are deafening. The scene goes on and on until the sound fades away and the horror continues in silence, accompanied only by a mournful vocal track that signifies sorrow.
Yet not every scene in Underground is as bleak but it still single-mindedly captures, the horrors of historical facts that white and black Americans alike may prefer not to remember. Many Hollywood movie maker has a tradition or retelling slavery stories through suffering and sublimity. Yet Underground dose quite the opposite. It is modern and TV-gripping as possible: it is a prison-break saga to freedom, in which a fearless group of slaves, free men, and abolitionists works to break the chains of forced labor and help the oppressed escape to the North.
The show unintentionally, but surely makes light of one of the histories original sins by treating it as a source of intrigue and thrills. It’s clean-cut storytelling and cinematography techniques add to the feeling of immediacy and modernity.
Underground remains important for its great versatility. With two season’s filled with exciting and thrilling episodes, the show creates explosive action beats, with an excellent soundtrack and more attitude than just about anything on TV. It’s a series of fun and harrowing historical information, from abolitionist-society to distressing strategies to cause miscarriages. It’s a fiercely political show with intentional echoes in modern feminism and Black Lives Matter support and an ensemble of multi-dimensional roles almost all for women and people of color. In due time Underground could find itself holding the mark as perhaps the most watchable and re-watchable shows about slavery yet. For once, a show finally connects the real epic quests of blackness at the center of American identity.
If the trailer below doesn’t leave you hungry for more, then you’ll be missing out on a real treat.