Episode 10 of The Underground Railroad begins back on the plantation but this time in the past, with Cora’s Mother, Mabel. A woman named Polly gives birth but she’s bleeding out badly. Things inevitably go wrong but Mabel continues to do the rounds across the plantation, instilling hope in the women but eventually running into trouble.
Thanks to Moses, Mabel is forced to head up to the house for a week to help feed the babes there. Mabel is not happy and stares daggers through him as he tells her she needs to pick her fair share of cotton too.
Polly is not in a good way but Mabel does help her feed the babes. “You’ve got mothering coursing all through you,” Mabel reassures her as the girl smiles. It’s a smile tinged in sadness of course, as Mabel remains worried for her.
She echoes these sentiments to Connelly too, exhibiting concerns about the way these babies are going to be raised. However, it’s not Mabel’s place to say anything and she’s essentially left to head back into the fields again. Just before she goes, she tells Polly that the babies belong to Hicks and those children will be sold. When that happens she senses this is going to absolute break her.
Well, tragedy does strike and Connelly has Moses whipped repeatedly for Polly dying. Mabel is left to clean the blood left behind on the floorboards. Shocked, she heads out into the swamp where she’s bitten by a snake.
It’s a big moment (not just because this reviewer is absolutely terrified of snakes) because that single instance brings back the swamp segment during Cora’s escape. If you’ll remember, a sea snake slithered off a rock into the water. This, as it turns out, was all a very clever bit of foreshadowing. Mabel sits against a rock and lets the venom work its way through her body.
As the scene changes, we cut back to Cora in the present. She and Molly leave together, abandoning their transport and heading out the cave into wherever the land may take them. They arrive at an open area, where Molly hands over a bag of seeds. Cora buries then in the dirt, covering them up.
As they head on the road, Molly and Cora come across a man named Ollie. He promises not to hurt them and intends to travel off toward several different places, eventually ending up in Missouri. He helps the pair up, offering them water and blankets as they ride off.
The Episode Review
With Cora and Molly safe, most of this episode reflects back on Cora’s Mother Mabel and what happened with her on the plantation. The ideas of motherhood and birth are strong throughout this episode, eventually culminating in that notion of rebirth by the season’s close.
The way the musical score picks up, with Cora cradling Molly, reflects that both characters have essentially been reborn now into this makeshift Mother/daughter relationship.
However, the real kicker here comes from the sea snake. An absolute stroke of genius, the fact that Mabel’s death and Cora’s escape both have significance with this snake helps to tie the end and beginning together. Whether it’s the same snake or not is debatable but it’s still a really clever visual motif that works beautifully to tie the whole story together.
With Ridgeway dead, we’re left to assume Homer has found his own way now, although his murderous glance toward Cora seemed to hint that more would come from this storyline. Instead, this essentially ends with Ridgeway’s death.
The finale essentially serves as an epilogue of sorts, with Cora and Molly surviving the Valentine tragedy and heading back on the run again. This show was always going to struggle with a “happy ending” and in many ways there’s nothing particularly happy about the way this finishes.
There’s been so many lives lost across the season that it remains a weight hanging heavy over Cora’s shoulders. She’ll probably never truly be free of that.
The episode ends with about as good an ending as one would expect from this show, bowing out with a conclusive finish to one of 2021’s best miniseries.