Episode 2 of The Underground Railroad begins with Ridgeway and Homer working together to try and find Caesar and Cora.
Well the pair are in South Carolina, with both adopting new aliases. Caesar is working in a factory and now going by the name of Christian. Only, there’s nothing Christian about his place of work, the men there are forced to work long hours in difficult conditions.
Meanwhile, Cora works at a museum while also attending school, going by the name of Bessie. Miss Lucy is teaching the girls and reminds them all that it’s hard to start again and that they need to have patience.
This is a message that resonates with Cora of course, who’s handed the Gulliver’s Travels book on her way out the door.
The atmosphere here is very different to that on the plantations. Caesar is brought in to see Dr. Campbell who offers him a job as an assistant. He knows the man can read better than most, and after commenting on his book, The Odyssey, Caesar is hopeful at the opportunity he’s been given.
That evening he meets a photographer called Sam, who happens to be their contact in town. He confirms a train is arriving that following evening. Despite the cozy lifestyle they’ve made for themselves, Cora and Caesar find themselves torn over whether to continue on their journey or not. Eventually they decide to stay, standing united.
That evening though, an uneasy hush descends over the party. A hysterical girl call Meg arrives and claims that they’re taking her children away. Miss Lucy is quick to get the music playing, drowning out her cries. However, it’s clear that there’s going on here than first meets the eye.
At the museum Cora is working at, she’s forced to watch from behind the glass as Mr Fields shows how to crack a whip. The sound obviously brings back horrid memories of the past; she’s never truly free and this life behind glass isn’t really a life. She’s still a caged animal and needs to be free.
Later that day she arrives at the doctor’s office. Dr. Stevens examines her and realizes Cora has been abused. It turns out she’s got some built up trauma and through flashes we catch glimpses of what happened to her. Dr Stevens jumps on this opportunity to pedal a “blessing” in the form of her tubes being cut. He tells Cora it’s her choice but it certainly doesn’t seem like it.
On the back of this meeting, Cora views the world differently. All these kids about town and not a single one of them are black. It seems like they’re all being prevented from having children. Even worse, the shop doesn’t carry any penny sweets either, backing up her theory.
Meanwhile, Ridgeway and Homer arrive in town and continue on the hunt for Cora and Caesar. They hear word of this skyscraper in Griffin, which is enough to pique their interest and continue on their hunt.
Things in town grow from bad to worse. Caesar’s friend Jacob starts sputtering and coughing up blood. Cora starts to doubt the happy façade of this town and eventually confronts Miss Lucy about it. She asks just where the black children are in town.
Lucy’s smile disappears, eventually claiming she has a procedure coming up and shrugging off her questioning. Both Miss Lucy and Dr. Campbell claim they’re doing this in the name of science, as a cleverly framed shot jumps back and forth between Cora and Caesar’s damning conversations. There’s absolutely nothing scientific about poisoning the men and cutting the tubes from women.
That evening Caesar and Cora meet Sam and plead with him; they need to get on the train and leave. The only trouble is, it’s unknown when that train is going to arrive. For now, both Cora and Caesar are forced to continue their day to day lives like normal. Only, there’s nothing normal about Griffin.
Caesar sense as much and he takes the poison away from the men in the middle of the night, throwing the pills in the fire.
Ridgeway arrives and speaks to Miss Lucy, claiming Cora killed a white child which is why she’s on the run. Well, her disguise is broken when Homer shows up at the museum and sees Cora in the glass cage. She manages to slip away from the boy though, but Caesar is not so lucky. In fact, Ridgeway manages to find him at work while he’s mid-shave.
With Cora and Caesar separated, the former is forced to go on alone. Ridgeway recognizes Caesar thanks to his eyes and tells the man he’s a long way from home.
Meanwhile, Cora is granted passage on the train but it’s only a maintenance engine. She’s forced to ride coach in the back, complete with a rope tied around her waist. As the train speeds up, wind whistling through the tunnel, Cora’s crying is stifled. She’s leaving Caesar behind.
The Episode Review
The Underground Railroad delivers a stunning chapter, one that works to juxtapose the surface-level horror of the first chapter with the hidden layers of deception in this second. In a way, the horrors in Griffin are actually far worse than those committed in Georgia. Everything is being done with a smile and a proud declaration that this is “in the name of science.”
Of course, there’s nothing scientific about this but the way this episode switches viewpoints midway through is nothing short of magnificent. Cora and Caesar originally arrive in town with such high expectations and joyous elation, reflected through the town they’re in and what they see. It’s also telling that Cora is wearing yellow – symbolic for happiness and hope.
It’s not until Meg’s sudden confession about her baby that things start to upend. All of this builds up to a shocking conclusion as we see things through Cora’s eyes once more, but this time understanding the horrors in this town.
With Cora and Caesar now separated, it seems the former needs to go on alone and it’s unknown quite where this train will end up.
Given the heavy material in this series, it’s a wonder why Amazon have released the show in one hit. As someone who loves binging through these, I can’t help but feel Underground Railroad would gain a substantial amount more press and views with a drip-fed release schedule of one or two episodes a week.
Still, it’s hard to grumble with what we’ve got here and The Underground Railroad is shaping up to be a very special show, one made with respect and care. This is a must-watch.