Episode 3 of The Underground Railroad begins with Ellis parting ways with Cora. He comments how she’s made of tough stuff and bids his farewells, leaving her by the side of the tracks.
With no train in sight, Cora presents herself to the station agent in North Carolina, a man named Martin. He actually only came to drop off a ledger but this is enough for Cora to reveal her true name. When he finds out where she’s come from, Martin begrudgingly agrees to take her along with him. However, he also gravely tells her she should have stayed where she was. It soon becomes obvious why.
Cora is brought out from the underground and up to the Freedom Trail, a nasty stretch of road that serves as a warning. Numerous men and women are hung either side of the road to show that this town has outlawed black people. That does not bode well for Cora.
The pair make it to town, with Martin encouraging Cora to hurry into the house. Martin stands waiting for his wife Ethel and when she arrives, finds Cora hiding in the bedroom. She’s clearly not happy but Ethel won’t say anything. After all, the Trail is evidence enough that the whole family will meet a grisly end if they find Cora there.
Instead, Martin hides Cora up in the crawlspace of the attic, under strict instruction that she can only come down if he gives her the green light. However, she’s not alone. A girl called Grace is there too, giving more context to Martin’s advice to “let Grace be with you.”
In the middle of the night, Ethel calls Cora down from the attic and offers her food. There, she reveals that an Irish girl called Fiona shows up from time to time so she needs to be vigilant of that. Cora speaks up but receives a swift slap to the face for her troubles.
With both Grace and Cora hiding, they hear a pastor called Jamison outside making his presence felt. With a gagged black girl called Louisa down on her knees, he makes an example of her and stabs the girl aggressively. In doing so, the entire congregation claps.
Jamison and the others are invited over to Martin’s house for food and drinks that night. Martin challenges Jamison’s rule – and in particularly his methods. An awkward, uncomfortable silence descends on them as Jamison eventually retorts “indeed.”
In the morning, Fiona heads up to the attic and tries to open a chest. She’s unsuccessful but does find something on the floor. She starts to exhibit concerns that something more is going on at the house. Thankfully, she remains quiet for now.
As she eventually leaves, Grace nonchalantly tells Cora that she hates all of them. Time passes but the crawlspace is obviously less than ideal. Both girls are in a rough way and as the weather starts to turn, Cora worries that they won’t survive the winter.
That night Jamison gathers all the townsfolk for The Culling. While chanting, the group throw scriptures onto a large, hungry fire. This allows both girls to at least bath and wash away some of their worries, allowed down from the cramped crawlspace. However, this is simply a minor respite from the hell they find themselves trapped in.
Back home, Martin suddenly vomits across the table. Ethel worries that it’s the pox and kicks Fiona out the house, promising that they’ll call on her when she’s needed. With her out the house, it turns out Martin concocted this idea as a sort of last ditch effort, claiming he didn’t have any other choice.
Ethel visits Cora upstairs and gives a damning assessment of the attitude exhibiting by these North Carolinian residents. She claims Cora being there is a gift but needs to open her heart to God. While she preaches to Cora, loud chatter outside brings Ridgeway to the house. He’s intent on finding Cora but it’s Homer who does just that. He notices Cora heading up to the attic and races outside to tell the others.
Just like that, Cora heads outside and causes a huge ruckus in town. Ethel and Martin both know they’re about to meet an untimely end, but it doesn’t stop Martin telling Ridgeway about the railroad.
As Martin and Cora are taken away, Fiona throws a lantern onto Martin’s house. Flames lick hungrily up the side, as Cora screams in agony. Grace is, of course, still inside the house and burns to death. It’s a horrific end for her character.
Martin’s earlier dynamite incident is finally revealed, while Ethel is taken away by the townsfolk. It turns out Martin blew up the railroad entrance and the masses of rubble over the top can’t be budged. However, Homer does manage to slip inside and take a look around. While he does, Martin is shot in the back of the head.
The Episode Review
The third episode of Amazon Prime’s excellent miniseries sees Cora up in North Carolina where black people are outlawed. With most of the episode taking place inside the claustrophobic confines of the crawl space, Martin and Ethel ultimately risk – and lose – their lives for holding Grace and Cora in their house.
This serves as a sobering reminder that in this archaic world, anyone helping will be killed too. The entire chapter does well to showcase the harsh reality of this town and the ending certainly lends itself to a dramatic set of chapters ahead. With Ridgeway now successful in his endeavour to collect his bounty, it remains to be seen if Cora will be able to get away or not.
Regardless though, this third chapter is no less effective in demonstrating the horrors in this world. There’s some great work done with the visual themes too. The hole in the attic, for example, represents the small window of opportunity for the girls to escape the darkness.
These small details give a depth and meaning to this show that really does the subject material justice.