Tennessee – Proverbs
After a long journey, episode 6 of The Underground Railroad begins with Cora brought to Ridgeway’s family estate. Ridgeway promises he won’t stay long, as Mack is there to greet them.
Given the incident with the well several episodes ago, Ridgeway is quick to remember the ghosts of his past – and put them behind him. Cora is locked inside the farmhouse while he himself heads back to the familiar grave of Emma.
A piercing, shrieking musical sting ensues as our hunter pays his respects to his Mother. This time though there’s no prayer. He’s silent, listening to the sounds outside.
Interestingly, these sounds grip the blacksmith when he begins fingering the different tools in his Father’s workshop. He clangs the hammer and moves the pokers, eventually walking away in the same direction he left at the end of episode 4. The familiar rhythmic clang rings out like a cacophonous beast.
This is a very different place to the one Ridgeway left behind, and he brings a chained Cora into the tavern with him and Homer. The bartender doesn’t care about Cora’s complexion, and in fact Homer’s singing at the table bothers Ridgeway more than anyone else. It’s enough for this hunter to move him away from the table for his insolence. This only reinforces that the boy isn’t actually free after all.
Ridgeway soon exudes his warped ideology onto Cora, talking about manifested destiny and how Cora and her Mother are “the best of their race.” His toxic spewing continues later that evening as he drinks himself into a stupor back at the farmhouse.
With Cora locked in, Ridgeway tells her what happened to Caesar. He was arrested but the mob got to him, ripping the man apart inside his jail cell. It was the sheriff of all people who opened it up and this all occurred in South Carolina. It’s an absolutely horrific end to Cora’s fleeting hope that Caesar made it out alive.
After this story, Ridgeway takes Cora up to see Ridgeway Senior, who’s lying on his bed, close to dying. Ridgeway tells his Father there’s no such thing as the Great Spirit and implores him to repeat his words. Instead, Senior musters up the energy to look at his son regretfully and tell him he wishes he had done more to shape him into a man.
Ridgeway Senior starts choking, gasping for breath, as Ridgeway closes his bedroom door and lies with Cora while she’s chained up. As he passes out that evening, a trio of men break into Ridgeway Senior’s house armed with shotguns.
They free Cora from her chains and replace them with Ridgeway, who himself is chained to the bed. With guns pointed at him, the trio eventually slip away, freeing Cora from her hell. It’s Royal, and he leads Cora outside and checks up on her.
She wants to kill him though, but Mack stops them from re-entering the bedroom. Eventually they strike a deal and Mack gives them his word that Ridgeway won’t trouble them anymore. As they head off, Mack sits before Ridgeway.
He pulls up a chair and watches the man as he’s chained to the bed. With Ridgeway Senior dead, Ridgeway openly admits the jealously he feels for Mack. This jealousy soon turns to tears as he apologizes for the well incident and what befell him.
He asks for one final whiskey before he goes, sending the compassionate Mack downstairs to do just that. Unfortunately, Homer arrives and shoots him in the chest. Blowing the candle out, he grabs the tumbler of whiskey and heads upstairs.
Handing over the whiskey, Ridgeway encourages the boy to sit with him while the two start drinking.
The Episode Review
The Underground Railroad delivers another fantastic episode, one that leans into Ridgeway’s persona and his past. At the time, the flashback episode didn’t seem very significant but now it becomes clear it’s integral to the later episodes and understanding how everything ties together.
The way sound is used in this episode is nothing short of masterful and whether it be the glasses clinking together, Homer singing or even the blacksmith hammer clanging, everything reinforces the ghosts of Ridgeway’s past that he’s been trying to escape from.
His whole discourse around taking to Homer now makes more sense. It’s clear he sees parts of Mack in the boy, and a regretful guilt that he’s channeled through grooming Homer into his personal assistant. That much especially comes true by the end, where Mack uses the lessons taught by Ridgeway himself to light the candle…and then receive a bullet to the chest.
Likewise, Ridgeway parading Cora through town to show off as a trophy doesn’t sit well with these residents and ultimately ends up as his downfall.
There’s a real poetic edge to a lot of the material shown her and much like Moonlight, there’s far more hidden under the surface level story. This is a story rich in kaleidoscopic detail and there are layers of it hidden in every scene and frame.
The Underground Railroad is long-form storytelling at its finest and this is another fantastic episode this season.