WGN America's newest TV series, Underground may not have the comic timing or the mystery elements popular with other TV shows currently on air. But it does make up for it with a mix of serious drama and a healthy dose of history. Set in the 1850s, the show follows the story of a group of slaves trying to escape from their Georgia plantation.
The pilot episode titled Macon 7, launched straight into an introduction of the lead characters of the show, the seven slaves who will attempt to escape and the key white men and women who will either aid or hinder their efforts.
Rosalee feels the burn of the whip
The Macon plantation is preparing for the birthday party of owner Tom Macon's (Reed Diamond) daughter Mary (Mary Katherine Duhon), which will also double as a political fundraiser. Sitting on the porch, Mary's pregnant mother Suzanna (Andrea Frankle) is not pleased with the effusive thanks her daughter offers Ernestine (Amirah Vann) for doing her hair up well. In retaliation, she comments about how Ernestine's youngest son, six-year-old James (Maceo Smedley) should be sold off.
At the time, James is playing with the Macon's youngest son TR when a cart carrying ornaments for the party drops it load when the children run in front of it. Angered by the mess, the cart driver decides to whip the slave child while TR moves off towards his mother. Rosalee (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) takes the onus for the mistake and offers to accept the punishment instead of her brother. She receives a series of whippings to her arms which by the end of it are left bloody with deep gashes.
Noah (Aldis Hodge) who had met Rosalee when she came to tend to his own lash wounds, watches the whole episode with a growing sense of respect.
John and Jessica Hawkes's baby problems
In Washington, John Hawkes (Marc Blucas) goes home to his wife Elizabeth (Jessica De Gouw) breaking holes into the walls to let in more light for the baby's room, even though she is not pregnant. The scene shows her as having psychological issues (probably depression with bouts of anger). While travelling, he tells her of the meeting with William Still and she agrees that it is too dangerous for them to get involved in.
The Macon party
The story moves to the birthday party where we find out that Tom Macon and John Hawkes are brothers and that Macon wants him to be his political campaign manager. Jessica on the other hand is having a tough time with the other plantation wives, including her sister-in-law Suzanna who wickedly points out that Jessica hasn't had a baby yet.
Through all this, Suzanna is distracted by James who is perched in a small space near the ceiling from which he working a large feather fan. This is the moment when she decides that she and her husband need to help with the freedom of slaves and should work with William Still.
Someone who can read
Noah shares the information about the freedom map with Ernestine's elder son Sam (Johnny Ray Gill) and since both cannot read, they decide to approach the plantation slave preacher Moses to decipher what it says. They also talk about how a group escape has higher chances of being successful as compared to a lone effort.
Funeral for a drowned baby
While the party goes on in the master's house, the slaves congregate for the funeral of the baby that was drowned. (Interestingly, one of the singers at the funeral is played by Smollett-Bell's husband, recording artist Josiah Bell.)
Following the funeral, Moses takes the cloth with the writings, home to his wife Pearly Mae (Adina Porter), who is actually the person who can read between the two (remember, it was bad for slaves to know how to read). She recognises it as a song with a couple of words changed.
August, you bad man!
The scene suddenly shifts to that of jail of sorts where the slave catcher who found Noah is waiting to collect his payment. He however receives a small portion of it because he didn't find the missing woman. And just when he gives some yarn about how she fell off a cliff, in she walks handcuffed, brought in by (shock!) August Pullman, the very same man who hid her away from the slave catchers. Who would have pegged August for a baddie!
Cato forces himself onboard
In the episode's final scene Noah is later called up to the main house because the cart that he had abandoned while trying to escape has been found far from where he said he left it. Cato (Alano Miller), a menacing black overseer with a terrible facial burn, tells Noah that he also wants to be included in the escape plan or he will tell the master when the cart was really found, which will get Noah into bigger trouble.
The scene ends with the two in Tom Macon's office, where Noah gives Cato a grudging nod; since obviously no one wants to make a long and dangerous journey with a bully like him!
WGN America's Underground drama cast
- Noah: Aldis Hodge
- Rosalee: Jurnee Smollett-Bell
- August Pullman: Christopher Meloni
- Cato: Alano Miller
- Elizabeth Hawkes: Jessica De Gouw
- Ernestine: Amirah Vann
- Henry: Renwick Scott
- John Hawkes: Marc Blucas
- Moses: Mykelti Williamson
- Pearly Mae: Adina Porter
- Sam: Johnny Ray Gill
- Zeke: Theodus Crane