The will to live is strongest when there is something worth living for.
There were two sides of this given to us on Underground Season 2 Episode 3 via Rosalee and Ernestine.
Rosalee was fighting like hell throughout the hour to live, driven by a mother’s love for her unborn child and her quest to rescue Noah. Ernestine had all but given up and actively took a step towards death.
There is a lot to unpack in this hour.
It was interesting and clever writing that the top of the hour had Donahue expounding upon the prevalent myth of the times, that black people were almost supernatural in their ability to endure.
Half-baked science and inhumane tactics were even used to explore this theory.
It’s very existence was mostly used to dehumanize black people and help proper, white Christians justify their use of slaves. Black males were often portrayed as having brute strength and virility.
Donahue: Your aim must have been off. It looks like the Black Rose is still alive.
Smoke: Patty don't miss.
Donahue: Well, it is widely believed in some scientific circles that the negro woman has an almost supernatural ability to bear pain. Perhaps that came into play.
But black women, as Donahue mentioned, were known for having a near supernatural ability to withstand pain. Ironically, as far as we have come as a society, despite no longer accepting such asinine and dehumanizing claims, the latent effects still linger.
Even today, in works of fiction, the "strong black woman" trope is prevalent and widely criticized.
Black female characters have notoriously been reduced to one dimensional characters known for their resilience and endurance, whilst being stripped of their vulnerability.
The increasingly infamous Black Rose, was put into this category the second Patty and her crew realized that Rosalee survived the buckshot.
Thank God for Harriet’s turkey feather and medical tape suggestion. Rosalee's baby was safe, but she had to endure the grueling and painful process of removing the bullet and cauterizing the wound using her gun (creative, albeit risky, given the sound of gunfire).
Donahue's words left a nasty taste in the mouth (even his, more on that later) but Rosalee's fight to survive was almost supernatural.
Maybe, it’s not that the ability to endure, and a high pain threshold, was something exclusive to black people, but more so a people who had no other choice but to endure unspeakable things just to survive.
Adrenaline and the primal extinct to live can make anyone withstand the impossible. And Rosalee withstood some of everything.
Anytime an actress on a successful show finds out she’s pregnant, there’s always a question of whether they will work it into the show or hide it. Choosing to implement Jurnee Smollett-Bell's real pregnancy was a bold move, but boy it works.
And I am in awe of not only Rosalee as a character, but Jurnee, herself, for her exhaustive physicality during this performance. I was speechless and holding my breath throughout Rosalee's entire ordeal.
How the devil did Rosalee survive?
The shot was already difficult enough, but then there was the long trek through the woods, while trying to evade Patty and her men hot on Rosalee's tail. The lack of food and water was an issue, as was the hallucinations.
Rosalee's fight to the death with Jack, was positively thrilling. She so easily could have succumbed to her fatigue and injury and just surrendered, but flashbacks to time spent with Harriet was enough to guide her through.
Rosalee has come a long way from the sheltered house girl. She's a warrior. A soldier. And some of that is due to Harriet.
Rosalee: The promise of freedom if you just work harder. That's how they get ya. My brother believed that.Hard and unfair is how my momma used to call it. Forget it was about making the best life inside the pain. She'd do anything to protect her chillun.
Harriet: Looking at you swinging that ax, she did something right.
The flashback with Harriet talking about how she helped her parents escape was great. I love the relationship between Harriet and Rosalee.
I love Harriet. She’s such an enjoyable character and time spent with Aisha Hinds always leaves me craving more.
What was most interesting to note, was that everything inspiring and pushing Rosalee to keep going, despite being injured, hunted, and facing leeches and snakes, was memories of Ernestine.
She was channeling her mother’s resilience. She was thinking of happy times like when Ernestine encouraged a younger Rosalee to jump up and down on a bed.
She thought of how Ernestine taught her how to survive; how to be strong and clever, and multiple steps ahead. It was Ernestine's maternal love and protectiveness that she channeled for the sake of her own child.
This life be hard and unfair. You gon know pain and ain't nothing I can do about that. But every once in a while, we can steal moments like this one. If you can hold onto them, it'll help through the hard times. Understand?Ernestine
It was that, that helped her get through. By the time she found her buggy and got carted away to safety, I sighed in relief.
Hell, I sighed in exhaustion. I was tired for her.
Lest we ever forget that Rosalee is every bit the badass heroine to balance out Noah's badass hero, we needn't look further than this installment where carrying child and all, she beat the odds.
Ernestine taught Rosalee to be a survivor, because Ernestine is a survivor. It's sad that Ernestine seems to have forgotten that. Rosalee was drawing on her mother’s strength and little does she know Ernestine has given up.
It was very much appreciated that they countered Rosalee's harrowing expression of "supernatural" strength and endurance with Ernestine’s vulnerability and despair. The point, was that it's possible (for black women) to be both.
I don't know why you wanna trap spirits after they die. Seems to me, they finally free.Ernestine
Ernestine's downward spiral continues. Though, it’s great that other have taken notice.
Notably, Clara’s father who took a break from the shaming ritual he was holding for Clara after her miscarriage.
Daughter, we know this tradition feels harsh, but you being shamed because you should feel shamed. What you don disgraced all of we.Clara's Father
Yes, that happened. I can’t even begin to break down the nature of that scene, but once again, Underground is making statements and being all too relevant.
Ernestine has gone from a woman of faith to having nothing resembling it. Her self-flagellation hasn’t stopped yet. Its painful to watch.
Ernestine: I don't believe in your demons.
Preacher: Hm. Dat a shame, because they seem to believe in you, and those potions you taking won't get rid of them.
Ernestine: Then what will? Your rituals? Maybe the Bible? No. None of us have been from Africa for a long time. Your spirits don't matter here. They certainly didn't protect your daughter. And that white man's Bible is just that...for white people.
Even in her quiet moments, when she’s not being beaten bloody by Hicks or sniffing ether, Amirah Vann portrays Ernestine with such emotion. Her performance is so nuanced.
Her despair consumes you in those moments when she’s on screen. I don’t know how much more of it I can take.
It hurts too much to see her like this. Rosalee was using everything her mother taught her to persevere, and Ernestine continued to doubt whether she was a good mother.
This week’s ghost was none other then her eldest son, Sam. It was so great to see him again. He was a favorite of the previous season before his demise.
Once again, Ernestine was being called to task for the methods she used to protect her kids. Except, Sam seems to waver back and forth on whether he resented her for using her sexual wiles, or he respected her for it.
Sam: Who you tryna fool? Massa house, that's home. That's where you at ya best.
Ernestine: I was at my best when I was his whore?
Sam: Be better if that's all it was, but what you and massa had, that was more.
Ernestine: Naw it wasn't.
Sam: Then what about Rosalee?
Sam: Little James?
Ernestine: An accident. I made sure I had none of those.
Sam: But you was his more than you was my momma.
He felt like Ernestine put Tom before her kids. Sam spent his entire life being told all the things he had to do to be an exemplary slave, but it wasn't enough to spare his life in the end.
Ernestine blames herself for Sam's execution by the man whom she spent decades sleeping with.
Ernestine couldn't have really had all the power she believed she did, if she slept with Tom before and after her son was killed, and it still didn't spare her children, right?
Sam seemed to be the one who truly drove her mad. That's the perfect way to describe her behavior when she came face-to-face with the son of the plantation owner, mad.
For a bit, with ghost Sam's urging, I was under the impression that she would try to somehow seduce Master Matthew. He was someone she could have easily influenced.
Matthew: This is exactly what I was talking about, right here. What this island does to you.
Friend: What, drink with the help?
Matthew: No, it changes you. My stepmother, she was a farmer's daughter...little piece of land near Charleston, sweet as apple pie. When she first moved here she was uncomfortable being waited on hand and foot. Then, her hand was okay with it. Then her foot. By the time I left, she was spent most of her time hollering at the house girls, calling themm incompetent. Beating them with a switch.
Friend: What are you going on about?
Matthew: New York. I remember hearing it called bondage, and it always stuck with me. Slavery is such a one-sided term for it all. Bondage suggests duality. That it affects us, too. Brings out the worse.
He was the prime example of the person who becomes educated with distance and new experiences away from home, but not nearly enough to actually make any sort of difference.
He went on and on about the psychology of bondage, but emphasized most how it affected the psyche of slave-holders more so than the slaves themselves.
He drank with Ernestine and Hicks and, in his way, thought because he wasn't treating them horribly, that somehow made him different than his sweet turned barbaric stepmother and his father.
He was so clinical with his discussion on slavery. He was so detached from it all like he had no part in it whatsoever. He was the type that probably thought he was "one of the good ones" for recognizing the awful nature of slavery, but in truth his acknowledgment didn't mean crap if he did nothing about it.
I wonder if Matthew reminded Ernestine of Tom? Tom was a northerner who didn't buy into slavery, but upon taking over his wife's plantation, he didn't mind using it to garner political fame.
Words mean nothing if actions still condone something that one swears they are against.
Hicks: You lucky massa ain't send you to the overseer. All you had to do was look pretty and sing.
Ernestine: You wanna be the master's bitch? You go ahead, but you leave me out of it.
Ernestine's song about killing white boys was certainly colorful and made the experience awkward.
She's at a point where she really is reckless and suicidal. She went crazy in that room and probably thought she would be punished, but she wasn't.
She then let Hicks beat her and urged him to just end her right there, but Hicks, who continuously seems to be appalled enough at his behavior to cut it short, couldn't do that.
It led to a stomach-churning sex scene between the two where he had sex with a bloody and bruised Ernestine. The cycle of abuse is painful to watch, and Hicks encapsulates the standard abuser.
The glimmer of hope was when she briefly fought back with Hicks. There was a moment where it looked like she might truly kick his ass. She had fight in her. She was the Ernestine that we recognized from before.
Hopefully her actual suicide attempt didn't put out that spark.
Ernestine trying to drown herself just to end the pain, was especially awful to watch when it was accompanied by shots of Rosalee doing everything in her power to live.
As distressing as it is, so far the character study of Ernestine has been compelling.
Her flashback to when she was a girl was especially revealing. She was pretty and light-skinned. She was always under the sexual gaze of her master, overseers, or males in general.
Young Ernestine: I'd still be a slave. No matter where I sleep. I don't want the master. That's just what I get. And it's not just him. Them overseers. Some of those others in that field, too. Anybody think they can take a piece of me. I'm just trying to protect myself. The only one trying, so I'mma use what I got.
Woman: You sad, pretty little thing. You can't protect nothing. You can't control nothing. Yo body ain't never been yours and never will be. But looks is all you got, so I 'spose you better us 'em. You cut out your insides, that's the only way. You till the master's seed, they blood is in you and it seep to the bone. Ain't no running from it. Your kin then sold you an old and terrible lie, that you can survive this.
She knew she would be sexually abused and used, so she never actually wanted kids. She couldn't bear the thought of having them.
The elder woman (played by the amazing Angela Bassett, for one of the most delightful surprise cameos so far) reminded young Ernestine that there is no escaping. It also appeared that she reminded Ernestine that children could be insurance.
Even at a young age, Ernestine figured out that she could use her body and her looks to control things as best as she could. That was one way in which she could have some power.
She happened to be smart and cunning, too, so it wasn't just about her body.
Young Ernestine: I heard you help some of the girls around here.
Woman: You ain't with child.
Young Ernestine: I ain't. I don't wanna be. Not ever.
There was so much information to take in regarding Ernestine. We learned that she feels guilty about her husband's death. Did she somehow get him killed? We saw flashbacks to a severe beating he received.
We also saw the terror in her eyes when young Sam asked her if she would have to tend to him like she was tending to French.
We learned that she had a kid before the three we know of, and that he or she was taken away from her and sold somewhere else. That explains why she felt some assurance in having her last two children with Tom.
We found out that Rosalee was "insurance" and James was an accident, and that she made sure she couldn't have any more kids again after that.
Ernestine is struggling with some serious demons and losing herself, or perhaps in a way she's just trying to come to grips with herself.
I wonder who will be next in line to haunt her? Tom has to be one of the ghosts, right? Maybe little James, too. Although, August would be a unique choice, if he haunted her much like she haunted him before.
Donahue: So is that the plan to get the Black Rose? Turn her bretheren on her?
Patty: I can do better for this unique circumstance.
Donahue: What makes this circumstance unique?
Patty: There's one man I know more than anyone, motivated to pluck the petals off the Black Rose.
Speaking of August, Patty has him in mind to help her hunt down the Black Rose. She's figured out that the Black Rose and Rosalee are one in the same, and who better to recruit then the man whom Rosalee shot?
Patty Cannon continues to be a fascinating character. Her presence has been controversial given the disparity in the timeline.
As interesting as she is, she's so mild in this show. The real Patty Cannon was viewed as the personification of evil. She was vicious, ruthless, and blood-thirsty. She killed kids for fun.
Here, she just feels opportunistic and arrogant. Yet, also obtuse in some ways.
Jack: What about Smoke?
Patty: What about Smoke?
Jack: He should go.
Patty: No, he should not.
Jack: And why not?
Patty: Because, I am going to bed Smoke, later, and I don't want to catch a cold.
She's so easily persuaded to do things just to prove herself. She also continues to uphold herself like some sort of empowered feminist, when we all know that capturing and killing other disenfranchised people is the very antithesis of feminism.
If your feminism is non-inclusive then it's not really feminism, is it? I suppose that's the point being made with her character.
What has been absolutely delightful, is watching Donahue get in her head so easily. He has a way of stroking her ego just enough to make her smile and then slapping her with her own inadequacies. It's this mental game of cat and mouse that I'm not sure Patty even knows she's playing.
Donahue has so far told her that Harriet Tubman is more impressive, which in turn kickstarted Patty's quest to capture Moses. He has also reminded her of her poor standing in society based on her childhood, being the daughter of a prostitute.
He calls B.S. every time she pats herself on the back for "pulling herself up by the bootstraps" and subtly points out her hypocrisy and ignorance.
I really love Donahue.
He's there for the ride, but his stance on the slavery has been pretty apparent for a bit. He doesn't respect Patty, nor does he care what she does. He seems to like toying with her.
He never refers to black people in any form of derogatory way. He simply chooses to call them "black" which is damn near unheard of with the company he's currently keeping. He speaks of runaways as if they are human.
He's more impressed with how the runaways elude slave catchers. Even when he spoke of the way science views black women as supernatural, you could tell he was just recounting what he read and that he didn't actually believe it himself.
Donahue has a way of trying to come across impartial and non-obtrusive, like a journalist, while also saying just the right thing to pull out more facets of Patty. Most of the time, he makes a fool of her.
I wasn't the least bit surprised when he wordlessly helped Rosalee just when it looked like she was tired enough to give up.
It's possible that he wants to draw this hunt out longer so that he'll have a better story, but I think he genuinely likes sticking it to Patty and he's more intrigued by the slaves trying to free themselves.
That's what makes Donahue an intriguing character. I can't quite place him but I don't think he's a bad person. It would be cool if we learn later on that he, too, is part of the movement.
Did you enjoy "Ache?" Are you impressed by Rosalee's resilience and Jurnee's performance? What are your thoughts on Donahue? Who do you think will visit Ernestine next? Did you squeal like I did when Angela Bassett appeared?
Share your thoughts in the comments below and don't forget you can watch Underground online here via TV Fanatic.
Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.