Why I'm Glad Underground on WGN was Cancelled

When the show premiered in 2016, I was apprehensive. Did we really need to delve into slavery? (That’s debatable to some) More importantly, would the show do slavery and those were enslaved justice? Two minutes into the pilot episode where Noah was on the run to the sound of Kanye West’s Black Skinhead, I was hooked. I became a ride-or-die Underground fan telling anyone and everyone about the show. I even went so far as to consider developing community discussions around the show.

This write up isn’t why I love the show BUT I’m glad WGN pulled the plug on it. To read up why I originally liked the show, check out my 2016 post on my old site.

1. Who? What? When? Where?

For most of Season 2’s run, I spent that time confused as hell. Where were we? The show spent a lot of time jumping around that it became difficult to keep track of characters and where they were. First, Cato was in Philadelphia and then Ohio? Or was he in Ohio all along? Not only that, the show compressed time for the sake of moving the plot along. It took the Macon 7 most of Season 1 to get to from Georgia to freedom, wherever that was. And yet, I am suppose to believe that Rosalee and Noah got from wherever they were to Georgia. Travel, even by train, wasn’t fast back in the late 1850s. Also, the show missed a golden opportunity to explain how two former slaves managed to make it there without any trouble. By compressing time, the show lost its realism.

2. Harriet Tubman

I love me some Aisha Hinds. The woman did the damn thing as Harriet Tubman. I’d love to see a biopic of Tubman with either Hinds or Violet Davis in the role. I mean, a girl can hope. Unlike the others, Tubman was a real person so having her interact with fictional people became a problem. I recently read Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton. It painted an interesting look at this woman called Moses. For one thing, Tubman was acquainted with Frederick Douglas and William Still. Still resided and spent most of his abolitionist career in Philadelphia which had a substantial black population (and still does). Yet, in Season 1, we encounter Still in Ohio where he meets John Hawkes. Season 2 corrects this by placing him back in Philadelphia at Cato’s McMansion.

But, back to Tubman, when Harriet was not traveling she was in Canada with her family who she helped escape to freedom. She spent the spring and summer months, when days were longer and not conducive to running away at night, taking domestic jobs or speaking engagements to raise money for her next venture south. She liberated slaves in the fall and winter when the days got shorter. Not only that, she mostly traversed into Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Going into the Deep South did happen but not as frequently. I say all this to say: how then could she link up with and spend so much time with the Sewing Circle which was based in Ohio?  

3. The lines of racism and prejudice got blurred as f**k

What made Season 1 so great is that it showed more shades of gray in terms of racism and slavery (see my original post). While there were abolitionists, there were some who harbored anti-black attitudes. That anti-blackness was pervasive. There were all sorts of justification ranging from religious to the physicality of black people which led most white people of that time to regard slavery as necessary and to the benefit of the black race. As such, they were regarded as “The Other.” That was my biggest problem with the Sewing Circle. They painted this kumbaya moment of racial harmony between all of the members, white, black, and mixed. I saw that as a golden opportunity the show missed to again delve into the mess that is racism and anti-blackness.

It was possible for a person to be an abolitionist and be anti-black. Hell we see that with some white allies of the Black Lives Matter movement. (Yeah, I said it!)

4. Cato. What the hell was Cato’s deal?

I wanted to say that to the writers. Cato’s storyline made no kind of sense. It took a friend to point out that Season 1 ended with Cato and that carriage full of money. Okay, so he had money. In the five month leap, he went to Britain and lived a lavish lifestyle.

How was this fool making money?

He bought art. Came back to the states. Set up a nice living in Philadelphia (I think? See #1). He serves as a benefactor to a play that makes fun of white people. He has bodyguards.

How. Was. This. Fool. Making. Money?

Then he loses it all on the same night as his abolitionist event in which Frederick Douglas and William Still were in attendance. No one heard the crazy loud shoot out at his house. No one. Not one person, fam?

Other odds and ends

  • Patty Cannon – A slave catcher in Underground. However, no one did a Google Search of that name. There was a real-life Patty Cannon who ran a gang and kidnapped black people and sold them into slavery. Thing is she died in 1829. Underground is set in 1857-1858.
  • Samuel – Why was I suppose to care about this man? I don’t even know you and all I see you doing is taking up valuable air time.

The Real MVP of Season 2

Ernestine. That was the only story line that I felt was still grounded in the history of the time and explored the psychological impacts of slavery on a black woman. Not only that, a black woman who used her gender to score favors and protect her children at any costs.