‘The Underground Railroad’ Summary & Review – Engaging But Demanding


It is a man’s need to manifest his superiority. From the beginning of recorded history, a man wanted to establish his sovereignty. Barbarians used their muscle, the church used Gods and religion, while a White Man used his skin. I’m white and superior, you are black and inferior. They convinced themselves and others, that a fairer tone depicts superiority. To support their cause, they created laws. When others joined in, believing their cause to be just, they wreaked havoc upon the ones they thought were inferior. The Underground Railroad television series is just a glimpse of terror the white Americans brought upon the enslaved Africans.

The Underground Railroad is a 10 part limited series created by Barry Jenkins. It is based on a novel written by Colson Whitehead who fictionalized history into an alternate reality. The narrative follows a slave named Cora who lived in Georgia during the mid-19th century. The series depicts her journey from slavery to freedom.

‘The Underground Railroad’ Summary

Cora Randall (Thuso Mbedu) lived on a Georgia plantation with fellow slaves. As the condition on the farm worsened, Cora decided to run away with a fellow slave named Caesar. Cora’s mother, Mabel ran away from the farm when she was just a child and in order to find her missing mother, Cora initiated a journey.

The owner of the farm and the slaves, Terrance Randall (Benjamin Walker) hires an ace slave catcher Ridgeway (Joel Edgerton) to bring back Cora and Caesar. He also hints about a suspicious underground railway network used by slaves in order to run away from the farms.

Cora and Caesar, after a bit of trouble, find out the secret underground railway network that runs from the south transporting slaves northwards. They board the train and begin their journey. But the slave catcher, Ridgeway, is on the hunt.

The Underground Railroad further follows the chase-and-run storyline between Cora and Ridgeway, until, in the end, Cora meets her uncertain future.

The Review

With its political and philosophical approach, The Underground Railroad hits the correct notes. It embeds various ideologies compacted into one story. Mostly, the series flaunts its impeccable writing but Barry Jenkins’ vision lifts it to another level.

The horrifying visuals and vile practices of White Americans in regard to the African community create a sense of shock. The emotion is visible throughout and sometimes at very alarming levels. However, it also calls upon the fact that the series requires a very patient and politically aware audience. For someone enjoying crass SITCOMS might not be able to blend with its tone.

The Underground Railroad is characterized by two prominent characters, the protagonist, Cora, and the antagonist, Ridgeway. Through Cora, the creators depict a new hope, a ray of light into an uncertain future. A skin that has experienced the terror but is confident about building a new America. The series comments on both white Americans and the black community who feel they are superior. Cora’s character acts as a mirror. She portrays equality among humans. While Ridgeway is a symbol of monarchy. He believes in a philosophy called The American Imperative. A shared principle by all the white supremacists in the narrative.

“The American Imperative is a splendid thing. A shining beacon born out of necessity and virtue. Between the hammer and the anvil. Conquer, build and civilize. And lift up the lesser races, If not lift, then subjugate. If not subjugate, exterminate and eliminate.”

The above words speak loudly of Ridgeway’s character and are mercilessly followed by most white supremacists in the series. With these conflicting ideologies, the series molds its layers. However, at times the things that garnish the narrative, also make it burdened and dull.

For a normal viewer, the series is not something they can binge through in a night. It takes a dedicated and patient audience to be able to grasp it all. The core of the series is extremely important and its message shouldn’t be ignored. Hence, anyone who is looking for an intelligent and impacting drama should really watch this one. But if you are in for the entertainment, I don’t think you might be able to spot much in there.

Thuso Mbedu (Cora) is a star performer in the series. Her brilliant acting is matched by the slave catcher played by Joel Edgerton. It’s a brilliant aspect of the show that even the minor characters showcase a memorable performance. Cinematographer James Laxton has created a visual stunner and Jenkin’s direction is best as ever. In terms of screenplay, the material is heavy, important but sometimes monotonous. The Underground Railroad as a whole is captivating but not so much heavy on entertainment.

The Underground Railroad is a 10 part limited drama series created by Barry Jenkins for Amazon Prime Video.

Also Read – ‘The Underground Railroad’ Ending, Explained – Did Cora kill Ridgeway?

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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