Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Underground: Three episodes

I have only seen each episode once, but while I thought the cuts and tracking that they used in the first season were interesting, the most innovative things seemed to happen in Season 2. That makes sense; the success of Twin Peaks aside, normally you want to get your audience somewhat established before you mess with them too much.

There were three episodes that particularly stuck out.

"Ache" was the third episode of Season 2. Rosalee has been working with Harriet Tubman, and goes alone to a rendezvous with some runaway slaves. Despite some close calls, she gets them safely away, and then a gun shot sends her off of the boat, into the water.

That is just the beginning. After making it to shore and tending her wound, she has to deal with fights, falls, cold, thirst, temporary deafness, and snakebite. Also, she is pregnant.

The physical toll on her feels punishing for the viewer. It was visceral, and it almost made me want to stop watching. That's not an exaggeration; I was seriously considering that I didn't want to watch this anymore during the show. But then after, I did want to watch the next episode, so I guess it worked out.

I'm not sure that the next one I am thinking of was really "Citizen", but I think it was. Everything was out of sequence.

It was an episode where people were changing directions. As disjointed as they were feeling, maybe it left the viewer confused and disoriented with them. That can work, but I wouldn't have done it for that alone, mainly because there were so many things I still wasn't sure of by the end of the episode.

However, they also covered a lot of ground, and moved everyone forward very quickly. As the season was winding to a close, that was necessary. I guess it worked for that, but I am still not sure about it.

Not all risks pay off, but the biggest reason I am writing a post on film making choices for the show (instead of my emotional responses) is because of sixth episode, which was brave and bold and powerful.

"Minty" was amazing.

Harriet Tubman combines the name of her mother and her husband, but she was called Minty (for Araminta) as a child, which is something she tells her audience. Here Harriet Tubman speaks.

There is an odd tension at the beginning. We see a woman getting ready in front of a mirror, with a long skirt and corset and visible scars from whippings. For a moment I wondered if we had jumped forward with Ernestine, because we hadn't really seen Tubman in a dress at this point. There is that uncertainty of whom we are watching, and also the long silence.

She goes to where she will speak, and it is an auction block, with prices marked on the merchandise - something never referred to beyond that, but full of symbolism that cannot be ignored.

Then she speaks. For most of the episode she is the only voice that you hear. There is one other voice briefly, when she asks a question about one of her scars and a man answers, but mainly she is telling her story. She is telling it well, and almost unbearably at times when the thunk of her hand emphasizes the beatings she received as a young girl.

Monologues are a risk for holding attention. I was watching it aware of what a risk it was, and it was spellbinding. The writing helped and the cinematography helped, but I have to give a lot of credit to Aisha Hinds who plays Tubman. It was riveting.

And then there were emotional things too. I am going to try and combine those things with things I felt in other episodes, and try and write some good things about that for next week.

Today is just about film making, and Underground was bold.

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