The Underground Railroad is reducing to the chase. In this quick episode (“Chapter 4: The Great Spirit”), which clocks in effectively beneath 40 minutes if you happen to don’t depend the credit, we see the origin story of Arnold Ridgeway, the implacable slave-catcher who’s been on Cora’s path since she escaped. The brevity is, partially, the purpose. There’s nothing terribly sophisticated about how Arnold grew to become the person he’s after we first meet him within the sequence. There’s not a fancy story of cycles of abuse. There’s no painstaking indoctrination within the methods of racism, colonialism, anti-Blackness, or the “merits” of slavery as an establishment. There’s merely a bizarre, indignant younger man, and a father who loves him an excessive amount of to see the monster inside till it’s too late.
Young Arnold (Fred Hechinger) is the son of a blacksmith, performed by Peter Mullan, the Scottish actor who’s change into status TV’s grizzled patriarch of selection. (He’s performed related roles on Ozark and Westworld.) Ridgeway Senior is a delicate man, possessed of a perception within the Great Spirit, which he describes in nearly Force-like phrases as a type of non secular fireplace flowing by way of the veins of every part below the heavens. Life, for him, is a measure of looking for and discovering that Spirit, heeding its name. He discovered it in his late spouse. He finds it in his work. And to the obvious chagrin of the locals, he finds it within the freedmen he’s employed to work for him.
Arnold, although? The solely time he’s felt the Great Spirit is after a horrible accident when he impaled himself on a rake within the workshed. Seeing his personal blood for the primary time, he felt he additionally caught a glimpse of the Spirit—nevertheless it’s gone now, and, he tells his late mom at her grave, he’s apprehensive he’ll by no means discover it once more. It’s additionally value noting right here that he sucks as a blacksmith, although his father affords him nothing however encouragement.
In a manner, that’s the issue. His father is so kindly, so supportive, that Arnold appears to resent his endurance and serenity. Why wouldn’t he, when he himself has so little of both?
Things take a flip for the sociopathic when Arnold encounters Mack (Danny Boyd Jr.), the younger son of one of many freedmen, enjoying with matches by a effectively, hoping to glimpse the Spirit that Arnold Senior talks about by watching the flame fall all the way in which to the underside. But the matches preserve blowing out earlier than they arrive. So Arnold means that Mack fall with the flame, to maintain it kindled together with his personal spirit. Mack dutifully obeys, and breaks his leg—however the match stays lit, one thing I don’t suppose is misplaced on Arnold.
Arnold has larger goals than his dad’s smithy can supply him. He covetously eyes a elaborate new coat within the native store, however the proprietor refuses to let him purchase it utilizing his dad’s credit score. Then an opportunity glimpse of a slave-catcher arriving on the town modifications his fortunes, and the course of his life.
Arnold approaches the catcher and his males to say he is aware of of a patch of forest the place a runaway slave they’re trying to find is prone to cover. And positive sufficient, Arnold finds the person…tending to his toddler son, left to him when his spouse was offered to a different grasp, prompting him to run away within the first place. Arnold brains the man with a department, and the catcher hauls each father and child away, referring to the latter as “it.” “How come you call him ‘it’?” Arnold asks. “Why not,” the catcher replies.
Arnold’s transient journey with the slave-catchers offers him further pluck at dinner that evening, when he confronts his father in regards to the perceived ethical distinction between freedmen, who’ve “earned” their rights, and runaway slaves, who haven’t. He does this inside earshot of Annie (Charity Jordan), the freedwoman who prepares their meals for them, a truth his father tries to level out. Mullan is implausible on this scene, his darkish eyes glowing with elevated dismay on the younger man his son has changed into. Director Barry Jenkins’s digicam offers us Arnold’s perspective, first as he stares down Annie whereas grilling her about freedmen and slaves, then as he seems into his father’s horrified eyes. “Please don’t break my heart,” the outdated man tells him pitifully.
In the top, Arnold will get his fancy coat with the cash he comprised of serving to to catch the slave—two coats, truly, one in all which he affords as a gift to his father. Ridgeway Senior rejects it. “Well, look at you, son,” he says. “Two coats. That’s a mighty fine thing.” The manner he says it he would possibly as effectively be speaking about his son’s two pet rats.
And that’s a wrap on the origin of Arnold Ridgeway, omnipotent slave-catcher—only a bitter failson who turns his anger at being unworthy of his father’s love, of the Great Spirit, outward in opposition to others. (It’s harking back to the origin story of the spectral antagonist in Them; he too was motivated by private failures, the lack of a liked one, and a sense of disconnection with the deity.) How many Arnold Ridgeways are on the market proper now, plotting to punish the Other for their very own failure to search out that means every other manner?