Welcome to Valentine Farm. It’s a winery, technically talking, and its wine is famend all through their space of Indiana. There are nice out of doors dinners the place barbecue is served and the founders of the farm converse proudly of their accomplishments. A string trio performs music because the residents dance and snicker. And everyone seems to be Black.
This is the place to which the Underground Railroad has introduced Cora in The Underground Railroad Episode 8 (“Chapter 8: Indiana Autumn”). Turns out the farm has a sweetheart take care of the native choose, who’s an enthusiastic drinker: In alternate for a bottomless provide of the farm’s fantastic wine, he provides them a heads-up anytime a slave-catcher comes into courtroom looking for an arrest warrant for a runaway slave, in order that by the point mentioned slave-catcher arrives on the farm, the runaway in query has been warned and is lengthy gone. Will this be sufficient to maintain Arnold Ridgeway at bay when he inevitably comes for Cora? Almost definitely not, however it’s sufficient to provide Cora a little bit of a breather within the meantime.
Royal (William Jackson Harper), the resident and Underground Railroad conductor who clues Cora in on all this, is a fountain of knowledge/exposition all through the episode. He tells Cora that some members of the farm wish to pull up stakes and relocate to the West, additional away from the slave states. Others, together with one memorably named worthy referred to as Mingo (Chuwudi Iwuji), would like to remain the place they’re, and minimize a take care of the close by white townspeople not to absorb fugitive slaves anymore in alternate for being left alone.
Royal additionally exhibits Cora how you can hearth a gun, a prospect she agrees to with some trepidation but additionally apparent suppressed fury at her varied tormenters. (Imagining an individual you wish to shoot at is a marksmanship tip Royal passes on to her.) Composer Nicholas Brittell’s rating isn’t one among my favorites within the discipline—he’s by no means met a musical phrase he couldn’t repeat a dozen occasions in a row, as his theme music for Succession signifies—however right here it’s deployed actually neatly: He makes use of the identical romantic sound for when Royal palms Cora the gun as he does after they’re flirting. Self-defense and romance, two sides of the identical life-affirming coin.
But when Royal exhibits Cora a cavernous Underground Railroad annex referred to as the Ghost Tunnel—a very huge entry level results in a observe that goes for miles earlier than operating into nothingness—issues take a flip for the more serious. Intended to impress Cora with the ingenuity of Black folks, the Ghost Tunnel solely reminds her of her personal fugitive standing, of the folks she left behind (whose names she’s dutifully affixed on a hand-drawn map that she burns shortly after her go to to the Ghost Tunnel), of the truth that the Railroad’s ostensible assure of security might itself run out of observe sooner or later, because it has for her a number of occasions previously. All of that is arduous for Royal, a person who was born free, to narrate to, a lot as he’d prefer to strive.
What follows her journey to the Ghost Tunnel is, primarily, a dream model of the identical tour. In Cora’s dream, she descends the Tunnel’s lengthy rope ladder and winds up in a very palatial Underground Railroad station full of Black vacationers of all types. But the ticket agent says she will’t transfer Cora alongside till her testimony checks out, a possible drawback since she hasn’t supplied testimony in Indiana. “Did you really tell your truth?” the agent asks; Cora has nothing to say in response.
The stress mounts courtesy of some unbelievable sound design, which makes this mysterious mega-station—whether or not it’s above or beneath floor “depends on where you’re coming from,” says a conductor—sound prefer it’s continuously inhaling and exhaling, with a crying child thrown in for good measure. Cora exits and finds herself within the run-down home within the forest the place the hatch is from; she reenters and everyone seems to be gazing her as she walks her method to a reunion along with her misplaced buddy Caesar. They dance collectively, quoting their very own romantic banter from a number of episodes earlier. They cry. This will not be the surreal logic of a Mad Men or Sopranos fever dream; it’s a simple eager for one thing that may now not be had.
And like that, it’s over. Cora awakes and goes looking for Royal, however he’s already left on a “dangerous” mission for the Railroad that he advised her about days earlier. Rain falls and a metalworker sharpens his instruments, and these are the sounds we hear because the episode attracts to an in depth. The message is evident: Cora has unfinished enterprise that have to be addressed earlier than she will really board life’s prepare and transfer on to the following vacation spot.