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Underground is Period Drama airing on WGN America, created by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski. The series premiered on March 9, 2016.

Set in the antebellum American South, the show centers on a group of slaves planning a daring 600-mile escape from a Georgia plantation. Along the way, they are aided by a secret abolitionist couple running a station on the Underground Railroad as they attempt to evade the people charged with bringing them back, dead or alive.

It was canceled after the second season. This left multiple cliffhangers open from both seasons.


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Tropes:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Suzanna and Pearly Mae share a father, but he didn't care much for either of them. He was certainly abusive to Pearly Mae considering he used her like a pack mule.
    • Tom Macon is Rosalee's father yet he casually allows an overseer to whip her and his guests to sexually harass her.
  • Accidental Murder: At the end of "The Lord's Day" Rosalee accidentally kills an overseer, Bill, when he tries to rape her, prompting her and Noah to run from the plantation earlier than planned. Subverted it's revealed that he actually managed to survive.
  • Action Girl:
    • Rosalee gradually develops into this. She even faces down August Pullman. By the beginning of season 2, she's an infamous outlaw who regularly fights slavecatchers to free other runaways.
    • Patty, a female slave-catcher who manages to capture Noah.
    • Harriet Tubman is fearless and always armed.
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    • The "sewing circle" Mr. Still sends Elizabeth to is actually a team of armed female abolitionists.
  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: Clara becomes highly arrogant and conceited after managing to seduce her master and becoming the de facto mistress of the plantation.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Discussed. Ernestine, Rosalee's mother, states that she never understood true fear until she brought children into the world. She worries about her sons being worked to death and her daughter being sexually abused by their master. Also, Mrs. Macon subtly threatens to have one of her sons sold off.
    • Ernestine's eldest son Sam is lynched for trying to run away. Her horrified scream when she discovers his body is gut-wrenching and she has to be physically dragged away from the scene.
    • August Pullman is horrified when he finds him son Ben lying on the ground with a knife in his abdomen.
    • The season 2 episode "Ache" reveals that Ernestine had another child before Sam that was sold off. In a later flashback, a young Sam watches her tend to his father's wounds after a lashing and asks if she'll do the same for him when he's older. Ernestine breaks down in tears.
  • Alpha Bitch: Suzanna Macon, the mistress of the Macon plantation. She's petty, jealous, mean-spirited, and lords over others whenever given the chance.
  • Anachronic Order: Harriet Tubman gives a speech about her life story in 2.06, but in 2.09 we see her praying as she's preparing to give that speech.
  • Anti-Villain: August Pullman, to an extent. He's the slave catcher sent to find the Macon runaways, though he gets a lot of humanizing moments, especially with his son Ben.
  • Artistic License – History: Episode Ten introduces Patty Cannon, a historical slave catcher. The series starts in 1857; however, Patty Cannon died awaiting trial for murders in 1829.
  • Baby Factory/Breeding Slave: We get several mentions of breeding farms where slave women are forced to produce a future generation of slaves, having up to a dozen children that are sold off immediately after birth. Henry came from one of these farms.
  • Badass in Distress: Season 2 ends with Rosalee getting captured by Cato and being forced to leave her child and brother behind.
  • Batman Gambit: William Still switches clothes with the fugitive he's harboring and tricks the slave catchers into attacking him and John Hawkes. Since Still is a free man and has his papers, Hawkes can have the slave catchers charged with assault and taken away.
  • Beneath the Mask: All the black people, to varying extents, have to hide their true feelings from white people, as Noah points out.
  • Big Brother Instinct:
    • Noah is a surrogate older brother to Henry, who was born on a breeding farm and doesn't know who his biological family is. This is why Henry's death is particularly hard on him.
    • Sam and Rosalee are very protective of their kid brother James, and do what they can to shield him from the cruelties of slavery.
  • Big Damn Heroes: At the end of "Troubled Waters" Rosalee gathers up some Native Americans and rescues the others from slave catchers.
  • Boom, Headshot!: John is assassinated at the end of "Contraband"; shot in the head with his wife Elizabeth right next to him.
  • Break the Cutie:
    • Rosalee, after getting whipped in her brother's place and getting sexually harassed by Mr. Macon's guests.
    • James, after being put to work in the fields.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: John Hawkes says to his wife after Episode 4, "the worst day of that man's life was just another Tuesday in the office for me." Subverted in a sense because this isn't a villain being indifferent to his victims' suffering but a cause of shame, guilt and motivation to do good for him.
  • Children Are Innocent:
    • August Pullman struggles with trying to preserve his son's innocence while living in a harsh world. He even sends him off to play so he won't see a horse getting put down.
    • Subverted. The Macon children are pampered and sheltered, but the slave children are considered fair game for abuse and exploitation. Elizabeth agrees to help harbor runaways after seeing a little black boy treated like a piece of furniture.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Averted. Suzanna eventually reveals that she knew about Tom and Ernestine's affair the whole time and didn't care one bit. She considers it getting free labor via Ernestine's pregnancies.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Patty Cannon and her gang inflict this on Cato after capturing him and threaten to do the same to his lover Devi if he doesn't do as they say.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Ernestine hangs Tom Macon, but his death is ruled a suicide.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Poor Sam, after getting lynched. To make it even worse, his master made a speech while standing on a balcony over his body and had fireworks set off in celebration. Wow.
  • Distracted by the Sexy:
    • Noah steals a gun from a slave owner who lives nearby while she's... er, busy with Cato.
    • Invoked by Elizabeth, who does a sensual dance in front of guests at the governor's ball so her husband can sneak into his office.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Cato kills Patty Cannon in "Soldier", after the brutal way she and her gang treated him.
  • Domestic Abuse:
    • John comes very close to hitting Elizabeth after she confesses to sleeping with Kyle Risdin to protect Boo. Boo, afraid for Elizabeth's safety, tries to shoot him, but thankfully she misses.
    • Hicks, Ernestine's lover at the Roe plantation, is quick to smack her to the floor when she talks back to him. He also cheats on her with Clara, then forces Clara to have an abortion.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Harriet Tubman claims to get visions during her fainting spells.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Ernestine inhales some red substance through a piece of cloth to get through a day of working on the fields of the Roe plantation.
  • Dwindling Party: Several of the Macon Seven are killed off over the course of the first season.
  • Every Scar Has a Story: The burn scars are Cato's face are actually self-inflicted to hide the brandings he got for trying to escape multiple times.
  • Fish out of Water: Ernestine has a difficult time adjusting to South Carolina after being sold.
  • Flashback: In "Cradle", Boo has a number of them about her father and his death.
  • Frame-Up: The Hawkes and the runaways they're helping pin the whole operation on Marshall Kyle Risdin and John kills him before he has a chance to defend himself.
  • The Fundamentalist: The reverend, whose support Tom Macon needs for his upcoming election. He suggests having all the slaves baptized at once.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: In "The White Whale" it's revealed exactly why Suzanna hated Ernestine so much: her children preferred Enestine to her. After Tom's death, Suzanna puts Ernestine on the block and says she'll return the favor by raising James as her own and making him love her more.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Clara asks Ernestine for something that'll make her miscarry, but later decides that she wants the baby. Hicks forces her to drink the potion anyway. Clara wants to kill Ernestine and Hicks for causing the loss of her child.
  • Going Native: Tom Macon isn't actually a southerner. He's from the north, but embraces southern ideals.
  • Guile Hero: Noah is very intelligent and relies mostly on his wits to survive and try to escape.
  • Heir-In-Law: Tom Macon is a Northerner who married a Southern Belle and inherited her father's plantation.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Pearly Mae stays behind during the escape from the Macon plantation to buy time for her husband and child.
    • Henry blows up a hut to give the others a chance to escape, getting caught in the inferno as result.
  • Heroic Seductress:
    • Ernestine seduces and sleeps with her master in order to protect her children. She clearly hates it, but she does make him promise that her son won't be put to work in the fields.
    • Elizabeth performs a burlesque dance at the governor's ball to distract the crowd while John steals some valuable intel for the Underground Railroad. Later in the season, she reluctantly sleeps with the town Marshall (who just so happens to be her ex-fiance and still very much infatuated with her) to keep him from taking away Boo, the runaway slave child she's been harboring.
  • Historical-Domain Character: William Still was a real abolitionist and much of the series is based on his writings about the Underground Railroad and the lives of fugitive slaves.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Pearly Mae says she doesn't believe in God after seeing so much horror as a slave. This is however portrayed with sympathy.
  • House Fire: Rosalee burns down the Macon Mansion in "White Christmas".
  • Hyper-Awareness: Elizabeth is able to deduce that slave catchers are stalking Mr. Still's office by studying the movement of their reflections from his window.
  • Hypocrite: Suzanna complains about Northerners not doing any real work while she's waited on hand and foot by slaves. Elizabeth calls her out on this by asking if she made the cake herself.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Ernestine tries to convince herself of this after murdering Pearly Mae to protect Rosalee.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: August is able to disarm people by throwing knives into their hands.
  • Innocence Lost:
    • In "War Chest" poor, wide-eyed Ben Pullman stumbles upon the sight of his father killing a man.
    • This is the central theme of "Cradle". The various children on the show are forced to confront the harsh realities of the world.
  • In-Series Nickname:
    • The runaways — Noah, Rosalee, Henry, Zeke, Moses, Boo, and Cato — are called the Macon Seven.
    • Cato disparagingly refers to Rosalee as "House Girl".
    • Harriet Tubman is called "Moses" for leading her people to freedom, like the Biblical Moses. Also Truth in Television.
  • Internal Reveal:
    • In "The White Whale" John breaks the news of Sam's death to his sister Rosalee.
    • In "28" Noah learns that Rosalee is pregnant.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Ernestine tries to drown herself in "Ache" but is rescued by the other slaves.
  • Irony: Just seconds after Cato says he wouldn't touch Bareback Shaw with a ten-foot pole, he's forced to have sex with her.
  • Jerkass:
    • Suzanna Macon threatens to have Rosalee's brother sold off just because she knew it would hurt their mother. Then she taunts her sister-in-law for not being to have children.
    • Cato taunts Noah for believing he can escape to freedom and threatens to expose his escape attempt to their master. He points out that when there's an escape, it's the slaves who get left behind who suffer most — which is why he doesn't want to be one of them.
  • Karmic Death: Ernestine hangs Tom in the wine cellar for lynching her son Sam.
  • Lack of Empathy: The Macons toward their slaves. Even when they're not being outright malicious, the emotional distance they put between themselves and the slaves is chilling.
  • Lady Macbeth: Clara becomes this to Matthew Roe after becoming his mistress.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Elizabeth badly wants to have a baby, but has trouble conceiving. Her pregnant sister-in-law Suzanna Macon likes to rub that fact in her face.
  • The Lost Lenore: Ernestine's late husband, the father of her son Sam.
  • Love Hurts: During the time skip between season 1 and 2, Cato starts a relationship with a woman named Devi while vacationing in Paris, even proposing to her, but must break things off when he returns to America.
  • Love Interest: Rosalee to Noah.
  • The Maiden Name Debate: Tom Macon was born Tom Hawkes. He took his wife's name instead of the other way around, probably due to the Heir-In-Law situation.
  • Make an Example of Them: After catching flack for allowing the Macon Seven to escape, Tom Macon has Sam lynched for his own escape attempt, leaving his body out as a warning to all the remaining slaves.
  • Mama Bear:
    • Pearly Mae faces down a slave-catcher with a gun to allow her daughter and husband to escape. Later, she contemplates selling the other runaways out if she and her family can be guaranteed freedom.
    • Ernestine will do anything to protect her children, even murder Pearly Mae, one of her friends.
    • Elizabeth in regards to Boo, a runaway slave child she took in.
  • The Mentor: Harriet Tubman for Rosalee and Ernestine for Clara in season 2.
  • Mercy Kill: Seraphina drowns her newborn son thinking he'd be better off dead than a slave.
  • The Mistress:
    • Ernestine is Tom's slave mistress. He fathered her two younger children, Rosalee and James.
    • Clara is in a similar position.
  • Motifs: "Cradle" has a lot of images of candy, underscoring the theme of lost childhood.
  • Mushroom Samba: In "Black and Blue" Rosalee burns a dress that has devil's snare in it, and the fuses cause her and August to hallucinate. Horribly deconstructed when she accidentally stabs Ben while not in her right mind.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: At the end of "Contraband", the song "In America" by John Legend abruptly stops as an unknown man assassinates John Hawkes and resumes after the shot is fired.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Rosalee, after accidentally stabbing Ben Pullman.
    • "The White Whale" reveals that Tom is haunted by his lynching of Sam.
    • Ernestine keeps seeing visions of Pearly Mae, whom she murdered to protect her daughter. The vision of her is a soundboard for Ernestine's own suicidal and self-hating thoughts.
  • Near-Rape Experience: In "The Lord's Day" a drunk, angry overseer forcibly drags Rosalee into his house with the intent to have his way with her. A fight ensues, and she subsequently stabs him with a broken bottle in self-defense.
  • Not Quite Dead:
    • Rosalee flees the plantation thinking she killed Bill, the overseer who tried to rape her. The following episode, Cato finds Bill lying a pool of his own blood with a broken bottle in his neck. Amazingly, he's still able to say who did that to him and manages to recover.
    • After being left for dead by Noah, Cato is eventually revealed to be alive in the next episode.
  • Oh, Crap!: Rosalee and the Hawkes plan to help Noah escape when he's extradited to Georgia, but the judges rules for his execution instead. Rosalee nearly screams to horror.
  • Papa Wolf: August wants revenge on Rosalee for stabbing his son.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • The Macons' daughter, Mary, is nicer to the slaves than either of her parents.
    • Deconstructed. Sometimes slave owners do nice things for their slaves, but that doesn't come close to making up for enslaving and exploiting them. Pearly Mae's father, for example, bought Moses so she could marry him, but she doesn't think fondly of him considering everything else.
    • Ben Pullman recognizes Rosalee's humanity and tries to help her escape. This...doesn't end well for him.
  • Playing Sick: After his first escape attempt fails, Noah pretends to be more badly injured than he actually is. When Rosalee asks why, he reminds that they're all pretending, in one way or another.
  • Precocious Crush: Ben Pullman, who's about 12 or 13, blushes around a pretty young prostitute he and his father run into.
  • Pregnant Badass: "Things Unsaid" reveals that Rosalee has been leading slaves to along the Railroad, getting into gunfights, blowing up city streets, and being chased by slave catchers in the forest all while heavily pregnant. It's frequently made clear that she's in very real danger of losing the child if she doesn't slow down, but she's too stubborn about freeing the rest of her family to stop. Noah, the father, in particular is horrified and furious at the all the risks she's taking.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The slave catcher August Pullman takes no pleasure in his job, but does it to provide for his son and pay for his wife's treatment.
  • Rags to Riches: Cato becomes a wealthy man by season 2.
  • Rasputinian Death: Zeke gets into a fight with several slave-catchers, getting shot many times before succumbing to his wounds. He manages to kill all of them before his death, however.
  • Reality Ensues: John and Elizabeth Hawkes are a well-intentioned but naive white couple who want to help slaves on the Underground Railroad. After seeing a slave woman die on upon arrival to Philly and getting into a scuffle with some slave catchers, they realize that harboring runaways is going to be far more dangerous than they anticipated.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Cato and Noah exchange multiple ones in "Nok Aaut".
  • Red Baron: By season 2, Rosalee is an infamous slave liberator known as "The Black Rose".
  • Revenge: After John's murder, Elizabeth takes a gun to the courthouse where he was killed hoping to find the murderer so she can kill him. Georgia comes down the courthouse to talk her out of it.
  • Sanity Slippage:
    • August Pullman's wife has already suffered this, and he was forced to put her in a mental institute.
    • Ernestine in season 2. She's haunted by visions of deceased loved ones and has developed a drug addiction. She starts having a breakdown while singing her new master's son and his guests.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: John tries to get Noah extradited to Georgia according to the Fugitive Slave Act, hoping to help him escape along the way, but the judge decides to ignore federal law and orders Noah's execution because one of his men died at Noah's hand.
  • See You in Hell: Ernestine's last words to Tom Macon before killing him.
    Ernestine: We're both going to hell; you just a bit sooner.
  • Sex for Solace: Rosalee sleeps with Noah after learning of her brother's death.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Rosalee and Cato steal some clothes and pretend to be free blacks to get some medicine for Noah. Cato is rather impressed by how nice Rosalee looks in a fine gown with her hair done nicely.
  • Shrinking Violet: The delicate and demure Rosalee, a beautiful young house slave. At least in the beginning.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Tom and John are brothers, but while Tom is a slave-owner, John is an abolitionist and helps runaways. Lampshaded by Rosalee in "The White Whale".
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Cato is by far the most cynical character on the show, and snarks at anyone who holds idealistic beliefs. We eventually learn that he had tried to run away twice, but failed in each, which may explain his bitterness.
  • Slut-Shaming: Clara gets pregnant and is forced to have an abortion by Hicks, the baby's father. The leaders of the community force her to sit in front of everyone while they scream at her to name the father, claiming that it's for her own good.
  • Spoiled Brat: Mary Macon is a self-centered teenager living in the lap of luxury. She complains that her life as bad as a slave's because she had to learn to play piano instead of getting to check out boys. Her younger brother T.R. as well, given the fact that he feels no need to take responsibility for his actions or care about James's suffering.
  • The Stinger: There's one in the Season 1 finale where Rosalee meets Harriet Tubman.
  • Take Me Instead: Rosalee takes a lashing in place of her brother after he is blamed for spooking a white man's horse, saying it was her fault for giving him sugar. What makes it worse is that it's his white "friend" actually spooked the horse but not once is he blamed or does he try to accept responsibility. Even worse, the accident happened because the overseer wasn't watching where he was driving. The little black boy is blamed simply for being there.
  • Talking Down the Suicidal: Ernestine stops August from killing himself in "Soldier" using the story of her own attempted suicide.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Noah lets Cato in on the plan to escape the Macon plantation, but the two of them are always at each other's throats. Cato doesn't get along much better with Rosalee either.
  • Thicker Than Water: Subverted in that Suzanna and Pearly Mae are half-sisters, but they're practically strangers to each other.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • Life on the run toughens Rosalee up quite a bit: from fragile house slave to determined fugitive.
    • Elizabeth learns marksmanship due to all the danger that comes with harboring slaves.
  • Trust Password: The members of the Railroad have special codes that are used to identify each other.
  • Undercover as Lovers: Rosalee and Cato pretend to be a married couple while conning a doctor to steal some medicine for Noah after a gunshot wound becomes infected.
  • Underground Railroad: Mr. William Still recruits John Hawkes and his wife Elizabeth to host a station on the Underground Railroad after hearing John make an anti-slavery speech outside a courthouse.
  • Unusual Euphemism: The members of the Railroad refer to their hidden runaways as "cargo" to avoid tipping off slave catchers.
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out:
    • After Noah is shot in "Cradle", Rosalee does an impromptu surgery and takes the bullet out of his shoulder by hand.
    • Occurs again in "Ache" after Rosalee takes a bullet out of her own shoulder after getting shot by Patty Cannon.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: John Brown and his followers are willing to commit acts of extreme violence to end slavery, which perturbs Elizabeth and Georgia. Later, Elizabeth finds herself turning into one as well.
  • We Used to Be Friends: James was a companion for the Mr. and Mrs. Macon's young son, T.R., but all the racial tension eventually severs their friendship.
  • Wham Shot:
    • In "Things Unsaid", Cato is revealed to be the "master" who ordered Noah's capture.
    • At the end of "Things Unsaid", Rosalee is revealed to be heavily pregnant.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Noah is furious when he learns that Rosalee went a dangerous rescue mission while pregnant, thus endangering their child.
  • Where Da White Women At?:
    • Bareback Shaw, the mistress of a nearby plantation hosts parties of all the slaves in the area ostensibly out of the goodness of her heart. Really, she looks for handsome young slave men and makes them have sex with her. In "War Chest" she chooses Cato to spend the night with, and Noah uses this as an opportunity to steal a gun and ammunition from her while she's distracted.
    • Suzanna tells Ernestine that she once had a dalliance with a slave when she was a teenager.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Suzanna is harsh and cruel to her husband's mixed-race children, James and Rosalee. Played with in season 2, when she spoils James in attempt to make him love her more than his mother..
  • Widow Woman: Susanna, after Ernestine kills Tom. Elizabeth, after John is assassinated by an unknown assailant.
  • "World of Cardboard" Speech: Noah gives one to the white people at the marshall's office while he's holding Elizabeth "hostage" and freeing all the captive slaves.
    Well, I want all sorts of things. I want to live in a world where I ain't got to run through a hundred miles of shadow just to have a last name. I want to work a day and get a fair day's wage. And when I'm done I want a place to rest my head. Have something I can call my own. I want to be counted! It's our hands that built this country! It's our blood that's running through the hearts of it. We keep it beating! Seem to me that make me more American that any of you.
  • Would Hit a Girl: August has no qualms about using violence against the female runaways he encounters. And he wants to kill Rosalee for stabbing his son. In "The White Whale" he throws a knife at Elizabeth, cutting her hand.
  • Would Hurt a Child: A black child anyway. One white man comes close to whipping a little boy, James, until his older sister Rosalee takes the punishment for him.
  • You Got Spunk: Mr. Macon somewhat admires the determination and defiance Noah has.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Tom Macon sleeps with his slave Ernestine while his wife Suzanna is pregnant. Their affair has been going on for years, resulting in two children.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: In season 2, Rosalee and Noah return to the Macon plantation to rescue Ernestine and James unaware that Ernestine has been sold to another plantation.

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