13 Unforgettable Quotes from the Characters of Underground

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13 Unforgettable Quotes from the Characters of <i>Underground</i>

Tonight is the season finale of a show that has made and re-made history with each episode. Last week, we highlighted the brilliance of WGN’s Underground with our digital cover story, and this week we prepare to say farewell (until Season Two) to one of the most captivating shows to grace our screens in recent years. Here’s a look back at some of the most powerful quotes that stuck with us from each, incredible episode.

1. Noah’s Truth

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Rosalee: You said we’s all pretending. What’d you mean?
Noah: We’s all know we’s supposed to be free.

This moment, from the series premiere, supported the theme of Underground—American slavery meant that free people—who knew they were supposed to be free—were forced to pretend they were slaves. In an interview with Paste, Adina Porter also talked about why the distinction between “enslaved” and “slave” is so important.

2. The Wrath of Ms. Suzanna

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Suzanna Macon: James is sure getting big these days. I bet he fetch us a good price on the block. Finally make some money off one of these niggers.

Andrea Frankle has consistently delivered one of the most infuriating characters of the series—and it only gets worse in the finale.

3. Wine Cellar Arrangement

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Ernestine: He ain’t. Goin’ out. In the fields. Say it.
Tom: He will not be out in the fields.

These words, spoken in one of the most shocking scenes of the series, came back to haunt us in episode seven. For a moment, it seemed that Ernestine was going to be able to protect her youngest child. But in the end, Suzanna had her way.

4. Kill Bill

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Bill Meekes: That’s a nice dress. Nicer than anything my Peggy ever wore.

Bill’s words opened up yet another complex, haunting scene on Underground. In one moment we felt pity for the widower, in another moment we felt fear for Rosalee. But what’s great about the quote is how it highlights the class issues at work on the show. Bill, an overseer, feels that, in some way, those blacks enslaved in the house are better off than he is. Rosalee’s dress is, somehow, an attack against him and his wife—and it’s his own feelings of insecurity that move him to attack Rosalee.

5. Josey’s Revenge

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Josey: “I’ve always wanted to dine like the white folks.”

Jussie Smollett’s guest spot made episode four one of the best of the season. Josey was filled with rage, and it felt like a cathartic release, watching him fight back—misguided though he may have been—against those responsible for selling his wife away so many years ago.

6. Sister Girls

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Ernestine: Let it out. Ain’t no shame in these tears. The sacrifice you made for your daughter—you should be proud of that. I remember the day Boo was born. The day I brung her into this world…

In a recent conversation with Paste, Amirah Vann said that this was one of the most difficult scenes to shoot: “I was in tears. I was like, ‘This is horrific, this is my sister girl. How did we get to this point?’”. Ernestine bathes Pearly Mae, and gives her emotional support as she grapples with the loss of her husband and wife, who made it off the plantation. Pearly Mae’s murder—at the hands of Ernestine—was a shock. But it was prefaced by this tender moment between two mothers.

7. Cato Vs. Zeke

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Cato: Ain’t gone be no “we”.

Alano Miller’s Cato is one of the most important characters of the show, and perhaps the best example of the willingness of co-creators Misha Green and Joe Pokaski to give us villainous characters who are also living under slavery. In this scene, Zeke and Cato are surrounded by slave catchers. While Zeke is wondering how they’re both going to get away, Cato makes it clear that he’s out for self. He puts a bullet in Zeke’s leg, and leaves him to fend for himself. Zeke’s death, though, was one of the most triumphant moments of the show, as he took down as many as those slavers as he could, fighting till his very last breath.

8. A New Villain in Town

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Reverend Willowset: I have seen you, Jezebel.

It’s tough, but if I had to pick a favorite episode of the season, “Troubled Water” might be it. The Reverend demands that all the enslaved on the Macon plantation be baptized, including Ms. Ernestine. Before he dunks her in the water (and practically drowns her) he mutters this threat, and reminds her that she’s never going to be safe, or free, in that big house.

10. James’ Lesson

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Ernestine: Remember what I told you about the two masks we got to wear?
James: One for ourselves and one for the white folks.

“Cradle” was a difficult experience, from beginning to end. I can still remember my utter confusion, watching Ernestine teach James how to keep a song, and how to wear a mask while in the presence of white people on the field. I was confused, because I truly thought he was never going out in the fields. It was the moment when we were forced to remember that one of the most empowering and seemingly empowered characters on the show was still living under slavery, and ultimately unable to protect her children from any of its horrors.

11. Past and Present Politics

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Politician: Niggers are child-like, in need of our protection. Slavery provides a civilizing influence.

When Tom Macon and the other white men gathered in a room to talk politics, it was terrifying to hear the similarities between political talk then, and now. The language might be coded, and bondage might look different, but many of the messages, fears and lies remain the same.

12. Freedom or Survival?

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Ernestine: We can survive anything.
Sam: That’s what I’m afraid of.

Sam’s final words to his mother sting even more, now that we know how he met his end. Still, he made a strong point about how survival isn’t nearly enough—and perhaps isn’t even what oppressed people should be striving for.

13. More than a Name

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I hate when my mama would hold my shoulder in the cook house. I like the sound of the leaves rustlin’ through the trees in the plantation. It’s like hearin’ a song on a windy day. I like the smell of these tin cookies Ms. Suzanna used to buy. But I never did try one. Yellow my favorite color! But the real shiny kind, like on this ribbon I used to like to wear. I ain’t just a name on a slave bill. I ain’t just a runaway. And I ain’t just five thousand dollars.

This monologue from Rosalee (spoken to August’s son, Ben) remains one of the highlights of the show. Not only did this character blossom into the warrior that she’d been forced to suppress for so long, but she also held fast to all that made her human. I can’t wait to see that yellow ribbon again.



Shannon M. Houston is a Staff Writer and the TV Editor for Paste. This New York-based freelancer probably has more babies than you, but that’s okay; you can still be friends. She welcomes almost all follows on Twitter.

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