The Underground Railroad Episode 4 Recap: ‘The Great Spirit’

Photo: Atsushi Nishijima / Amazon Studios

Chapter 4: The Great Spirit is a glimpse into Arnold Ridgeway’s upbringing and the spiritual ideology he struggles with, but also a brief story about how he first helped catch a runaway. The idea of ​​the Great Spirit that young Ridgeway appears to be obsessed with was inherited from his father. According to him, “the Great Spirit flows through everything, earth, heaven, everything. It connects us all. ”At the beginning of the episode, the young Ridgeway tells his mother’s tombstone a story about the first time he came close to feeling the spirit his father always speaks of:

Do you remember when I fell on the big rake in the shed? I’ve never seen my own blood before. I got dizzy. I, um … I felt something … when I was bleeding … something he always talks about … the ghost. But then I … It didn’t last. It didn’t stay with me … What if I can’t find it in myself again? What if … he can’t find it in me?

Young Arnold Ridgeway (played here by Fred Hechinger) and his father are still mourning the family matriarch, with each man speaking separately to her tombstone during the episode. Ridgeway Sr. (Peter Mullan) says to his late wife after his own wandering to her grave, “He has an anger in him. Burns red hot and then lights mine. Our boy wants to hold the ghost in his hands instead of listening to its call. ”This episode shows us how Arnold is tightening that grip.

Father and son live in a large farmhouse, but seem to circle each other elliptically – behind closed doors they avoid each other or watch each other from a distance. Ridgeway Sr. works at a workplace while Arnold has yet to find a purpose and walks through the maze-like hedge maze of the site as if to emphasize his aimlessness. The two are not alone, however. Ridgeway Sr. has hired freedmen to help out with the house, three of whom are family: Annie, her husband, Samuel, and their young son, Mack. Ridgeway Sr. seems to treat her with a relative kindness and freedom that goes well beyond any whites we have met; Annie and Samuel laughed together on a seesaw when we first met. This is not typical of the white men in the area – Ridgeway speaks of townspeople who refer to his father as “deranged” because of this.

Arnold’s inability to sense the spirit within himself leads him to test other people’s waters. This becomes terribly evident when he plays young Mack on a well in the woods near her home. Mack, also fond of this Great Spirit idea (as Ridgeway Sr. always speaks of it!), Throws burning matches into a fountain because, “I wanted to see it. As your papa always says. I wanted to see if it was in me. “Arnold manipulates Mack’s interest and persuades him to jump into the well:” You have to go with me … You have to protect it with your own mind. “It’s a shocking moment, even in preparation as we watch Arnold slowly persuade him to do it. (I was ready to leave the show here! No more Ridgeway!) Fortunately, Mack survived and only broke his leg. But Ridgeway’s actions here are despicable. He’s too old to be just a child playing without understanding that this could have killed someone. He does not care. He tests the water (and tests the blacks’ relationship with the Great Spirit as well).

After the Mack incident, Arnold turns his attention to a nice jacket in the local store. The seller scoffs at his request to blame his father for it. Outside he sees a man in a similar jacket. He’s a slave catcher; Arnold is so impressed that he follows him to a bar where he offers to share his knowledge of the area. He knows where an outlier would be hiding. The man, Chandler, tells Arnold that if he can help them catch the man they are looking for, he will let him into the cut.

As if his treatment of Mack wasn’t enough, the episode pledges to show the extent of Ridgeway’s cruelty. He was right and finds the runaway referred to as Jeremiah (Dajour Ashwood) trying to calm his crying child. The man begs and asks him to leave his baby alone. Arnold hits him in the head with a branch and calls for the other catchers. Arnold has a moment holding the baby where in another story you might expect a wave of regret to hit him, but instead there is some kind of experience, a feeling of holding another life in his hands. He looks into the baby’s face, the camera looks at Arnold’s, close-up and lingering. “Careful now,” says Chandler to Arnold as he pays him, “if it isn’t [it’s] It’s easy to forget the difference. ”Arnold doesn’t regret it – he’s happy. He brings his money to the store.

The whole experience awakens a new level of destruction in Arnold. At dinner, he explains to his father that hiring freedmen is more expensive than buying enslaved people, and explains his new way of thinking, which is validated outside the home. “But think about it: maybe that’s the real Great Spirit. If you are supposed to be free, then you are free. And if you are supposed to be in chains, then you are a n- – – – -. ”It’s a wild twist of ideas to serve its purpose, a justification for what he has shown earlier in the forest; It’s not about connection, it’s about power. He asks Annie for her opinion on the enslavement, but Ridgeway Sr. dismisses her before she has to answer. Ridgeway Sr.’s disappointment with his son is palpable: “Please don’t break my heart,” he says, but has obviously already done so.

Later that night, Arnold hears his father’s clink, the hammer strikes and forms the iron links. He offers his help, but is refused; he hands his father a package: “Here. Brand new coat for you … it has silver buttons on it, pure metal. ”But his father already has a coat and doesn’t need a nicer one.

Ridgeway Sr .: “People like me don’t need such splendor … Why don’t you keep it?”

Arnold: “I’ve already got one like this.”

Ridgeway Sr .: Well, look at you my son. Two coats. ”(He smiles weakly)“ That is a mighty beautiful thing. ”

I love this final exchange. Ridgeway Sr. can imagine how Arnold got the money, and this dialogue is a definitive rejection of the idea that there was something good in it. “Two coats.” It’s like trying to say: all of that for jackets? For money? For power? It’s a great condemnation of Arnold’s character and motivation.

• “Chapter 4: The Great Spirit” was written by Adrienne Rush. The song played in the credits is “I Want to Be Ready” by Kool Blues.

• Who is the worst and why is it Arnold Ridgeway?

• Gravestone detail: Emma Jane Ridgeway – 1793–1816. That said, she died when she was 23 years old, likely when Ridgeway was young. I don’t think this is supposed to put the show as a whole in a specific time (e.g. whenever it was over.

• Ridgeway causes so much pain in this episode. I am so heartbroken for Jeremiah and his baby. So reprehensible are the white slavers that Jeremiah knows it is better to leave the baby in the woods. He takes off his jacket to cover his son before Ridgeway hits him. “Have mercy on my child. Spare my son. Please God. Protect him. “

• Young Ridgeway: “How come you call him ‘it’?” Chandler: “Why not?”

• “You know what kind of family it is … You are my son, your mother’s son. Please don’t break my heart. ”I wonder how often this is being expressed in the present American moment. I do not absolve Ridgeway Sr. from any form of racism (I don’t know it like that), but I think it’s good that Arnold is not a “product of the times” here. He did not grow up in a household that supported slavery. That’s what he chose.

• The sound of Ridgeway Sr.’s clink of iron limbs is repeated throughout the episode and fits into the score. The roar booms like a train whistle.

• Having a flashback episode for Arnold Ridgeway feels like a choice. It’s a decision that I was immediately reluctant to make, imagining that other viewers would also question a 40-minute detour to explore the white antagonist’s past. Somehow it feels risky to have the main character of a white slaver. But more screen time doesn’t have to immediately mean a character is more humanized – if something is clear to me by the end of the episode, it’s that Arnold Ridgeway is not redeeming.

• Read train: The concept of the Great Spirit is a real concept that belongs to (and differs between) different Native American cultures. It is nebulously presented on the show and we do not learn how Sr. got it. This time around, I recommend When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, an anthology of Native Nations poetry, edited by Joy Harjo (United States Poet Laureate), with more than 90 nations represented.


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