Onion finds love in “Hiving the Bees”, as the preparations to attack Harper’s Ferry experience many significant complications.
This recap of The Good Lord Bird episode 5, “Hiving the Bees”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Daveed Diggs is simply excellent as Frederick Douglass. This was evident anyway given his performance in earlier episodes, but when he appears here in the cold open of “Hiving the Bees” sitting before the newly-invented camera, explaining at length how he is enamored with the device and it, in turn, is enamored by him, it’s such a wonderfully note-perfect monologue that you can’t help but laugh, even as he explains how he refuses even to smile to dispel the stereotype of the “happy” Negro. Black faces scroll by, ones we’ve seen before, captured and laid bare for all to see. It is, as ever, a wonderful opening.
Onion is looking at a photograph of Douglass as he and John Cook arrive at Harper’s Ferry to start “hiving the bees”. This is a plan complicated by Cook’s weakness for women and ill-judged self-confidence. Only a moment after arrival he has given Onion’s seat on their wagon to a lady and sent him in search of some “coloreds” to congregate with. It’s a recruitment drive, essentially, but he’s far too flippant with his talk of John Brown’s survival and a pending “something big” that’ll require rounding up all the enslaved people around a common cause. As ever, Onion is apart from other Black folks, unaware of the dangers that his talk of rebellion presents to these people. The only skill he has to barter with is his literacy, which he uses to convince Coachman Jim of Brown’s intentions, if not the viability of his plan or the state of his mental health.
But since Cook is useless, Onion is left to meet with “the railman” alone, and the railman is equally skeptical of Brown’s plan and the ability of the local enslaved people to fight for their freedom even if they’re armed. When he hears Brown’s army was 16-strong at the last count, he laughs aloud: “That ain’t hardly enough for dice.” The message he has for Brown is that Baltimore and D.C. have plenty of soldiers ready and willing, and to pass word through a numbers game that’ll require a $500 investment. Onion hands the money over: “There’s the old man’s answer.”
Before long, Brown himself and his “army” arrive, with an unexpected member: Brown’s daughter, Annie (Hawke’s real-life daughter, Maya), who immediately catches Onion’s attention. The men settle into the lodgings — “Too far from the ferry, to close to the road, but they’ll suffice,” according to Brown — while Onion recommences his schooling under Annie. He’s immediately smitten and afforded uncomfortable access to the women’s ablutions given his persistent misgendering. (A funny gag in “Hiving the Bees” is that basically everyone Onion encounters outside of Brown’s army immediately recognizes him as a boy in a dress.)
Quickly, the nosy neighbors become a problem, especially because of Cook’s philandering. But Annie’s charms aren’t exclusive to Onion, who, by the way, comes to realize in her company that one’s outward appearance, despite being the thing most judged, matters very little in the grand scheme of things. They sing together and Annie shares her dream of opening a school to teach poor kids, black and white, to read and write. Their sudden closeness is enough to worry Bob, who takes Onion aside to warn him of getting too friendly with the captain’s daughter, especially with his mustache starting to come in.
But that’s the least of everyone’s problems, especially with Cook continuing to run his mouth at the tavern in the evenings, loud enough for the neighbor’s husband to overhear, and with Brown’s plan reaching increasingly unbelievable proportions. Onion is present for the final meeting between Brown and Douglass, which amounts, essentially, to Brown begging for a skeptical Douglass’s involvement. Convinced of the plan’s inevitable failure, Douglass can’t commit to it, which shakes Brown visibly. But, tellingly, Douglass’s compatriot leaves with Brown, convinced that now’s his time to make a stand. History proves Douglass right, but “Hiving the Bees” portrays his reticence as soft, an overly pampered man too used to silk jackets and other luxuries, “a speechifying parlor man,” as Onion calls him.
With the news that the neighbor has informed the Sheriff that the lodging’s occupants are abolitionists harboring runaways, Brown moves the assault on Harper’s Ferry forwards to the very next night, and tasks Onion with informing the railman, who isn’t thrilled about the development. He gives Onion a password that he’ll need to hear in order to let the slaves off the train to fight. But when Onion returns to the lodgings, there’s so much commotion he doesn’t get a chance to speak to Brown; instead, he’s sent with the women back to the homestead. The disastrous outcome of Brown’s audacious assault is becoming clearer all the time. But it gives Onion a great moment to close the episode, as he remembers that he needs to share the password. Ripping his shirt open, he reveals himself as a man to Annie, confesses that he loves her, and claims he’ll never see her again as he runs back the way they came.
Thanks for reading our recap of The Good Lord Bird episode 5, “Hiving the Bees”. For more recaps, reviews, and original features covering the world of entertainment, why not follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page?