The Underground Railroad episode 8 recap – “Chapter 8: Indiana Autumn”

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: May 14, 2021 (Last updated: December 3, 2023)
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The Underground Railroad episode 8 recap - "Chapter 8: Indiana Autumn"


“Chapter 8: Indiana Autumn” delves into Cora’s interiority as a seemingly safa haven troubles her more than ever.

This recap of The Underground Railroad episode 8, “Chapter 8: Indiana Autumn”, contains spoilers.

In a throwback to the season premiere, “Chapter 8: Indiana Autumn” begins with a young Black girl named Molly reciting the Declaration of Independence. This warm, all-Black community in Indiana is where Cora lives now, attempting to unlearn what she has learned in her captivity. An ingrained cynicism is one of those things — it’s all well and good these young girls being able to read these big words, but do they understand what those words truly mean?

Indiana is, at least when compared to the other places the railroad has taken Cora, a paradise. But the question becomes how well-suited to a paradise Cora really is. Her cynicism is one thing, but her wanted status is quite another. Will her presence in this quiet little community bring anything upon them other than death and tragedy, both of which seem to follow her around?

The law and order of Indiana insulates its Black citizens from the retribution of slave catchers thanks to a judge who likes a tipple — the perfect mark for an idyllic vineyard. As long as the judge gets his wine, the slave catchers don’t get their warrants, and Cora remains safe. But this solution feels distressingly temporary, to the audience and to Cora, even though it comes from Royal, with whom she is swiftly developing a close connection.

The sense of a deep breath being held is inescapable in The Underground Railroad episode 8. There are other comparisons — the calm before the storm being an apt one. Jenkins has conditioned his audience to expect trauma so readily in this show that the absence of it feels suspicious. When Royal teaches Cora to shoot, it seems impossible that she won’t be aiming that pistol in the direction of an attacker sometime soon. During a picnic afterward, the fact he was born free makes the gulf between him and Cora feel insurmountable. When Royal takes her to a trapdoor down to the railroad — the shot of her descent is gorgeous — she’s tempted to believe his claim that “there’s nothing Black folks can’t do,” but is puzzled by where this section of the railroad leads; how it fits together or doesn’t, as Royal says. Perhaps, she theorizes, there isn’t anywhere to go, only directions to run in. Perhaps this isn’t the beginning of something, but the end.

Cora says she is tired of running, but after spending so long doing it, does she know how to be still? Does she remember how to love and be loved, how to feel safe? Has she ever, growing up on a Georgia cotton plantation, felt safe, to begin with? Royal asking her, in a roundabout way, to decide whether or not he goes on a dangerous mission south with Red and Samson feels selfish, as though he’s asking her to take responsibility for his life when she can barely navigate her own. Is Cora’s burning of her railroad map symbolic of her having found a station to remain at, or of her belief that even with a map one would only ever end up journeying in circles to no end? Either way, she descends into the tunnels once again, this time of her own volition, and takes the train to a bustling station. When she’s asked if she’s free or runaway, she rightly responds that she doesn’t know.

Cora has told her story in Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee. But did she really tell her truth? Her name isn’t found in any of the records, and without confirming her testimony, she can’t be moved on. She’s left to mingle and make friends here, a place that she thinks might be heaven. The more she explores, though, the eerier the place becomes. Doors lead in and out of memories. Whispers from dead friends creep through cracks. Eventually, everyone around Cora seems to be staring at her, at us, and she meets Caesar’s voice in the middle of a turntable where they dance. “How long’s this gonna last?” she asks. “As long as you need,” he replies.

When Cora wakes, the ashes of the railroad map are beside her, and Caesar is gone — so, too, is Royal. She enters his empty house and then leaves it again, into a downpour, with one last look back at the camera.

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