The Underground Railroad Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

The Underground Railroad

Drama genre
Creators Barry Jenkins
Cast Tuso Mbedu (Cora), Aaron Paul (Caesar), Joel Edgerton (Ridgway), Fred Hechinger (Young Ridgway), Justice Leak (James Randall), Benjamin Walker (Terrence Randall), Damon Herriman (Martin), Lily Rabe (Ethel), Will Poulter (Sam), etc.
Amazon Prime Video Channel
Release year 2021
Series 10
Site IMDb

The series is about a young black girl named Cora. She was born on a plantation in Georgia, where her mother ran away long ago, leaving the girl all alone. Every day, Cora sees the cruelty of the masters, who beat or kill unfit slaves. The heroine humbly accepts her fate until a man tells Cora about the existence of a secret railroad. He believes that the rails are hidden underground, along which the train runs, transporting dark-skinned slaves to safety.

It is worth noting right away that before the start of the American Civil War, the underground railroad was called the real system of secret routes used by African Americans who decided to escape. The organization of the flight was organized by the activists of the movement for the abolition of slavery, who equipped temporary “stations” where blacks hid.

In his book, the American writer Colson Whitehead turns the escape symbol into a very real railway with underground tunnels, trains and conductors. The series repeats the author’s idea, visualizing an alternative escape story, in which elements of magical realism appear. It is impossible to explain how underground stations work and why no one hears the noise of an arriving train – all this is just a metaphor that appears on the screen for a completely different purpose.


Screenwriter-director Barry Jenkins, who released the dramas Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, took up the serial adaptation of the famous novel. By the way, both films were nominated for an Oscar in different categories, and Jenkins himself was awarded a statuette for best adapted screenplay.

The stories that Barry Jenkins chooses reveal different aspects of black life. But “Underground Railroad” is perhaps the most complex and burning material that requires a thorough approach. And the director finds his vision of the novel, plunging the audience into a long journey, which will not be easy for both the heroine and the audience.

The director, along with talented cinematographer James Lexton (who directed the films Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk), pay great, one might even say huge attention to the visuals of each episode. The creators of the series show landscapes of cotton fields, covered with yellow sunlight, and the interiors of dark houses, only partly lit by the faint light of candles. This is a very beautiful work, which becomes a difficult contrast for torture and sophisticated murders. Committing monstrous deeds against the backdrop of peaceful nature, slave owners and righteous people who hate black people do not notice the evil in their deeds, considering themselves the only worthy creatures. But the viewer sees everything, and thanks to camera shooting, he looks directly into the eyes of the main characters, who are constantly looking at the camera for moments.

The path of Cora symbolizes the entire history of black slavery, which was reinforced by the fearful beliefs of people from different states. With the help of an underground railway, the heroine moves as far as possible from her birthplace, enters a civilized society and settles for a while, believing that she has ended up in a city where the locals are doing their best for the good of blacks. However, here everything looks so perfect that soon after the utopian routine, the horrific truth is revealed.


Cora moves from place to place (and each time it seems that the situation cannot get any worse), plunges into her fears (which become realistic visions), while she is being chased by the slave catcher Mr. Ridgway (played by actor Joel Edgerton, known for The Great Gatsby and Red Sparrow).

Ridgway is an ambiguous character (however, like the whole series), he talks to his captives, talks about submission and carries around with him a dark-skinned boy dressed as an adult gentleman. There is something very sinister and unsaid in all this, so in the fourth series, in order to understand the essence of Ridgway, the showrunners allocate an entire series to the backstory of a dual character who chose the path of evil in defiance of his father’s upbringing.

The series “Underground Railroad” is quite difficult to give an assessment that will answer the question of how the film adaptation of the book turned out. Each episode is shot with great skill, but the beauty of the frame cannot soften the horror of what is happening. It is morally very difficult to observe the events through which the main character goes through – however, here, in the deep darkness, the director does not come to the aid of the viewer. On the contrary, Barry Jenkins deliberately stretches each episode, paying attention to minor details and sounds, plunging deeper and deeper into inhuman situations from which you want to get out as soon as possible (even if the viewer has a sincere interest in the plot of the book).

This is a good story with phantasmagoric imagery, displaying false beliefs and showing the struggle for freedom. But it’s also a pretty heavy and sometimes unbearable series.

Pros: A metaphorical journey through the horrors of slavery in the US; visually beautiful and thoughtful work; magical realism Cons: the ambiguity of the entire film adaptation; stretching of the series with an emphasis on minor details Conclusion:

Underground Railroad is a sinister and dark story that depicts the crimes of slavery. It is very interesting, but due to the specifics of the director’s approach, watching the series can be difficult.

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