Daniel’s learned a few more words since we saw him last episode. In addition to “love” we can add “strength” to his list of vocabulary words he’d choose to describe the black women in his life. He’s reading Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech to his daughter and she can’t believe northern black folk speak with such intrepidity. “Ache” borrows Truth’s words, dissecting the anatomy of not only the physical strength of black women but the emotional and mental mettle required to endure chattel slavery. The episode, directed by Anthony Hemingway who is one of the executive producers on the show, requires us to wallow in the suffering Rosalee and Ernestine experience for much of the episode, rewarding us with small moments of hope mostly presented in flashbacks between the two. Special shout-out to Angela Bassett who makes a cameo appearance this episode in a flashback scene with a young Ernestine. Does the woman ever age? No. The answer is no she does not.
Rosalee is still on the run from Patty and her gang. A very pregnant Jurnee Smollett-Bell delivers an Emmy-worthy performance this episode as she survives getting shot, having to remove the buckshot, cauterizing the wound in the most MacGyver way possible, leeches, a fistfight, digging herself out of her own grave and being bitten by a damn rattle snake. Let’s be real, folks. When Hollywood gives us a character enduring through the unendurable like Rosalee did this episode they usually write the part for a white man. And then that white man, like Leonardo Dicaprio in The Revenant or Daniel Day Lewis in Every Daniel Day Lewis Movie Ever usually goes on to collect all the awards and a nice big salary increase. Smollett-Bell is doing a wonderful job on the small screen and she turns in a performance that warrants movie producers attention now. Not merely once she’s put in a number of years a la Viola Davis.
Miles away at the Gullah plantation, Ernestine is still battling with the ramifications of her decision last week with Hicks and Clara’s pregnancy. The elder tradition of publicly shaming the unwed mother into naming the father is hard for Ernestine to watch so she goes back to dosing herself like Snuffy in Crooklyn. In fact, she’s hitting the smelling salts so hard that it even gives her physically abusive, cheating, co-dependent boyfriend pause. They are both due to sing at the master’s house later that day and he’s sick of covering for her because she can’t keep it together. She counters that going over to the master’s house is even more reason to turn on, tune in and drop out. I’m sure that will work out just fine.
Patty and her biographer are conspiring to build up the legend of the “Black Rose” and her supernatural strength to sell books and excuse how utterly inept she and her team are at actually catching slaves. Nothing like ignoring the humanity of others to excuse your own sub-human treatment of a group of people. So glad America learned to stop “othering” the black woman. Oh, wait! Patty LaFail allows the public to further her tall-tale about holding a black baby’s face to the fire in order to get some intel from the parents in an effort to create some almost-biblical mystique and I would really appreciate it if she could just fall boob-first into the open mouth of the nearest volcano. At least we’re spared any scenes this week of Elizabeth Hawkes being butthurt because her runaway slave friends can’t make it to her husband’s funeral…on account of them being slaves who are currently running away. Darth Beckalas, I tell ya!
Over at the master’s house Hicks is strumming a tune on his banjo while a couple of Brock Turners discuss the difference between slavery and bondage. Bondage represents a duality, a double-edged sword that maims not only the attacked but the attacker. Cool story, bruh. I’ll just be over here holding my breath waiting for whiteness to stop acting barbaric to people of color. Ernestine enters the room and begins to sing a lovely song about a white guy on a tall mountain when suddenly she starts breaking dishes and spitting the hot fire. I had the same face I had when I listened to ShETHER for the first thirty-seven times. Sadly (or maybe similarly) ‘Stine’s song has nothing to do with female empowerment. She’s just a wholly broken woman and I wanted so much in that moment to just embrace her and build her back up. Back at the slave quarters, Hicks lays into Ernestine about her display earlier. Harsh words turn into fists with the final blow only stopped by her pleading for him to finish the job. The toxicity of their relationship mutates into desire and they quickly switch gears as Hicks opts to give Ernestine la petite mort instead. Iyanla, fix this mess!!!
We travel back to a young Ernestine, a yet unsullied girl, free from the misogyny, racism and misogynoir of her era. She is seeking out the mentorship of our guest star who owns a particular set of skills. Bassett isn’t on the screen for long but she puts in one hell of a performance as an elder woman in the community who knows a thing or two about the “birth control” of their time. Young Ernestine is already aware of the power that her body holds and how that power is seen as a threat to just about every man around her, white or black. Her hope is to harness it to her benefit however Bassett educates her that women have been trying to find a way to take back our power since Eve ate that apple and, “Your body ain’t never been yours, and never will be.” Welp.
The generational curse of suffering for black women has been front and center, be it the emotional rollercoaster that ultimately pushes Ernestine to attempt to end her own life or the physical hurdles Rosalee must jump through which lead her to a moment of defeat. But as one of the Gullah elders explains to Ernestine earlier in the episode, “the pain you feel thrives on isolation.” Rosalee is strong because she was raised by a strong woman who was intelligent enough to prepare her for the darkness of the world while reminding her that as we draw close to each other for inspiration, for hope, that we can weather any storm. ‘Stine currently has the community of Gullah slaves to lean on as they drag her back to the shore from the waters and Rosalee will be okay for now with the help of a horse and wagon right when she needed it the most.