You know, I think I saw the most important conversation of the mini-series so far in this episode.
Much of The Good Lord Bird has been dedicated to showing just how incompetent and nutty John Brown was, and that seems to apply to just about everyone he and Onion meet along the way. In this episode, he gains a lot of money giving anti-slavery lectures, using some of the fire and bombast style he observed from Frederick Douglass, but then loses it all to a con artist claiming he learned to fight with Giuseppe Garibaldi and he can train Brown’s men to do the same. But the dude took the money and ran, something that Onion had to eventually explain to Brown as they walked to Canada.
And there was the moment it came. Brown said, again, that Onion was free because of Brown, and Onion, well, said that wasn’t true. Onion claimed he wasn’t free because Brown decided where Onion was going at all times. Onion may not have been a slave, but he sure wasn’t free.
Such talk cuts Brown to the bone, and he allows Onion to leave after giving the boy that Brown thinks is a girl his grandmother’s Bible. Onion does eventually come back and rejoin Brown’s cause willingly when Brown gives another thundering call to arms in Canada, complete with back-up from Harriet Tubman, the one historic figure this mini-series seems to be treating with any gravitas.
But the thing is, Onion wasn’t wrong. Brown was deciding where Onion (and the whole Brown clan for that matter) were at all times, sending Onion out on missions, and never once asking what Onion wanted. Heck, Brown not only gave Onion his name, but he also decided Onion was a girl. Whatever identity Onion has right now was manufactured, however accidentally, by Brown. To Brown’s credit, he realizes what he’s done and tries to make amends in a way only John Brown could, namely in a somewhat fanatical manner that somehow is contagious, bringing Onion back into Brown’s orbit.
Next stop: Harpers Ferry, where Brown will meet his destiny, and maybe Onion can lose the dress.