[Warning: The following contains spoilers from the final episodes of The Underground Railroad. Read at your own risk!]
There are a lot of difficult characters in The Underground Railroad, the limited series helmed by Academy Award winner Barry Jenkins and adapted from Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. There are cruel plantation owners, haunted slave catchers, and bigoted religious zealots making Cora's (Thuso Mbedu) path to freedom fraught with horror and anguish, but perhaps the most terrifying person standing in the way of Cora's freedom throughout the series is a 10-year old boy named Homer.
Chase W. Dillon plays the young gentleman and assistant to Joel Edgerton's slave catcher Ridgeway. In every scene we see Homer, he is immaculately dressed in a three-piece suit and bowler hat. He knows how to read and write, and he has absolutely no qualms about turning over people who look like him to his adopted father, whom he knows will torture and maim the slaves they capture for running away from their plantations.
"Homer is the one character where I want to knock on [Colson's] door, [and when] he opens it, I want to throw a pot of water on his face because that's a difficult character to wrestle to the ground. He's such an enigma," Jenkins explained to TV Guide when asked about the character. "That was the most difficult character in the whole show for me... You want to save him."
There are several moments throughout The Underground Railroad that make your heart break for the little boy, like when Cora watches him shackle himself to Ridgeway's wagon and the slave catcher reveals shortly afterward that he doesn't force Homer into the shackles. Homer locks himself up every night because the only way he can fall asleep is if he's in chains. It's a devastating revelation about Homer's self-hatred and internalized racism against people who look like him, so at every opportunity that Homer has to show compassion to Cora or any of the other Black folks he encounters throughout the series, he stays unflinchingly loyal to Ridgeway.
"What is going on in this relationship between Ridgeway and Homer? Some people watch the show and they think, 'Oh, this is a weird father-son dynamic,' and I don't know. I see this as grooming. [Homer] has had this indoctrination," Jenkins continued, drawing a parallel between Homer and contemporary public figures actively working against the culture. "You can point at certain famous folks and in politics, and they are saying certain things that are working against their people and I go, 'Oh, this is how this happens.' When I viewed it that way, that was how I was able to investigate this character from a place where I could understand him because I [could] not stand it... This sh— happens. Maybe this was Colson's intention. We have to acknowledge it. We have to because people like such and such don't just happen. There's a process. There's a route."
In the penultimate episode of The Underground Railroad, Ridgeway and Homer seize Cora from the freemen's farm she had found refuge on in Indiana when the farm falls under siege by local merchants. Ridgeway forces Cora to show him the nearest stop on the railroad so he can prevent any more slaves from escaping to Indiana, but Cora is able to overtake and kill Ridgeway on their way down the escape route as Homer watches helplessly from the shadows. The last we see of the little boy is him crying over Ridgeway's body, cursing Cora's name, and swearing vengeance as she makes her final escape. His fate is left open-ended without Ridgeway alive to look after him and the unlikelihood that Homer would find refuge with the survivors back at the farm. As Jenkins explains, the most disturbing thing about Homer is that we're watching these treacherous actions and disturbing loyalty to a white supremacist in someone so young.
"Studying, or sort of exploring the character at the age of 40 is very different than exploring the character at the age of 10. At the age of 10, there is some level of you that goes, 'I can't blame this child for what he's doing.' Yet, if he was 40, of course, you would be like, 'Oh, this man is horrific. He's horrible.' So it creates this conundrum of, 'What am I even seeing right now?' Every question you asked me, I had a very quick answer, but this cat, man... I would never draw this character, myself. He was given to me by Colson Whitehead and that was my task and Chase's task to explore," Jenkins elaborated before speculating on Homer's next steps after Ridgeway's death. As dark as things seem for Homer in those final moments, Jenkins feels sure the little boy would make it, unfortunately for everyone else.
"The one thing about Homer, man, he's a survivor. I have no doubt that somehow he goes on to run amuck and cause destruction to folks that look like him."
The Underground Railroad is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.