Sunday, October 20, 2013

Slave Humor: The Story of Catcher Freeman

"The Story of Catcher Freeman," from season 2, episode 12 of Aaron McGurder's animated television series, The Boondock  (aired 28 January 2008)  --  The Plot --  According to Wikipedia: The story begins in the Freeman home, when Robert regales the boys with the story of their heroic ancestor, Catcher Freeman. Later, Uncle Ruckus drops by and tells his own version of the story. Finally, Huey does some web research and uncovers yet another story.

All of the stories follow the same basic plotline — Catcher Freeman (a parody of Nathaniel Turner) was a slave, yet a mythical figure in the antebellum South, nearby a cotton plantation where an anachronistic Confederate Colonel, Colonel George Lynchwater a.k.a. "Massa Colonel", owns many slaves. The slaves include Tobias, the house slave and cringing lackey to Lynchwater, and Thelma, one of the cooks. Tobias is in love with Thelma, but Thelma does not (initially) return his feelings. Thelma escapes the plantation one night, but after an encounter with Catcher, returns to plan a revolt. The slaves secretly organize the revolt, in which Catcher Freeman (in all versions) plays a pivotal role. The Colonel and (in two versions) Tobias are both killed, and Thelma escapes to the North and marries Catcher.

However, the three versions have key differences in characterizations (not the least of which is Catcher himself), motives and how the events unfolded.

Robert's version shows Catcher Freeman as an escaped slave turned dashing highwayman, almost superheroic in his combat skills. While he kills several white men, he does so only in defense of other slaves. After rescuing Thelma during her escape, he inspires her to find her own bravery, and return to lead the other slaves to freedom. He pledges to return to spearhead the assault. Before leaving, he gives her a revolver, solemnly telling her that she will know when the time is right to use it. The next day, the revolt begins, yet the Colonel, informed of the revolt by Tobias, lays in wait with several soldiers. Catcher and his band appear and turn the tide, leading to a climactic swordfight between Catcher and his nemesis on the steps of the Plantation. Catcher wins and beheads his foe, and victory seems complete until Tobias, distraught over the death of his master, levels a flintlock at Catcher. Catcher stands bravely, ready to be martyred. A shot rings out, but it turns out the shot wasn't from the flintlock—it was from Thelma's revolver. Tobias collapses dead. The slaves escape to the north, and Catcher retires from his swashbuckling heroics to the more subdued heroics of assisting with the Underground Railroad. Riley for his part shows complete disbelief at the story, pointing out the anachronisms and that the story seems to be made up of clichés from the action genre. At one point Riley points out that one of the slaves has made a reference to Batman when Batman wasn't made yet, causing Grandad to tweak the story.

Uncle Ruckus then gives his own version of the tale - Catcher Freeman's name was actually "Catch a Freeman," and he was a slave used to capture other runaway slaves. In Ruckus' version, Catcher is animalistic, barely able to speak, and unable even to walk upright, yet can somehow jump from tree to tree (Riley declares it "some ol' Tarzan shit"). Also in Ruckus' version, the white people are kind and the slaves live a life of relative luxury and sloth. In this version, Thelma is a vile seductress who leads the evil and ungrateful slaves in an unprovoked attack on the Colonel. Thelma seduces Catcher and ties him up as he sleeps, so that he can't come to his master's aid in the upcoming battle. Tobias is shown as heroically standing at his master’s side as the waves of attacking slaves close in, made to look like a subhuman horde of vampiric, zombie barbarians biting away at the Colonel's men. When the slaves win the battle, it is couched in Ruckus’ telling as a heartless and unprovoked massacre. Catcher, too dumb to know he was betrayed, goes with Thelma up north.

As Robert and Ruckus argue over whose version is correct, Huey presents the web-searched version of the story.

In Huey’s version (perhaps the most accurate in the episode), Catcher Freeman did not even exist at the start of the story. Instead, Thelma finds the will to fight back when she kills a white rapist during her escape, and becomes the figurehead of the revolt exactly one week later. Meanwhile, Tobias, who is revealed to be a "mulatto bastard" son of the Colonel, has developed the world’s first screenplay (before film’s invention) and convinces his father it is worth financing. To make sure the screenplay does get the funding, he tells the Colonel about the revolt. Thelma, however, gave him false information for the time of the attack and it turns out to be at that moment, whereas Tobias thought it would take place in a week. Despite this, the revolt succeeds and Thelma and the Colonel square off with the swords on the steps of the plantation. Tobias, not wanting the Colonel to die before he financed the project, fires the flintlock at Thelma’s back, but the struggling fighters turn and the Colonel is shot instead. Tobias, noticing everyone is looking at him, prudently pretends that he shot the Colonel on purpose, and thus the legend is born as Tobias becomes known as Catcher Freeman. This version of the story is denied by both Robert and Ruckus as it conflicts too heavily with their own versions. The episode ends as Riley prepares to give his own "version" of the story, which covers a non-slaver version of Catcher who owns a "Bentley Coupe" equipped with "a hundred machine guns." (source:

The Story of Catcher Freeman - The Boondocks

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