[Caution: spoilers about Season 2 of Underground ahead! Don't read if you haven't watched the premiere!]
Underground started its second season with a bang — a few, in fact, considering Rosalee's (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) high-stakes, nearly impossible rescue of Noah (Aldis Hodge) just seconds before he's about to be hung. But the biggest bang came at the end of the episode, when abolitionist John Hawkes (Marc Blucas) was shot dead after he made clear his intentions to use the legal system to challenge slavery.
The shocking, bloody scene snatched John away from his wife, Elizabeth (Jessica De Gouw) far too soon and of course threw the futures of Rosalee, Noah and their loved ones back into limbo. Underground creator and executive producer Misha Green knew, naturally, that fans would be stunned by his murder but Wow, what a way to start the second season right?
"One of the things we talked about with John's death," Green told TVGuide.com, referring to talks she had with co-creator and executive producer Joe Pokaski, "was this idea of people stepping out of their comfort zones in a way that scares people."
Saying you want slavery to end is like "Well, duh", she said, but actually putting yourself in a situation where you could be harmed, jailed or killed to actually try to end it is something different. That unwavering dedication fits in with the overall theme for the season: "Citizen or soldier." With her husband gone, Elizabeth becomes the latter — going into extremism, Green said. "[John's murder] is going to affect all our characters," she said. "It has a domino effect."
Rosalee's choice is clear. Now that she's made it safely North, she's steadfast in her conviction to go back to get her loved ones in spite of some new personal challenges that'll be revealed in coming episodes. Be on the lookout for a goose-bump inducing, jaw-dropping performance from Smollett-Bell in Episode 3, when Rosalee has been on the run for days, near death and doing anything to survive.
"We kept saying we wanted it to be a Revenant moment," Green said. "She was kind of mind-blowing. What she did was amazing. We really wanted to show what it takes to [escape], to understand this was not a simple thing Harriet [Tubman] was doing. It was dangerous."
Harriet Tubman, played by Aisha Hinds, brings the real-life hero, who freed thousands through the Underground Railroad, from historical figure to three-dimensional person this season. For one, she was prone to narcoleptic sleeping spells, and she at one point made the inconceivably difficult trip back to the South to get her husband only to find he'd... Moved on. One episode will depict her giving a lengthy, passionate speech, which producers based off actual speeches Tubman gave to raise money.
Underground also gives her a nemesis in Patty Cannon (Sadie Stratton), another real-life character who was such a notoriously violent slave catcher (seriously, Google her) that parents would invoke her name in scary stories to children. "Patty is a person who wanted her profile to rise," Green said, while Tubman sought to stay incognito for obvious reasons. "We thought that was an interesting juxtaposition."
As for the whopper of a contrast in the premiere — seeing Noah freed and then captured again — stay tuned. He'll be wrestling with being a citizen or solider as the season progresses. "He had a goal last season," Green said. And while the methodology may have been questionable, he got his family, the Macon 7, free. Now, new, higher stakes make him start to question if being a solider is something he even wants to do. As Green said, "It's not easy to be a hero."
Underground airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on WGN America.