Underground Season 2 Episode 1 Review: Contraband

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Are you ready to run with me? If so, keep on reading!

If there was any doubt that Underground Season 2 would be able to sustain the momentum of its incredible first season, then the premiere should set most at ease. 

Underground Season 2 Episode 1 was misleading in that it tricked us into believing it was going at a slightly slower pace when, in actuality, a lot happened.

It wisely chose to tighten its narrative by only focusing on two plot points, while introducing us to new characters, and laying down the groundwork for the season.

A Long Walk - Underground Season 2 Episode 1

I was genuinely surprised to discover that it had been a full five months since Rosalee and Boo escaped and Noah was captured. Given the fact that Noah was the leader of the infamous Macon 7, I expected (an attempt) at publicly executing him to have happened a lot sooner.

John did everything within his power to keep dragging out the process until he and Rosalee could plot a way to rescue Noah. John's idea was to at least get him transferred back to the Macon plantation in Georgia. 

Noah, for his part, was biding his time until he would be able to escape. Noah's drive is truly one of the most endearing things about his character. 

Through the Looking Glass - Underground Season 2 Episode 1

Even while he was in that awful prison, you could see his wheels were constantly spinning. His mind must be like a live wire, because he's always "on,' ready, and so aware of everything and everyone around him all of the time. 

That has to be exhausting, even if it proves time and time again to be beneficial.

It's interesting because we get the impression he hasn't had much communication with John, even though he's aware that John is fighting for him, but he's able to convey his trust to the man through just one look.

Let's wrap this up here. My niece is down from Canada. She's excited to reunite with the rest of her family.

John

I was torn between being disgusted by the degrading process Noah endured of being stripped naked and prodded like an animal and being fascinated by Aldis Hodge and Marc Blucas. The two of them had a remarkable ability to convey silent conversations with facial expressions and indirect dialogue.

It is moments like that that had me looking forward to the two men establishing a deeper bond and sharing more time together. Of course, John Hawkes' tragic fate put quite the damper on that wish.

Noah is just so steadfast in his quest for freedom and no matter what he encounters and how many hardships he faces, nothing deters him. He doesn't let anyone get in his way, either.

Prisoner: How you know what a Marshal office is?
Noah: you ever heard of the Macon 7?

I loved how he prevented the other imprisoned runaways from their half-baked attempt at fleeing. He knew their attempt could potentially interfere with his own escape, and he was not going to let that happen. 

His innate ability to lead had him not only successfully persuading the others to abort their plans but also convincing them that he could free them, too. 

Next thing you know, they're already making plans about where they're going and what they're planning to do once they are free. Noah didn't need a place. He just needed a person.

Staredown - Underground Season 2 Episode 1

Noahlee is a ship that doesn't appear to be sinking anytime soon no matter how many obstacles are in their path. Noah's dedication to Rosalee showed with his complete and utter faith in her organizing his escape, and his making a wedding band.

Rosalee's dedication to Noah was in every move she's made in the last five months. Despite her admiration for Harriet Tubman, she won't even let her disrupt her love for Noah.

So much could have gone wrong, introducing one of the greatest historical figures on a show like this, but she was fantastic. 

Strike a Pose - Underground Season 2 Episode 1

Underground has captured her fearlessness and badassery, with how she handled the slave catchers the way she did. Then, they gave us an unexpected, but appreciated, vulnerable side, too. 

Harriet is such a powerful force, doggedly dedicated to her mission. Hell, she barely allowed herself to nod off for a second before making her next move. She's also heartbroken and a bit jaded.

Rosalee: Noah is my family, he gave up his freedom for Boo and me.
Harriet: He ain't blood. Hearts change.

Her scene by the fireplace with Rosalee, lecturing her and giving her two cents on Rosalee's relationship with Noah, reminded me of when a heartbroken friend suddenly wants you to give up on your relationship because they don't want to see you get hurt too.

Mentor - Underground Season 2 Episode 1

That brief look into Harriet's life was a great way to ground and even humanize a historical figure who almost comes across superhuman in history books. 

Rosalee also had some great moments with the Hawkes family. Ever since piecing together that she is technically related to abolitionist, really John, I was dying to have more scenes with her and their family. 

It's such an interesting predicament that they are in together, John and Elizabeth hiding runaways and having a relative who is, in fact, a runaway. 

We had a lot of great moments between Rosalee and Elizabeth in the season finale, but the season premiere gave great moments between her and John.

A Moment - Underground Season 2 Episode 1

The exchange they had after the judge denied John's motion, was particularly great. 

Underground does not mince words, nor does it shy away from drawing parallels between the past and the present. 

John was an esteemed, white male, in the north during a time when he reaped the most benefits. It didn't matter that he immersed himself in the fight to abolish slavery, and fought for the rights of others; there was a naivete that came with his privilege.

Courtroom  - Underground Season 2 Episode 1

As a man whose profession revolves around law, naturally, he wanted to believe in it. It just never seemed to cross his mind, that when it came down to people doing unspeakably awful things to other human beings, the law never really seems to matter. 

John, bless his heart, was so idealistic that he couldn't comprehend the very system sworn to uphold laws breaking them. He could not wrap his head around the system being broken. It was always supposed to work. 

It was as if he looked at the system as a divine entity with structure and rules that are supposed to be unfailing, and he didn't think about the fact that this very entity is composed of normal, flawed, human beings with prejudices and biases.

Therefore the system is imperfect because the people who create it and work within it are imperfect. 

Rosalee: You says trust me. You says you can make the law work in our favor.
John: How was I supposed to know that the judge would just bypass the entire legal system?
Rosalee: You open your eyes! This happens all the time in the North and the South. It don't matter. Rules don't apply to black folk!

Rosalee had to remind him of that. She didn't have the same faith in the system that he did, because from her experience, it has never been perfect, flawless, just, or fair. 

The fact that we can easily substitute this with any number of similar issues plaguing modern society in these politically charged times is exactly what makes this thrilling period piece resonate so well with its audience. 

The issues may change to some degree; the time period may be different, but the general feelings of a naivete based on lack of personal experience or resignation and frustration because of personal experience still exist. 

Even John being torn between his distaste over his brother's beliefs and still mourning his brother because Tom was still his brother regardless was poignant. 

The system was built with the best of intentions, but those in power have found ways to corrupt it. Rosalee's right. I cannot keep my eyes closed anymore.

John

His statement about how he spent too much time trying to separate politics from family, but he couldn't and shouldn't anymore, reminded me of families across America trying to come together during the holidays, to avoid political discussions when we're coming off of the most divisive election in decades. 

I loved that conversation with Elizabeth, and how supportive she was of him during the entirety of the scene. Unfortunately, it was in that moment the sinking feeling hit me because the second he said he was going to run for office, I knew he wouldn't make it through alive. 

Mr. Hawkes - Underground Season 2 Episode 1

He had a great arc over his time on the series, going from the guilt-ridden lawyer trying to make amends, to a genuine ally and man true to his convictions and dedication to the cause. His growth was highlighted during the premiere, as was his idealism, earnestness, and purity of heart.

He was doomed to be a martyr for the movement. There was no way someone like him was ever going to make it to Commons so he could make laws and enable real change. 

Elizabeth: John, seeing a problem isn't enough. The system isn't going anywhere. We have to figure out a way to disrupt it.
John: I think that I have. There is an open seat on the court of commons. We go down to the courthouse, and put my name on the ballot, and then I can start making rulings that will help the cause. What do you think?
Elizabeth: I think it's brilliant.

Underground has a remarkable way of making every death so utterly devastating that it leaves you reeling for ages. John's was no different. My heart is heavy. 

It's another painful reminder of just how high the stakes are in all of this. 

Speaking of devastating, Ernestine broke my heart, as well. 

Ernestine was one of the standout characters from the first season. She was exceptional, really. It's hard to discuss Underground without gushing over this multi-faceted character and the talented woman who portrays her. 

Ms.Ernestine - Underground Season 2 Episode 1

It's jarring to see Ernestine in her current state. 

She went from a strong-willed, smart woman who successfully used her sharp intellect and sexuality as a way to navigate the confines of her inferior role in society, and garner as much power as she could obtain to an addict in an abusive relationship who has, more or less, given up on life. 

In a premiere that had the execution of John and near execution of Noah, it's to the writers' and Amirah Vann's credit that her scenes were just as devastating to watch. Perhaps it's because it was as if we were watching the slow death of a beloved character right before our eyes.

The Fields - Underground Season 2 Episode 1

The cinematography is always exceptional, but it was at its best during Ernestine's scenes.

Perhaps it was the change of pace with the South Carolina plantation she's on now. The vibrant colors, the lighting, and framing; almost everything about those scenes was very unique compared to the others.

Ernestine is in a scary place. She's empty; she's losing herself in sex, drugs, and violence as she tries to bury her pain from losing her kids and losing her power. I can imagine it must feel like everything she's done has been in vain, if it resulted in her being sold away with no ties to anyone.

So this ya life now?

Pearly Mae

It's interesting that visions of Pearly Mae are acting as her conscience, telling her about herself and calling her out on her crap. One of the worst things she has ever done, is haunting and taunting her. 

Pearly Mae's monologue, found here, was chilling.

The way ghost Pearly Mae called Ernestine out on her privilege, getting too comfortable and being too arrogant about her position was interesting to me. It never crossed my mind that Ernestine lost touch with her position in the world, it just felt like she tried to do whatever she could to make the best of it. 

After that monologue, however, I could see where it appeared as if Ernestine lost sight of her position. It even called back to when she told Sam that they could survive anything, and Sam told her that they shouldn't have to. 

Ernestine's lover: Where you at?
Ernestine: Nowhere.

She went from running a household as a house slave to breaking her back in the fields with other field slaves. Her fall from what little grace she could possess was a hell of a blow.

Ernestine isn't surviving right now. She's existing. Clearly, part of her recognizes as much if she's conjuring up Pearly Mae who is telling her to kill herself. 

She's my favorite character of the series, so I look forward to seeing where her arc goes.

With Rosalee working with Harriet Tubman and fighting to get back Noah, and Ernestine losing herself in South Carolina, it's clear that the women are being set up to be in the forefront this season. 

Aiming to Please - Underground Season 2 Episode 1

I'm beyond thrilled to see Elizabeth take an even more active role. I hate the fact that John's death will most likely be used to push her deeper into the movement. There's no way she's going to back down now.

I loved the sewing circle, especially when Georgia called for the ladies to bring out their kits, and everyone pulled out weapons. 

[hands Elizabeth a gun] Welcome to sewing circle.

Georgia

Georgia and her group of friends and fellow abolitionists are an interesting lot, and whatever the show has in store for them is bound to be intriguing. 

There is this misconception that women of that time were submissive and docile or lost in stereotypical feminine roles even though the more we learn about history, the more we've discovered that they were just as active in other affairs as men.

Meet the Girls - Underground Season 2 Episode 1

There was something endearing and also relatable about watching a group of dainty women practice shooting and discuss political and social activist strategies.

Noah was taken, and the marshals weren't responsible. Something tells me that it may involve Patty Cannon.

We didn't get to see Cato or August, but the premiere really benefited from the tighter focus. Hopefully we'll get to revisit those characters soon. I'd also love to know more about Daniel, whom we were introduced to in the first few minutes.

So now I turn it over to you guys. What did you think of the premiere? Was John's death shocking or did you see it coming? What did you think of the sewing circle? Did Harriet Tubman live up to expectations?

Hit the comments below and let us know what you think. You can watch Underground online right here at TV Fanatic if you need to catch up or just want to relive the incredible first season! 

 

Contraband Review

Editor Rating: 4.4 / 5.0
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Rating: 5.0 / 5.0 (4 Votes)

Jasmine Blu is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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Underground Season 2 Episode 1 Quotes

Slave Catcher: We got three runaways. You wanna pay us for one?
Rosalee: You ain't got nothing yet.

Slave Catcher: [to Rosalee] Make another move, and I'll shoot your head clean off.
Harriet: I could say the same. My arms are mighty tired, and I aim to end this quick.