02x00 - Breaking Free

(footsteps crunching)

I think what's special about this show is that it's not about the occupation.

You run.

It's about the revolution.

(chains rattling)

[John] The escape from slavery.

[Algis] The journey to freedom.

It's so riveting just because this is real, this really happened.

And none of us today can imagine this.

The struggle over anti-slavery became by the s

- a war for the soul of America.

- (whip whooshes)

Hundreds of thousands of people said, "It's worth putting my life on the line.

"Than to get up another day "and be treated like this."

(chains rattling)

[Amirah] People did challenge a system even when it seemed like the system could never be abolished.

But I know that there's this freedom.

[Fergus] The Underground Railroad was the greatest movement of civil disobedience in the United States.

Just seeing our ancestors rising up, fighting back.

Welcome to the underground.

[Clarence] What a drama.

What a story to tell.

- (fire roars)

- Run!

(woman humming slow tune)

The Underground Railroad has a lasting and continuing importance for Americans.

Not just because it's a piece of American History that was largely forgotten, but it was also the first interracial political movement in American history, the first.

Thousands and thousands of Americans broke the law to assist fugitive slaves toward freedom.

You go in a slave, but you come out the other side a free man.

I was so compelled by the idea.

It's such a story that is inspiring, is exciting, full of intrigue, full of danger.

- (bones crunch)

- (wood cracks)


What surprised me most is how we've been able to keep this period of history trapped in a few pages of our history books.

As we started doing research it was amazing how much we learned, how much there was to it, how much bravery there was to the act of running, how much bravery there was to the act of helping people run.

(slow piano and digital beats music)

The Underground Railroad was a series of networks of people committed to the abolition of slavery and to freeing people who were enslaved.

It was then in Philadelphia in the very late s that we first see an organized group of people working with free African Americans to help move enslaved people out of slavery.

I'm sure you heard rumors of quilts, codes, organized runs.

There's no one way that all slaves got north.

Some people started in Maryland and would end up in New York.

Some people would start in Georgia and you might have gone south to Spanish Florida or west to French Louisiana.

Think of the Underground Railroad as something like today's Internet.

It moves in all kinds of directions simultaneous.

The reason I'm helping is because she knows what her station is on the other side of that river.

It grew out of social necessity.

A commitment that slavery is as unjust a human practice as the human mind can possibly imagine.

That's as much as we been doing, we're a man down.

(fist thuds)

Many people know about the Underground Railroad, but what we don't understand is the actual people who were involved on all sides, including African Americans and white Americans.

But we have a pressing need for the help you all involved with.

You can see in the Underground Railroad bravery, boldness and maybe more importantly collaboration between black and white Americans working to bring the promise of America to those who were most harshily, even most savagely denied it.

And I think I've seen plenty of kind of narratives where enslaved individuals are the victims.

And I think everyone was hungry to see the heroes in these people who did what I think, might be arguably the bravest thing someone can do.


[Driver] What you waiting on, get in?!

You know because the show focuses on the Underground Railroad, truth is stranger than fiction.

And inherently danger was at every corner.

And I think it's inspiring to see men and women triumph over such tragic situations.

And while it's historically important it also makes for really good television.

We've seen sort of the slave narrative on television before, but never the rebellion against it.

And never in a sense of sort of like what it looked like to try to escape and how those people felt and how that looked.

Anthony Hemingway, who's a dear friend and a wonderful, wonderful director made these bold choices, camera choices to just run through the halls in the house with Rosalee.

The pace and the energy it just feels like everything is constantly on the move.

Everybody's running and it's so high energy.

It's bold, it's aggressive, it's in your face.

And I've never seen this time period told like this.

It was fun to really kind of give this period, or these stories that we've heard many times, a new entry point.

And I think, you know, in the way we wanted to tell the story we wanted to do it kind of in a modern day feel.

We both come from genre, we both love comic books.

So we saw these people as superheroes, the first American superheroes.

We make it so once we getting off, ain't nobody have no cause to bring us back.

It's really such a dangerous time, an adventurous time and you have real heroes.

You know you have the stuff of champions in these people who are risking it all, literally risking it all.

I want to be counted.

It's our hands that built this country.

It's our blood that's running through the heart of it.

Now who got the key to the cell?

♪ We run to the grave

♪ We can't hide

♪ For a hiding place

♪ We can't hide

♪ In the grave cry out

♪ Oh you can't hide sinner

Here in America slavery begins when tobacco becomes a cash crop in the colony of Virginia and there is this need for cheap labor.

There is a case in which, in Virginia, three indentured servants escape into Maryland, two white, one black.

When they're arrested and brought back to Virginia, the two whites have their indentured servitude extended.

The black indentured servant has his servitude extended for the rest of his natural life.

This is where we begin to see racial slavery take hold.

And the popularity of enslaving Africans becomes a very, very big business.

[Boy] And James?

James, Stein, all the slaves.

They're gonna be your property, just like this horse.

[Clarence] The institution spreads into the Deep South with other kinds of cash crops coming onto the scene such as cotton.

When cotton is introduced cotton becomes a major economic engine for the south.

But not just for the south who has to process the cotton?

Well the cotton gets processed in the north.

New York benefits from this, banks are benefiting, insurance companies are benefiting.

Our economics are strongly rooted to this industrial complex.

There's a lot of times you'll read something or someone says, "You know what slavery "wasn't that bad, people had certain things "and certain comforts."

That's kind of a bunch of bologna.

So we wanted to make sure we were telling the brutality and the horrible world that people were running away from.

Imagine being out in a hot field with a hoe working a row that seemed to have no end.

Imagine having somebody standing near you with a whip and yelling at you all day long.

Come down here, tell me how it's gonna be!

Oh, no sir!

Imagine being on an auction block having no power over your person.

You own nothing about yourself.

You do not own your thoughts.

You don't even own your tears.

Any dreams that you have belong now to somebody else.

You own nothing.

(chains rattling)

(feet clattering)

And you have to think of slavery as a panorama of unending and pretty much hopeless exploitation.

If there's any episode of Underground that I feel really, really encapsulated the tenderness and the uniqueness that the show brought to its perspective was the episode in which they took a look at slavery from the perspective of children.

They don't actually already comprehend this as being a necessary part of the way life is or just the way things are going to be.

And so in that you see the power of hope and love.

[Boy] Hey, James.


It's hard to even talk about now.

And yet we do have to talk about it in order to move beyond it.

Okay, okay, we got the plan.

No, we got to run, now.

(repeating, low drum beat)

When you choose to self-emancipate you're taking a tremendous risk.

[Fergus] Nobody knew what was in store for him.

[Noelle] You don't know what's out there.

(water splashing)

What am I going to eat?

How am I going to eat?

What can I find on my journey?

What can I dig up from the ground?

Fugitives had no maps.

There were practically no road signs.

You're following little country lanes that are maybe a labyrinth, it's quite difficult.

[Clarence] Now hiding, how do I hide?

How do I hide myself so as always to be out of reach of the slave catchers and the dogs.

(fire crackles)

(crickets chirping)

(crackling fire)

[Fergus] And every town you have to remember had a force of patrollers whose sole job was to capture fugitive slaves, throw them in jail, restore them to their masters.

Those are the dangers.

And even if you find someone who seems nice, how can you truly trust them because they are a stranger?

They don't look like you and you are scared to death.

(breathing heavily)

A friend of Rosalee's.

You're leaving behind perhaps a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a wife.

Or if you're a woman a husband or your own children.

And all of these are real world examples.

By and large you're never gonna see them again.

This thing is so full of anxiety and even fear that it only can be explained in terms of people with so much intestinal fortitude and daring and courage as to almost boggle the mind.

I ain't getting no strikes on my back for this.

(door creaking)

We can look with our modern lens and go, "Run.

"Why didn't everyone run?

"Why didn't they just get on the Underground Railroad?"

It was a very difficult thing to do and I think that to me was something we wanted to definitely show too was how brave and how hard it was to break from a system that we've all been a part of.

(leaves rustling)

(feet clammoring)

You've gotta keep fighting.

You got to get the others to freedom!

It is high risk to escape.

It is an even higher risk to return.

The risks were colossal, were colossal.

You had no defense, no protection.

The Underground Railroad could assist you back into the south sometimes in some places.

But it couldn't guarantee your safety.

Danger was at every corner.

When we look at the end of season one and we see Rosalee now training to go back.

She's motivated.

I'm going back.

[Noelle] There was some people she left.

Harriet Tubman famously did that by bringing out dozens of people.

I thought it was incredibly unique that they would have an entire season of the Underground Railroad with little to no mention until the last episode of Harriet Tubman.

(Harriet sighs)

[Harriet] They said he was looking to steal slaves?

Can't steal something that ain't property in the first place.

[Harriet] Well I aim to teach you how.

Name's Harriet.

The Lord sent you to me to get your family back.

You ain't gonna be able to do that you, you dead or in chains.

Harriet Tubman captures people's imaginations because she's not who you would think would be the person to lead people to freedom.

How's a petite five foot, two woman navigate the swamps of Eastern Maryland to Canada over ten times?

And yes she is our superhero, but she is born of the same (laughs)

stock that we all are, she's flesh and blood.

Which was a beautiful thing about Harriet Tubman's decision to go back knowing that the problem doesn't stop just because she's free.

She's a great champion.

She helped to free people to see a broader view of themselves.

Focus on what you got to do now.

In the way in which people can live in the world beyond race.

Where you hiding them?

I know a runaway was brought here.

There were so many other players in the movement.

Even before Harriet you know the William Stills who Harriet depended on for a lot of help.


Still, William Still.

(wood clunks)

I've heard of you, about what you do.

William Still, we call him the father of the Underground Railroad and many other things.

William Still had the foresight to realize that these stories of the people who are leaving slavery are important and it's important to record them.


Because if we don't remember our own stories, who will?

In modern day we would call him an oral historian.

Because he scribed these stories and he kept these stories and he didn't just hide them.

He would then go on to publish them.

So that the world would know.

And that it's part of the public discourse, so we can't deny the existence of slavery, we can't deny the existence of this subversive movement because the records are there.

Freedom is about so much more than getting out of a so called slave state into a so called free state.

It's about finding that state of grace in life where you can be self determining.

There is a quality to the experience of freedom.

And if you think that you can enjoy freedom in some solitary, isolated, individualistic way you can't.

This is not a job for everyone.

Something we press on in this series, no one's free until everybody's free.

You have to abolish the entire system that keeps anybody from freedom.

I think it takes so much to hand over your life to a cause like that.

Harriet Tubman is just one aspect.

But you have so many amazing human beings that were moving, as well.

Every single aspect of running away is an act of bravery.

And the more we kind of learned who these individuals were who were running, the kind of more it opened up a different story for us.

I won't leave him behind.

This story that Misha and Joe have created has a remarkable way of telling you the stories of the people in that terrible system.

And it tells you their stories in a way that you become inspired and amazed with their courage.

And that's very, very exciting.

Because it takes it out of the museum and it brings it at home.

I think it's about time you teach me that song.

Noah himself is a natural born leader and a natural born rebel.

So in the first season we see where that ambition sort of culminates recruiting this team for their specific skills.

Everybody making this journey.

I ain't been more than two steps out this plantation in my life.

Can't even imagine what being free would be like.

And I feel like Rosalee introduced romance to him.

He may have liked girls before but this is, I think, the first time he's really found a kindred spirit.

That's why he asks her to run with him.

So now he's like, "Ah.

"I love this girl, you know she can hang." [Aisha] We were all tremendously excited when they finally got together.

(low, quiet music tones)

(Rosalee sniffles)

They end up uniting which is a beautiful thing.

I think which is one of the necessary resolutions for this huge problem.

Freedom, it got to mean more than that, it got to be more than that.

Ain't none of us free 'til we all free.

Rosalee's on this journey where she's realizing her inner strength.

(Rosalee screams)

Does Noah stay along for the ride?

Does she become more independent?

There's something churning inside of her that tells her this is no kind of life.

And Noah.

[Jurnee] I've paid a heavy price for this freedom and that burden is weighing heavy on me, that guilt is weighing heavy on me.


Noah the one that brought us to freedom's song, brought us all together.

Knowing that my family, people I love are still in bondage.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, all right.

The relationship between Ernestine and the man who purports to own her is utterly fascinating.

We can be free.

[Clarence] Now who owns who in any moment of their personal encounter?

Who's putting on the mask at any moment in order to fulfill some socially expected role?

Miss Ernestine is unapologetically strong.

And she stands in her truth.

There's a poise that she has in the midst of this horrific situation.

One of the characters that I'm excited about and want to see more about is Cato.

He makes us question, what would we do in a situation when everything was taken away from us?

When he burned half his face off to get rid of them marks.

[Noelle] What would you do?

That darkness makes us uncomfortable.

(men groan)

But I think he's a perfect representation of humanity.

No one is all good or evil.

You know everyone has flaws.

Everyone has deep seated thoughts that they're not, some of them are acting on them, some of them are not.

There's somebody out there you care about.

Just holding onto to the hope you gonna see them again soon.

You see the world in the characters that Misha and Joe created and you kind of invest in them in such a personal way.

(digital music)

- Rosalee, run!

- (gun fires)

The beauty of Underground is that it makes this period compelling.

It's historical fiction and it has to be fantastical, it has to be outrageous at times.

Because that's what keeps us involved.

But the beauty of it is that it's rooted in so many different facts that it makes the viewer want to learn more.

And realize, "Wow, I didn't know that.

"I didn't know that people imitated Henry Ross Brown.

"So what more don't I know about slavery?" I think that a show like Underground allows us a perspective to see that the America that we are came from somewhere.

These men and women, they lived.

They lived extraordinary lives.

If they could do it in , well we have absolutely no excuse.

I really hope that audiences take away from season two a sense of strength, continue to dive into themselves and see their own self worth.

I ain't running no more.

I would urge viewers to watch and take away the desire to dialog, the desire to read about this history, the desire to write even more about it.

I think one thing that you need to know about Underground is this is a part of your life.

If you want to know the world that you live in if you want to understand the America of , of , Underground looking at the life of seven people and those around them in this great historical epic of the Underground Railroad, allows us a sense of what happened to our America, where our America came from.

And maybe some indications of where it might go.


(explosive boom)

Just 'cause you got to play dumb don't you ever ever let them make you think you really is.

We had an amazing reaction to season one.

I think people were rightfully intrigued by the idea of the show.

It was almost as if they needed it.

As if it was missing in their life.

And I've been getting so many tweets and comments from people all around the world saying, "We can't wait for season two."

People are actually engaged in a way.

And it's inspiring.

It tells all the artists that are here, it tells us that we're doing something important.

That side of our revolution.

I'm excited for season two about everything.


(exciting digital music)

Misha Green and Joe Pokaski have really come together and put on such a creative season.

They took us to a completely different place.

(gun fire)

And I think the audience is gonna be really blown away by the possibilities.

You think you know someone, you think you know a character and then they surprise you for better or for worse.

Last season everybody thought that was you know, as big as we can get.

Granted it was a fantastic season.

But if that shocked you (laughs)

then you ain't ready for the second season.


I'm telling you.

You ain't ready.

[Jurnee] The stakes are just so much higher in season two.

I don't know I think we just turned it up to and I think you're gonna be surprised at who shows up and what they do.


[Harriet] The Lord sent you to me to get your family back.

To be the most notorious slave catcher, one would think you have caught the most notorious runaway, Harriet Tubman.

Ain't nobody scared of you.

(intense music)

(crowd cheers)

We just need to be ready when my friends arrive.

(explosive boom)

The plan has changed.

(heavy digital boom)

♪ Oh Lord

♪ Praise in our come

♪ Who, who

♪ Who, Daniel who

♪ Go the other way I said

♪ Go the other way

♪ Rocked in your rocks

♪ Rocked in your rocks