PBS’ Civil War-set drama Mercy Street is shaking things up for round two with hotter romances, intriguing new characters, more scandal, and an extra dose of the suspenseful history that made its freshman season a success.
“This season’s going to be even better,” says executive producer David Zabel. “We’ve figured out what works well on the show, so we’re able to write to our strengths and dive right into it.”
First up? As seen in the EW exclusive image above, the will-they-or-won’t-they romance between Union army doctor Dr. Jed Foster (Josh Radnor) and abolitionist-leaning Mary Phinney (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) will finally start to heat up.
“There’s definitely a continuing process of them coming together,” teases Zabel.
Even so, some of the factors that kept the pair apart — namely their widely different social and political leanings — will remain somewhat of a barrier between the two.
“Part of the beauty of that relationship is that it integrally plays to a specific moment in history,” notes Zabel. “And it continues to complicate the romantic yearning they have for each other.”
An unexpected factor in the matter of their long-simmering attraction arrives by way of a new character, Charlotte Jenkins (The Hunger Games’ Patina Miller). A composite of real-life historical figures and a former slave who escaped from the South with help from Harriet Tubman, Jenkins is brought to Alexandria, Virginia, by Mary with an explicit mission to help the city’s growing number of freed slaves adjust to a live of freedom.
“Charlotte’s a great character because she’s an empowered black woman who has felt the pain of slavery and has become a figure who wants to empower others,” says Zabel. “[Her appearance] is tied to Mary’s larger mission and the ways in which she and Jed sometimes collide in terms of what should be happening in Alexandria.”
And there’s more: The upcoming season will include a storyline featuring seasoned spy Allan Pinkerton (Brian F. O’Byrne) and a season-long arc that traces the events of the Civil War starting with the Seven Days Battle and ending with the Battle of Antietam and the ensuing issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Says Zabel, “We’ve made a more concerted effort to make sure the historic events of the period are the foundation that we’re building on.”
Season 2 of Mercy Street premieres Jan. 22 on PBS.