Elizabeth grieves John's death, as Rosalee goes on her first solo mission
This week’s episode starts off, again, with Daniel, so at least there looks to be one constant this season. It’s here that Daniel reveals to his wife Bette (Indigo) that he’s been teaching himself to read, writing down a note that completely captures the way he feels about her and their child: “LOVE.” Even though this is only our second week with Daniel, I’ve got to admit that’s a pretty emotional beat right there — and it’s only just the beginning of the episode. “It’s amazing,” says Bette. “I want to keep it forever.” Except, she know she can’t and instead rips up the note. Why? Because “this could get [them] killed.” It’s sad because it’s true.
The episode doesn’t just stop there with the pain, as it heads over to Elizabeth Hawkes, in what clearly can’t be too long after John was shot in head on the courthouse steps at the end of last week’s episode, since the blood on the steps is still wet. She just sits there, atop the steps, in shock, as the episode flashes back briefly to her screaming for help before it cuts right to the title card. What follows is the unfortunate side effect of the way people grieving differently. While Elizabeth clearly needs to be surrounded by family and friends right now, Rosalee focuses on work — even though she’s got a lot of involuntary crying going on during this episode — instead of being there for… well, Elizabeth is technically her aunt. Not even technically; Elizabeth is Rosalee’s aunt. Elizabeth even later points out in the episode how Rosalee is the only family John has left, and she won’t even make it to the funeral. They do have a moment, when Rosalee allows Elizabeth to vent about things, but it’s fleeting. “I keep thinking about children,” Elizabeth tells Rosalee. “For so long, not being able to have any was like an open wound. A pain in my entire body.” She assumed the work helping runaway slaves would help close that wound, but now she can’t help but think that if they’d had a child, she’d at least have something left of John. Now what does she have?
Rosalee doesn’t stay behind to help her answer that question, because since there’s still no answer as to who shot John, it’s possible that whoever killed him knows their house is a station. That’s why she wants to move the “cargo” immediately, even though it’s not all that safe right now and Elizabeth needs her. Elizabeth only learns that Rosalee’s even leaving via telegram, and Rosalee asks Georgia to say sorry for her. It’s all one big mess. In Rosalee’s defense (at least regarding the safety aspect), it all would have been safer if Patty Cannon’s gang hadn’t gotten word on Harriet Tubman’s usual stops.
“Moses will find a way,” Rosalee says of Harriet. And she’s right, though it’s not the way Rosalee imagines. While we learn that Harriet’s got the “makings” of a plan, the plan doesn’t actually come to fruition until she has one of her rumored “spells,” during which she has a vision. A waking Harriet tells them both that “the plan has changed,” and now, it’s Rosalee who will transport the “cargo” up North — three men — all on her own. She’s done the trip with Harriet before, but this is a whole other ballgame. Especially with three men who question her every decision — especially Poe (Dijon Talton), to the point where it’s surprising he doesn’t derail the whole thing — and Patty Cannon and her gang of slave catchers eventually on their tails. Luckily, she has Harriet’s words in her head the whole time, telling her to follow her instincts (she does, which saves them from slave catchers) and that she’ll be triumphant. “Focus on what you got to do now,” Harriet tells her. So that’s exactly what Rosalee does.
Unfortunately for Elizabeth, it’s not as easy to just go with the flow of a pep talk. If it were, then Georgia’s work here would be so much easier, especially since she gets Elizabeth to stay at her boarding house to get away from home (and the responsibilities of funeral planning). Georgia tells her that “staying busy and being around a lot of people helps,” but since Rosalee left the night before, she won’t even be around her own family. Georgia tries to make excuses for Rosalee (as promised), saying it was all possibly “too much for her,” and while Elizabeth understands that “everybody grieves in their own way,” she’s also understandably upset about all of this.
Valentine (Neko Parham), the runaway slave Harriet and Rosalee haggled for in the season premiere, is still around, hiding away at the boarding house himself, and he too offers his condolences to Elizabeth. Yes, even someone who just met Elizabeth and John last week is doing a better job to console the former about the latter’s death than Rosalee is. As Elizabeth sits alone at night in the boarding house, just staring at a mirror, Valentine approaches her (in John’s clothes, which Elizabeth gave them to him), trying to help her make sense of it all. Except his tactic is more about how you can’t make sense of any of it: “You know what I realized? Ain’t no sense to this world. There be the bad. There be the good too. Look at me. I’m almost to freedom. Wearing a good man’s suit. Just gotta have a little faith that things will be alright.”
It’s a fine speech, but all Elizabeth takes from it is the decision to take a gun from one of the hidden compartments in the boarding house, right behind that mirror she was staring at. The next day, she finds herself outside the courthouse in an amazing black ensemble, clutching her (of course) black purse that’s holding the gun. John Hawkes’ dried blood is still visible on the steps, and you just know Elizabeth is going to do something stupid. So does Georgia, which is why she shows up to try to stop Elizabeth, but for the first half of Georgia’s attempt, Elizabeth is so out of it she can’t even hear a word her friend is saying. Georgia tries to tell Elizabeth that they can “conquer it all together” — the funeral planning, but really, the grief process — if they just leave together right now, but Elizabeth is having none of it.
“That’s what I loved about [John]: He really believed he could make a difference. He devoted his life to this place and not one goddamn person cares about getting justice for his murder. A good man, the best man, was shot in broad daylight and everybody’s calling it ‘a senseless act.’ It’s just— it’s just an excuse. So nobody has to take responsibility for allowing this world to be senseless.”
She even uses Georgia’s own sewing circle words against her: “You said it. We have to disrupt their happy little lives.” But terrorism isn’t what Georgia meant, and she even admits that this wouldn’t be justice. “It won’t make anything good or fair… You wouldn’t be doing it for John, you’d be doing it for yourself.” Elizabeth tells Georgia to just go and leave her alone, but good friend that she is, she doesn’t, and Elizabeth ends up leaving with her and finally preparing for the funeral.
At the Roe Plantation, Ernestine continues to grieve by dissociating from everyone and everything. Well maybe not everyone, as she’s still with her abusive boyfriend Hicks (Robert Christopher Riley). This time around, he’s in one of his “good” moods, apologizing for hitting her. “I ain’t mean to hurt you. You know that, right?… I would do anything for you. I know you feel the same.” Ernestine accepts his apology, but that’s because she’s simply too high not to. And it’s because of this constant high that she sees her next ghost, her dead husband French (Jordane Christie). While the ghost of Pearly Mae told Ernestine to just kill herself, the ghost of French calls out Ernestine’s choices after his death, both as a mother and a woman. “You let your heart go cold. [Sam] felt it.” Then, according to French’s ghost, that’s when she set her eyes on the big house and only showed love when she could get something in return. Here, in her relationship with Hicks, it’s a constant high.
Because of this high, and the fact that she’s just so far gone in terms of giving up on everything, she doesn’t even bat an eyelash at Hicks telling her about a girl, Clara (DeWanda Wise), who will need her help — help with an abortion because he impregnated her. Clara approaches Ernestine in the field, trying to spark up conversation about how she only slept with Hicks once, how he’s not “the fathering type,” and how she doesn’t want to be judged by the rest of the slaves, only to then talk herself into having the baby due to an “it takes a village” mentality. But proving just how terrible of a man he is, Hicks forces her to drink the abortion concoction that he had Ernestine make for her, not caring at all about all the blood loss Clara will experience. Everyone grieves in their own way, so you can guess what Ernestine does here.
Noah, on the other hand, isn’t in the grieving business. In fact, after the absolute depression of Ernestine’s story this week, Noah brings something akin to fun to this episode. He’s is basically in that “nothing left to lose” stage in his life, so now he’s really brazen and downright snarky when it comes to dealing with his kidnappers from the season premiere. When we run into him, he’s chained up with a bag on his head and being transported in the back of a wagon, though he’s able to pick the lock and check out his surrounding, only putting the lock and bag back on once he hears the wagon slow down. He then even convinces one of the captors (they appear to be Scottish, speaking Gaelic to each other) to take off his bag, allowing him to see the moss and sun, giving him a sense of where he is and which direction he should go when he runs. Once he ends up back in the wagon, he’s able to break and make a run for it… though of course he gets captured again. And so begins the snarkiest version of Noah we’ve seen yet, as he quips: “Hey guys. Sorry, wagon was a little cramped, so I stopped to stretch my legs.”
He ends up punched in the face for that, but the two captors are scolded (in English) by a distinguished man in a carriage before they’re forced to fix the wagon themselves. Noah keeps his mouth running, pointing out how neither man can fix the wagon it took him three days and three nights to destroy, and just when they think they get the upper hand on him — taking his engagement ring and calling him an “idiot” for not escaping prison in those five months — Noah makes it clear that he’s a “patient” man who just wants to get back to the people he cares about “no matter what.” He even threatens to get his ring back the second he gets out of his chains. Fast forward to their final destination and Noah immediately gets out of his chains, puts a gun to the distinguished man’s neck, and gets his ring back, as promised. The thing is, that man isn’t the “master,” like Noah is. Cato is. Yep, Cato’s calling the shots. How? It looks like we’ll just have to wait and see.
Enter the new Patty Cannon (Sadie Stratton). Her official introduction here is in her sexual relations with one of her slave catchers, but that’s cut short by a meeting with a Mr. Elden Donahue (Michael Trotter), an author she wants record her legacy. Donahue’s somewhat impressed by Patty’s backstory, as she’s the “daughter of an English nobleman and the American whore he laid with” — yes, so charming — as well as “one of the most notorious slave catchers out there.” The problem is, she has yet to catch “the most notorious runaway” slave, Harriet Tubman. So in case you’re wondering if Patty Cannon is going to be driven by ego this season, Donahue’s next question should answer that: “Why shouldn’t I be writing the book about her?” Well he’s not wrong, especially since Patty proceeds to treat the prospect of a book about her as a fluff piece; she so very clearly thinks she’s so cool, telling Donahue how her operation runs, but he’s just as quick to say he doesn’t need the commentary. He can observe it all himself… if he even chooses to actually work with her on this book. This blow to her ego causes her to take out her anger on one of her slave catchers, Jack (Cullen Moss), but Jack ends up having details on where Harriet Tubman might be. Yes, Junk from One Tree Hill gives good intel on where Harriet Tubman just might be. And that takes us right back to the cabin where Patty Cannon and her men were waiting for Harriet and “got” Rosalee (whom the hostage says they call “the Black Rose”) instead.
With everyone so separate this season, it’s quickly become apparent that some story lines are going to be a lot more interesting than others as the weeks go by, and some might be hampered by this ensemble growing by the week. Daniel’s scenes at the beginning of the episodes are short but compelling, even though they seemingly have nothing to do with the rest of the characters right now. This week is absolutely Elizabeth’s episode, and it’s honestly a bit frustrating every time the episode moves on to someone else, as Jessica De Gouw truly sells Elizabeth’s grief as this captivating whirlwind. Ernestine’s misery, on the other hand, is just that — misery — and it’s a lot to take, even if it’s just one segment of the episode, and the lack of Pearly Mae’s ghost this week makes for a bit of a downturn in the plot. While it is fun to watch Noah get the upper hand here, his current designation as the series’ Odysseus makes him come across almost like an invincible superhero in this episode, only stopped from returning to his beloved by certain plot contrivances. As for his other half, it is great to see Rosalee also thrive by herself this week, but at the same time, it’s quite frustrating to see her do so during Elizabeth’s time of need.
Then the question of whether or not Patty Cannon’s hunt for Harriet Tubman will be as compelling August’s hunt for the Macon 7 in the first season, especially since the recasting of the character (Brigid Brannagh fantastically played her in the season 1 finale) already makes it an uphill battle.
By the way, it’s a good thing Harriet had a vision telling her not to make the trek up north. Yes, it sucks for Rosalee, but it could have been a lot worse for Harriet. On the plus side, Rosalee does end up directing the “cargo” to safety and onto the riverboat waiting for them, the inspiring words of Harriet ringing in her head taking over. Until she’s shot by Patty Cannon, that is, and falls into the river. Patty wants her “Black Rose,” since she will supposedly lead the way to Harriet Tubman, but as the episode ends, Rosalee isn’t caught (yet). She is, however, shot in the arm… and also very pregnant. Well, that certainly explains all the involuntary crying.