This Hap and Leonard review contains spoilers.
Hap and Leonard Season 2 Episode 6
Right off the bat, I want to say how much I enjoyed this season of SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard. There’s a tremendous amount of talent involved, both on screen and off. This is not some slapdash enterprise, simply going through the motions as it chews through one genre trope after another. Rather, Hap and Leonard is a crime show with heart, a story of friendship packaged as a twisting, turning whodunit.
But the show is also a time capsule of sorts, a throwback to a time before the internet, before cell phones, and to a time when matters of race and gender were far less nuanced. So it seems only fitting that a season that began so boldly and audaciously with a lynching would choose to close on an image of a noose dangling from a tree as if it were just a random swing in someone’s front yard. But more on that in a bit.
While it seemed as though this season prematurely drew to a close with major revelations and three deaths in last week’s “Pie a la Mojo,” there was still the matter of unearthing who murdered little BB. As is this genre’s wont, there is a fair bit of misdirection that points a finger at Sheriff Valentine, a racist cop who not only had it in for Leonard, he also tampered with evidence in BB’s case. The show walks a fine line in this regard, first by casting a heavy like Brian Dennehy as the sheriff. And second, by making him so shady and suspicious that he couldn’t possibly be BB’s killer. Still, that doesn’t stop Hap and Leonard from seeing what they want to see in circumstantial evidence, following a trail back to the man who they already believe in their hearts to be guilty. In the end, they’re no better than Hanson and Blank, who were on a similar witch hunt for Leonard.
And speaking of Blank, he’s still wrestling with TJ’s death. He tries to rationalize his pulling the trigger by blaming the victim. “That boy should’ve never have picked up that shotgun,” Blank insists. But Leonard isn’t about to let Blank off the hook. “That boy should’ve never have been black,” he says. “Had he been white, he would’ve been in the hospital with a hole in his knee.” There is a terrible resonance to these words, for all the truth they hold. Leonard Pine is the furthest thing from a social justice warrior; as a disenfranchised black man, he’s simply telling it like it is. This is also Hap and Leonard telling it like it is, as it’s done throughout the entirety of this season.
“No Mo’ Mojo” in particular further contemplates matters of race by explaining what went wrong between Hap and Florida. “Why didn’t it work?” Hap asks her in their final scene together. Tiffany Mack does a fine job of walking the fine line between compassion and heartbreak. Still, it’s difficult not to despise her, just a little bit, for giving up on Hap because of the color of his skin. It’s just as difficult not to despise Hap, just a little bit, not only for wearing his heart on his sleeve, but for needing her more than she needs him. She can barely look him in the eye as she grinds his battered pride into the dust, praising his good qualities even though he will never have the home field advantage Hanson has. Still, Hap’s a gentleman; he’s grateful for finding love and affection where once there was none. In this moment, it’s almost impossible to separate Purefoy from Hap Collins.
It’s likewise difficult to separate Michael K. Williams from Leonard Pine in his final scene with young Ivan, whose father has come to collect his wayward son. Here we see Leonard at his most vulnerable, as he’s suddenly faced with losing someone he never thought he could care about. We see the measure of Leonard’s influence on Ivan, who’s finally read—and liked—Huckleberry Finn. I was surprised Leonard didn’t tell him to keep the book, but then he does one better by giving his hat to Ivan. It’s a sentimental gesture from someone who tries hard to bury his feelings. In light of this, that Ivan’s dad would offer Leonard money for his troubles seems almost crass. Ivan returning home is in itself a just reward. Bravo to Williams for showing so much vulnerability in this scene.
Dennehy brings a lot to his role as Valentine, presenting us with a man who is by turns guarded, avuncular, intimidating, and brokenhearted. As I mentioned before, Hap and Leonard think they have him all figured out, that he’s BB’s killer. Instead, in a fine twist, we learn that not only is Miriam his lover, but that little BB is Valentine’s son. He loved his best boy, even if he could never claim him as his own.
One could argue that Valentine is the victim of the very prejudices he and his men enforce on a routine basis, that his talk of a community’s collective loss and the need for healing are nothing but empty platitudes wrapped in hypocrisy. That Beau is revealed to be the actual killer makes sense. BB may have been his brother, but he was also the apple of their father’s eye. Beau’s death is the only violence in this hour, a far cry from last season’s violent, blood-soaked finale. “No Mo’ Mojo” is still a powerful hour of television, a fitting end to a strong second season that chose introspection over destruction. The restless spirits, including little BB and MeMaw, have finally found peace, now that long-awaited justice has been served.
But, of course, with that final, lingering image of the noose dangling from the Klansman’s tree, we know that Hap and Leonard isn’t done examining issues of race. As of this writing, the show still has yet to be renewed for a third season. I sincerely hope that SundanceTV sees what a valued property it has in these characters and in this world created by Joe R. Lansdale and brought so ably to life by the show’s cast and crew. Not renewing this show would be the biggest crime of all.