This Hap and Leonard review contains spoilers.
Hap and Leonard Season 3 Episode 1
I don’t know about any of you, but I’m happy to have SundanceTV’s scruffy, dusty crime noir series Hap and Leonard back on my small screen. I’m likewise happy to see James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams back as the show’s titular duo. Over the last two seasons, we’ve watched the boys fall into and fight their way out of trouble. Whether it was a get-rich-quick scheme gone dangerously wrong or solving a cold-case murder, Hap and Leonard drew upon a combination of morality and grit to win the day. But even when victorious, they didn’t emerge unscathed. An aging pacifist and a crusty Vietnam War vet, these “black and white brothers from across the tracks,” have learned the hard way that justice for the disenfranchised comes at a steep price.
Drawing yet again from author Joe R. Lansdale’s rich source material, “The Two-Bear Mambo” is based upon the third book in the long-running crime series. In watching this first episode of the new season, with its timely take on tense race relations and gun ownership, it’s easy to forget the novel was originally published way back in 1995. But it’s this kind of timeliness that makes a show like Hap and Leonard so important. Set in the late 80s in East Texas, “Mambo” already functions somewhat as a time capsule, recreating a kind of arrested social mentality that many of us would like to think of as history. But the past is often prologue, as the old saying goes—and what’s old is new again. Last season began and ended with the Klan, and so far, “Mambo” is starting off in similar fashion.
I’ll just say right off the bat that I like the supernatural element that presents the devil to us, both in human and in warty, amphibious form. L.C. Soothe (Curtis Harding) is the kind of infamous blues guitarist who comes into said infamy the hard way—by selling his soul to the devil. In doing so, Soothe not only damns himself, he damns his fans, corrupting them one strummed chord at a time. It’s an interesting way to set up the idea of the Klan taking hold in a sleepy corner of Texas like Grovetown. Sixty years on, long after Soothe’s lynching, the Klan is still thriving in a town that’s described as “a two-hour ride but a hundred years away.”
In other words, it’s not the kind of town you visit unless you absolutely have to—and Hap soon finds that he absolutely has to do just that. While it may seem like Hap and Detective Hanson (played with just the right amount of friendly malice by Cranston Johnson) are at cross-purposes, they do have one thing in common—namely ex-lover Florida Grange (Tiffany Mack). They’re both pining for a woman who is probably too good for either of them. But the issue here isn’t wounded male pride—it’s the notion that Florida may have run into some trouble over in Grovetown. Hanson can’t go—he has too much to lose. But Hap, on the other hand? “You got nobody,” Hanson tells him matter-of-factly, an observation Hap takes in stride.
He’s got Leonard, after all—who else could he possibly need in his life? Hap has had his heart broken one too many times, reconstructing it each time even as more and more pieces of himself remain unaccounted for. Love is the last thing Hap Collins wants or needs. At least, the kind of romantic entanglement that Florida represents. You can see the lingering pain on Purefoy’s face, hear it in his weary yet hopeful delivery. Just because the man has nothing to lose doesn’t mean he hasn’t experienced loss. Later in the episode, he presents Leonard with a Christmas gift. Leonard is embarrassed by the gesture—he has nothing to give in return. Hap doesn’t miss a beat, though, telling him, “You’re the only gift I need, Leonard.”
I know I’ve said this before, in my coverage of previous seasons, but Hap and Leonard’s friendship, with its unconditional love, is the very heart and soul of this show. Without it, nothing works. We wouldn’t root for them, or cry for them, or cheer them on through thick and thin. But Purefoy and Williams have such great chemistry together that we’re in it for the long haul with these two. Sure, there’s a part of me that wants to see them fail, just a little bit, but only so I can revel in their ability to overcome adversity—together.
And as they finally head into Grovetown, with Leonard packing some serious heat in the back of Hap’s truck, we know this trip isn’t some lark. Even a quick stop at Pecan Pete’s Eats, while entertaining, hints at a racial divide simmering just below the surface of polite society. With its whitewashed streets and bright smiles, we know Grovetown harbors some dark secrets, as Hap and Leonard quickly discover for themselves.
The majority of the hour has been relatively low-key up to this point, offering up more laughs than the usual drama. But the closing image of Hap’s vandalized car, its windshield impaled by the American flag, serves up a potent metaphor for this country’s current state of affairs: We’re being immobilized by hatred.
Some closing thoughts:
Some big names have been added to the cast this season, including Louis Gossett Jr., Corbin Bernsen, and Andrew Dice Clay, among others. But we only get Clay’s Sonny Knox as a voice on an answering machine to tide us over until the next episode.
Good to see Douglas Griffin’s Charlie Blank again. He affords the episode some comic relief, even if some of it is at his expense. He may be a man of the law, but he has a soft spot for our heroes—and that goes a long way in my book.
Hap and Leonard have an interesting exchange about solving problems with firepower. “You know what guns mean,” says Hap. “They just mean more guns.” But Leonard isn’t one to back down from any kind of fight, and tells Hap, “I’d rather be judged by twelve than carried by six.”
Who’s the mysterious, bespectacled Belinda (Sydney Wease), whose opening narration tells the chilling tale of L.C. Soothe? Is she a soothsayer of sorts, damned by her knowledge of the past?
My favorite part of the episode? A flashback in which Hap and Florida reunite briefly on the dance floor as a jukebox croons. What I liked specifically about this scene is the torn hem on Hap’s sleeve as he reaches for Florida. Both his heart and his jacket have seen better days. But that won’t stop Hap from trying to find a bit of happiness, no matter how fleeting.