Hap and Leonard Season 3 Episode 3: T-Bone Mambo Review

Hap and Leonard ups the stakes with the strongest episode of the season so far.

This Hap and Leonard review contains spoilers.

Hap and Leonard Season 3 Episode 3

“T-Bone Mambo” is the kind of hour of television that SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard does so well, serving up drama and dread and anxiety with a healthy dose of social awareness. John Wirth’s script and Abe Sylvia’s direction certainly put Purefoy and Williams through the wringer. Corbin Bernsen and Louis Gossett, Jr. aren’t immune either; they’re put through their paces with performances that run the gamut from hostile to humorous to heartbroken—sometimes all within the span of a single scene. And to single out just one scene as the episode’s best would do a disservice to “T-Bone Mambo” as a whole. There are several standout moments, which, oddly enough, occur when Hap and Leonard are apart. 

Hap’s encounter with Truman Brown in particular is an emotionally powerful scene—wish fulfillment of a different kind, in a way. But more on this face-to-face in a bit. In the meantime, I want to discuss Hap’s confrontation with Chief Cantuck. Because that’s what their second encounter is—less than a meeting of minds than it is a verbal sparring match. How could either man possibly be wrong if both men believe they’re right? Both Purefoy and Bernsen light up the screen with explosive righteousness. But it’s Purefoy who ultimately steals this scene as Hap’s anger and frustration reach a boiling point. Florida can’t be dead if he believes strongly enough that she is alive. It’s too soon to know if this is willfulness masquerading as denial—but I’d like to think she’s still alive.

But to get to Florida, Hap has to contend with Grovetown’s real local law enforcement, and it’s not Chief Cantuck. The Klan’s influence can be felt throughout Grovetown. To the majority of residents, the Klan is like kin (if not actual kin). But for Hap and especially Leonard, the threat of violence is palpable. But up to this point, the danger has been largely nebulous, manifesting itself behind too-wide smiles or angry insinuations.

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But this all changes when Officer Reynolds (who believes she’s part of the change she wishes to see in the world) delivers Hap directly into the dragon’s lair. Here we meet Truman Brown (Pat Healy, soft-spoken but menacing), who finally puts a face to Grovetown’s white supremacy. A lot rests on this moment—for the episode, for the season, and for Hap and Leonard in general. This is a show that often trucks in graphic violence and ugly thinking. But Hap and Leonard is also wont to wear its heart on its sleeve as it explores the darker side of human nature. In Hap’s worldview, we’re all in this together—every last one of us. But for people like Truman Brown, only people like Truman Brown are in this together.

Of course, this only spurs Hap on to stir up the hornet’s nest. But watching him sass Mr. Brown and his cohorts isn’t nearly as satisfying or cathartic as the Main Street beatdown we witnessed last week. This time, we’re watching a man—a noble, well-intentioned man—killing himself with words and the weight of his own righteous anger. So in the place of catharsis, there’s dread. 

There’s one exchange in particular that’s absolutely heartbreaking. Well, it’s not so much an exchange as it is a chilling clash of ideologies. We’ve certainly gotten enough of this in our national headlines as our country continues to mire itself in hateful rhetoric. So any kind of catharsis is welcome—and this scene finally delivers.  “These people actually think they deserve to eat, sleep, shit and shop where we do,” Brown informs Hap. “Now you believe that?”

So when Hap, whose love transcends race, tells this bloodied arbiter of hate, “I can’t believe you don’t,” it’s hard not to feel some sort of small victory in the face of overwhelming odds. And it’s moments like this that drive home why we so desperately need a show like this, to give voice to the frustration so many of us feel. But racism can’t be solved by one man, much less a white man. The color of Hap’s skin affords him a kind of Yuletide clemency that would never be afforded to someone from Grovetown’s south side. It’s the same kind of reprieve he experiences from Officer Reynolds and Chief Cantuck; Hap may not share their beliefs, but he shares more than a passing resemblance to Grovetown’s ruling class.

We don’t get as much Leonard this episode, but that doesn’t mean Michael Kenneth Williams doesn’t make the most of his screentime. Leonard isn’t much for self-reflection, but watching him being taken to task by his younger, more vital self is nevertheless incredibly potent. Leonard isn’t the man he used to be—raw, vital, fearless. He’s battled back at a world that would just as soon see him dead. The decorated soldier who fought for his country would never be cowed into hiding.

“T-Bone Mambo” uses Louis Gossett, Jr’s Bacon to great effect as a counterpoint to this younger spectre. Like Leonard, Bacon is no pushover. Indeed, it’s exhilarating to see him stand toe to toe with Leonard. They’ve both killed for country, even as their country seems intent on killing them now that their military service is over. So, suffice it to say, both men understand what they’re up against—in Grovetown and in the world beyond its borders.

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But whereas Leonard’s impulse is to let his guns do the talking, Bacon is more like Hap when it comes to settling disputes. “Why does it always have to be a fight in order to solve a problem?” Bacon asks Leonard. “Son, I learned a long time ago you can solve more problems without pulling the trigger.” And yet as the show cuts back to the present in LaBorde, we know something so dark and terrible has occurred that Hap has taken up arms against an encroaching evil. Whatever has scarred Hap and Leonard runs deeper than their broken, battered bodies. And confronting that evil may only be solved with a hail of gunfire.

Some closing thoughts

While en route to Grovetown, Detective Hanson runs off the road into a ditch as the devil looks on. We’re left to ponder the image of hellfire in the trees as his car horn assails the darkness. But is Hanson really down for the count?

As entertaining as Leonard’s houseguests might be, it’s easy to see how they might soon become cannon fodder in the inevitable bloody showdown.


5 out of 5