This Hap and Leonard review contains spoilers.
Hap and Leonard: Season 1 Episode 4
It’s fitting that this episode would begin with a mercy killing of sorts. In this case young Hap and Trudy’s pet bird. Trudy offers it freedom, but the bird is quite happy to remain cooped up, to see its world through the bars of a cage. Freedom is relative when you don’t mind being a kept thing. But this is just too much for a younger Trudy, who herself feels trapped and alone while Hap is “making a difference” by serving two years’ time in Leavenworth. And now, by her skewed logic, it’s her time to take a stand, to change the world—by moving out west to California and filing for divorce from the very man she convinced to go to prison. This is present-day (well, 1987, at least) Trudy in a nutshell. She has lofty ideals and visions of aiding the greater good by any means necessary. Trudy is not a bad person per se, in the sense that she is desperate to finally succeed, to overcome a string of bad luck that one could argue began twenty years earlier when she left Hap.
As Trudy tells Hap in the present, she doesn’t have another failure left in her. Why else would she collude with Howard to steal away Hap and Leonard’s share of the recovered bank money? And why else would she seemingly be okay to see two otherwise innocent men restrained against their will? Trudy doesn’t love Hap or Howard, nor does she truly love herself, either. And the idea that she might use the stolen money to save the world is in itself an obvious pipe dream. Even Hap can see this, as he and Leonard stare down the wrong end of a gun. From where they sit, these would-be revolutionaries are dangerous only because of their inexperience. Howard isn’t a supervillain, after all—but he is duplicitous and a bit deluded. He believes that by becoming cocaine dealers the group can fund their world-saving mission. As Howard puts it, he wants to “use the system to beat the system to change the system.”
The others are on board with Howard’s Plan B, including Chub. Wow, poor Chub, eh? Once the group met up with Jimmi Simpson’s Soldier, it was only a matter of time before someone we cared about wound up dead. And, yes, I cared about Chub. Howard may have played at being a peacenik, but Jeff Pope gives a brilliant turn as the group’s true idealist. He’s passionate but naïve. He’s no fan of Plan B but he’s caught up in Howard’s cult of personality. I’d like to think he wasn’t so much the movement’s Achilles’ heel as he was its moral center. And in the end, it’s this binary approach to good and bad that ultimately gets him killed. I’m sad to see the little scene-stealer go.
Simpson, on the other hand, steals the entire episode with a raw, manic energy that’s by turns infectious and terrifying. This is the sort of menace that Howard only played at. Soldier is the real deal, four-eyed malevolence with evil to spare. “Trudy” is a definite change of pace from this season’s slower-paced first half. Up to this point, Hap and Leonard drifted along on its pure shaggy charm, delivering character moments that ran from introspective to quirky. There’s more of the same in this episode, especially as the narrative moves back and forth through time. But in “Trudy” the stakes are upped considerably. Not only is Soldier their possible executioner, he’s their judge, too, hurting each of his nervous captives with razor-sharp insights. Hap takes this all in stride—he wants everyone to somehow survive this violent ordeal, but Trudy and Leonard have no qualms speaking their minds.
The real surprise to me this episode wasn’t that Trudy was playing both sides against the middle by sleeping with Hap and Howard. No, the bigger deception was that the bigger double-cross came from Paco. I suppose I should have seen this coming, given that he’s the more experienced one out of the bunch. Clearly he’s comfortable with killing, whether by his own hand or by someone else’s. I for one am anxious to see what could possibly go wrong in the next episode. I’m thinking quite a lot.
Some closing thoughts:
Not covering Hap and Leonard’s mouths with duct tape may have been one of Howard’s bigger mistakes, but it’s our biggest gain as viewers. The way Hap and especially Leonard get under their captors’ thin skins is a true guilty pleasure. It’s easy to relish every slight and every insult that leaves Michael Kenneth Williams’ lips.
Pollyanna McIntosh is another standout in this episode. Her Angel is not a motormouth like Soldier, but she’s every bit as menacing and dangerous. To people like Hap and Leonard, she must seem like a walking freak show.
Seriously, Jimmi Simpson is such a great bad guy. He’s unpredictable and he’s darkly funny. It’s a killer combination, no pun intended.