This Hap and Leonard review contains spoilers.
Hap and Leonard: Season 1 Episode 5
It’s amazing how a season that started so simply and so quietly with two friends picking roses could have escalated to the tense, blood-soaked dread of season one’s penultimate episode, “War.” I’ve watched my fill of violent entertainment over the years, so one would think I’d be numb to what happens in this one hour of television. I wasn’t. This says less for my tolerance for the Tarantino levels of blood and violence in this episode and more about how skillful Hap and Leonard’s creators are in making us care about these poor saps.
“War” picks up where last week’s “Trudy” left off, throwing us right back into Hap and company being held at gunpoint by Soldier and Angel. Chub is dead, and Howard is wounded, so we know the stakes are already high. The show continues to raise the stakes when it turns out the rest of the recovered money is not where Howard claims it was. From that point, things turn ugly very, very fast. Brutality for its own sake is one thing, but torture takes things to a whole other level. Soldier has brought the war to these aging pacifists, yes, but it turns out to be a war of wills with Trudy.
We saw how strong-willed Trudy could be last week, when she refused to back down from Soldier’s taunts and barbed insights. The dime-store analysis continues, cutting through everyone like a hot knife through butter. This only seems to steel Trudy’s resolve not to reveal where she’s hidden the money. There were many times throughout the episode when I thought Soldier would simply shoot her and be done with it. Instead, he offers her a way out and a chance at a new life—if she’ll only tell him where the missing money is. She throws the offer back in his face, much to Soldier’s chagrin—and Hap’s horror. More than once Hap begs Trudy to give Soldier what he wants, to capitulate to The Man, as it were. But Trudy remains committed to her ideals, literally martyring herself as a nail is driven through her hand. This isn’t so much heavy-handed symbolism as it is a way of showing how doggedly she believes in saving the world from itself.
Howard, however, isn’t nearly as selfless or principled. He understands that hurting Hap is the way you hurt Trudy. And it’s here that things really get ugly as Howard turns his back on his ideals to save his own skin. For him, this isn’t a betrayal, it’s about survival—even at the cost of another person’s life. But in the end Howard is expendable, another body left cooling on the ground. Paco is expendable, too, brought down by Trudy in a brutal, knockdown fight that costs him his eye before he literally goes down in flames.
Angel, however, is not some random pawn. She and Soldier are in it to win it—up until she gets a crossbow bolt through her neck. And it’s here, in one of his quieter moments, that Soldier is most terrifying. His tenderness as he cradles Angel in what looks to be her final moments doesn’t humanize him; his depth and compassion only make his other cruelties more monstrous.
And speaking of compassion, it’s no surprise (except maybe to Leonard) that Hap can’t leave Trudy behind to die. Leonard is right when he tells Hap that Trudy is responsible for bringing this world of pain down upon them all. I’ll be honest, at this point I wanted Hap and Leonard to keep running, but I understand and appreciate that Hap simply isn’t the kind of man to leave someone behind—especially not Trudy. Of course, this doesn’t stop her from leaving Hap and Leonard in the lurch yet again as she speeds off in the VW bus. We’ve been down this road before with Trudy—literally, figuratively.
But she’ll be back. Trudy Fawst always comes back. That being said, given the action and tension of “War,” I can only imagine how intense next week’s finale will be.
Some closing thoughts:
At one point Soldier pops in a cassette tape that sends Electronica music blaring through Leonard’s home. It’s easy to imagine how this must sound like noise to these Folk and Country-loving hippies. But this shift in music represents a shift in culture from grassroots causes of the ’60s and ’70s to the more synthetic, emotionally bereft Me Generation of the ’80s.
“Don’t be smart, fellas,” Paco warns Hap and Leonard at another point in the episode. “Dumb suits you much better.” There’s a lot of truth to this statement, in the sense that people like Hap and Leonard can really only hope to better themselves by coming into money. This doesn’t mean they’re unintelligent, it just means they’ve been held back by meager bank accounts.
Soldier makes a passing reference to the movie Warriors. You’ve gotta love this guy—even if he is a murdering psychopath.