Warning: This contains spoilers for Episodes 3 and 4. Still catching up on Hap and Leonard? Head this way for our spoiler-free review of Season 2’s opening episodes.
“I don’t mind colouring outside the lines. It’s just gotta be on my terms.” That’s Florida in Hap and Leonard’s second season, a figure of justice and honesty in a system that doesn’t value either of those things. It was immediately clear that Season 2 of this achingly good series was aiming much higher than its already excellent first run, introducing a story of missing black children in Cooperstown – children who disappeared years ago, only for nobody in power to care.
Hap and Leonard’s investigation into the mystery, after they found the dead body of BB underneath Leonard’s Uncle Chester’s house has already put them in conflict with the law, brushing up against racism, prejudice and police brutality – all themes that resonate strongly today. But what makes Nick Damici and Jim Mickle’s adaptation of Joe Lansdale’s writing so good is that while the show extends its scope outward to big, important themes, it also zooms inwards to explore the depths of its characters.
Hap and Leonard, we know well enough, are the kind of friends who can never be parted, but Season 2 still finds fresh ways of examining and appreciating that brotherly bond. The opening episodes teased us with the idea of them being separated, but it’s no surprise that Leonard should be freed from jail almost immediately, because these men belong together, and only really make sense when united – as a dreamy opening to Episode 4 (which sees a young Hap and Leonard speaking as old Hap and Leonard on a carnival ride) puts it, if Hap had a good idea, it’d die of loneliness.
That intro to the episode (only topped by the jaw-dropping horror of Episode 3’s prologue) is a superb piece of storytelling, foreshadowing the chapter’s final reveal, but also encapsulating everything that Season 2 is doing so subtly: it’s bringing the past and present together in a way that both exposes historical corruption and reinforces the ties between our protagonists. They were thrown together as kids when they parents were hit by a car – a car that belonged to Beau Otis. He tells Florida he doesn’t think a moment about that night, that he’s not got some personal beef with Leonard, but we know that Hap, at the very least, has thought about that evening every day since.
That emotional weight only makes Hap and Leonard’s present day concerns with the judge – and his daddy, Sheriff Valentine (Brian Dennehy) – more pressing. Valentine, we later see, heads down to the morgue to tamper with the evidence from BB’s case; the cover-up of the past is still going today. We’re not the only ones witnessing that: Detectives Hanson and Blank are the ones who realise that what they’re dealing with isn’t a murder committed by Leonard after all. But that’s after four hours of them plodding through procedure with little passion or enthusiasm.
Passion is something Hap has to spare. And so it’s perhaps little surprise when he sabotages Beau’s car and drags him into the woods so that he can murder him with a tire iron. But it is a surprise: this is a disturbing crossing of a line for a man who is, essentially, kind-hearted and even, in many ways, innocent. (That Episode 4 opener, juxtaposing the naivety of the young Hap with the weariness of modern Hap) pays off in more ways than one.) Sure enough, fate intervenes and Beau, instead, has a seizure – but not before our own hearts have stopped beating for several minutes.
James Purefoy’s performance is as quietly intense as ever, and the show proves that it can use that for both nailbiting tension, in the case of Beau’s forest encounter, and brilliantly black humour. Following a lead involving Florida’s church, he ends up in a boxing match against the vicar, which is hilariously stuffed with macho aggression, despite being for charity. Whoever loses, we win for sheer awkward entertainment value.
Lenny, though, has passion to spare too – and Michael Kenneth Williams expertly draws it out of his low-key lead. That’s primarily in his interactions with young Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon), whom Leonard begrudgingly takes under his wing (watch out for the Nilla wafers he shares with Ivan when watching TV) – to the point where he goes and grabs Ivan back from nasty neighbour Melton. For one brief second, you wonder if he, too, might cross a line; this is a season that tests our duo’s resolve and morals like never before.
They’re contrasted brilliantly by Brian Dennehy, whose Sheriff Valentine is excellently repulsive. That’s even truer when he pretends to be generous to Hap, offering to brush the whole affair in the woods under the carpet – and even put Leonard out of the frame for BB’s death – if Hap agrees to keep his nose out of trouble. All that does, though, is make his casual approach to power even more loathsome; where Hap and Leonard have had to earn their place in society, Valentine’s has it laid out for him on rose petals.
That’s even emphasised by the comic relief provided by Miss Stella and her salon girls, who provide cover for Hap and Leonard when they’re being pursued by Hanson and Blank – laughs at their wonderfully sassy attitude soon disappear, as they end up listing a string of crimes that have never been solved by the police over years and years. It speaks volumes about the inequality of America, both in terms of race and class.
How fitting, then, that our two men are the ones who are making the real progress in this case – shared progress that happens even as they both track down an old church gate independently, before winding up together again. And how fitting that every time another should would deliver a revelation with a thrilling rush, Hap and Leonard does it with moving pathos: inside Old Hope Church’s crypt lie the tragic discovery of multiple caskets from over the years, containing the children who dripped out of the local community without anyone spilling a drop. Is it any wonder that nobody reported these to the police? Or that the police, if they were reported, didn’t do anything? The opening episode proved that when Leonard did so, all that happened was the system turned on him.
That sacrificial element is all part and parcel of the studiously, sumptuously sad tone: we’re watching two men not just solve a case, but also eat away at their own past angers and injustices and, if they want to get further ahead in their fight, bottle those up without erupting (or, in the case of Hap, blackmailing judges to let Leonard out on bail). Tiffany Mack’s Florida is wonderful addition to the trio, bringing humour, calm and intelligence, not to mention a convincingly warm chemistry with Purefoy’s Hap, but it’s hard to imagine a happy ending for all three of them the way things are headed.
“I know dark clouds will gather over me, I know my way my way is rough and steep,” sings Johnny Cash’s Wayfaring Stranger, as Hap and Leonard hop on a bus tour of the local area. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting choice of soundtrack.
There is some hope on the horizon, though, as Leonard realises that every child’s murder has happened on the third Saturday of October every year – a date that coincides with when the local carnival is in town. If you thought that Hap and Leonard were already outside of the lines, it looks like things are about to get a lot more colourful.
Hap and Leonard Season 1 and 2 are available to watch online in the UK exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.