Warning: This contains spoilers for Episodes 5 and 6. Still catching up on Hap and Leonard? Head this way for our spoiler-free review of Season 2’s opening episodes.
“In the end, it’s always me and you,” says Leonard (Michael Kenneth Williams) to Hap (James Purefoy) at the end of Season 2 of Hap and Leonard – and while it might seem like they’re restating the obvious, it’s a sentiment that bears repeating, because it’s wonderfully, compellingly true. They’re a double-act who are fun to spend time with because they have so much fun spending time with each other. They go together like bangers and mash. Danny and Sandra Dee. Or, as Leonard puts it, “like the Lone Ranger and Tonto”.
Before this second season is out, they even manage an escape on horseback, the kind of daft flourish that simply wouldn’t happen on any other drama in 2017. That’s the other thing that remains wonderfully, compellingly true: there’s nothing else out there right now like Hap and Leonard. In an era of binge-watch box sets that run for countless episodes and multiple seasons, SundanceTV’s take on Joe Lansdale’s novels are grippingly concise and gloriously slow: at six episodes a pop, each mini-series is just short enough to keep your attention hooked but just long enough to wallow in the atmosphere. And find room for a horse. It really is like dipping into a pulpy, old-fashioned paperback: dive in and it can easily swallow a long afternoon.
That pacing, for the first time, almost seems to be misjudged when we reach Episode 5, which wraps up the central mystery of the dead children in apparently record time. But that’s to doubt what showrunner John Wirth and the writing team have in store.
The penultimate chapter rapidly delivers its big reveal: that everyone’s favourite boxing vicar, Reverend Fitzgerald, is behind the murders. It’s a discovery that is stuffed with meaty dialogue and served up with just the right amount of cheese. “A heathen wouldn’t understand,” he spits at Hap, before explaining his irrational motivation: “Them boys were lost to the Lord, on the road to damnation, so we sent them home.” Leonard, of course, pipes up to put him straight with four carefully chosen words: “That’s some crazy shit.” The police then turn up with Florida, prompting Fitzgerald to shoot himself in the face. Or, more accurately, shoot half of his face off.
It’s a graphic, sudden moment that’s over in the blink of an eye. Even TJ, who turns out to be Fitzgerald’s manipulated sidekick (after kidnapping Ivan from the carnival – “He’s gonna be in heaven real soon…”), ends up shot by the detectives arriving on the scene. But for all of that accelerated shock, it’s typical of Hap and Leonard that the show’s revelation should be filled with sadness rather than adrenaline-fuelled surprise. The fact that it’s a white cop who shoots TJ dead – TJ, who thought he was doing a good thing by creating angels and is, in many ways, an innocent – only adds to the layers of a politically charged season, one that has charted racism, both institutionalised and otherwise, in America’s past with an understanding of its continuing echo today. “That boy should never have picked up that gun,” says the detective. “He never should have been black,” replies Leonard, simply. It could just be a gun-toting period crime thriller, but Hap and Leonard’s finale packs a punch precisely because it bothers to weave such depth into its fabric.
Just look at the way Hap talks about the case, which he views as “probably the most important thing” he’s done in his life. A melancholy figure given beautiful pathos by James Purefoy, even this hulking lunk of a man can tell that he’s treading on issues that are bigger than him. It’s that, not just his longing for redemption, which leads him and Leonard not to tell the police the moment they figure the case out. Ever since Leonard’s arrest at the season’s open, it’s been clear that the authorities are not on their side. The impact this knowledge has upon Hap can be seen in the way that his former lover, Judy (a contortionist – something milked by Bonnie Morgan for every disturbing, amusing, arousing possibility in only a few minutes of screen-time), reacts to his unexpectedly mature determination to do something right.
The impact these events have had upon Leonard are equally evident, as Williams refines his already brilliant ability to be simultaneously tough and tender, a balance heightened by his chemistry with young Ivan – who, of course, disobeys his instructions to avoid the carnival and runs straight into danger. His relationship with MeMaw (the scene-stealing Irma P. Hall) brings even more power for these episodes, as she ends up passing away, racked with guilt over her inability to stop the Reverend from taking those missing children for all them years.
A packed Episode 5 clears the path for the final instalment to follow one last, loose thread: what happened to BB. And, inevitably, Hap and Leonard head to Sheriff Valentine to point the accusing finger. Brian Dennehy remains deliciously despicable as the corrupt man of the law, as racist as he is wont to tamper with the evidence surrounding BB’s death. But the truth again skews sadder than your typical genre tale, as Valentine reveals to the men that BB was his son. That this unexpected father secretly loved his “best boy” was the reason for BB’s death, as official son Beau hit back at the illegitimate brother who stole his father’s affections from him. Hap and Leonard can only stand to one side and watch, as the dad and son confront each other, the heartbroken Sheriff ultimately pushing Beau to his death in an empty swimming pool, his head bleeding out into the drain.
It could be an anti-climax, after Episode 5, but it’s an ending that places themes of fatherhood, family and race over body counts and gore – and it’s all the better for it. Beau and the Sheriff’s heated conversation is one of the longer scenes in the episode, a reminder of what spreading the story’s conclusion over two chapters means: breathing space, not just for Hap and Leonard, but for all the supporting cast members to inhale and exhale the nuance of their characters.
Indeed, it’s not even with this last death that the show ends, as we still take the time to see Hap rejected by Florida (she always saw herself with a black man) and Leonard left by Ivan, as his dad turns up to take him back home (Leonard, in an unspoken gesture of moving affection, gives Ivan his hat). These are moments that contrast with the jokes of earlier, when Leonard found himself trapped in a circus trailer with excitable bodybuilder Brick, but they don’t feel jarring or disconnected: filtered through their friendship, Hap and Leonard’s screenplay makes every twist and shift in tone feel like an organic extension of their characters: eccentric, sinister, sweet and faintly poignant.
As MeMaw and the spirits of BB and the other children gaze out from behind the old church fence at a sunlit sky, that optimism and closure is just as visible on Hap and Leonard’s faces, as they saddle up in their freshly-painted truck to drive off for a third season. There is still much darkness to explore, as the closing shot of a noose hanging from a tree teases (recalling the striking openings of early episodes), but there’s something reassuring in knowing that Hap and Leonard will be there to face it together. “like the Lone Ranger and Tonto,” smiles Leonard. Hap pauses. “How come I’m Tonto?”
Hap and Leonard Season 1 and 2 are available to watch online in the UK exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.