“This isn’t personal. It’s sacrifice.”
This is Trudy’s episode in more than name only. Hendricks really gets to shine here, her face encompassing regret, loss, and her shaken faith in something greater than herself. She talked Hap into walking into prison for a cause, while she remained free as a bird. And as Leonard predicted, her reappearance was no coincidence, and a harbinger of bad news for Hap Collins.
She tells him she needs to believe in something—a cause. In the ‘80s, that was bad news. The rest of the flower children had already shucked their madras shirts for Brooks Brothers suits and sold out to corporate America. And, we soon learn that Howard and his crew aren’t very different. They plan to use the money to buy cocaine and sell it to rich folks to fund their revolution, like Robin Hood meets Captain America from Easy Rider.
Leonard’s got their number. Paco of “The Mechanics” is the only one who did anything except smoke weed and quote Marx in the ‘60s. Chub, Howard, and even Trudy are walking disasters waiting to happen, all heart and no brains. Why did Hap and Leonard fall into their trap? Because deep down, Hap’s a romantic—a Don Quixote—and Leonard ain’t a Sancho Panza, but a foulmouthed warrior who’ll follow his best friend to hell and make sure he gets back.
We see Trudy’s heart of gold is more like plated steel in the opening scene. Hap’s pet parakeet is chirping its head off, and she puts it out of her misery. At least, that’s how I read the scene. She keeps the empty cage as a reminder of her act, an early signpost on the long, troubled road she walks. And this time, we get the feeling that she won’t walk away clean like she has before.
It’s not all foreboding; the Hippie Crusaders duct tape Hap and Leonard to a porch chair, and our dauntless heroes make a comical near escape. The show’s great pleasure is watching Purefoy and Williams play off each other. After they are caught and tied up tighter, Hap says his nose itches.
“I don’t care,” Leonard says without a beat.
They’ve been smack-talking each other for a long time. The levity is a blessing, because we know the drug deal can’t end well.
It falls apart before it even begins. Howard and Trudy decide to hide the cash and bring a “deposit,” instead of the full amount. It’s their first rodeo, and it shows. Howard puts on a good show with his John Lennon specs and guru ponytail, but as soon as things get tense, the façade crumbles. And our stomachs twist when they roll into an abandoned factory and we see who the dealers are.
Soldier and Angel.
Bill Sage, who plays Howard, said that this season is about “the ‘80s killing the ‘60s.” And seeing jumpy Soldier with his yuppie haircut and suit, Angel looking like she walked out of a Patrick Nagel painting, we know who “the ‘80s” are.
It’s easy to make us hate a villain if you cheat by having him kick some puppies. It’s considerably more difficult to give someone a brain full of spider webs and razorblades, which is the vibe Soldier gives off.
Needless to say, he is not pleased that they don’t have the cash. I’ve seen plenty of psychopaths portrayed on screen, and they usually come off like they’re aping a cold killer from a spaghetti western or serial killer flick. Jimmi Simpson’s Soldier burns up the screen with energy, and he’s one of the few recent villains who has kept me on the edge of my seat.
Like Anton Chigurh on cocaine, Soldier and Angel are personifications of death. The episode’s third act is brutal and bloody, and feels like it’s only the beginning of a spree killing we won’t soon forget. Hap, Leonard, and the hippies are crushed into the VW minibus with the psycho killers at the wheel, heading back to Leonard’s house for the cash, when they are stopped by two policemen.
We know what has to happen, and the tension is ratcheted to just the right degree. In the age of Tarantino bloodbaths and shaky “realistic” battle sequences that mimic cell phone reporting, a stone cold killing still has the power to shock when in the right hands. Joe Lansdale has always written scenes of violence that ring true to anyone who’s been unfortunate enough to experience them, with none of the showiness and cinematic ballet required to please jaded poseurs.
It’s a bad day to be a bird.
Thomas Pluck is the author of the World War II action thriller Blade of Dishonor, Steel Heart: 10 Tales of Crime and Suspense, and Hot Rod Heart: A Noir Novelette. He is also the editor of the anthology Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT and hosts Noir at the Bar in Manhattan. His work has appeared in The Utne Reader, PANK Magazine, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Hardboiled, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Crimespree, and numerous anthologies, including Dark City Lights, edited by Lawrence Block. You can find him online and on Twitter as @thomaspluck.
Read all of Thomas Pluck's articles for Criminal Element.