Hap & Leonard 1.05: “War” Episode Review

“People suck, and they want everything.”

There was a scene in Savage Season that stuck with me for a long time, and this episode brought it to life.

We’ve become accustomed to scenes of staccato violence, coming out of nowhere to slap viewers out of their comfortable middle-class lives, wondering if it could ever happen to them. We got a taste of that last episode when Chub and two policemen met their ends with quick and brutal finality. Hitchcock always preferred the ticking bomb under the table versus the bomb that goes off; one gets a big reaction, but it is all too brief. We clutch each other, and it’s over but the crying.

This episode has Angel and Soldier as sharks in the blood-chummed water, circling the characters we’ve enjoyed company with, ready to take a bite. Television hasn’t put me on the edge of my seat for a long time, but waiting for the hammer to come down—first with Trudy, then with Hap—is the closest I’ve come.

And, I knew what was about to happen—at least in the book. They can always diverge from it, but the source material here is old enough that even the fans who’ve read it might not remember exactly how it goes. In fact, I’m not entirely sure. But it feels right, and that’s what matters.

Actors Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll in blackface, as radio characters Amos & Andy
The show starts with a good gut twister; we return to Hap and his father driving in the rain, coming home from a vile minstrel show with white performers in blackface called “Roy and Shucker,” which was perfectly common for whites to go to at the time—no different than “Amos & Andy.” But, despite this, we see that Hap’s father pulls over in a rainstorm to help a black man with a broken-down truck, leaving Hap watching helplessly as a reckless driver careens through the storm toward where his daddy is under the man’s truck with a wrench. It’s a gut wrencher, and sets up the rest of the episode—that the best intentions can get you killed.

It’s not to say racists can’t be “good people,” or to absolve their behavior, but it goes back to the innocence/ignorance theme that the season has given us with the ‘60s vs. the ‘80s. Howard and his hippies are innocent, or ignorant, of how evil greed can make us—until they meet Angel and Soldier—and how that evil can become the foundation for so much pain and suffering, whether it’s drug dealers or yuppie financiers doing it.

Hap’s family in the ‘40s were ignorant of why that kind of white supremacist humor cemented the evil foundation of their own time, with lynchings, church bombings, and night-riding Klansmen. The evil becomes the air we breathe. The ignorance is so foul, we look back and call it innocence, becoming nostalgic for those times—as if not knowing we’re permitting evil around us is somehow the same as it not being there at all. It’s heavy stuff, without a single word of it being spoken by the characters, not directly at least.

Needless to say, when the gang returns to Leonard’s to dig up the barn where the money was stashed, the box is empty. Trudy moved it during the night, and that puts her on Soldier’s bad side, to say the least.

If Jimmi Simpson (Soldier) and Christina Hendricks (Trudy) aren’t nominated for an Emmy next year, the fix is in. Soldier’s frenetic dance as he takes a sixty-penny nail and a ballpeen hammer to Trudy’s splayed hand, and her face not as he drives it in, but when he threatens her with another and she slaps her hand down like a gambler with two kings telling the blackjack dealer to “hit me,” are seared into my brain. Hap and Howard know she won’t break until she’s dead.

Howard tells them to hurt Hap to get to her, showing his final weakness. Hap shows that he’s not all heart and no brains, because he tells them he knows where she buried it. She had dog mess on her shoes when she came back in that night—or at least Hap says she did.

It’s a good play. When Hap goes to dig in the dog kennel, Leonard sics his German Shepherd on Soldier’s gun arm and whacks Angel in the face with a shovel. That leaves Paco watching Trudy, with her hand nailed to the table. She stabs the nail into Paco’s one good eye and gets in a thrashing match with him in the kitchen, turning the stove on while she’s got him pinned to it, sending him running out of the house on fire.

Leonard wants to run for the woods and the police, but Hap makes them go back for Trudy.

Hap: “I’ve never seen you run from a fight.”

Leonard: “This ain’t a fight. This is war. And it won’t be over until they kill us, or we kill them.”

Hap didn’t run from the last war, but he wouldn’t kill. This time he fights.

Leonard takes a bullet and Angel gets a crossbow bolt to the throat, leaving our heroes holed up in the house, dripping blood, with a gun-wielding maniac between them and their only escape. Leonard’s hurt bad, and he’s still chained to Hap, The Defiant Ones style. That leaves Trudy to fish the keys from the pockets of Howard’s corpse (no tears lost there) and run for the VW minibus. There’s another Hitchcock-tense scene while she circles Soldier with the van. Will she crush him? Will he kill her?

It’s much worse. Trudy and the van fly off up the road, leaving Hap and Leonard in a world of hurt, and Soldier hungry for revenge.

My only complaint, so far, is that we haven’t seen Hap and Leonard kick any ass for too long. They’ve been under the gun for the last two episodes. We’ve got an hour to kill with them and Soldier, wondering if Trudy will return with the cavalry or light out for the territories. With Leonard in bad shape, and Hap handcuffed to him, I don’t foresee a lot of asskickery. This season’s been good enough that I can hold off until Season 2 for them to come into their own.

See also: Hap & Leonard 1.04: “Trudy” Episode Review

 


Thomas Pluck is the author of the World War II  action thriller Blade of DishonorSteel 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 ReaderPANK Magazine, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, HardboiledNeedle: A Magazine of NoirCrimespree, 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.

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