“You can’t walk out of a slaughterhouse like this one without having a little chat.”
Mickey Spillane said the first page sells the book, and the last page sells the next book. The last episode of this season’s Hap & Leonard sells the next season, and sells it hard.
The last one ended on a cliffhanger when Trudy (Christina Hendricks) drove off in the VW minibus, leaving our heroes bleeding and alone with psycho Soldier hunting them down. Cliffhangers are a rare thing in these days of Netflix bingeing. How much of a cliffhanger can it be when you don’t have to wait for the next episode?
The “finale” of this season’s The Walking Dead made the most of having its audience by the short and curlies, from what I hear. Hap & Leonard’s writers are friendlier to the viewers. They let us decide if we’re more like Hap, or more like Leonard.
If you’re Leonard, it’s just Trudy showing her true colors and leaving you flat again. If you’re Hap, you’ve got a bit of the romantic in you, and you just know she’ll be back. Honestly, I’d forgotten how the book ended, so I’m not sure if they changed it. I was siding with Leonard.
One lady I didn’t expect to see again was Angel. Her furious recovery and final battle, kicking the asses of Hap and Leonard all over the house, was quite a welcome surprise. Pollyanna McIntosh pulls out all the stops for this character, and her battle rage is quite believable. Noir author Christa Faust and I have a term for little 95 lb. Hollywood starlets who somehow have the ability to kick grown men across the room. We call them “Pixie Cockpunch.”
Angel looks like she can deal out the hell she delivers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if McIntosh appears as a bad-ass villainess in a Bond film soon. It does help that Hap and Leonard have both taken a bullet at this point, but it’s a nice touch that they have to kill this raving psychotic death-witch.
When you’ve got a good woman and a bad woman in a story, the easy way out is to have one kill the other—that way, your hero isn’t seen as a dishonorable woman-killer. I’ve never seen the point in that. When someone’s swinging an axe at you, their gender is immaterial.
Trudy gets to take out Soldier when she plows the minibus through the wall and knocks him ass over teakettle. That’s a trope I’m not fond of—the driver who can see through walls to save the day by driving through it—but I’ll let it pass. The symbolism of smashing the psycho yuppie in a suit with the Hippie Mobile was too juicy not to enjoy.
The ‘60s had one last gasp. Trudy takes a bullet for her trouble, but she’s still the one in the best shape. She helps Hap and Leonard into the minibus, and they careen out of there toward the nearest hospital. I was genuinely touched when she made her tearful confession to Hap from the driver’s seat, telling him that she killed their bird after he went to prison and that she loves him.
Too bad he’d passed out in the back and didn’t hear a thing.
There’s a lot of bittersweet in this one—my favorite kind of chocolate, and also my preferred ending.
Hap recovers fastest, so he gets the job of cleaning up Leonard’s house. There’s a nice shot of him prying the kitchen table from the window, where they’d nailed it up to keep Angel out. Trudy’s bloody handprint dried on the tabletop like a shroud of Turin, reminding him of how she sacrificed herself, first, for her dream of a better world, and, second, to save him and Leonard when she could’ve made a clean getaway.
The cleanup gets skipped in a lot of stories, but it’s what grounds this duo in reality. No matter how much trouble they get up to, they have to go back to work, just like the rest of us. We don’t get to overlook the mess all these adventures leave behind. While he’s cleaning up, he catches a young guy sticking politician’s reelection signs on the lawn, and tells him he’s got ten seconds to take them and leave before he finds Leonard’s shotgun.
The feds ask about the missing money—apparently the old bank robbery that started it all is still an open case—but Hap decides to send half to the Children’s Charity Fund in Trudy’s name and tuck the rest away for Leonard, who will need a lot of work done on his home. While Leonard heals from a shot to the kidney, Hap’s back picking roses. And to bring the story full circle, we learn how their fathers died.
The drunken son of a local bigshot swerves into Leonard’s father’s car, while he and Hap’s father are fixing it in the rain. And what’s his name? Beau Otis. The name from the politician’s signs. A nice setup for a longer season next time, the story stretching its legs past the one in novels.
They go a bit further with the Mickey Spillane, as the episode winds to a close. Uncle Chester passes on, and after the funeral, Leonard asks Hap to help him clean up the old house before the county comes to empty it. They crash on the couches in the living room, and Hap says he always liked how, in Leave it to Beaver, they ended with them in bed with everything back the same—a cute little jab at TV writing tropes.
And just as we think we “get it,” that they’ll be perfectly healed and ready for another fiasco the next time we see them, the camera pans down to the basement as they drift off to sleep—showing old bones in a little girl’s dress.
Next season, if we get it, will be even more savage.
I can’t wait.
See also: Hap & Leonard 1.05: “War” Episode Review
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.