SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 3, Episode 1: “The Two-Bear Mambo”
Directed & Written
by Jim Mickle
* For a recap & review of the Season 2 finale, “No Mo’ Mojo” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Ho-Ho Mambo” – click here
“Some roads you don‘t cross”
We start in Grovetown, Texas, 1931. We see a Robert Johnson-esque guitar player named L.C. Soothe, who makes a deal with the devil (Nick Damici). They both piss in a jar together, then they take a drink, and the deal is done. Afterwards, lad can play the guitar like a master. One of his big hits was “The Two-Bear Mambo.” However, all the stardom brought the devil further into the world, and the bigger L.C. got the more the devil took.
And soon enough, the KKK were worse than ever in Grovetown. They chased L.C. down and hung him, as the devil stood by watching. Since then, the devil’s never left Grovetown, always lurking.
We see our boys Hap Collins (James Purefoy) and Leonard Pine (Michael Kenneth Williams) good and beat up. You can be sure that Season 3’s going to put them two up against the Ku Klux Klan. They’re still reeling after everything they experienced in Season 2. Neither are in good shape, though Leonard’s probably worse off. What’s clear is that they’re already getting ready for any repercussions that might come their way after all they’ve discovered.
But repercussions from what?
Skip back to Christmas Eve, only three days prior. Things around town, especially in Leonard’s neighbourhood, are feeling festive. What’s Santa Claus Pine brought for the crack house next door? Gas down the chimney and a house fire. Merry Christmas, bitch! This is how ole Leonard celebrates the holidays. It’s all part of his ongoing, unofficial neighbourhood watch. Appears it’s become sort of routine.
Leonard gets dragged down to the precinct by Dt. Charlie Blank (Douglas M. Griffin), as does Hap for being on the scene. We also hear that Dt. Hanson (Cranston Johnson) and Florida Grange (Tiffany Mack) are split up, which our man Hap enjoys hearing. Christmas Eve in jail provides another two-bear mambo of a different kind, when the cops and the prisoners all watch some Nature Channel-type stuff about the mating rituals of bears. Perfectly hilarious conversation follows.
“You think bear dicks get swelled up in a knot like dog dicks do?”
“I don‘t know, Cletus. I never finished my degree on bear dicks.”
“Oh, Hap, stop lyin‘. Now you‘re just being modest.”
When Dt. Hanson turns up, he tells Hap he’s worried about Florida. She’s gone down to Grovetown, and he’s getting suspicious. Things seem strange. Florida sounded scared when she called Hanson on the phone. And where’s this headed? The cop wants Mr. Collins to go looking for her, seeing as how he’s back with his wife again. “This ain‘t police business,” Hanson tells Hap. Plus, it’ll help get Leonard out of a cell. What I love is how these two outcasts in a Southern landscape fraught with racism, misogyny, and so much more, are anti-heroes who’ve got to take on the cases for justice cops can’t seem to handle. One of the perfect ironies about Joe Lansdale’s writing in his Hap and Leonard series.
Something else I love about the series, and these characters, is the genuine love of friendship between these two men. Aside from the fact it’s decades ago and the main characters are a gay black man and a poor white dude, just how Lansdale’s characterised them as such close friends, such masculine men with equally vulnerable sides that care for one another deeply, it’s amazing he started writing these characters decades ago, because they feel very postmodern.
When Leonard gets home he finds an intruder in his house; two, in fact. They were guarding the crack house. Good thing they’ve got pizza, or Mr. Pine might not have been so careful with the cleaver he picked up to use for self defence. Things work out well now that Leonard needs somebody to watch HIS place while he and Hap go off on their latest job.
Part of my interest in Hap is, again, that against-type masculinity Lansdale wrote into his novels. He’s totally a masculine man, by the standard definition, and yet he doesn’t show all the signs of usual toxic masculinity (yes, you can be masculine and not be toxic). So, to see his pining for Florida is extra compelling, seeing as how we don’t get enough of these sensitive leading male roles. Moreover, it adds extra weight to the plot of Hap looking into Florida’s possibly ill-fated trip down to Grovetown; a place we already know is violently hostile to black people.
“I‘d rather be judged by twelve than carried by six”
Our boys pull into Grovetown at Devil’s Crossing, where L.C. Soothe supposedly sold his soul. Leonard tells Hap of the legendary story. They head on further into town, where they’re greeted by some of the nasty locals. Certainly not a good omen. Hap also spies the girl from the beginning we witnessed standing at the edge of the train tracks. We’ll see her story eventually.
Doesn’t take much to see Grovetown is one hell of a white place. Not a black man or woman in sight, except for Leonard. There’s plenty of resistance already to their questions about Florida, as well. Won’t be an easy job for the pair. Added to it all, our boy find their car trashed, an American flag put through the windshield, and a hideous racist note scrawled across the driver’s side door.
Truly wonderful opener to Season 3! The mambo is underway. Lots more characterisation and plot to come. There’s so much bound to happen with all this racial tension in the first episode. Really excited to see the follow-up.
“Ho-Ho Mambo” is next.