SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 3, Episode 3: “T-Bone Mambo”
Directed by Abe Sylvia
Written by John Wirth
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Ho-Ho Mambo” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Senorita Mambo” – click here
Dt. Hanson (Cranston Johnson) is driving behind a truck full of Christmas trees when a tarp flies off, sending him into the trees. Nearby, a sole frog croaks on the road. Just like the one we saw the Devil (Nick Damici) caress in the first episode of Season 3. ‘Cause the Devil, he’s a-watching.
Skip to Hap (James Purefoy) in bed next to Florida (Tiffany Mack), waking up to one another as it rains lightly outside; a romantic, beautiful moment. “I thought I‘d lost you,” he tells her smiling. But it’s just another dream. He’s not physically close to Florida, yet Hap will remain spiritually close to her, perhaps forever. And those dreams, they become waking nightmares, as well. On top of it, he has Officer Reynolds (Laura Allen) sniffing around with her racist and homophobic ass. She has a thing for him, verging on sexual harassment. Either way, the cop is taking Hap to meet the Christmas tree kingpin of East Texas, and head of the local Ku Klux Klan, Truman Brown (Pat Healy).
“You got a nice cover. I don‘t know if I wanna read the book.”
Leonard (Michael Kenneth Williams) is off on his own, down on the South Side of town looking for information – set to the fine music of Sister Wynona Carr. In the meantime, the guys watching his place are jamming to Frankie Smith’s “Double Dutch Bus” while perfecting a few dance moves.
One of the most compelling parts of Leonard is that he’s gay and black and served in the military during Vietnam War, which couldn’t have been easy in any way, shape, or form. Not to mention he’s now dealing with the aftermath, part resentment of losing himself, partly a realising that things aren’t so much better back home, either. And then, for many soldiers,
On the South Side, Leonard finds a church. He goes to see Bacon (Louis Gossett Jr.) and they have a frank, tough conversation about what they each came back to after their respective tours of duty – Leonard in Vietnam, Bacon in various places in Europe during WWII. Unfortunately, the old man believes the Klan has killed Florida.
At the Christmas tree farm, Truman discusses the “problems” Hap seems to have brought with him down to Grovetown. He talks about Florida stirring things up there, and Hap doesn’t take any of it lying down. Brown is an unabashed racist, whose whiteness clashes hard with that of Hap’s, whose live has revolved around equality, in various ways. Stark contrast of two men who grew up in the same places, and how two people such as that can diverge so widely. Hap understands that racists are simply trying to tear the place apart, they aren’t concerned with building anything back up; they just don’t want the current system because it involves non-whites. A nasty fact of this world.
“This here‘s America”
“It‘s just a hunch, but I‘m guessin‘ you never asked an American Indian how they might feel about that.”
Over at the police station, Hap goes to see Chief Cantuck (Corbin Bernsen) about Brown and his gang, believing they killed Soothe, and then Florida, too. It’s not exactly easy to try getting the Chief to listen, he’s another casual racist believing he’s upholding the law when he’s only serving to perpetuate the damage of whiteness against people of colour – “Just racist enough to turn the other way.”
We get a bit more info on Belinda (Sydney Wease). She disappeared a while, then returned from out of the woods. She wanders around town a good bit, and she doesn’t talk anymore, either. Hap wonders if she might know things about Grovetown; important things.
Hap and Leonard meet up again, and the latter tells his buddy Bacon did see Florida at a place called Blind Tillie’s before she disappeared. At the same time, later in the night, the Chief heads up to the Brown farm where he starts poking around. Is there a possible hope that this old white man might come around? Or is he a totally lost cause? He does at least tell Truman: “You ain‘t above the law.”
At Blind Tillie’s, Hap stays outside, as Bacon takes Leonard inside where rhythm and blues play loud and proud. Before heading inside Hap gets a visit from Belinda, and she has a lipstick belonging to Ms. Grange.
When the music slows, Blind Tillie (Ann Nesby) herself sits around with Hap, Bacon, and Leonard chatting about what she knows of Florida. She saw the woman in her bar. But nothing much else, except she was looking for those Soothe tapes. Tillie’s sure that Grovetown has all the answers, behind the ugly, racist curtain.
On the road, Hap and Leonard are crashed into by a truck. They wind up next to the railroad tracks, jammed up against a moving train. They manage to get out, but the Brown gang are firing rifles at them as they run through the woods. Truman is determined to solve his problems with more violence.
“They’re in the Thicket now” (nice non-Hap and Leonard Joe Lansdale reference tossed in)
Loved this episode, because we’re seeing the hideous heart of racism emerging from all areas of whiteness. Season 3 is exploring race in a whole new way, even compared to some of what we’ve already experienced. The positive male relationship between Hap and Leonard is key, as well. Definitely my favourite season so far.
“Senorita Mambo” is next time. Get your dancing shoes on, y’all!