Wednesday, May 9, 2018
May 9, 2018: Hap & Leonard Studying: Crime and Punishment
[One of the best parts of my 2018 so far has been discovering SundanceTV’s Hap & Leonard. Based on the series of novels by Joe Lansdale, and starring James Purefoy and Michael K. Williams, the series has completed two wonderful 6-episode seasons and as I write this is in the midst of Season 3. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of Hap & Leonard contexts, leading to a special weekend post on the unique career to date of Michael K. Williams!]
On some of the show’s many complex and great supporting characters, all part of the justice system (and in addition to Tiffany Mack’s Florida Grange, about whom I wrote a bit yesterday).
1) Marvin Hanson and Charlie Blank: Season 2’s investigations feature a pair of police detectives, Hanson (Cranston Johnson) and Blank (Douglas Griffin), who are each far more than they appear. Hanson’s African American detective is alternately Leonard’s most aggressive adversary and an ally to the African American community, and his burgeoning but troubled romantic relationship with Florida (which continues into Season 3) adds one more layer still. But it’s Blank whose arc truly reflects the show’s depth, as he initially appears to be a blatantly racist white cop and by the end of Season 2 (and certainly the start of Season 3) is a far more sympathetic and even likable figure (despite having done some unquestionably bad things).
2) Valentine and Beau Otis: A father and son duo who together rule the county, Sheriff Valentine (Brian Dennehy) and Judge Beau (John McConnell) Otis more clearly occupy villain roles in Season 2. That becomes even more apparent through a multi-episode series of flashbacks that gradually reveal Beau to be the teenage drunk driver who killed Hap and Leonard’s fathers decades ago, and Valentine to be the father who paid off the authorities to let his son walk free. Yet without spoiling more than I already have, I’ll simply note that the season’s final revelations significantly shift our perspectives on both Valentine and Beau, and make clear that the season’s overarching themes of family histories, race and community, and identity affect even powerful white men such as these two.
3) Sneed: Evan Gamble’s Sneed is the weasely white cop who brutally beats Leonard while he’s in police custody (although Leonard gets his revenge in that humorous hyperlinked scene), and thus a visceral representation of some of Season 2’s central images of white supremacist prejudice and violence. Yet in the first two episodes of Season 3 (which is all I’ve seen as of the moment in which I’m writing this post), we meet Sneed in a very different place, literally and figuratively, and begin to see the possibility of change even more a man who has done and been the things he has. The fact that we can believe in that possibility, while still remembering what Sneed did and was in Season 2, reflects the nuanced humanity that Hap & Leonard and its actors bring to each and every character.
Next context tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Thoughts on H&L, or other shows you’d highlight?