‘Hap and Leonard’ Season 2 Review: “Mucho Mojo” Tells a Bold, Southern-Fried Mystery

     March 14, 2017

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The second season of SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard was given a subheading — “Mucho Mojo” — to denote the Joe R. Lansdale book on which it was based. But the new title also finds the show going in a new direction, one that feels much tighter and is far more compelling than its first (still very good) season. The chemistry between friends Hap Collins (James Purefoy) and Leonard Pine (Michael K. Williams) is still easy, even aspirational, and this new season chooses a story that brings them together as much as Season 1 threatened to pull them apart.

Whereas that first season’s villains were over-the-top drug dealers that led to some excessive and cartoonish violence, Season 2 is quieter, more measured, and infinitely more horrifying. With Leonard still wounded from their Season 1 caper, and Hap still mourning the loss of Trudy (he carries her ashes around, and tells Leonard “It just didn’t feel right to leave her in the car), the two are thrown back into chaos when Leonard stumbles upon a skeleton under the floorboards of his deceased Uncle Chester’s house. Worse still, it’s a child. Hap encourages Leonard to go to the police, even though as a black, gay man in East Texas that’s the very last thing Leonard wants.

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Image via SundanceTV

Sure enough, the two are quickly implicated in the crime, though nothing sticks thanks to their lawyer, the smart, fierce and glamorous Florida Grange (Tiffany Mack). Florida is perhaps best described by a waitress who, after she leaves the restaurant, questions her companion: “Do you believe in reincarnation? Because I want to come back as her.”

But the core of Mucho Mojo‘s crime story is extremely dark. In trying to uncover the truth about the murdered child, Hap and Leonard discover a pattern of missing black children in the area, whose disappearances were ignored or dismissed by law enforcement. The duo begin to suspect a serial killer at work, and put themselves in peril as they unravel the mystery. The stories of these missing children are paralleled both by that of a young runaway, Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon), who Leonard begrudgingly takes in after he nearly dies from an overdose, and that of sweet MeMaw (Irma P. Hall) who lives across the street and had a brutal experience with the Klan when she was a young girl.

There are aspects of Mucho Mojo‘s crime story that seem inspired by the Atlanta child murders, which also took place in the late 70s and early 80s, and it’s a haunting backdrop on which to paint this new season. Nick Damici and Jim Mickle do an excellent job of adapting Lansdale’s dialogue that is both natural and used with exceptional economy, alongside an authentic cadence of southern speech. Lansdale has a gift for capturing the way real people talk, and then tweaking it to maximum narrative effect to suit the quirky individuals that populate his story Because of that, Hap and Leonard has always had a sly humor to it that is accentuated through a deft handling by its lead actors. And with subject matter as bleak as that in this season, it’s needed more than ever.

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Image via SundanceTV

Hap and Leonard came out of the gate with a strong sense of itself and its setting, allowing issues of race and religion to be as much a part of the show’s atmosphere as steamy Texas afternoons and swamp voodoo. Hap and Leonard’s relationship is already unusual, in 1980s East Texas racial terms, bonded as they were at an early age through a horrendous tragedy. But Season 2 goes further in on this in a new way, shifting its focus from a mostly white cast to an almost all-black one in a way that is organic and ultimately necessary, especially as it broaches issues of police corruption and a society complicit in letting the impoverished stay forgotten. The story within Mucho Mojo is about giving a voice to those who have been marginalized, and the show on a more macro level is doing the very same.

It’s not necessary to have seen Season 1 of Hap and Leonard to jump into Season 2, though there is something to be said about losing the context of Trudy and Hap and seeing more of Hap and Leonard’s past. And at six episodes each, the seasons aren’t huge investments of time — a key fact in this landscape of Peak TV. But if you did watch Season 1 and are on the fence regarding Season 2, don’t dare hesitate further. Season 2 doubles down on all of the things that made the show great, and has done itself one better by broaching very serious subject matter in a way that also feels right when it comes to the trouble these two always find themselves in.

Despite whatever messes are happening in their personal lives, and whatever mistakes they make (even ones that border on the criminal), the two men live by a code that compels them to investigate the truth about these missing children. It’s something that the mothers of those boys see in them right away. It’s not that Leonard and Hap are saviors, they are simply two men who actually care enough to help. This season, Mucho Mojo is doing something pretty fantastic — you should care enough to watch.

Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent

Hap and Leonard Season 2 premieres Wednesday, March 15th on SundanceTV.

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