Fans and critics alike derided the ending of True Detective season one, which, without giving the game away, was seen as directing all its powers of grim speculation toward a CBS-level resolution that wrapped up halfway through the episode, leaving the other half to play out an endless denouement. I strongly disagree with that sentiment, but it sure resonates now. Hap And Leonard ended in “War.” The finale is just the body twitching after death.
Start with the main action of the season, the fight between Team Hap and Team Soldier over the river heist money. Last we saw, temptress Trudy left Hap and Leonard cornered by psycho killer Soldier with PCP zombie Angel apparently taken out. “Eskimos,” which is not the preferred nomenclature even if “Inuit brothers” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, is just a conveyor belt from there, going exactly where it was headed. The biggest surprise is the resurrection of Angel, but then she’s essentially a Marvel villain drawn in two dimensions; unkillable is half her character. Soldier gets off a few more twisted-funny lines before he bites it, like “Leonard! I taught your dogs to lie down! It’s a great trick. All you have to do is shoot them through the head.” Trudy returns in time to crash the van of peace into the man of war. Hap and Leonard recover in the hospital. The script strives mightily to play these mechanical chain reactions set in motion an episode ago for maximum drama, but none of the punches land. They’re for show.
Flashes forward and back try to liven things up, but they have no more grit than the rest. Take the cold open flashforward, which ends with Hap sitting down with Leonard’s dog and saying, “I know, buddy. I miss him, too.” Not even Beaver Cleaver would fall for that. Sure enough, the line ends up referring to the three-month separation when Leonard was still in the hospital, not Leonard’s death. We also find out exactly what happened with the drunk driver who killed Hap and Leonard’s fathers years ago, which is that a drunk driver killed Hap and Leonard’s fathers years ago. Like I said, it’s a chain reaction. We’d seen Hap’s father insult a black guy trying to fix his car on the side of the road and then double back to help, and we’d seen the drunk driver headed down the road. We don’t need to see the collision to know it’s going to happen.
Not that there aren’t other virtues to these scenes. “Eskimos” is an odd title because it seems to refer to Hap and Howard, but almost every major moment in the episode is a massive marble memorial to the fraternal love between Hap and Leonard. The flashback to how they met reveals an expected world, a racist establishment that caters to wealth. The primary pleasure is watching young Hap reject that establishment and share his candy with young Leonard. Later James Purefoy and especially Michael K. Williams make all the explosive violence of the climax about their brotherhood, every lull a chance to prop each other up and every action an opportunity for camaraderie. They’re chained together at the start, they’re trapped together at the end of a barrel, and no matter how frustratingly Raoul comes between them like the nagging wife on the stereotypical antihero drama, the invisible string that connects them bring Leonard back to Hap’s door the day after he gets out of the hospital. Everything narrative in “Eskimos” was already in the cards, but the episode made damn sure as much of its audience as possible would be interested in following these two characters on their next adventure.
But what about the clash of values? Even that animating tension has already been as digested as it’s gonna be by the time we get to “Eskimos.” I’m not sure there’s an original way to do the Se7en standoff anymore, but Hap And Leonard had a shot. Once Angel is gone for good, her neck snapped by Leonard while Hap holds her down, Soldier shoots his way into the last room in the house, trapping the two heroes against a wall. “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,” he says, selecting his first target, and Jimmi Simpson speeds up on “moe,” a subtle detail that powerfully amps up the tension. Then Trudy parks the car in the spot where he’s standing. But we all know how this goes. He’s not dead yet. Credit to the producers for letting Hap in on it, too; it looks like he might go check on Trudy, but then he beats Soldier to the gun he’s reaching for. And now comes the question: Can Hap pull the trigger? Well, who’s to say? He doesn’t, but he might have if Trudy hadn’t beaten him to the punch with her own secret sidearm. So our good lefty peacenik never has to sully his vision, and Hap And Leonard winds up in the shrugworthy space between a ruthless finale and a nonviolent challenge to that ruthlessness.
While I see Trudy’s final bullet as a thematic dodge first and a cliché second, pair it with Trudy’s confession and it becomes almost moving. She’s seen herself as a failure, a multiple divorcee who got way into the mud with the man she loves for a cause she loves even more. But at the end of it all, it’s Hap she loves more, and with that bullet she gets to both save him from the present but outrageously diminished threat of Soldier’s continued existence and spare him the trouble of shooting him himself. That bullet is a Valentine.
The clichés continue almost all the way to the end. Hap and Leonard spend the night at Leonard’s uncle’s place after the man’s funeral, and as they’re falling asleep Hap talks about the unrealism of sitcoms like Leave It To Beaver where the characters would summarize what they’ve learned so they can move on to the next chapter with no baggage. Purefoy’s tolerable Southern accent has finally given way completely in the sixth hour, like a senior in the last week of high school. “Life just ain’t like that,” he says, as if that’s not as big a cliché as its subject. Bigger even. Rust and Marty go out of True Detective two beat up old men looking up at the heavens, Rust revealing how deeply the experiences of the season have changed him. It’s not exactly Beaver telling us he’s learned not to lie to his parents, but it’s somewhere in the “tell ‘em what you told ‘em” family of endings. And it sticks to your ribs precisely because it isn’t glib.
- “Eskimos” is written and directed by Jim Mickle.
- As for the season as a whole, Hap And Leonard’s running on fumes at the end, but it’s an enjoyable ride through country we don’t see too much on TV nowadays. In a good world they’d crank out a season every year on schedule, a mass-market True Detective, more reliable than ambitious but with enough sustenance to give us something to chew on between animal attacks and skeletons in the basement.
- So what were Howard and Trudy going to do with the money, lobby Congress?
- Hap finds the money, by the way, first spotting some cash mixed in with some dog poop and tracking the rest to the bag of dog food. Of whatever’s salvagable, he sends some to Leonard and some to the children’s charity fund in Houston, a reference to his own upbringing, “with love from Trudy Fawst.” So, yeah, on top of everything else, Trudy’s last name is Texas for Faust.
- Mark it, the line where Purefoy just gave up trying to play Texan: “You’ve got about 10 seconds to get off of this property, or I’m gonna introdyuce you to a dog that eats ass faster than salted peanuts.”
- He’s threatening some guy who’s putting campaign signs for Beau Otis on his property, and for some reason the guy responds to that line and Hap’s countdown like a damn cartoon mouse, scrambling to get the signs out of the dirt and running off to his car and racing away. Have some dignity.
- Later it turns out Beau was the drunk who drove his car into Hap and Leonard’s fathers (Beau was a youth then, too). So that’s why Hap has some residual animosity for the fella. I’m not sure why it’s played like a Paul Harvey segment, or what bearing it has on the main thrust of the season, but now you know the rest of the story. Maybe Beau has a part to play in the next chapter?
- Leonard: “Hap?” “Yeah?” “I ain’t gonna make it.” “I am.”
- RIP Trudy, who makes sure to wear flowers in her hair, at least in Hap’s dream.
- Mr. FBI tells Hap they’ve had their eye on Soldier and Angel for some time. Oh really? Way to keep tabs on them. Just stellar work.
- “Hap? Remember when I told you you weren’t my type? Just wanted you to know I meant it.”