Note: Since I was unable to view and write about last week’s Hap and Leonard episode, this will be a two-part piece covering both Bad Mojo and Pie a la Mojo.
The aptly titled Bad Mojo is a step away from the abject darkness of previous episode Holy Mojo, but that does not mean that the subject matter is suddenly much lighter, it just means that our heroes finally start making headway in their investigation. But even that progress is met with resistance from those who should be helping and a grisly discovery that deepens the evil of this season’s mystery.
After leaving Hap off in a good place for a change in the previous episode, Bad Mojo quickly brings him back to Earth and throws him in the slammer. Arrested for kidnapping Beau Otis, he is surprised to discover Leonard is also back in jail, this time for arson (even burning down a crackhouse is illegal in the eyes of the law—especially when the law has selective vision as it does in this series). After a meeting with/warning from Sheriff Otis, Hap and Leonard are released without charges as long as they agree to drop their investigation of the missing boys. Backed into a corner, they reluctantly agree.
If there is an entertaining thread to Bad Mojo, it is watching as Hap and Leonard discover the origins of the gate independently of each other. Seeing how they work out the mystery in their own ways and wind up together at the site of the burned down church is fun, but watching Meemaw nearly have a breakdown as she recalls the details of the Klan setting fire to the church and lynching the minister is heartbreaking (Irma P. Hall owns this scene).
But most of Bad Mojo continues this season’s trend of finding the melancholy in Hap and Leonard that is just under their jokey exteriors. Hap finally finds seemingly the right woman for him in Florida but loses her almost immediately when he foolishly assaults Beau Otis. Leonard has nursed anger for most of his life about Chester kicking him out for being gay, but his sadness at realizing the situation was more complicated has slowly overtaken him this season. The past eats at these men and keeps them from realizing their potential, making solving the mystery as much a point of redemption for them as it is about finding justice for the murdered boys.
The idea that Hanson and Charlie might start to suspect Hap as the potential murderer after seeing that Sheriff Otis was the one guilty of tampering with evidence seems a little too farfetched even for the pulpy plot of this show. I have been complaining that Hanson has largely been left on the sidelines for most of this season, so I should probably be happy he has been given more to do in Bad Mojo, but he has been presented as smarter than this. But I did appreciate that his chase of Hap and Leonard led to one of the lighter moments of this season as the women at the beauty parlor ambush him with valid complaints as a means of distraction.
Despite the boxing/grudge match between Hap and Reverend Fitzgerald, the goofy end to Hap’s dream that opens the episode, and the beauty shop scene, Bad Mojo is still a sobering episode that continues to take Hap and Leonard into territory where doing the right thing gets increasingly harder for them. At what point do you have to acknowledge what is your fault when it comes to how unfairly life has treated you? When do you start looking out for yourself, even if it means letting bad people get away with doing bad things to others? Hap and Leonard have faced these questions repeatedly this season and there are no easy answers.
If Holy Mojo and Bad Mojo were bleak, Pie a la Mojo might inspire depression that requires intense therapy and medication.
Flying through to a surprisingly conclusive ending to the main plot of the season, the episode (the first to have a teleplay credited to Joe R. Lansdale) manages to pay off the detective work that Hap and Leonard have done this season, but does so in a very disquieting way that touches on several themes the series has explored this season. From institutionalized racism to the sins of the past impacting the present, our heroes encounter it all, culminating with the grim deaths of Reverend Fitzgerald and poor TJ and Meemaw’s truly sad final moments.
The dissatisfaction I had with Hanson and Charlie looking at Hap as a possible suspect in Bad Mojo made sense as a plot device here with the police right behind Hap and Leonard as they stop Fitzgerald from killing Ivan. But Hanson’s cocky attitude when Florida strikes Hap for not trusting her feels unwarranted when he was unable to solve the crime that Hap and Leonard did. Even though Hanson clearly has feelings for Florida and would see Hap as competition for her affections, a little contrition would be in order. It seems that Hanson is going to be a less even-headed character in the series than he is on the printed page.
As I’ve stated before, it struck me that season one of the series was all about Hap and Leonard going looking for trouble they should know to avoid and season two was about trouble finding them. This change in circumstances allowed for a difference in tone from the more comedic bent to something much more melancholy. Honestly, that melancholy was starting to feel a little suffocating from time to time the last couple of episodes. Maybe that is why I clung to small moments of comedy in this episode like Hap’s encounter with his contortionist ex-girlfriend (Bonnie Morgan) or Leonard mistaking a carnie (Owen Harn) who has a crush on him for a possible suspect.
But moments of levity have been few and far between this season. Considering where pie a la Mojo ends up, I assume next week’s season finale will continue this trip into darkness as Hap and Leonard learn that solving the crime does not change anything in their lives for the better. After all, the Otis family is still in charge of their hometown, over a dozen kids are still dead, Hap looks to have lost Florida (and to rub salt in the wounds–she and Hanson are looking at each other with more than professional interest), and Meemaw has died knowing her grandchildren were murderers. There does not seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel.
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Tags: Bonnie Morgan, Cranston Johnson, Dohn Norwood, Hap and Leonard, Irma P. Hall, James Purefoy, Jim Mickle, Joe R. Lansdale, John Wirth, Michael Kenneth Williams, Nick Damici, Owen Harn, Tiffany Mack