“I wouldn’t lie about Howard Hawks. That’d be sacrilege.” – Hap Collins
Ticking Mojo (honestly, I’m not sure to what that title is referring) continues Mucho Mojo‘s established pattern of running straight ahead with plot, while taking occasional breaks to inject some character moments. But unlike the slightly more comedic first episode, this time around, those character moments are largely sobering in their serious nature.
The episode mostly deals with the logistics of Hap and Florida trying to get Leonard released on bail while also digging into the expanding mystery of what appears to be a serial killer targeting black children. While questioning the mothers of the missing children, one thing becomes clear: Chester definitely approached them all, claiming he was investigating the disappearances. Whether this is good or bad for Leonard is up in the air, but what is certain is that the body of the child under Chester’s house was not there by coincidence.
But the tone of Ticking Mojo is considerably darker than anything we have seen from this show so far. Sure, the first season went to some extreme places with the violence committed by Soldier and Angel, but they remained outliers in Hap and Leonard’s lives. The bloodbath that ended the first season was the price that our heroes paid for knowing better than to get involved with Trudy, Howard, and Paco. But this season—some witty dialogue aside—has already upped the darkness quotient in just two episodes. Not only does the plot hinge on a serial killer preying on children, but the degrading effects of racism are also front-and-center. Because of that aspect, it does not matter that Leonard has consistently done the right thing (reporting the body, cooperating with the police, not taking the law into his own hands when it comes to the crack house), but trouble has found him anyway.
The recurring references to the differences between black lives and white lives in the show’s universe are never starker than in two sequences played for opposite tones. When a white cop beats Leonard in an attempt to force a false confession, it is horrifying beyond the obvious racially motivated violence. We have seen Leonard shot twice by Soldier, nearly bleed out, and still take have enough fight in him to help take down Angel. But handcuffed in a police station, he could not stop the beating even if he was unrestrained because he understands that he has no rights in that situation. His choices are taking the beating, giving a false confession, or being gunned down if he tries to fight back. It is horrifying to see someone as tough and fearless as Leonard reduced to such a helpless state. Just as bad is the lie that Hanson tells hospital staff when he takes Leonard in for treatment of his injuries. Even a police detective has to cow down to mistreatment if he is black.
Meanwhile, Hap seems to be discovering just how much of an outsider he is in the black community. Despite being Leonard’s best friend and de facto family (the two bonded together by the shared loss of their fathers) and operating as the closest thing his small East Texas town has to a white liberal, I got the distinct impression from Purefoy’s chagrined performance that outside of Leonard and Chester, Hap has never actually dealt much with black people. When he tries to speak with the gathering of women whose children are missing, he is met with derision until Florida steps in to handle the questioning. His attempt to ingratiate himself beyond friendship with Florida by showing up for church services at her all-black congregation quickly turns comedic with the killer punchline of him clapping out of rhythm with the hymn being sung by the choir. By the time he gets around to speaking with Chester’s friend (and Leonard’s best chance for an alibi) Ilium Moon (Wayne DeHart), he should know better than to assume that the old man will trust him. In Ilium’s mind, Hap is associated with the police simply because he’s white.
Thankfully, as much as is made of Hap’s outsider status in the community, this episode did introduce the first stirrings of possible romance between he and Florida. Even better is that it did so without any mention of Trudy. While Hap’s past with Trudy will inevitably cast a long shadow over him as he moves forward, it was nice to get through an episode without having to be reminded of all the ways she had hurt him. I didn’t realize that I had Trudy fatigue until she was not the focus of Hap’s story.
What we did get from the past was finally having Hap and Leonard come face to face with Beau Otis (John McConnell), the county judge who killed their fathers in a drunk driving accident decades before. Of course, Beau is the son of Sheriff Valentine Otis (Brian Dennehy, superbly oily in his one scene), which lends a conspiratorial feel to Leonard’s trouble with getting out from under the charges he is facing. It will be interesting to see if Wirth, Mickle, and Damici keep up the simmering potential for a feud between the Otis clan and Hap and Leonard beyond this season or conclude it by episode six.
Despite the drama provided by the racism shown toward Leonard in particular and the black population of the town in general by the Sheriff’s Department, this episode felt a little like a necessary piece of exposition to get everything into place for the next four entries. There is nothing wrong with that when the character work is so winning and so many potential disasters lurk around the corner. After all, Ticking Mojo does end on the triple whammy of Raoul announcing he is seeing someone else, Ilium driving his van into his pond in a supernatural panic, and Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon) possibly planting incriminating evidence in Leonard’s house. This season is all about trouble finding Leonard and when it rains those troubles down, it pours.
Hap and Leonard airs on the Sundance Channel, on Wednesday nights at 10:00 Eastern time. Season One is currently streaming on Netflix. The first two episodes of Season Two are available to stream now at Sundance.tv!
Latest posts by Matt Wedge (see all)
Tags: Brian Dennehy, Cranston Johnson, Dohn Norwood, Douglas M. Griffin, Enrique Murciano, Irma P. Hall, James Purefoy, Jeff Grace, Jim Mickle, Joe R. Lansdale, John McConnell, Maurice Marable, Michael Kenneth Williams, Nick Damici, Tiffany Mack, TV, Wayne DeHart