When we last left Hatfields & McCoys, the McCoys were holding Johnse Hatfield (Matt Barr) prisoner aiming to kill him come morning. Anse Hatfield (Kevin Costner) resolves this pretty quickly, so the suspense you’ve been in since last night doesn’t last much longer. However this incident seems to rile Anse up, so where he was the reasonable one in part one, he’s cranked up to Randall McCoy (Bill Paxton)’s level.
I was hoping I could say part two picked up from my lukewarm reaction to part one, but it’s really just more of the same. This epic feud between the Hatfields and McCoys seems really petty, which maybe it was, but it seems like we’re supposed to think it’s more tragic and inevitable.
When Randall and Anse see each other at a party, they pass silently. Their families don’t take the high road though and they start taunting each other. The McCoys start throwing punches and Ellison Hatfield (Damian O’Hare) tries to defuse the situation himself. The drunken brawl escalates to knives and guns.
The Kentucky sheriff catches the McCoys who assaulted Ellison, but Judge Valentine Hatfield (Powers Boothe) convinces the sheriff that the assault on West Virginian Ellison makes the prisoners his jurisdiction. Now Randall is the reasonable one begging Anse for mercy. It’s a good scene where grown-ups are talking around an impossible situation that won’t end well for either of them. And you get Paxton and Costner together.
When Ellison dies, Hatfield ultimately executes the McCoy boys. Bad Frank Phillips (Andrew Howard), who we did meet in part one but I wasn’t clear what his role would be, comes to collect the bounties on the Hatfield heads. He kills and scalps Skunkhair Tom Wallace (Andy Gathergood) in a location that’s awesome for a standoff, but you’d hope for better dialogue and weighty performances to match.
Again, reasonable Randall McCoy refuses the bounty because he doesn’t want bodies, he wants them alive for justice. A scene where the various Hatfields compare their bounty values is a nice outlaw moment, lightening up the cycle of violence a tad. The Hatfields set up some cool ambushes for bounty hunters, so there’s more frequent action in this part. They’re smaller, more intimate and pointed moments of action but it keeps things exciting.
Meanwhile, Anse forbids Johnse to marry a McCoy so he and Roseanna (Lindsay Pulsipher) are separated for this entire episode. Roseanna has complications with her pregnancy but gives birth. Johnse tries to see his fiancé but the families won’t let him. So Johnse marries Nancy McCoy (Jena Malone) to try to bring peace to the families, and Judge Valentine does it!
But instead of forcing the feuding families to accept each other, the marriage only facilitates more violence. Jefferson McCoy (Jonathan Frederick) gets into trouble in town but hiding out with Johnse and Nancy doesn’t provide much cover. Cap Hatfield (Boyd Holbrook) and Jim Vance (Tom Berenger) find him and Nancy gets hurt and Johnse has to take sides.
All this takes a lot of focus away from Randall and Anse. We don’t see the stars a lot tonight. And I hate to single out actors because I’m no expert in performance, but some of the supporting cast make it really hard to get invested. I can’t take Bad Frank Phillips seriously when he talks like that. His posture and his hoarse growl are ridiculous. Andrew Howard is Welsh, so no part of this is an authentic choice. It’s all deliberate act, one that works against the character. A lot of the Hatfields and McCoys are hard to tell apart because they’re all just beardy drawling kids in dirty clothes and hats.
It still feels like the McCoys do something, then the Hatfields do something, then the McCoys do something, then the Hatfields do something. We don’t get any deeper than that. It ends with Anse threatening to take the law into his own hands if the governor doesn’t stop the McCoys, but that’s not even really a cliffhanger. It’s just the next scene.
So 2/3 through History Channel’s saga, it seems like this was a superficial extrapolation of historical events, and mediocre production anchored by a few great lead actors. We’ll see if they’ve saved all the good stuff for the big finale.