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‘Hatfields & McCoys’ Review: “Part Three”

Hatfields & McCoys
The History Channel

Those Hatfields and McCoys look to be on the verge of their own private Civil War. With bounty hunters after the Hatfields and jurisdiction disputes growing worse, things aren’t looking so good for either side. The conclusion of The History Channel’s ‘Hatfields & McCoys‘ sees the families squaring off and holding onto their grudges until the bitter end.

Anse Hatfield (Kevin Costner) proposes that Uncle Jim (Tom Berenger) kill Randall McCoy (Bill Paxton) to end the feud once and for all. It’s a shortsighted move because the likelihood that Randall’s death would keep his family from further acts of retribution is slim.

Jim threatens to burn the McCoy house down if Randall doesn’t surrender, so his wife Sally suggests that he sneak out the back. Jim and his kin set fire to the house anyway. Sally is shot and injured, and two of their teenage children are killed. The feud is quickly reaching a bloody apex, and it’s becoming quite apparent that there’s no way this can end well, if it can end at all. Which leaves Randall stricken with grief, dazed and guilty over sneaking out of the house and letting his children die.

Jim returns to an ailing Anse to tell him what happened, and Anse orders him to kill the entire McCoy family. These men are completely illogical, and Anse seems to only become increasingly irrational. Meanwhile, Randall is becoming increasingly agitated, with his sadness over the loss of so many members of his family breeding a very special sort of grudge. Paxton looks much older in this final episode than he did previously, with the time only spanning — from what I can gather — about a year.

Nancy McCoy (Jena Malone) finally gives Johnse what he’s had coming for a while when she tells him she’s leaving him to marry the bounty hunter Frank Phillips. This comes as a shock to more than just Johnse as this relationship was never mentioned or toyed with in Part Two.

Anse discovers that Johnse has betrayed his family yet again in telling Nancy where Uncle Jim is, resulting in his murder, so he decides to kill his own son. Anse has been absolutely relentless — a quiet, deliberate man who makes murderous calls with nary a flinch — so when he shows mercy to Johnse, it comes as something of a surprise. This is a man so ruthless that we wouldn’t put it past him to kill his own if he felt betrayed enough — but the bottom line here is that kinsfolk is kinsfolk, and you don’t kill your own.

The same goes for Judge Hatfield (Powers Boothe), when he decides to turn himself in to avoid the impending war between the clans. Anse hesitates to say anything cruel, instead choosing to turn the other cheek.

All that warring finally reaches the inevitable conclusion when the two clans engage in battle in a wide open field, and again Anse’s hardened heart takes a blow as one of his youngest boys dies for his cause. He packs up his son and heads home, understanding now — only when it hits his own — how his actions have consequences.

A sick Roseanna goes to visit her father Randall, but Randall refuses to look at her. Though he’s been the more noble man in this feud, Roseanna is his one sensitive spot. He’s never forgiven her for taking up with Johnse, even though they didn’t end up together in the end. Roseanna pleads with him to see reason and stay true to his Christianity, but Randall gives her the cold shoulder. Roseanna dies shortly after.

“Cottontop” Hatfiield, a simpleton who tried to save the life of a rabbit during the battle in the field (seriously), is convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. Rather than rescue him from the gallows, as he knows he could, Anse decides to let him die, hoping it’s enough to satisfy the McCoys and bring an end to their feud.

There’s a fantastically directed confrontation between Anse and Randall in the foggy woods that turns out to be little more than the imaginings of a drunk and grieving Randall, but it’s still largely effective and dizzying to behold. So much of this series is directed in a very straightforward manner — it’s competent work, for sure, but when it gets creative, things really sizzle.

The score and soundtrack, however, continue to be a horrible burden on the show, with distracting female vocals that clash heavily with the very direct nature of the series. At its worse, ‘Hatfields & McCoys’ is too literal, and while the creators most likely took some moments or phrases directly from the pages of history, they seem to have little understanding of how to remain true to that history while also creating something engaging and entertaining. The final hour of the series is the most compelling yet, and it’s a shame because the preceding five hours have been unbearably dull.

In the end, Anse calls an end to the feud by reading a declaration to counter the declaration of war he issued years before. The ending is incredibly tragic — Anse finds religion, and Randall dies in a fire after burning newspaper clippings and photos of the feud.

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