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‘Hatfields & McCoys’ Review: “Part Two”

Hatfields & McCoys
The History Channel

At the end of the first episode of ‘Hatfields & McCoys,’ Johnse Hatfield’s fate was up in the air, and the love-ridden Roseanna McCoy ran to the Hatfields to tell them that her family had kidnapped their kin, effectively betraying her own yet again.

Devil Anse (Kevin Costner) and his crew show up in the nick of time to save Johnse from the McCoys, who all bow to Hatfield’s gun except for Jim, whose bravery Devil Anse admires. But that’s not enough to get them out of trouble as the Hatfield’s set one of the McCoy cabins ablaze.

Johnse reveals to Devil Anse that Roseanna is pregnant, which seems awfully convenient considering they only just had sex for the first time. Devil Anse tells Johnse he must choose between Roseanna and his family, and he chooses the latter, breaking Roseanna’s heart and showing us just how deep his familial loyalty lies.

Unable to live with her parents any longer, Roseanna goes to live with an aunt and her cousin Nancy (Jena Malone). Nancy is a manipulative young woman who tells Johnse that Roseanna is sick and then uses his weakened emotional state to seduce him.

An election day celebration sees both families in one place at the same time, and after Devil Anse and Randall McCoy (Bill Paxton) cross paths with their wives in tow without so much as acknowledging one another, a fight ensues between their kin, as the men argue over which man refused to meet the other’s eye. A few of the McCoy boys stab and shoot Ellison, one of the more peaceful Hatfields, getting themselves arrested.

It’s one of the more engaging scenes in the series thus far, but much of it still feels like a dolled up historical re-enactment with a bigger budget and better actors. So much of the show is woefully droll and bleak, which may be a testament to the way it captures this specific time and place in history, but so little of it is honestly compelling to watch.

Devil Anse and Uncle Jim (Tom Berenger) take the McCoy boys from police custody and imprison them on the Hatfield property, and when Randall shows up to try and get them back, Devil Anse refuses to bargain. Randall’s wife Sally goes to visit her sons and plead for their lives, to which she’s assured that if Ellison recovers from his wounds, she can have her boys back.

Tragically for everyone, Ellison dies and the boys are executed by Hatfield firing squad, only further exacerbating the feud. The sequences involving Sally and her sons followed by the scene with the firing squad are juxtaposed with Roseanna giving birth to Johnse’s child — both mother and child are incredibly ill and weak. The music is a burden here, as these scenes are the first indication of any emotional gravity within the show. Nothing up to this point has felt particularly stirring, but we start to get a sense of how ruthless these families can be, and the senseless murders they’ll commit based on relentless grudges, borne of petty hate.

Randall and Sally watch as their sons are executed in such brutally blunt fashion — the show really nails violence and death in a way that parallels its honor of factual historical storytelling.

Randall’s lawyer cousin Perry manages to get warrants issued for Devil Anse and his kin, provoking a bounty hunters to come after the Hatfields and kill them — a task for which they will be rewarded. One such bounty hunter by the name of Frank Phillips kills a Hatfield and scalps him as proof to claim his reward, but this act offends Randall, who believes there are more civil ways to quell the feud.

The Hatfields seem to be the more clearly defined antagonists, with more red marks on their slate than the McCoys, and although Devil Anse is a deliberate, quiet man, Randall appears to be more reasonable. I’m not particularly familiar with the history that inspired this mini-series, so I can’t speak for which family shouldered more blame, but the show is doing a damn good job of making it seem like the Hatfields are the definitive villains.

Or are they? Randall reverses his stance on the bounty-hunting and scalping Phillips, realizing that his desires for a more civil agreement are little more than foolish dreams.

As bounty hunters enter the land from all sides, looking to kill Hatfields and claim their rewards, more fighting over land and jurisdiction ensues — this time between the governors of Kentucky and West Virginia. Unable to see his ailing love and their child, Johnse impetuously decides to marry Roseanna’s cousin Nancy, and things look primed to grow worse from here.



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