Get ready, folks. Cuz this is gonna be good.
It all starts with two friends fighting side by side in the Confederate army. Next thing, one of them deserts and it puts a rift between the two. Feathers are ruffled and principles are offended. The war ends; they go home. Then a pig is accidentally stolen and it gets taken to court. Insults are hurled, shots are fired, lives are taken and bodies buried.
Welcome to the Hatfields and McCoys, otherwise known as If You Hurt My Family I'll Find a Way to Hurt Yours Even Worse.
Most people know a little of the story of the Hatfields and McCoys, but if you don't here's a brief overview; they were two families involved in a famous feud across the border of Kentucky and West Virginia in the years following the Civil War. This series chronicles the whole saga from beginning to end, and take it from me -- it's quite a story.
Now, before we get any further you ought to know something, and that is this is an EXTREMELY intense show. It ain't pretty. There's a heap of nasty language throughout, lots of shooting and a lot of death. If that sort of thing upsets you, you ain't gonna like this. I have to put a disclaimer in here because I really can't recommend this series across the board. It's rough.
....But it's SO GOOD.
Maaaaaaaan. This series tore me up and made me weep (WEEP I TELL YOU) and left a big ol' hole inside me for weeks after I finished it. It's terrible and I love it dearly.
I think cuz it's so full of history. It's got tough men and tough women, good, bad, and ugly. It's got pain and sorrow, and joy, but mostly pain and sorrow. It's got characters with names like Selkirk and Tolbert and Ellison and Johnse. It's got Powers Boothe with gray and and a beard, which, you've got to admit, is pretty stinkin' cool.
Everything about this show is excellent. The historical context, the pacing, the feel, the music. But it's the strong characters who drive the story, and lucky for you, I'm here to tell you alllllllll about them. :-) *rubs hands together*
LET'S START WITH THE HATFIELDS.
Even though I wouldn't say there's any one main character, you get the feeling "Devil" Anse Hatfield owns the story. Everything somehow goes back to Devil, who is the patriarch of the Hatfield clan -- and also happens to be played by Kevin Costner, who can't seem to help stealing the show wherever he goes.
The truth is, he's just THAT GOOD. Devil is a broody character, but believes in justice and ultimately means well (though obviously his methods are a little extreme, to say the least). But he's a good man. He loves his family and is loyal to them. He would rather not have to hurt his neighbors, but when crimes are committed against his family he feels it's the only way to strike back.
(I don't know about the rest of y'all, but just watching Kevin Costner brood around with that big ol' pipe in his mouth is enough to draw me in all the way.)
Jim Vance is Devil's uncle, played by Tom Berenger. Let me be the first to tell you that I absolutely HATE Jim Vance, and I mean it. Everybody here is violent and does some not-so-good things; most of them I can empathize with to some degree. But Jim Vance....no. He's so completely savage and brutal and all-out wicked that it's about impossible to find any good in him. Okay, he sticks by his family. That's about it. You don't want to cross Jim Vance, because there's no telling what he'll do -- but it's gonna be bad.
First of all, why do you have such a perfect name? Second of all, who authorizes you to grow your hair that way? And what gives you the right to be so sweet one minute, then completely stupid the next?
Basically, Johnse Hatfield ruined my life. He ruined it by being unbelievable wonderful, then completely aggravating, then just plain STUPID. He ruined me by not being "ashamed of loving Roseanna", then by picking that bunch of dried flowers for her at Aunt what's-her-name's house. He ruined me by trying hard, then giving up, then leaving West Virginia and taking off for Oregon and getting married four more times.
I'll talk more about you later, Johnse, but for now let's get on with the rest of the Hatfields.
I don't know what is, but there's something really attractive about Cap Hatfield. He's cold and he's brutal (and he's much too influenced by Uncle Jim, if you ask me) but still I really like him! Maybe it's his bad eye. Maybe it's the way he tries to keep his older brother Johnse from making an idiot out of himself. Maybe it's how he sticks by his friends. And, I guess, it's partly because he's such a fighter that I like him so much.
Levicy, Devil's wife and the boys' mother, shouldn't go unnoticed because she really is one tough woman (plus she's got a cool name). She's mostly quiet and doesn't butt in much, but you know she's got an opinion about everything. The women involved in this feud have got it rough -- here are their men, going off the handle about who stole whose pig and who killed whose brother and pointing guns at each other, and the for the women there's little or nothing they can do about it except support their families. In that respect, I admire Levicy a lot. I love the scene right after Devil comes back from the war and he and Levicy are reunited; it shows how much she really does love him and it brings out a tender side to this harsh, violent man.
Devil and Levicy have other sons...but they're rather diminished in comparison to Johnse and Cap's drama and I don't remember their names...so....(well, this is awkward).
Powers Boothe is awesome. Amen? He's done so many different roles and he owns them all. Uncle Wall has got maybe the most sense of anyone in this whole show, which is probably due in some way to that amazing gray beard he's got going on.
Oh, Randall McCoy, how I hurt for you. How I admire you for your principles and wish you would let things go all at the same time. I've seen Bill Paxton in Titanic and Tombstone and wasn't too blown away by either, but MAAAN, he's got this character in the BAG. Randall is much more sympathetic than Devil. He has very strong moral convictions and he abides by them. Like Devil, he cares for his family passionately and won't see them wronged, by anyone, but especially a Hatfield. When Devil deserts from the army, Randall is appalled and angry. When a Hatfield turns up with one of his pigs, Randall takes it (too?) seriously. Pretty soon he's immovable.
Randall's relationship with his wife Sally is much different than Devil and Levicy. You can tell just by the way the wives welcome their husbands back from war: Levicy with tears of joy, Sally with a simple remark, "Well, husband, I didn't want to give up on you but I think I did." Sally's a strange bird.
|Psssst....the one in the yellow shirt....you recognize him?|
The McCoy boys are like a gang all their own. I like Jim, I love Calvin (I LOVE CALVIN), I feel bad for the other ones, and I can't STAND Tolbert. Seriously Tolbert has anger issues. Tolbert....needs counseling. (Actually, basically everyone in this show could use a little professional help. But then they'd probably sue them.) The McCoy boys break my heart. One of THE MOST HEARTBREAKING parts is when Devil's got the boys locked up in the barn and Randall comes to negotiate, only to be driven away, and the boys are in there peeking out the cracks in the walls and yelling, "Poppy! Poppy!" And I'm like, "I can't handle this."
Speaking of stuff I can't handle...can we talk about Roseanna McCoy?
Oh, this poor, beautiful, sweet girl, and all the trouble she has to go through. Roseanna is an absolute darling. Johnse and Roseanna are surely one of the most tragic, beautifully bittersweet young love stories in the history of ever. If not for this stupid feud, they could have been so happy together, but because their parents would not budge their love only caused the rift to worsen. Roseanna's end is completely unfair and completely heartbreaking. As for Johnse....well, Johnse has issues, which we already knew.
Johnse has issues with staying true and staying with one girl for very long. (Enter Nancy McCoy.)
Now, I like to think that Johnse would have stuck by Roseanna if the pressure from his family had been any less. I think he loved her. He did try, after all. But because of the opposition, and because of Nancy's wily ways, and because of Johnse's apparent inability to resist the female variety when presented, Johnse & Nancy happened. And it wasn't good.
Backtrack...Nancy is a McCoy cousin, whose father was killed when she was just a little girl by none other than Jim Vance. Because of this, Nancy has a lifelong death wish for the Hatfields and tries to do anything she can to hurt them and their kind, which includes marrying Johnse so she can use things against him. This is yet another situation in which Johnse demonstrates himself to be highly stupid.
Of all these characters, for some reason Johnse gets me the most, and I can't say why, except it might be because he's the most fallible...yet I believe in his heart, he does want to do the right thing, he just never knows how to do it. Johnse is like a little boy trying to be a man and going about it all wrong. He has so much potential, but when he gets wrapped up in this feud, it all but kills the good in him and he twists all out of control.
That's pretty much what the feud does to everybody.
Perry Kline is a cousin of the McCoys who shows up at their house and then, I guess, decides to live there because he doesn't leave for the rest of the series. Perry Kline fancies himself a lawyer. He tries to help, but he only makes things worse. He's got a very annoying Southern accent and Sally McCoy doesn't like him.
Bad Frank Phillips was rightly named. He shows up as a Pinkerton agent, but quickly transitions into being just his own agent, and is hired by Randall McCoy to track down the offending Hatfields.
There are a whole bunch of characters who come and go (translate: die) throughout the story, and all are affected by the feud. Some mean well, some want nothing but to fight and kill, some just give up trying to fix things and do whatever anyone tells them, but all of them have a story, and that's one of the things I like about long series like this -- everybody's got their own story, all twined up in one long, agonizing saga.
There's so much drama, so much action, so much to tell that I can't possibly fit it all into something that was intended to be a review, but is more like a long rambling exclamation of all the mixed-up feelings and emotions I have concerning
Johnse Hatfield this whole story....I'll just tell you, there are trials. There are murders. There are knife fights, and love stories, and betrayal, and chases, and hangings, and an all-out battle near the end. It's all good. But possibly the most fascinating scene in the entire series, in my view?
When Devil takes Johnse fishing.
I can tell you, I was scared. I had a sinking feeling when they rode off together and left Levicy standing in the doorway, her face pained with worry. The feeling got deeper when Johnse sat there with his fishing rod and Devil drew his pistol out of his pocket, and when Johnse turns his head ever-so-slightly and his eyes mist over....he knows. Ohhhhmygoodness, I think I stopped breathing for a moment. I thought Devil would do it. I thought he'd go home to Levicy and tell her he'd done it...but when Devil rides up to the house and dismounts his horse, there comes Johnse right behind him, and the look on Levicy's face.
Folks, this is what I'm talking about. THIS IS INTENSE STUFF.
I don't mean the killing itself is mesmerizing, but the story of these two families is, to me. The way they think and the way they react in their time and culture is fascinating. Some of the things that arise you'd think could be easily settled, but no, it's a big deal. Everything is about honor, and these guys take their honor very seriously....trust me.
|Here's Johnse and Roseanna being HAPPY together, for a limited time only|
UHHHHH, THE DRAMA. THE TRAGEDY. When Randall lugs Roseanna's hope chest out into the yard on that stormy night, I just about die. And when Johnse stands up to Tolbert's pointing gun and says, "I ain't ashamed of lovin' Roseanna," I'm gone. Oh, Johnse, stop being so wonderful. When Roseanna confronts her father on the porch and says, "You used to say I was your favorite"....when they bring poor little Cotton-Top in the wagon and he's waving like he's in a parade....when Uncle Wall turns himself in....and when Devil is dunked in that creek by the preacher, his hair white as snow....this is good stuff, people. This is drama and this is legend and this is HISTORY.
I can't resist anything that gives historical biographies for the characters at the end. ;-) I shouldn't spoil it for y'all (in case you're going to go against my advice and your own better judgement and watch it yourself), but I will say it's a pretty darn spectacular ending.
Alright, and I guess we all know by now that Johnse moved to Oregon and married four more times.
Here are the good things about this series: there are strong values portrayed. There's loyalty, honesty, selflessness, sacrifice. There are moments that chill your soul, maybe some that'll make your jaw hit the floor. There are bushels of violence and nuggets of truth, and there are characters you won't forget.