I’m really surprised there are no movies called The Penultimate Hour. It’s a decent title in a James Patterson sort of way, or in a Van Damme sort of way. The closest thing might be Philip K. Dick’s novel The Penultimate Truth, or the 2007 documentary on the author called The Penultimate Truth About Philip K. Dick. Those are great titles. There are a few movies called The 11th Hour — and funnily enough, there is James Patterson book by that title — and I suppose that means the same thing. “Eleven” doesn’t carry the same force as “penultimate”, though, does it?
The only thing any of this has to do with The Red Road is that “The Hatching” is the penultimate episode of season two, the literal penultimate hour, and that’s generally the hour in which…well, what happens in the penultimate episode of a season? It used to be the case that season finales were tantamount to a bunch of awesome stuff, meaning the previous episode was usually spent getting everything set up for the fireworks. That’s changed recently. Game of Thrones made a casual tradition of having the ninth episode of each season (the penultimate of each in the case of Game‘s 10-episode seasons) be far more action-packed than the ensuing finales. Breaking Bad‘s “Ozymandias” delivered finale-level intensity with two episodes still to follow, and Better Call Saul‘s penultimate hour “Pimento” was likewise the season’s best.
So what happens in “The Hatching”? Difficult to say. Season two has been all over the place, both by the relative standard of the first season and the relative standard of a television show, and so it’s hard to say whether the penultimate episode sets up a fireworks-filled finale or just kind of fills the space between episodes four and six. That’s another fair point: these seasons are only six episodes long — odd for American television but not odd at all for most British series — and so one might expect the rise and fall of a season to be much more condensed. In a sense that’s true, but then again the penultimate episode of last season (“The Great Snake Battle“) was both the season’s best and a fitting set-up for the action of the finale (“Snaring of the Sun“).
In “The Hatching” we find out who killed Mac, which was ostensibly the set-up for the entire season. We get a team-up of sorts between Harold and Kopus, which was ostensibly what we wanted from the season. We get revelations on Jean’s part having to do with her brother Brian, which I can’t imagine anybody wanted. And we get a slight emergence of Wes Studi’s Chief Levi as the “villain” of the season, finally showing his true colors as he puts a bullet in a guy’s head and hunts Junior, his own son, through the forest on his reservation. Those sound like epic, end-of-chapter developments, but somehow “The Hatching” doesn’t play out as such.
We’ll leave the Mac-killing and the Jean-hallucinating stuff for the moment, as the former seems all but wrapped up and the latter — despite treading old ground we thought we’d left behind — continues to provide an interesting and otherworldly aspect to this season of The Red Road. The other two points of note in “Hatching” — the Harold-Kopus team-up and the Levi villainy — are connected in a way that makes the impending finale “Shadow Walker” into potentially the most interesting episode the series has had. That’s because the expectation is perhaps fairly obvious: Harold and Kopus will save Junior from Levi.
The question is what they’ll lose in doing so, which is what makes “Shadow Walker” instantly intriguing in the wake of “The Hatching”. Granted, that expectation might prove to be flipped on its head by the time the season wraps, and that might be nice. But the trend so far has been one of Harold getting promotions and accolades and good jobs piled upon him while Kopus is met with a torrent of shit, and they’ve basically done the same stuff. Harold’s lied just as many times as Kopus in order to get what he wants, and he still ends up on top. Now that he and Kopus are literally together in a kind of mission to save Junior, will the end result be the same for both of them? Likely not. Even if they do simply save Junior and kill Levi, Harold’s a police chief and Kopus is an ex-con currently breaking his parole.
The real point here is that the first season of The Red Road set up something different than what the second season delivered. The best Road isn’t about Harold and Kopus — it’s about Harold vs. Kopus. Seeing the two go up against each other in the first six episodes was fantastic because you rooted for both of them, Harold because he’s an everyman backed into a corner and Kopus because he charmingly devious. Both of those traits are now evaporated, and as they trudge through the woods Harold is there because he wants to be and so is Kopus. In the long run, I hope Road returns to that battle between the two men, and if it does then their temporary team-up in “Hatching” might eventually provide more depth to their fundamental disagreements. For now, I just hope “Shadow Walker” ties the loose ends of the second season into something more promising for the future.