Aaron Guzikowski said he was going to break Jason Momoa in the second season of The Red Road, and in the finale “Shadow Walker” we get a glimpse at what the writer might have meant by that. Momoa’s Kopus spent much of the first season manipulating the people around him in such a way that Walter White would have been proud, but season two showed a few cracks in the otherwise stoic armor. The final hour blew those cracks open and ended up being a solid end to a shaky and uneven season.
And that title — “Shadow Walker” — gets to the heart of Kopus’s character (and Harold’s character, too) and relates beautifully to the title of the show. In my limited understanding of Native American spirituality, the “red road” is the right path, the good path, the road to redemption. Whether we’re talking about the taut first season cat-and-mouse game between Kopus and Harold or the flagging, multifaceted plots of the second, it’s always been clear that this shifting morality is at the heart of the show. Both main characters walk the red road to varying degrees, as does Junior, as does Jean, as does every other character in the show. Kopus and Harold are the most interesting (in theory) because they’re foils: Harold is the police captain and family man who gets to where he is by lying, Kopus is the ex-convict who just might be starting to see the light.
Defining shadow walker is tough because there are multiple definitions, some from this tribe, some from that tribe, some likely attributed to a tribe falsely, and so on and so on. Some state that a shadow walker is a special person that walks between the two worlds — the seen and the unseen, the living and the dead — and knows that death is not the ultimate end. This seems to be the general underlying idea behind a shadow walker: that there is an uncrossable line dividing two worlds or two versions of life, and a shadow walker may cross it. Some definitions emphasize walking between light and dark but having no allegiance to either; applying this to Kopus and Harold is particularly fruitful after this second season, as there is still a pervading sense of Harold siding with the “good” and Kopus representing “bad”.
It might seem a perfect set up for a “Breaking Bad + reverse Breaking Bad (or Breaking Good)” formula, as Harold drifts to the dark side and Kopus passes him on the way to the light. Distilling The Red Road into that is too simple, and the proof is in the application of titles like “Shadow Walker” to characters like Kopus. At the close of the episode Junior and Marie are both lying in agonizing pain after an attack by Levi’s men, and it’s possible that both of them might be dead come season three. I find it hard to believe that Junior would be killed off after so much development in the first two seasons, and I find it hard to believe that Marie would survive the cataclysmic events. But for now it doesn’t matter: we’ve seen that Kopus genuinely cares about these people, whether he cares to admit it or not, and getting him to admit it might be what Guzikowski meant by “breaking” the character.
So not only is it too simple to have Kopus recognize the error of his ways and the danger that follows him, but it’s not as interesting as the concept of Kopus as shadow walker. The red road is something to follow, something to seek — but attaining the right path doesn’t necessarily make for good drama in the world of this show. If Kopus is shorn of ties on both sides, good and bad, what choice does he have but to operate with no allegiances? The further issue is that one might argue Kopus has been operating with no allegiances, but that’s easily countered once we recognize that Kopus has always held a major allegiance to himself. Giving that up would be akin to truly breaking Kopus, and that would make for one hell of a character arc.
Harold’s a part of this as well, but it doesn’t feel as if we know his character nearly as well. He’s well-drawn and well-acted, but he didn’t really do very much in the second season apart from the last-minute crusades to protect the town water supply and find Junior. Hopefully season three will boost his importance and continue to further the relationship between Harold and Kopus, and hopefully the newfound love of style that pervaded the second season will carry over as well. That’s mostly what I’ll remember from the season: the slow zoom out from Kopus’s bed through the hole in the ceiling (which he utilized to great effect here in “Shadow Walker”), the foreboding shot of a little orange pumpkin, the brilliant visions that Jean encounters in her everyday routines. Despite a lack of verve since the end of the first season, The Red Road still holds wonders in these little moments and is deserving of a third season.