May 30, 2012

THE SKED FINALE REVIEW: “Hatfields & McCoys”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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HATFIELDS & MCCOYS, already a blockbuster hit, kept its best and most compelling hours for last.  Although the conclusion of the 6-hour tale, directed throughout by Kevin Reynolds and with this installment written by Ted Mann and Ronald Parker, has its share of tense confrontations and large-scale action, it dwells more on the wreckage caused by the infamous feud on both families, and becomes the dramatically richer for it.

There are no winners by the end of the H&M saga, just a sad procession of needless, suffering victims.  Much of the night’s first hour deals with Anse Hatfield’s (Kevin Costner) decision to launch a surprise New Year’s morning attack on Randall McCoy’s (Bill Paxton) own family home, with the belief that if he can just eliminate Randall, the entire feud will disintegrate.  Illness prevents Anse from leading the raid himself, and when he puts his impulsive uncle Jim Vance (Tom Berenger) in charge, disaster is more or less assured.  And so it comes, although when it does it’s even more tragic and random than expected.  Berenger does his best acting of the series in these scenes, and Paxton and Mare Winningham (as Randall’s wife Sally) are superb as well.

The show, to its credit, even manages to somewhat redeem its weakest subplot subject, Anse’s bland son Johnse (Matt Barr).  Johnse at this point is married to the vengeful, vixenish Nancy McCoy (Jena Malone, terrific), and when he drunkenly lets a piece of family information slip to her, the consequences are bleak.  Costner has some extremely difficult, emotionally complicated scenes to play in this section, with wife Levicy (Sarah Parish) and Johnse, and his work is a reminder of just what a good an actor he can be.

The final hour of the series is concerned with the litany of death and damage that befalls both the Hatfields and McCoys as a result of the feud, much of it caused by now-Marshall Frank Phillips (Andrew Howard), another man who crosses Nancy McCoy’s path.  It includes a pitched fight between the clans, known as the Battle of Grapevine, expertly staged by Reynolds so that, even though what’s happening on the field is often confused and disorganized, we the viewers can always tell what’s going on.  In the end, one of the family leaders has to make an awful sacrifice to finally stop the bloodshed.

Hatfields & McCoys deserves its success.  It has its hokey moments (Mare Winningham is tasked with delivering several too-prophetic lines, as when she suddenly stares off from her front porch and intones “That’s where they’ll come,” before any attack is on its way), and the legal aspect of the feud, which reached all the way to the US Supreme Court, is often referred to but never really dramatized.  Some of the characters do things–perhaps in real life, too–that seem remarkably silly, like the Hatfields who agree to let the most untrustworthy McCoy of all, scheming lawyer Perry Cline (Ronan Vibert) represent them in court.

The strengths of the piece overshadow those flaws.  Costner and Paxton are particularly good at registering the pain they’re causing their own kin, becoming progressively more drained and weighed-down by the years of family suffering.  The physical production is completely convincing, and the pace never flags for 6 hours.  If History can keep up this level of quality, it will be a worthy addition to the networks offering scripted drama in their programming mix.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."