The drama proceeds apace as Jensen and Kopus again find their lives intertwined.
When the Season 2 premiere of The Red Road airs Thursday evening on Sundance TV, faithful viewers finally will get an answer to one of the major questions left dangling after the violent climax of last year’s Season 1 finale: Was it really a good career move for Harold Jensen, the guilt-ridden, morally flawed cop played by Martin Henderson, to rescue Philip Kopus, the criminally inclined none-too-gentle giant played by Jason Momoa, from certain death at the hands of a vengeful Albanian drug dealer?
(For the benefit of those who tuned in late, Sundance TV offers a brief synopsis of the entire Season 1 storyline here.)
Advance reports indicate that series creator and executive Aaron Guzikowski has a slew of surprises in store for those eager to trek back to the fictional town of Walpole, New Jersey, where Martin, a local police officer, spent much of Season 1 trying to keep Jean (Julianne Nicholson), his mentally unstable wife, from being arrested for her role in a hit-and-run accident — while Kopus, a recently freed ex-con with family ties to a nearby Native American tribe, used his knowledge of the accident to blackmail Martin into enabling his drug-dealing activities.
In Season 2, tensions continue to mount between the residents of Walpole, where Martin lives with his wife and two daughters, and the Lenape community, where activist Marie Van Der Veen (Tamara Tunie) — Kopus’ disapproving mother — leads a campaign to gain federal recognition for her tribe. Skeletons are uncloseted, more blood is spilled – and Martin finds himself again entangled in an affiliation with an outlaw.
Martin Henderson phoned Cowboys & Indians recently to discuss what lies ahead on The Red Road.
Cowboys & Indians: When we last saw Harold Jensen and Philip Kopus, they appeared winded and wary after their shootout with three drug dealers who had tried — and failed — to kill Kopus. What happens next?
Henderson: Believe it or not, Harold gets promoted to lieutenant. In the aftermath of the finale of Season 1, both him and Kopus basically come together and form a story in order to protect themselves. After that, he gets promoted to lieutenant within the Walpole Police Department. As the season goes on, what we’ll see is a marked shift in Harold’s disposition, and his approach to his role in the police force and in the community. Of course, a lot of the catalyst of that is his promotion. He gets in touch with his ambition, which originally manifested in his athleticism.
If you recall, at the end of Season 1, he divulges what went on back when he was a young athlete. He was on track to go to Notre Dame, he was the star quarterback of his high school team, and he had a focus. But that athletic ambition was thwarted by the injury that he sustained in that game where his attention was broken.
C&I: Because of what had happened to Brian, his future wife’s troubled brother?
Henderson: Precisely. So if you remember all that, the basic idea here — and it’s not too explicitly said. I like that about [Aaron Guzikowski’s] writing. But if you’re tracking it all, you see this former athlete — as a result of that injury and, of course, his own guilt surrounding the death of [Brian] — he becomes the shell of his former self. What you witness in Season 1 is this man struggling to find his way as a leader of his family, as a protector. He feels quite impotent, particularly when he’s blackmailed by Kopus.
In Season 2, you see a reemergence of that passion and that ambition — and his power, really, as a man. And how he tries to inject that into the community in his role as a lieutenant. Also, there’s his ambition to then become captain. Really, that's related to that earlier fire and talent that lay dormant over the course of 15 years.
So you’ll see in Season 2 a very much more focused, ambitious, driven, and very active character. Whereas in Season 1, Harold was very reactive. Aaron and I talked about that. Harold is sort of the phoenix rising from the ashes of his former mistakes. He’s now in a position in his life where he's willing to take the reins again and honor that athletic ambition. But this time, he's channeling it into his role as a police officer, and also as the father and husband in his family. He still feels very much devoted to that role.
C&I: You speak of Harold’s wanting the role of protector. Do you think that is what drew him to Jean in the first place? Maybe he didn’t know she was schizophrenic at the time. But maybe he felt she was someone who needed protection?
Henderson: I don't think it would have been something that he consciously sought out. But on an unconscious level? Certainly. He would have sensed that in her. Of course, I think it goes both ways. Often times, most relationships are very codependent. I always felt, particularly in Season 1, that their relationship was quite classically codependent. And when you look at the way in which he responds to her illness — that’s interesting, too.
C&I: At first, he refuses to accept her doctor’s diagnosis. It’s like he’s saying, “How could that be possible? How could I have not noticed that by now?”
Henderson: Yeah, yeah. I think there is obviously a level of denial within [Harold] and then therefore within the relationship. One question that came up a lot of with different journalists in Season 1 was, how could Harold not know his wife was schizophrenic? Surely, the symptoms manifested in different ways, way before she was as symptomatic as she was in Season 1, and when she was in the hospital. But again, I think there's a level of denial there. In many ways, I think the relationship is very indicative of that sort of codependent relationship. I think, in a way, he probably did sense that. But not consciously.
C&I: Of course, for most viewers, the most interesting relationship in The Red Road is the edgy give-and-take between Harold and Kopus. At first glance, they seem very dissimilar – and not just because of the pronounced differences in their physical sizes. But as Season 1 progressed, we saw that they’re quite evenly matched — in fights, face-offs, whatever — and may be more alike than either would care to admit.
Henderson: I think it’s an interesting dichotomy. Clearly, on a physical level, the relationship is unbalanced. [Laughs] Jason could sort of bop me down with one punch. That’s evident still in Season 2, the sheer bulk and power of the man. Yet, Aaron is so clever in writing all these other factors that influence the true power dynamic — whether it's political power within the community, or it's emotional power based on guilt that someone can hold over someone else. That's constantly shifting, even in Season 1 as things unraveled. That power is shifting by degrees, back and forth, between each of them. They both are very attuned to what their position is. They’re both trying to use it to get leverage over the other person, to get their needs met. I think that makes for really interesting, sophisticated drama.
It’s the same in Season 2. Although it’s very different, and Harold becomes even more powerful because of his position. That gives him a certain leverage over Kopus. Yet, Kopus has information. I'm not going to give too much away, but there’s a lot of political intrigue in the vein of Chinatown in Season 2. A lot of corruption that starts to get exposed within the community, that Harold starts to uncover. He tries to be moralistic about it. At the same time, in exposing things, he runs the risk of offending people within his community. He’s in this delicate place where he's trying to actually represent both the indigenous Lenape community plus the white, middle class community that he's a representative of.
What’s happening is, both characters are acutely aware of who has power as things unravel. They both have very different ends. What happens in Season 2 — again, I’m not giving too much away, but they end up very much coming together in order to satisfy their own needs. I’m talking very broadly, though, because I don’t want to give away all the twists.