Thursday, February 17, 2011

TV Episode Review: Justified "The Life Inside"

Last week’s premiere offered so much promise embodied in the quiet, southerly-charming evil and repugnance of the Bennett family that it was hard to be away from them for most of this week’s episode.  It was doubly cruel of the writers to give us just a nip of the Bennett cider to remind us how good this season is likely to be when Raylan gets around to going after them.  Dickie and Coover are busy tossing one dead daddy down a mine shaft after covering him in a generous dusting of lye (“cause momma said so”), and Mags is still doling out cider, this time to Loretta, daughter of the man she killed with a different kind of cider last week, without batting an eyelash.  We’re also treated to an odd little wrinkle in the dynamics of Harlan County’s who’s who when Raylan’s Aunt Helen and Arlo both chastise him tenaciously about sniffing around in whatever Mags might be doing.  Their adamancy clearly goes beyond simple notions of keeping things neighborly, so we can expect some sordid history between the Givens and Bennetts to emerge eventually. Foreshadowing and master storyaside, “The Life Inside” proved worthy of the side trip, peppered as it was with drinks with Boyd, kidnappings, threats of impromptu C-sections and some great scenes between Raylan and Wynona (not to mention the impotent Gary). 

I mentioned last week finding myself wondering where Boyd was.  Turns out his little explosives exploit at the tail end of the premiere was actually not as bad as it looked—he’s found himself a job as a miner, which is honest work even if it’s too risky even for Raylan, who isn’t even afraid of “heights, snakes, or red-headed women.”  Whether Boyd’s honest day’s work is going to be the only thing he contents himself with remains to be seen, but he’s certainly his usual innocence-pleading self at the bar, eventually telling Raylan they don’t really need to speak further since Raylan will never believe him anyway.  The dynamics of their relationship are a huge part of the wonderful underpinnings of the show in general.  At least in the show’s version of “The South”, to know someone is to be bound to them in some compassionate way regardless of where life takes them—thus does Raylan warmly greet Mags, Boyd, his weasel of a father (okay, that one took him a while to warm up to), and every other familiar face he runs into as an officer of the law.  Similarly does it explain the somewhat surprising moment that bookends tonight’s episode with Boyd showing up drunk and bloodied at Ava’s doorstep, where despite her warnings that she won’t ever do this again, it’s very clear that she cares for his well-being and has at least some sympathy for where life has brought him.  Their relations will be something worth keeping an eye on in coming weeks, as Ava strikes me as exactly the type of person who would take up with someone like Boyd again just to prove a point to Raylan. 
That said, if Raylan still has Wynona standing at the door of his closet critiquing his limited clothing options in weeks to come, who needs a southern floozy with a grudge complicating life?  The growing role of Wynona on the show has been really fun to watch, and I welcome Gary’s declaration of war on Raylan in tonight’s episode, though I really doubt his salesmanship will hold a candle to Raylan’s smooth-talking, gun-slinging natural air of intrigue.  But you do have to admit that Raylan and Wynona are both awfully full of lightning and gun powder (you can tell I made that up myself because it doesn’t really make sense) to get along again permanently. Wynona is just kidding when she says “sometimes I look at you and I never want to see you again” and that there “are no other times,” but you get the impression that she knows better—part of her knows he’s bad news and she’s walking right into the same trap she did the first time around, but man does he look good in a cowboy hat.  Whatever the eventual outcome, they’re left in a touching place tonight; both touching Wynona’s stomach longingly to be exact, presumably because they never had children (Raylan knew they would end up divorced when she wanted to name their first child “Cody”) and Raylan just helped save an unborn child from an uncertain future.  But it was also clearly a moment where both of them considered a possible future together, complete with a child, and it isn’t clear what either of them thought about that unspoken proposition.  Seeing their hands resting together on her stomach was a refreshingly peaceful image though, after an hour of rather disturbing violence and threats of violence (nothing more cringe-inducing than children or pregnant women in direct peril). 

Not that I’m complaining about peril and violence.  The episode was a somewhat forgettable entry to add to last season’s non-master story episodes in which we’re treated to antagonists of varying degrees of evil.  Jess Timmons has been well paid by Prison Guard Cosgrove to get rid of two little problems for him—a knocked up inmate and the baby whose DNA would look curiously similar to Cosgrove’s, should anybody think to check.  The poor inmate thinks she’s just getting a chance to give the baby up to foster care and have a chance at a good life, but Cosgrove’s purpose is murderous and Timmons (who he knows of from time spent at another prison) is more than happy to oblige him for a price, which a new baby will conveniently fetch on the open market. 
If there’s a weak point in the whole proceedings, it’s the two-dimensional, grinning evil of Timmons, who is far too vicious to seem real, and his EMT friend who really only exists as a character who will realize things have gone too far and try to resist so that Timmons can kill him and prove his own evil even more convincingly to the audience.  It makes for uninteresting villains, despite the disturbing nature of their intentions, but the show writers are wise enough to keep things moving and complicate the evil-doings by making the true mastermind (perhaps a misnomer in this case) a much more ambiguous character in Cosgrove, who, adultery and black-market baby sales notwithstanding, seems like a rather sheepish man who is almost entirely overwhelmed by what he’s gotten himself into; an uncertain approach to life that Raylan has little respect for.  He cuts him off while he’s trying to explain himself and warns him to shut up before Marshal Gutterson hits him in the face, and that’s about the last we hear from him. 
Despite some rather dull villains, the episode gains some nice momentum in the final minutes as Timmons takes “The Life Inside” hostage, warning Raylan that he’ll be “cleaning baby guts off the fireplace” if he tries anything.  Timmons is outright disgusting here, devolving into a caricature of pure evil as he goes into a colorful if confusing anecdote about how taking the mother’s life to get at the baby seems “wasteful” when compared to the Plains Indians who used every part of the buffalo.  It seemed to serve no purpose other than to be “southern” and repugnant, but it somehow came off as interesting in a macabre way nevertheless.  Never to be rattled so long as he can rattle back, Raylan calmly ignores the anecdote and asks Timmons if he’s heard of “The Apricot” which is the sweet spot a sniper shoots for to paralyze AND kill.  In other words, you get hit there, you aren’t shooting anybody before you hit the floor.  It sounds like a real thing, but there’s no sniper to test the theory, and Gutterson finds it easier to just pump a bullet through Timmons’ forehead before he knows what hit him (it was a bullet, from Gutterson’s gun) and mom and baby are safe. 
Next week will hopefully bring a refocusing of Raylan’s attention on the Bennetts, and hopefully a bit more Boyd for good measure.  As an aside, “The Life Inside” was something of a downturn in quality for Justified, but it certainly had some fun moments and more than its share of seemingly small developments which will surely prove to be something more as the season wears on.  Tonight might be the show’s equivalent of kicking back on your porch swing and sipping cider from an oversized canning jar while you wait for the fireworks to start.  If tonight was just fireflies and a warm breeze, I’m quite excited about what the fireworks will look like.
Overall Rating:  8.3/10
Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you:
I like that Arlo is still sitting on that $20K somewhere.  He’s such a rascal!
Interesting that Arlo and Aunt Helen see Mags as “an old lady helping people with their glaucoma and stomach upset.”  Whether they really believe that  remains to be seen.
Wynona:  “You’re still at a place that puts a piece of paper over the toilet so what does that tell me?”  Raylan:  “That it’s sanitized for your protection.”
“Are we goin’ to the doctor or a rodeo?”
Wynona hates that she smells like Raylan all day, but ironically Gary is rather fond of the smell. 

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