Thursday, March 17, 2011

TV Episode Review: Justified "Blaze of Glory"

“Blaze of Glory” made me wish Justified had some sort of companion show (like a Southland type drama) to compliment it on Wednesday evenings.  Tonight was such a fun, inviting episode of television centered on the likability of its characters (old and new) that I really wished at the end of it that there was something equally appealing lined up on the DVR when I was done with it.  Though truthfully it would be hard to follow up an hour like this, which featured lovely off-kilter romantic moments (in federal evidence cages), threats of violence carried out via medical oxygen tanks, and a low speed chase between old men where, for at least a few moments, you aren’t really sure who you’re pulling for (or who Art is really pulling for, for that matter).  Justified brought its one-timer A-game tonight, making this the type of episode we haven’t really been treated to this season but got plenty of last season with classics like the vigilante dentist, the hostage situation inside the station and that one crazy fun episode with the rich woman who had her husband murdered.  These episodes are so strong that it never even occurs to you that fairly suspenseful through-lines have been placed entirely on the back burner to cool for a week. 

Everyone who watches serial television expects episodes like this smattered throughout the run of a show, but very few serials manage to make them as entertaining and—dare I say it—highly anticipated than Justified.  On Lost they were almost unbearable and even on better shows (you know where I stand) like Fringe they’ve been uneven from one to the next.  But Justified uses them as opportunities to jam colorful characters into odd situations and crank the oddball dial to 11 on the villains.  It almost always results in an extra-base hit of an episode, and more than handful, like tonight, are home runs.

When the episode opened on Boyd and Ava (who we assume has agreed to whatever Boyd asked of her last week) facing some rough interrogation by ATF officers, I thought we were actually looking at another master plot episode which might decide Boyd’s fate for the season.  It was nice that instead we got a wonderful little dialogue exchange where the overconfidence of the officers, who believe Boyd is feeding them a southern-fried load of BS in claiming he was coerced into the entire robbery, severely overplay their hand and their intimidation.  Boyd’s reaction to their disrespect of Ava is handled perfectly by Walton Goggins, who owns his character’s demeanor on this show so completely that if I cared about any sort of awards for acting or television I would write those awards academies and demand he be nominated.  His threat is so gentle and even-keeled that it seems to carry complete resignation and truth behind it, though his interrogators mostly seem to see it as more rope for his noose.  Which is, of course, what makes Art’s intervention and helpfully explicit restatement of Boyd’s threat such a wonderful touch on the part of the writers—another moment where deep-seated relationships, and in this case simple etiquette rules both men clearly adhere to as part of an unshakable code, define who characters are much more soundly than which side of the law they stand on. 

The rest of the episode left me torn about whether I was more entertained by the criminal-of-the-week, Frank Reimer, who struck a wonderful balance between menacing (be honest, you wanted to see him club the scuzzball to death with the oxygen tank) and desperate (though not without dignity), or the wonderful interplay between Raylan and Wynona which lent a rather unusual emotional resonance to the entire episode.  Had the show ended with Frank’s slow motion escape from Art, I would certainly have awarded him the win in the debate, but the final moment between Raylan and Wynona was somehow more romantic than everything ever seen on Gray’s Anatomy smooshed together (and if you actually do find a way to smoosh that whole show together, throw it in the trash where it belongs).  While we’ve gotten used to finding Wynona waiting for Raylan at his place or knocking on his door at odd hours, it was a nice touch tonight that she wanted his company and touch after a day that was rattling for her both emotionally and physically.  It was made even more touching when passionate kissing simmered down into a quiet moment lying together on the bed with Raylan vocalizing what both of them know but neither needs to address in the moment.  The final shot of contentment on Wynona’s face was the perfect closure to their interactions tonight.

So I guess the romantic sub plot wins the night; who knew I was into the relationship drama on this show so much?  I did.  Though I question Wynona’s stupidity in taking cash from an evidence room—she is a lawyer for crying out loud—I suppose her current desperation to be free of Gary and the financial burden of their home might have led her to take a risk to get a reset on life.  Regardless, I was willing to overlook it simply for the quiet moment between the two of them in which the camera drifts gently between their faces as they imagine the life together they never got to make the first time and then retreats quietly as Wynona asks Raylan to give up the one thing he can’t (and shouldn’t really be asked to, in fairness):  his career in law enforcement.  It’s a sad moment, especially the clear disdain in her voice when she observes that “again we have silence” when he’s clearly hurt by not being able to relinquish the one thing she’s asking him to trade for her commitment.  It makes the later scene when he loses his temper with her for allowing herself to be kicked by a bank robber because she does everything it turns out he taught her not to do even more touching—it’s a little gem of revelation that while they were in love the first time around Raylan’s experience with criminals and his love for her were both deep enough to put her through some form of training for use in various emergency situations.  It lends a lot of credibility to why Wynona finds herself unable to tear herself from him even though she seems to feel quite strongly that she couldn’t survive the stress of being with him again.

I must say though, I’m not real into the stolen money plot spilling over into next week and possible further (judging by the preview).  It made for a good enough excuse to push the two of them closer and allow Raylan to play the hero to Wynona, who certainly has no need of male protection under normal circumstances, but it really doesn’t play well for me as a dramatic subplot with everything already on the show’s plate.  To me, it doesn’t seem to fit the spirit of the show—Wynona doesn’t seem like the type to get into this type of trouble and Raylan certainly doesn’t seem like the type to let himself haplessly fall into a position to become guilty by association (though I’ll admit they could play the love-connection angle effectively enough to make it believable). 

I suppose it served one additional purpose that I’m grateful for tonight in that it mostly tore Raylan’s attention away from the pursuit of Frank Reimer to put Art in the driver’s seat of that pursuit, leading to one of the most fantastic moments of the season.  Raylan gets the tough guys, and he plays it wonderfully; or I might say he plays them wonderfully, pointing out that the one wearing the road-flare “dynamite” vest is the dummy, and giving him a firm punch in the face as punishment for that, while incompetent Bobby Green just lays himself on the ground to be arrested.  It’s a solid Raylan moment, but it seems just slightly understated to me (consider how else he might have handled punishing the man who kicked Wynona) in order to give Art’s big scene a little bit more impact by comparison. 

Not that it needed the help:  His video messaging conversation with Frank, who it turns out he was within an hour of nabbing 30 years ago (an arrest which would have made his career), is a great moment between two men at a relatable point in life who carefully feel each other out and understand each other in a way that makes it difficult to really dislike one another.  It leads of course to Art’s revelation that Frank is “jetting”, so to speak, with the stolen money as the final move in a rather cleverly designed fake-out to rid himself of his dimwitted partners in crime.  Their standoff outside the hangar would have been intriguing enough had it simply been a solemn discussion between two old rivals who understand one another but know they must nevertheless play their roles in the unfolding drama.  Instead, the show’s writers deliver that cake with a beautifully decorated icing laid over it.  Frank’s decision to make a run for it is fitting enough—it’s easy to believe that Frank knows Art won’t shoot him—but what makes it wonderful is Art’s slow realization that he’s going to have to give chase, slowly, to prevent Frank from getting away again.  His threat to pull a Chief Brody on the oxygen tank with a clever “Jaws” reference is a wonderful Art moment—he’s a dry wit who makes himself quite clear without having to raise his voice.  Frank believes him enough to ditch the oxygen tank, resulting in a chase to the airplane which is hilarious without bringing actual laughter, perhaps because it’s balanced out so perfectly by the sadness that Frank is going to apply handcuffs to himself within spitting distance of his getaway plane, and has to face the additional defeat of having Art return his oxygen tank to him before he chokes to death on the last free breaths he’ll ever take.  When this show brings its A-game, I’m fairly confident that I’d put it up against anything on television for pure entertainment value.

Overall Rating:  9.8/10

Great Moments, Interesting Lines, Whatnot and Occasionally What-Have-You:

In my explorations of the interworld, it seems I’m somewhat alone in my perception of Coover as seeming mildly mentally impaired in last week’s climactic punishment scene.  I stick by my reading, but I also admit that it was sort of a relief to find that other people read it as something less troubling than I did—I’ll happily forget the whole thing if they don’t pursue such odd portrayals of his psyche from here on out. 

How great is Art—he has no use whatsoever for Boyd, but he’s happy to take his side when the ATF officers are getting a bit sloppy about how to treat a woman. 

I believe I’ve been referring to Arty as Arlo intermittently (or constantly) over the past few reviews.  Careless on my part—sorry for the confusion. 

Wynona is so sultry when she’s trying to win/break Raylan’s heart.  Heart melting line tonight:   “There was a good five or six minutes where I didn’t think about you once,” she says about spending the night lying awake in bed.

I love how simple life would be between Raylan and Wynona:  “Two rocking chairs on the porch…”  “Bunch of little Raylans running around with toy guns.”

Frank is pretty awesome:  “The next time you make me raise my voice, I’m going to take this oxygen tank and I’m going to beat you to death with it.”

Nice exchange:
Raylan:  “You get into Reisner’s computer?”
Computer Tech:  “What am I, an asshole?”

Art has hearing aids now because “my wife was complaining I couldn’t hear her; I decided to get ‘em anyway.”

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