Thursday, April 7, 2011

TV Episode Review: Justified “Brother’s Keeper”

The horrors of the Bennett clan were fully revealed tonight with monstrous and disturbing clarity, providing reassurance that this is ultimately their season on Justified.  Revolving around their dark center are Boyd (now dragging Ava along for whatever is to come), Carol Johnson (who becomes a surprisingly sympathetic character when dashed against the rocks of Mags’ unforgiving will and resolve) and the rest of Harlan County.  The “Big Whoopty-Doo” Mags promised last week at the town meeting was the centerpiece this week, and at the end of the night I don’t know that you could put a more fitting name on the affair.  Mags sits back enjoying it all over a masonry jar of that Apple Pie drink she’s so fond of, until Carol asks for a palaver and gets told politely to take a walk.  Carol takes a pleasantly firm stance with Mags, pointing out that the company will blow the top off the mountain no matter how many times Mags dismisses her as a “carpet baggin’ shit stepper” so she might as well listen to the offer.  To her surprise, Mags is suddenly responsive—turns out she just hadn’t heard the right price offered yet for the whole of Harlan County.  It isn’t any surprise that Mags’ speech last week was less about protecting her little town and more about playing an angle, but the boundary between righteous indignation and personal interest was blurry at best.  As she quickly reveals to Carol, the only thing that matters is taking care of the Bennett family interests—the town will weather the storm of “the spoil” that she preached as an apocalypse of sorts last week.

“The Spoil” ended with Boyd’s eyes widening over a topographical map as he realized what it is that Mags is up to.  Whatever we might have hoped he would do with that information, I think it’s fair to say it’s somewhat disappointing to discover that he climbs into bed with her on it immediately.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s also hard not to grin at least a bit at how cleverly Boyd has managed to take a couple scrapes with the law—and death—and managed to roll them over into a new job with a big coal company and now an uneasy but potentially fruitful partnership with the most dangerous family in town.  Or perhaps it isn’t even a partnership—Mags basically hands him the keys to the kingdom, for whatever a kingdom like Harlan County is worth.  While we’re on the subject, it’s also hard not to grin at the little jig he does with those clod-hopper boots of his after sealing the deal—he seems to be slowly charming Ava into accepting him on at least some level.  Speaking of dancing, there seems to be some fleet-footedness to Boyd’s role in the procuring of the last tract of land from Arlo and Helen as well; there’s no way they sold to him without some enticement, which he no doubt provided, but I’m certain that enticement will prove itself to be at a crossroads with the interests of Mags (and possibly Big Pike) sooner or later. 

Incredibly, the episode was so packed with character conflicts that the dirty dealings between Carol, Mags, and Boyd seemed almost insignificant (though a joy to a watch—more phenomenal dialogue from a season stuffed with it) by comparison to other developments.  Most notably for me was the final mistake of Coover, who has at heart been a tragic figure since the beginning.  His innocent devotion to his mother took a dark turn as we witnessed her smash his fingers as punishment for his poor judgment and tonight when he overheard his mother telling poor Loretta that she’s the child Mags has always wanted—since she had to tell people she dropped Coover on his head as a baby just to explain him away—you could see tragedy on the horizon.  You may recall that I felt the character swung too far into mentally disabled territory in that finger smashing scene a few episodes ago.  It’s a concern I felt troubled by again at moments tonight as Coover’s behavior took on the near-animalistic simplicity of famous mentally impaired characters like Lennie from Of Mice and Men.  At any rate, tonight he might be the most sympathetic character in his own dark way; his plan to reveal Loretta’s father’s fate to her is disgusting and cruel (not to mention a signature on his own death warrant, which he would realize if he weren’t crippled by a simple mind), but it’s really nothing but the lashing out of an angry child at an unwanted sibling who has proven to be the favorite of a cherished parent’s love.  The fact that when confronted by his death his mother seems near tears only when she’s told by Raylan that she’ll never speak with Loretta again is a finishing touch worthy of Shakespearean tragedies.

In hastening his own demise, Coover proves a bit wilier in his own way than mama might have given him credit for when he reads right through Loretta’s formaldehyde-laced peace offering and puts a little plan of his own into play to be rid of her.  Dickie gets a nice moment of humanity here as well when he unsuccessfully defends Loretta’s well-being as best he can with his frail body (he uses Mags as a persuasive tool, but it seems he has some genuine human interest in not seeing a little girl killed by his crazed brother—it’s an effectively played moment for the character).  Though Dickie is easily overcome by Coover’s choke hold, Raylan is able to wake him up and torture the location of his brother and Loretta from him via the application of his boot to Dickie’s bum knee in a moment which makes Raylan seem a touch vicious, given that he knows he’s the source of Dickie’s limp in the first place.  The episode seems to want this sympathy for the Bennett brothers tonight:  Consider that Dickie’s limp is the centerpiece of the confrontation between Raylan and Dickie when he tries to enter the house for the meeting with Carol and his mama.  The camera is placed low as he limps past it into frame with Raylan staring bemusedly in the background.  Adding insult to injury—quite literally—Raylan lifts a perfectly healthy booted leg to block the door from Dickie and then removes him forcibly from his own porch when he doesn’t take the hint.  Of course Raylan is simply doing his job, and Dickie has more than earned everything that’s coming to him, but there’s also an inherent sadness to he and his brother’s characters—they’ve been robbed of most things by a parent who has pointed them down the darkest path with no other options and exploited the weaknesses of each to keep them firmly under her boot.  The scene ends as it began—with a low angle shot of Dickie limping back the way he came, passing clumsily past the camera in defeat. 

This week’s episode was really all about the relations between adults and children, parental figures and those they care for.  Loretta dismisses Raylan early in the episode after a hilarious incident where he shoos away a boy who’s a bit too old to be courting her.  She says, innocently, that she has a daddy to do that for her.  Raylan keeps quiet about it, but his promise that he’s only a phone call away proves important by episode’s end when she realizes he’s the closest thing to a protective parent she has in a moment when she needs one desperately.  When he catches up to them at the mine shaft the scene seems set for a bizarre role reversal:  Raylan is inches from being tossed down a mine shaft to his death by Coover when Loretta levels a gun at Coover and threatens to use it.  True to form, though, Raylan is thinking a few plays ahead—for Loretta to shoot Coover is to allow her to suffer even more emotional devastation (not to mention possible court proceedings and the further wrath of the rest of the Bennetts) and so Raylan makes the snap decision a parent would make—he kills Coover so that she doesn’t have to grow up with blood on her hands.  It’s a clever and subtle moment which speaks rather violently to the protective role parents play in their children’s’ lives when they actually care about them. 

By comparison, all of Mags’ talk of protecting the town is dismissed to the tune of a few million dollars from Big Pike, and she’s no more troubled by it than a skeeter bite; she even kicks back and sings an ironic song about a mountain after the party.  She gives a speech about her family being taken care of for generations to come, but this is family in a more abstract sense—she doesn’t seem particularly beholden to any of her three boys except in so far as they can further her financial security and strengthen her influence.  Knowing full well that she is the only voice in town strong enough to turn around the company which will destroy it makes her speeches about protecting the land even more morally disgusting.  The writers are clever tonight in putting the true nature of the betrayal and what it will mean into the mouths of the common folk.  A man named Hobart gets a bit aggressive with Carol at the party, laying hands on her and trying to stroke her hair before she casually break several of his fingers for him, to Raylan’s amusement.  But note carefully his protests:  He’s guilty of being a sexual aggressor (not quite a rapist, but the implication stands) and when he’s called to the table on it he points out that Carol goes around “laying her hands on whatever she wants” but he’s a monster for attempting to put a hand on her.  It’s an apt metaphor, and if Mags truly considers herself an overseer of the town in any sense, it speaks poorly of her as a “parent” when she signs her charge over to a company which will rape and exploit it and leave it to die. 

Everything was working tonight—it was a phenomenal episode from start to finish in terms of dialogue and energy, and it was loaded with more significant developments than I had really expected before the final couple episodes of the season.  “I lit up like a firecracker” Mags tells Loretta about a hair clip she was given by her elders when she was younger.  By the end of this episode, pretty much every character is burning like a firecracker, leaving us wondering what it will look like when they blow.  Mags is sure to be on the warpath given the unfortunate ending tonight, Raylan is free to refocus his attention on the whole Bennett family, Boyd is off and running with we-know-not-what, and perhaps almost overlooked is the fact that something is a bit off about Carol’s deal with the devil:  She tells Mags that she’s “never seen the company lay down the way they have here” but something is off about her defeated and conciliatory manner.  If I had to guess, I’d say that she may have one more ace up her sleeve.  Her unceremonious exit from Raylan’s car at the side of the road is certainly too sudden an exit to be the final curtain call for such an impactful character.  Plus, he still has her bags.

Overall Rating:  9.8/10

Great Lines, Interesting Moments, What Not, and Occasionally What-Have-You:

“How far away ya’ll from actually makin’ some goddamn music?”

Doyle’s oddly hip-hop infused southern threat to Boyd and Ava is interesting:  “You go’n bounce one way or the other.”

Coover doing a bit of coke off of his cast was tragic and weird all at the same time.

Exchange of the night:

Raylan:  I never was much for cloggin’.  I had a cousin; we called him Heinz--claimed he had 57 dance moves no one had ever seen before.
Carol:  Why ain’t he here?
Raylan:  Eh, his wife shot him.

Carol kissing Raylan on the mouth “for luck” can’t be the end of that odd little romantic interest.

Odd that Carol waxes a bit poetic about the mountain which will be torn down and Raylan’s the one who dismisses it as “just a mountain”. 

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