Saturday, April 16, 2011

TV Episode Review: Justified “Debts and Accounts”

Another powerful episode of television was placed before us this week by the team behind Justified, who seem increasingly confident in the directions they’re taking the show’s growing cast of characters (which is not to say they ever lacked confidence, but the show’s sure-footedness seems more bold than ever given the past three entries).  The episode represented advances on all fronts of the brewing war between more factions in Harlan County than I care to take reckoning of.  Some developments hold a lot of promise, others can mean nothing but trouble, and in the case of Raylan and Art they may be the foreshadowings of regrettable endings (I’m not too sure Raylan and Wynona are bound for a happy ending either). Collectively they made for one powerful night of television.

“Debts and Accounts” wasted no time in addressing the relationship that has had me on pins and needles more than any other in the past few weeks.  Raylan finally can’t resist popping into Art’s office to ask “Where do we go next?” in order to know where he stands with things.  It’s a bold admission (though really, he doesn’t have many other moves available to him) on his part, and it certainly doesn’t result in the conversation he had hoped for from a man he clearly respects greatly, however much he may defy him as a boss.  Once Art puts his cards on the table, Raylan withdraws in a rare moment of sheepishness, but Art freezes him in his tracks with the wonderfully Art-ish “You opened this can, let’s eat it all.”  He tells Raylan they never will talk about that thing they never did talk about and wounds him doubly by saying he’s stuck with Raylan—a lousy marshal but a good law man—and Art has resigned himself to the fact that he’ll never change him.  He says he’d hoped to someday laugh at it “but shit, I don’t think you’re gonna live that long.”  For his part, Raylan is every bit the guilty child who has realized too late how deeply his actions have hurt a parent and the relationship they had.  It makes the scene all the more tragic—easily the season’s saddest moment for me—and to some extent even more frustrating, given the silly subplot that led up to it. 

Not that there was time to dwell on such things tonight.  The very next scene finds Mags meeting Raylan’s Aunt Helen for coffee in order to clear her debts—cash and otherwise.  Helen is obviously interested in larger issues, namely the “20 years of peace we held in our hands” prior to the death of Coover.  Mags acknowledges the importance of that peace and the fact that Raylan had to protect Loretta but adds “that may be true, but I hurt” in a tone so sullen that I completely withdraw my comments from last week regarding her seemingly callous attitude about Coover’s death.  Her heartbreak is measurable in the sadness with which she hollowly asks Helen—or perhaps God—“What do we gain soaking these hills with more blood?” before giving her word to preserve the peace.  It’s a promise I don’t think we need to doubt; her deep southern ties to someone like Helen Givens are far too important for her to betray with a broken promise.

Whatever tenderness she allowed Helen to see inside of her closes up like a venus flytrap when Hobart, who seems uniformly terrible about understanding his boundaries with any given woman, seeks to challenge her on her decision to get into bed with the coal company.  He condescends to preach the Book of Isaiah to her until she threatens to let his kids grow up fatherless if he doesn’t hold his tongue, a promise even Hobart knows better than to doubt.  It’s a wonderfully powerful scene reminding us of the strange duality of Mags Bennett—her temper is fierce, her retribution is vicious, but her heart is not hardened to everything, least of all longstanding relationships or family (blood or adopted).  And yet that clearly proves an oversimplification of her modus operandi given that a few scenes later she’s severing business, and seemingly personal, ties with her poor son Dickie, who seems equal parts surprised and offended.  By the time Dickie is victimized by a reinvigorated and purely villainous Boyd Crowder later in the episode, it’s hard to see him as anything but a tragic character making moves he has no idea are putting him in position for complete and utter checkmate in the coming weeks. 

His situation makes him something of a sad foil for the criminal brilliance of Boyd (though this is also tragic given the glimmers of hope we had for him when he tried to straighten his life out on two separate occasions) which rears its truly, truly ugly head for good tonight.  Boyd spends most of the evening gathering up his old team, beginning with his brother Johnny, now mostly confined to a wheelchair thanks to his last alliance with Boyd.  The scene serves mostly as a testament to how convincing the criminal Boyd (Bad Boyd, if you will) can be.  And as Exhibit B towards the same conclusion, consider his entirely convincing warning to the doorman of the card game they rob:  “My name’s Boyd Crowder.  You can come after me if you want to, but it will be the last thing you ever do.  I can promise you that.”  Until that moment, I had entirely forgotten the Boyd we had originally been introduced to way back in episode one—a vicious man with no inhibitions when it comes to violence or taking what he wants.  Like Mags, he proves a dual-sided figure all the same, coming back to seduce Ava (though she seems to enter into it willingly enough) at episode’s end in a tender moment which rivals Raylan and Wynona’s many talks about love this evening.  Given that Boyd is currently plotting the exploitation of Dickie to reannounce his presence as the criminal landlord of Harlan County, I’d say the similarities end there though.  Poor Ava.

Raylan and Wynona, by comparison, seem at the opposite end of their courtship in more ways than one—though the loss of Art as an ally is a sad development for Raylan, the relief that their dabbling on the wrong side of the law is going away quietly serves as a huge burden off their shoulders both individually and as a couple.  What’s more, by episode’s end, Raylan has agreed to abandon the elements of his life that have kept the woman he loves from fully committing to him (though I’m sure they won’t end up retreating to “Glenco”, it serves as an interesting counterpoint to Ava’s choice to pursue Boyd despite the fact that he’s barreling headlong into an even more dangerous lifestyle).  Perhaps most importantly in terms of parallels, Raylan and Wynona commit, after a true trial by (gun)fire, to try things again together, having already made it clear to each other that they’re in love for better or worse.  Where Ava and Boyd stand is unclear; their relationship is new and has faced preliminary trials (mostly regarding Ava blindly trusting Boyd) but nothing to test the devotion which will be required for Ava to weather the storm that Boyd’s new life course is steering them into. 

Treated as its own element, Raylan and Wynona’s relationship tonight was a beautiful sight to behold.  Wynona’s casual acceptance of Raylan saying he loves her plays humorously at the surface but really speaks to the depth of their relationship complications—it’s the Justified equivalent of Han Solo responding to Leia’s declaration of love with “I know.”  Wynona points out that the fact that they’re in love is so obvious as to be beside the point—a really beautiful observation about both characters, when you think about it.  Their problem is that in Harlan County the world will always work against them being happy together.  The fact that Raylan is finally prepared to do something about that problem represents—potentially—the biggest turn of the entire proceedings this evening. 

Well, all of that and I didn’t even mention the nicely done action sequences tonight, mainly involving Boyd and Raylan each doing what they do best—committing and fighting crimes, respectively.  Raylan’s heroics to stop two assassins (another mystery to consider—I don’t think Mags sent them) is especially fun to watch, though I have to wonder how hot the water will get for him next week when he has to report back to Art about two more deaths at his hands.  It’s also intriguing to note that the shootout provides Wynona with whatever incentive she needed to agree to the “escape to Glenco” plan Raylan proposed earlier.  Whether she’s swayed by his heroic efforts to save her, or just convinced that she needs to be away from all of this (which remember, she could also attain by leaving Raylan), or if she realizes that she loves Raylan too much to not agree to a plan that would get him away from such dangers isn’t clear just yet.  Along with other “debts and accounts” paid and opened tonight, it’s a decision I wouldn’t be surprised to see revisited, rescinded, or regretted before the season is over. 

Overall Rating:  9.6/10

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

Boyd’s nobility in dealing with Ava seems ever sincere:  “I’m embarking upon a journey I can’t rightly ask you to be a part of.” 

Wynona to Raylan regarding her divorce from Gary:  “It’s difficult and painful.  Well, you know how it is.”

Phenomenal scene with Raylan clearly and calmly instructing two assassins following him and Wynona to take a left when he takes the next right because he can’t tell if they’re following him and doesn’t want to have to use his gun.  His grinning menace is one of the funniest elements of his character.

“He probably has to whistle when he takes a shit so he knows which end to wipe.”

Wynona and Raylan on Neil Young:
“Mmm, nope he’s Canadian.” 
“Well, then I guess he sucks.”

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