Justified this week finally went exactly where we’ve been hoping it would go after all of these weeks of buildups, asides, and unfortunate developments (unfortunate for the characters within the plot and occasionally unfortunate for the show’s overall trajectory—Wynona money theft subplot, I’m coughing and nodding in your direction here). It proved yet again that the writers ultimately know exactly how to slow-burn a season like a loooong dynamite fuse. Tonight the dynamite went off, and as usual the TNT Justified uses makes for one damn entertaining explosion. Coover gives Raylan the beating of his life (or at least of the show—we haven’t seen him take a roughing up half that vicious in all his other scuffles combined), Mags gives a little speech that seemingly buries Carol Johnson’s hopes of winning the hearts and minds of Harlan County to Black Pike’s side, Art tips his hand just enough that Raylan knows he’s onto what they did with the money, Boyd is in it up to the top of his three-inch-tall haircut with both Black Pike and the Bennetts whether he likes it or not (I still get the impression he does not, and am looking forward to another redemption at some point on the horizon), and on top of all that, Raylan finally has justified reason to pull his firearm when one of those pesky Kirbys shows up at his dad’s place with a sniper rifle trying to finish off Carol.
The tense opening scene with Coover and Dickie arriving at the house of Reggie Ames with an unknown animal stuffed in a bag as an encouragement tool to get Reggie to sign his property over to the Bennetts instead of Black Pike Coal is a humdinger and gets even more intriguing when Boyd shows up right on cue to protect Reggie from whatever furry snarling thing (affectionately named “Charlie” by Coover) the Bennett Brothers have brought with them. Unfortunately his brand of encouragement is no more ethical, just a bit less hillbilly than the old “snarling thing in a bag” routine. It makes it awfully hard to see any bright side to Boyd’s morality at this point—he essentially steals Coover and Dickie’s threat from them by pointing out to Reggie that he can easily be protected from their monstrous little pet, but only if he signs the paperwork Boyd wants him to sign. It works, and Boyd seems encouraged enough by his success and emboldened enough by the leverage of Carol Johnson’s brazenness and lack of ethics to start running his mouth to Doyle’s law-enforcement cronies and even delivering paperwork right to Raylan’s Aunt Helen to sign over her land (though he’s much more civil when it comes to old friends like the Givens).
Interestingly, it does still seem that Boyd seeks the approval and possibly alliance of Raylan, seeing as how he approaches Raylan after his release from jail and suggesting to Raylan that they’re ultimately on the same side in all of this. What view of the situation he’s taking in order to arrive at that conclusion isn’t clear, but it’s a sincere enough suggestion that it makes it a bit sad—though still mostly just funny—that Raylan’s dismissive reply is, “The only thing we’re on the same side of is this car.” Their entire chat is a classic Raylan-Boyd exchange, filled with the amiable disdain they’ve come to have for one another. Boyd’s “That was quite a speech you made in there” is therefore met immediately by “I stayed up all night working on it.” It’s probably not a scene worth much mention except that it speaks to how much it may matter that Raylan actually does have an “inside man” in all of these crooked proceedings. Given how deeply crooked—and threatening to the entire county—the proceedings become by the time the town hall meeting goes to hell, Boyd may actually be the most important ally Raylan’s got, if in fact Boyd still contains the underpinnings of decency which have defined his character’s boundaries and limitations thus far.
Tonight the show was really stolen by the strong women (a difficult thing to be, as Mags points out to Carol) though, even to the point that Raylan is left with a helpless and miserable look on his face as Carol plops his 10 gallon hat on his head and tells him where to go—politely, of course. Mags has easily owned the best of the season’s villainous moments, not only with her own underhandedness and vile actions, but in the casual ease with which she tugs at the choke collars of any of her three pit bull sons who, though each a menace on his own, clearly whimpers with his tail between his legs when mama starts barking. Carol Johnson therefore makes for an interesting parallel character. She’s busy keeping men of her own on a leash, and perhaps enjoying it a bit more than Mags; certainly there’s the sexual element to it that is missing from Mags’ control. It’s interesting also that they are both, in their own way, clever at playing the role of matriarch as a true ruling class: Mags has mastered the position with her own sons, but notice how often during this season she has used a similarly motherly tone in condescending to the town’s citizens as well.
Tonight her practice paid off as she tucked the entire town hall under her protective wing and explained to them the dangers of the coal company seeking to steal everything from her unwitting children and leave them with nothing but “the spoil” (and let’s keep in mind that, monstrous as she is, she’s right—it’s what’s going to make her complex role in this debate so intriguing). Her story comes with the requisite reminder to citizens that everyone in this town is like family (which, while disgusting in its ironies—she’s happy to kill “family” if they get in her way, is true to the show’s motif of relationships with deep running ties) as she explains to them that her father was among those who created the town in the first place. To make sure they all remember that mama knows best, she invites them all over for some motherly home cooking at a “big whoopty-doo”. Carol is left speechless and helpless; she’s saved by some well-timed fireworks which she insists were not of her design however convenient they turned out to be. What’s almost lost in the melee of the awesome back-and-forth between the silver-tongued Carol and the equally persuasive Mags is the fact that Carol’s original move was exactly the same as Mags: She tries to sell her company and herself to the people of Harlan as motherly in their desire to be the providers of all good things and help the town to grow up big and strong and prosperous—who wouldn’t want these things for their children? It’s her—I assume temporary—underestimation of her opponent which really costs her. Without Mags there to undermine her motherly vision to the townspeople, it doesn’t seem like even Raylan’s dismissive sarcasm could’ve kept her from talking the town into signing itself over in its entirety before the meeting adjourned.
To say the pieces are set is an understatement—we’re clearly several moves into a much bigger game of chess than what we original might have imagined. Characters who figured to be knights and bishops now seem like pawns (though dangerous ones at that) and it’s much more clear that the end game will be between the two queens. What once looked like a southern-fried organized crime story has suddenly become something of a morality tale filled with as many anti-heroes as true heroes and so many crooked and underhanded individuals ducking the law (including Wynona and Raylan—whaaaat?) that the jails of Harlan County may overflow ere this season draws to a close. It’s certainly a ramping up of the show’s ambitions and quality to see the table set so complexly for the final episodes of payoff which are most certainly in store for us. I’m somewhat amazed after this week to see just how many unexpected directions the show has gone in just two episodes’ time, and I can only imagine that the most eye opening events are yet to come, because it’s quite clear that even a double batch of Mags’ Apple Pie hard cider isn’t going to be enough to still all of the bodies chasing each other in circles now.
Overall Rating: 9.7/10
Great Lines, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-Have-You:
I hate to point this out, but it doesn’t look like Timothy Olyphant has a very natural baseball swing, and the creative camera angles didn’t quite hide it.
I kind of like the nod to other “Southern” pop culture tonight: Doyle’s cronies play the old Buford “you’ve got a busted tail light because I just busted it” game with Boyd to let him know he’s not welcome on their turf.
“Unless she asks you a question keep your coal-miner lovin’ mouth shut, got it?” Art is pretty nasty with Raylan this week—I like that the show has mined (pun intended) this relationship so deeply that it’s very clear that he’s onto Raylan without a direct word being said about the money incident.
Raylan gets in a couple nice digs at Carol and Boyd when he catches on to what’s happened. “Sounds like the kind of call someone gets from someone in jail,” he tells Carol when she gets the phone call that Boyd’s been arrested. Even better is his dismissal of Boyd, Carol and Doyle as they bicker among themselves: “Whenever this shit does blow up in your faces, guess what: I won’t be here to clean up the bodies.”
Boyd’s unaffected reaction to Raylan is phenomenal: “It occurs to me that you were there to greet me the last time I got out of jail.”
Raylan’s tone and words can be as menacing as any villain on the show when he needs them to be (not that it helps here): “Coover, you touch me again it’s gonna be a problem.”