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TV Review: Justified – “Bloody Harlan”

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FX’s Justified ends season two with “Bloody Harlan,” which has a lot of death, and no shortage of action. All of the various plot threads come to a head, and tie up nicely, without much cliffhanger. The feud between the Bennetts and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) explodes in a big way, with each group doing damage to the other. Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) risks his life and his relationship with Winona (Natalie Zea) to try to save Loretta (the unexpectedly very talented Kaitlyn Dever), who rushes straight into the hornet’s nest on her quest for revenge. Art (Nick Searcy) must decide whether to stick his neck out for Raylan, or truly write him off.

This season’s baddies, the Bennett clan, will be sorely missed when the series returns for a third run. They are complicated and interesting. They’re willing to engage in some wicked things to protect their family. They have morals that are tightly followed, but loosely defined. Plus, they are all portrayed be stellar actors.

Coover (Brad William Henke) is first out, killed by Raylan weeks ago. The dumbest and least rational of the group, that makes sense. Doyle (Joseph Lyle Taylor), the cop, is a more tragic story, as he is ready to go straight. His family is switching to all-legal income, and will be moving away from crime and gang violence. Yet, Doyle is still enmeshed in illicit activity when Raylan finds him, and protecting his crooked kin earns him a bullet in the head. Dickie (Jeremy Davies), who is the baddest of the bunch, ends up in jail. Too bad he and Doyle could not have switched fates, as that would be a cheerier ending.

The matriarch, Mags (the amazing Margo Martindale – give her an Emmy already!), is always the best, though. She is willing to kill, and also willing to sell out her neighbors, if it benefits her family. Her dream is to help Doyle’s kids have a nice, clean life, but she takes what she thinks is the easy way navigating through it, by engaging in dark affairs to give them the seed money needed to start. This is her fatal mistake.

Mags’s final showdown with Loretta may be the single best non Raylan-centric scene in Justified yet. Loretta knows that Mags killed her father, and forces a confession out of her with a gun. She even shoots Mags in the leg. But as Mags is staring back at the teenager, there is a real moment of raw emotion between them. Mags cares very deeply for Loretta, at least as much as Loretta hates Mags. While Mags may fear for her life, there is just as much concern for Loretta’s soul as Mags advises her not to finish the job. Mags wants Loretta to have a better life, much like she hopes for Doyle’s family. Killing someone would be an act that would forever steal Loretta’s innocence and goodness. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Raylan is intruding in the confrontation, but his absence in the scene would have taken away nothing.

Justified loves playing with shades of grey, and both Loretta and Mags embody that wonderfully. While Loretta may have been justified (he he) in killing Mags, she made the right decision to not do it. But Mags also knows her time is up anyway, and so with a real sense of poetic justice, she offs herself the same way she killed Loretta’s father – a poisioned glass of moonshine.

Boyd has toed the line between rebel and do-gooder for two seasons. He seems to be leaning towards the former, as he does a splendid job in murdering almost all of the men the Bennetts send after him. Boyd is smart, at least as smart as Mags. Sure, she only agrees to meet with him to distract him, but he knows that, and is ready for her. With the Bennetts out of the picture, Boyd should have little trouble running Harland County next year.

It’s too bad that Boyd is going the way of a villain. He could make quite a nice partner for Raylan, even in an unofficial capacity. The two seem to have an understanding now, and do their best, especially on Boyd’s end, to stay out of each other’s way. Boyd will not provoke Raylan, but given the path he is on, sooner or later Raylan will have to take him out for good. Raylan may have taken pleasure in that before, but by the time it happens, I doubt either will enjoy the conclusion.

Even more of a reason for Boyd to go over to the dark side is that Dickie manages to shoot Ava (Joelle Carter) during the fire fight. Ava has been portrayed as a good girl for the most part, but she keeps some seedy company, and always has. She knows what she is getting into by being with Boyd. Considering who her former husband was, she is right in thinking she has found a better version of him. Boyd has his faults, but he also doesn’t usually shed unnecessary blood, and he has stood by Raylan when Raylan really needs him.

The only real unanswered question in this episode is, did Ava survive the gunshot? Carter’s twitter feed suggests that she did not, though she quickly backtracked. At this early stage in the game, the writers and producers may not even know if they will include her or not. She certainly doesn’t have a whole lot to do this season, but neither do other main characters, like Tim (Jacob Pitts) and Rachel (Erica Tazel). Each of the Bennetts have more plot than the three combined. It begs the question, is Ava necessary?

Raylan is at a crossroads as this episode comes to an end. He has gotten serious again with Winona, and they have a baby on the way. Yet, she said she may not be there for him when he gets home, since he follows Loretta against her wishes. Winona can be a truly selfish person, and not letting Raylan go save a young, teenage girl that needs him is not her best side.

Should Raylan have chosen Winona? In a way he did, asking Art for a transfer so that he can have a stable job, not one where he routinely risks his life. But Loretta is facing an immediate threat, and Raylan has an established a responsibility for her. Winona needs to understand that. Perhaps she is thinking of her baby growing up without a father, but had Raylan died, his death would have been noble. It is a debatable point, but she should have let him have this one last mission before taming the beast.

Art, on the other hand, has already written Raylan off before Winona comes to him for help (her parting gift?). She is able to convince Art to go to Harlan, and he and the other marshals, as well as various other law enforcement officers, swoop in and save Raylan’s hide. Does this mean that Art has forgiven Raylan? Or did he just see the nobility in saving Loretta’s life?

The series would suffer mightily if Raylan left the Marshal’s office, so it looks likely that Art and Raylan will find a way to move past this. What their relationship will be like going forward is anyone’s guess, as it is strained and tested repeatedly this year. Winona is a major source of that strife, so if she leaves, that may help patch up Raylan and his boss. But as long as there is a working relationship, things will go on as they have been.

Justified has already been renewed for season three, and will return next year on FX.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • Dee

    Seriously? Winona is the selfish one here? Oh yeah, she could tell her child he never knew his father b/c he was noble enough to go after someone else’s kid in a hostile environment. I’m sorry but I don’t equate nobility with recklessness. He totally disregarded his future in the life of his own child. He was almost killed three times on his day off. He could have called in other law enforcement and told them to go to the Bennetts. Her concerns for Raylan are no different from Art’s. Except now she has a lot more to lose.

  • http://jeromewetzeltv.blogspot.com/ Jerome Wetzel

    Dee – See? I said it was debatable. :) That’s why Justified is so good. I don’t think anyone can say with certainty that either Winona or Raylan is in the right. I love that the show can stir up such questions!