If you have not yet watched last night’s Justified, I caution you not to read this article until you do. Otherwise, some things might be spoiled for you. You have been warned.
FX’s Justified returns for a second season with “War”. “The Moonshine War”, to be precise. There are few shows I look forward to more than this one, and last night’s episode did not disappoint in the slightest. In what will kick off this season’s big arc, Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) returns to an area near Harlan to tangle with more bad guys that he used to know. This gang is a family that controls a whole tiny area, running the local store and police force, as well as many, many miles of marijuana farmland. There is moonshine as well, of the homemade apple pie variety, though no one is fighting over that. But it’s still a fun episode title.
The clan is led by Mags Bennett (the fabulous Margo Martindale, Mercy, Dexter, The Riches), who insists she just runs the store. Mags seems sweet, taking a shine to little Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever), offering Raylan alcohol, being one of the few locals who is nice to Rachel (Erica Tazel), and even apologizing for torture committed by Dickie (Jeremy Davies, Lost). However, before the ending credits of this premiere rolled around, she had poisoned Loretta’s father for calling a tip line about sexual offenders, specifically, one who had threatened his daughter. Clearly, she has a zero tolerance policy.
Which shows you that Mags is going to be one tough cookie. She has total control of the town, with the help of Dickie, Coover (Brad William Henke, The Chicago Code, Lost, October Road), and her son in law enforcement, Doyle (Joseph Lyle Taylor). She has run things seemingly uncontested for decades, until Raylan and Rachel are drawn to town looking for the sexual predator, whom they catch. But with most of the new group signed for multiple episodes, you can bet that something else will draw Raylan back, and with a bunch of actors so talented, I am definitely looking forward to it.
Besides that little taste of new story, much of the episode was spent catching up on the old plot, too. Raylan stopped Boyd (Walter Goggins, deservedly promoted to series regular) for taking his revenge on the gang that killed Boyd’s father. Then the marshal traveled to Miami. With the help of his former boss, Raylan resolved the price tag on his head without any more bloodshed. Nice and neat, no? I liked the Miami plot, Raylan’s past following him, but it’s nice to know that things will be staying in Kentucky for the foreseeable future.
Nice, even after Raylan was offered his old job back in Miami, which he turned down. Now normally when a show pulls that twist, it would seem fake. Or it would be because Raylan had grown to love the people in his new (old) home too much to leave. But I don’t see that as the case here. Though never spelled out completely, it appeared Raylan is staying in Kentucky out of spite, not fondness. His Kentucky boss, Art (Nick Searcy), wanted him transferred back to Florida. Raylan didn’t feel his conduct deserved another transfer, so he stayed.
Raylan’s stubborn streak is one of his defining characteristics, and while it sometimes bites him in the butt, other times it just proves how strong he is. This fell in the latter category. I still believe Raylan would like to leave Kentucky, but only on his own terms, not those dictated by others. He feels his name is tarnished now, and it needs polished clean before he moves on. It’s a viewpoint that is understable, and totally consistent with the character. My money is on Raylan doing just that.
Ava (Joelle Carter) was absent after the beginning of the episode, so no forward momentum for Ava-Raylan fans. But there was some definite steam between Raylan and Winona (Natalie Zea), who is getting divorced, and ended up in Raylan’s bed once again, against his better judgment. Seems that Raylan’s stubborn streak is no match for a woman he has strong feelings for, and Winona definitely falls into that category. As to whether this season will focus more on Winona, or pull a full-fledged triangle, we’ll have to wait and see.
While Justified has plenty of action, it’s also a slow burner, and this season is just getting started. By the end of last year, so many things wound together and came to a head. Without seeing much Ava, without knowing what Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) is cooking up next, without knowing why Raylan will return to butt heads again with Mags, and without having a clue what Boyd was blowing up in that mine shaft at the end, I couldn’t say where this season’s path will lead. But I am just as excited for next week’s episode as I was for last night’s, after an absence of most of a year. So that should tell you something about the high quality this show achieves.
Justified airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on FX.