Justified: Season 2
Aired: April 27, 2011
Writer: Dave Andron
“You’re worried I’m going to do something rash.”
– Raylan Givens
This episode had all the earmarks of a classic rogue cop story. After the events of last week, we open with Raylan reeling from the loss of Aunt Helen. We quickly learn he isn’t in town on official police business. With an episode title like “Reckoning” and plenty of references to Raylan’s gun always being loaded and his fuse being short, it very well seemed like we could be headed for some Deadwood style vigilante justice.
But what’s impressive about this episode is just how “by the book” Raylan tries to go in his quest for justice. He may not be there on official marshal business, but instead of just going in guns blazing, he uses the legal system to get Arlo out of the way for a while, to offer Jed protection in order for him to testify against Dickie and to exploit a loophole in the Black Pike deal in order to convince Mags to give Dickie up.
This is definitely a more mature, reserved Raylan than the one willing to gun down a lowlife thug without hesitation in Miami at beginning of season one. He’s become a thinking man’s gunslinger, one who tries to solve problems with words and with strategy before resorting to firing his weapon. And for most of the episode, it works.
But while he is able to conduct his investigation with a stoic expression and a heaping dose of his usual witty one-liners, when he is finally face-to-face with Dickie at the end, he momentarily loses his cool. When pressed by Arlo earlier on, Raylan is unwilling to open up about what Aunt Helen meant to him, but alone in the woods with Dickie Raylan finally reveals that she saved him by offering him a way out of Harlan County. Once he finally lets those emotions in, his dark side quickly comes out. The old Raylan returns as he comes dangerously close to executing a handcuffed prisoner in cold blood.
Similarly to Raylan’s struggles to be a new man are Loretta’s struggles to be a normal child, which we see briefly in her one scene with her foster family. She’s only 14, but has already seen too much to let go of the past and just be a normal kid. (It’s both tragic and amusing to watch the expression on her foster mom’s face when Loretta explains that her job back home was selling pot to her classmates.)
Also mirroring Raylan’s struggles to be a better person is Mags attempt to go legit. She tells Raylan that she never wanted this life and only embraced it to feed her family once her husband died. But all throughout the episode, she asks other characters why they didn’t come to her to straighten things out before everything got out of hand. Mags is simply incapable of taking a hands off approach. By the end of the episode, she realizes the straight life isn’t for her and tells Dickie that it will be Doyle’s kids alone that reap the benefits of the Black Pike deal. (This, of course, makes one wonder what that means for her deal with Boyd, which was already unraveling.)
While Mags has embraced her true self and Loretta is caught somewhere in between her old and new life, Raylan still ultimately suppresses his killer instinct when he decides to haul Dickie off to jail instead of executing him. But Mags and Doyle find a way to get Jed to recant his story so that Dickie can walk, meaning the legal system ultimately fails Raylan. It seems that he may also have to embrace his old ways in order to get justice in a place as corrupt as Harlan.
And another thing …
- Boyd Crowder continues to be one of the most fascinating wild cards on television. He’s firmly embraced being a villain once again, but he’s the one who tells Raylan about the Black Pike loophole. Also, his demand that Raylan treat Ava with more respect was oddly sweet and sincere.
- After what happened to Loretta’s father, Arlo is a brave man for taking a glass of “Apple Pie” from Mags. (I realize he may not know about that incident, but given the circumstances, I wouldn’t have taken any drink she offered me.)
- Speaking of Boyd and Mags, the performances by Walton Goggins and Margo Martindale throughout this season have been simply phenomenal.
- Any thoughts on who the old woman who gets Jed to recount his story is going to turn out to be? The safe bet would be she’s his mother, but perhaps it’s more complicated than that.
- For some reason, when they ominously showed the shot of Raylan’s tombstone during Helen’s funeral, I couldn’t help but think of the Doc Brown/Clint Eastwood tombstone in Back to the Future III.
- We knew Arlo was cold, but letting Raylan believe he was responsible for Helen’s death is a new level of dickishness even for him. Still, that made his miscalculation with his “You’re not going to arrest me” boast all the more enjoyable.
- I think Jeremy Davies stint on Lost has rubbed off on the writers as we saw not one, but two examples of one of Lost’s favorite motifs – the perfectly placed gun blow to the back of the head that instantly renders someone unconscious.
We are certainly headed for an explosive finale. If I was taking bets, I don’t like Dickie’s chances of making it out of the finale unharmed, but for pure entertainment value, I’m really hoping Mags finds a way to make it on to season three.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.