Wednesday, February 9, 2011
"Justified" recap: The Harlan Code
"Just because I've shot the occasional person, that doesn't make me a thief."
Few fictional characters seem more uncomfortable in the modern era than Raylan Givens. As we saw last season, Raylan is an old-fashioned lawman, inclined to eschew negotiations with criminals that extend beyond ordering them out of town at gunpoint. We also saw last season that that attitude hasn't won Raylan many friends. Yes, he catches criminals. And yes, he's managed to stay alive so far. But, in the modern world, solving problems with gunfire brings legal inquiries, reprimands and, worst of all, paperwork.
At the start of this season, Raylan has found himself, once again, the center of some unwanted attention due to his shootout in Bulletville -- a shootout to which he brought known criminal Boyd Crowder as backup. We quickly learn that, after letting Boyd run into the woods after the cartel hitwoman, Raylan followed Boyd and stopped his ex-mining buddy from executing the lovely assassin. Still, Raylan did let the woman nearly bleed to death as he negotiated with her uncle, so it's not clear how far he's grown.
In fact, he's enough of a burden that Art tries to send him back to Miami. But Raylan returns to Kentucky, where he seems somewhat willing to make a fresh start. In fact, he bristles at the indication that he took the money the government gave his father for last season's sting operation. The quote at the top of this story beautifully crystallizes Raylan's mindset: yes, he kills. But only when the victim is a) a criminal b) intending to do him or someone else harm. That's what makes him different from the criminals he goes after. He has a moral code; a code that means something to him.
Of course, Mags Bennett also has a code. Hoo boy -- that woman is a piece of work, isn't she? It's pretty tough to admire a woman who's turned her sons into a gang of enforcers and who makes a teen girl an orphan simply because her daddy had the audacity to report a sex offender to the authorities. Yet Mags, like Raylan, has standards. I think her murder of Walt has as much to do with his neglect of Loretta as with his involvement of the police and his theft of her reefer. Also, I completely buy that she's shocked and repulsed at Jimmy Earl Dean's behavior with Loretta. Or, as she beautifully puts it, "We're reefer farmers, Raylan. We don't consort with sexual deviants."
That connection between Raylan's belief system and Mags's is part of what I like about "Justified." On one level, Raylan is pained and embarrassed by his past. On another, this is the only world he truly understands. As a "federal," he doesn't quite belong here anymore, but he still has more in common with the people in Harlan than the people in Lexington. That's why I don't believe that Raylan has given up his trigger-happy ways, despite the way he works around shooting Jimmy Earl Dean. And it's why I don't believe that Boyd has totally reformed, despite the fact that he's apparently gone legit and returned to the mines. Both he and Raylan are hard-wired to be a certain way. I'm not sure anything can change that.
Anyway, here are some more of my thoughts on "The Moonshine Wars":
* TV fans will recognize lots of familiar faces in the Bennett clan. That's Margo Martindale, tearing it up as Mags Bennett. Martindale is a veteran of countless TV shows and movies, but I'll always remember her for two roles: the sympathetic records clerk on "Dexter" and Minnie Driver's kind but troubled neighbor on "The Riches." Fun fact: She played Dewey Cox's mom in "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." Dewey's dad was played by Raymond J. Barry, aka Arlo Givens.
Other familiar faces include Jeremy Davies, Daniel on "Lost," as Mags' son, Dickie. The rat-shooting Coover is played Brad William Henke, who also appeared on "Lost," along with many other shows. And the creepy lawman Doyle is played by Joseph Lyle Taylor, whose many credits include "100 Centre Street" and "Law and Order."
* One more familiar face on this episode: That's Chris Mulkey as the ill-fated Walt. Mulkey was recently seen on "Boardwalk Empire," but will always be known to me as the coach who briefly replaced Eric Taylor at Dillon High during the much-maligned second season of "Friday Night Lights."
* Look, I know a lot of characters get a rough time on this show. They're kidnapped, beaten, shot at, have their teeth pulled out, etc. But, so far, I think poor Walt gets the prize for the highest volume of bodily harm done to a single character in a single episode. He's shot, has his leg slammed in an animal trap (big "ouch" on that, by the way), then is poisoned to death by Mags and Dickie. Yikes.
* This show is modeled on the traditional Western and, in the traditional Western, women are often being held hostage. That's why Raylan's lady loves Winona and Ava spent much of the first season in jeopardy. They're safe for the meantime, I guess, but the show has found a new lady to torture: teenage Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever). Not only is she orphaned and harassed by the skeevy Jimmy Earl Dean, but she's kidnapped by Jimmy and stuck in his trunk. I don't think Loretta's misfortune will stop any time soon, as Mags has vowed to raise her following Walt's death. I'm guessing getting hooked up with the Bennetts will be worse for her than the Crowders were for Ava.
* Deputy Marshal Rachel! Welcome back! We thought you fell off the face of the earth sometime last season. Good to see you again! Hope you stick around a bit longer this time.
* Nice to see that Raylan's complicated relationship with Winona hasn't magically resolved itself since the end of last season. Things are still murky between them -- and are made murkier by the fact that they seemingly can't get through a conversation any more without jumping into bed together. Not sure where this is going, but I do enjoy the easy chemistry between Timothy Olyphant and Natalie Zea.