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Thursday, March 24, 2011

"Justified" recap: Louder than a bomb

(Late) spoilers for last night's "Justified" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

When I realized that "Justified" was carrying on the "Winona stole money from evidence" storyline for a second week, I couldn't help but wince. I've seen too many TV shows drag out a mildly interesting plot for an outrageous number of episodes, until I not only lost interest in the story, I came close to losing interest in the show entirely (yes "Sons of Anarchy," I'm looking at you and your ridiculously drawn out plot about Abel's kidnapping).
I was worried that "Justified" would fall into the same trap. But last night's episode, "Save My Love," was not only a tense, satisfying hour, it seems to have wrapped up the stolen money plot rather nicely. Yes, there is the matter of Art waltzing into the evidence room as Winona and Raylan are replacing the money. And yeah, I think he's sure that something is up. But I don't think Art is going to pursue those suspicions, at least not for the time being. Raylan, for all the headaches he brings, is a valuable worker. I think Art recognizes his value, and is smart enough to know that whatever Raylan's done probably isn't worth jeopardizing that asset.
At any rate, the writers and actors did an excellent job ratcheting up the tension as Raylan and Winona faced escalating obstacles in their quest to return the stolen money. It was a nice showcase for both Natalie Zea and Timothy Olyphant. I've gotten used to Raylan delivering quips and monologues as Winona shoots him withering looks. This episode flipped that relationship on its head, providing the actors with opportunities to show their range. One of the strongest scenes was Winona's blabbering monologue about how she decided to steal the money, which is met with a beautifully dry "Wow" from Raylan. Olyphant's quiet reaction during this scene, and his quiet game face during their phony bomb threat at the courthouse, is a reminder that he can do more than smile and shoot off quips. He has a great, expressive face, capable of telling us what Raylan is thinking without uttering a word.
Zea, meanwhile, showed a little more verbal dexterity than she's usually allowed. Her monologue about the stolen money was worthy of a screwball comedienne, and her handling of the courthouse security showed that she can have as much charm and self-possession as her ex, if needed.
In addition to the hijinks with stolen money, the episode did a nice job of advancing Boyd's storyline. I liked that Boyd has been recruited by the mining company representative (played with crisp villainy by Rebecca Creskoff of "Hung"), who views his criminal past as an asset. Boyd knows he's become a pawn in a game he doesn't quite understand yet, and it's interesting to see him a little out of his element. Plus, it looks like this story is going to bring us back to the Bennetts, who have been noticeably absent for two whole episodes.
All in all, it was a strong, entertaining episode. Here are a few more thoughts on "Save My Love":
* Creskoff was just one of this week's guest stars. We also had the return of two of last season's most memorable guests. Stephen Root returned as the eccentric Judge Reardon and Jere Burns's Wynn Duffie seems to have survived last season's shootout quite nicely (save those 18 inches of intestine).
* Speaking of which, I'm hoping the Duffie character was brought back because of his Dixie Mafia connections, not just for a rehash of last season's Gary storyline.
* I really liked the sort of macho sweetness of the season where Raylan very honestly answers Ms. Johnson's question about whether she can trust Boyd to watch her back. It summed up the thorny -- but not entirely adversarial -- relationship between these two complicated men quite nicely. Like Ms. Johnson said, it is a bit of a love story.
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