Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Justified" recap: See Mullens run

Spoilers on this week's  episode of "Justified" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

Let this be a lesson to all television creators: this is why you make sure every role in your series is well-cast. This week's episode of "Justified" spent much of its time on time characters who are often relegated to supporting, almost background, roles: Art Mullens (Nick Searcy) and Winona (Natalie Zea). Though they're both important characters, they mainly function as foils to our lead, Raylan Givens, and aren't really involved in separate storylines the way, say, Boyd Crowder is.
And, indeed, this episode started out like it would be another Boyd-focused affair, opening with the ATF questioning of Boyd and Ava, and featuring another stare-down between Boyd and Raylan. But it quickly morphed into something different -- an episode that put Searcy and Zea in pivotal roles.
Horrified by Gary's continued poor business decisions (and not gifted with a brother in law who will rob mines to help pay the mortgage), Winona has a moment of weakness and steals a $100 bill from an evidence locker. She takes it to the bank and then, just as she reaches the front of the line, she has a change of heart and plans to walk out. Of course, in a stroke of awful luck, there's a bank robbery and the bill is taken from her.
Zea is often under-used on this show, but her work in the bank sequence shows that she's more than a pretty face. Her guilt and panic during the early bank moments are palpable. Zea also does a nice job in the scene when the creepy bank robbery gropes and taunts her. Winona is torn between being afraid for her life and being willing to risk it to hide the stolen bill. Zea tells a long, sad story with just a few terrified glances. I'm hoping Raylan's requisition of the what he believes to be her stolen bill isn't the end of this storyline. I'd like to see what Zea can do with more screen time.
Searcy also has a nice arc in this episode, as Art Mullens realizes that one of the robbers is a veteran criminal he used to hunt. The robber, Frank (played by Scott Wilson), is old and sick and, in him, Mullens sees not just a criminal, but a man -- a man who, like Mullens himself, is aging and declining. The scene where Art confronts Frank in the airport and chases him to the plane is a remarkably clever take on a conventional chase sequence. Frank ditches his oxygen tank to ease his escape, but ends up collapsing because he can't breathe. Art chases after him, but, due to bad knees, just kind of hobbles along after the aged bank robber. The honest, oddly affectionate scene in which the two men sit on the ground and discuss Frank's plans to flee to Puerta Vallarta are typical of what makes this show special. It manages to find the humanity in nearly every character, even criminals whom we only see for an episode or two. It helps that, once again, "Justified" has cast a guest role with an excellent, respected character actor. Wilson gives a wry, poignant performance as the world-weary Frank and, for a second, he even had me hoping that Art would just let him go.
On balance, this was a strong episode. I didn't even mind that we saw precious little of Boyd and none of the Bennetts. In fact, this episode stands as a reminder of how deep this show's bench is, and that most of the actors are up to carrying their own episodes.
Anyway, here are some more of my thoughts on "Blaze of Glory."
* I don't know that much about horses, but my more knowledgeable spouse laughed uproariously at Gary's claim that he had invested his and Winona's money in a "champion Arabian." Something about how Arabians aren't thoroughbreds and aren't all that valuable? I think? I don't know. You'd have to ask him.
* Though we saw little of Boyd and Ava, we did have that nice, fluidly edited sequence in which they're questioned by the ATF. This provided another nice moment for Searcy as Art Mullens who, though he can't stand Boyd, won't cotton to the investigators insulting Ava.
* Did Art's chase after Frank remind anyone else of the fight between Carl and Charles Muntz at the end of "Up"? That was another great confrontation between two older men who aren't in the best physical shape. Of course, Frank seems like a far more reasonable person than Charles Muntz. I'm sure Frank would never harm a poor, harmless bird like Kevin for his own glory. Though I think he might enjoy being waited on by a staff of talking dogs.
* I haven't said much about Raylan in this recap, but he did have that great moment when he stopped Frank's cohorts from robbing a bank. His assertion that Harlan-ites know the difference between dynamite and road flares -- followed by a punch to Carter's face -- is classic badass Raylan.
* Also loved that Raylan apparently used to coach Winona on how to behave in any emergency situation. That must have been fun. No wonder their marriage was strained.


Bill Scurry said...

This was a great hour for Nick Searcy, verily. His wit is one of the driest on TV these days, and I welcome that -- like a dramatic Nick Offerman.

IScreen said...

Please, God -- let there be an episode in which we see Mullens in cornrows.
Joking aside, you're right about his performance, and I'd like to see more story lines for him ahead. It helped that this ep paired him with Scott Wilson's equally dry and laconic Frank.