Thursday, May 5, 2011

"Justified" season finale recap: "Bloody Harlan"

Spoilers for the season finale of "Justified" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

"Get to see my boys again. Get to know the mystery."
-- Mag Bennett's last words

.Yes, the superb second season of FX's rough and tumble modern Western closed on a wrenching -- yet surprisingly subdued -- note, with Margo Martindale's formidable Mags committing suicide by poisoned moonshine.Oh Mags, you scary, vicious yet weirdly compelling and surprisingly sentimental old broad. We are so going to miss you.
As brilliantly played by veteran character actress Martindale, Mags was a Shakespearian level villain who added another level of quality to an already fine show. This season's final hour, in which Mags finally has to confront the depth of the wrong she did to her would-be foster daughter Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever, in another of the season's memorable performance), was absolutely devastating. Her pain at watching Loretta almost let her rage destroy her young life was doubled when Raylan (series lead Timothy Olyphant) told her that her son Doyle had been killed, leaving her with only her odious son Dickie. So Mags, in a moment of poetic tragedy, slyly pours her and Raylan glasses of "apple pie," making sure to poison her own glass, just as she poisoned that of Loretta's hapless daddy.
They drink, and she shakes Raylan's hand in a truce. Then, she tells him what she's done and, quickly, dies -- but not before uttering almost the exact same lines of dialogue she said to Loretta's father as he died.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more bruising 10 minutes of TV so far this year. The performances of Olyphant, Martindale and Dever were so brutally honest and moving in this episode's final scenes, it'll be a crime (albeit an inevitable one) if one or all of them aren't nominated for Emmys.
Of course, the final moments just a few of the memorable bits of an amazing second season finale. There was also the sickening "Raylan as human pinata" scene, in which our hero dangled from a rope as Dickie (Jeremy Davies) beat him with a baseball bat. That moment gets trumped by the following one, in which a vengeful Boyd comes looking for Dickie, who seriously wounded Ava. Davies has been giving yet another of the season's terrific performances, and his shift from the menacing Dickie who tortures Raylan to the Dickie who begs Raylan to save him from Boyd was beautifully done. Davies's weird, mannered performance on "Lost" didn't quite prepare me for what he did here, in a role better suited to his unique style. This is a series with a knack for matching actors to characters that fit them like gloves.
There are few better examples of that than Nick Searcy, who has another handful of great moments as the put-upon Art. Though this was an emotional episode, the closest I came to crying was when Art, despite his earlier statement to Winona ("Sometimes, you just can't help") rode up to the rescue, allowing Sniper Tim to nail the evil Doyle with a kill shot. Art asking Raylan if was all right was a beautiful moment that signaled that this troubled relationship -- while not totally mended -- isn't beyond healing. Oh, and Art's call for Doyle's thugs to surrender ("Do you dumbass peckerwoods understand English?") was flat-out hilarious.
I'm not sure what the next season of "Justified" will bring. Will Ava survive her gunshot wound? Will Winona and the baby Givens flee Raylan and his destructive ways for good? Will Dickie survive even his first night in prison, or will he whimper until a sadistic guard gives him a "Shawshank"-style beatdown?
And, most importantly, will there be another big bad as charismatic and terrifying as Mags? I'd bet my money that next season will see the rise of Jere Burns's Wynn Duffie and the Dixie Mafia as the major antagonists. But, with Mags out of the way, Boyd is poised to become Harlan's leading crime figure. And he's likely none too pleased that he never got to kill Dickie.
Anyway, here are some more of my thoughts on "Bloody Harlan":
* Two nice twists in tonight's episode. The most obvious was cousin Johnny getting the drop on his would-be assailants and blowing up his house with them inside. But I kind of liked the bait and switch with the leading ladies, too. As soon as Winona announced she was pregnant, I was sure she'd be killed or wounded in the coming war. But, inside, it was Ava who took the life-threatening bullet. I think it's unlikely she'll die. But, if she did, it would likely make Boyd an even tougher, angrier man. And that would be dramatically interesting.
* Nice job of casting James LeGros as the oddball who offers Loretta a ride to town. LeGros actually played Raylan Givens in a TV movie. And, according to an interview blogger Alan Sepinwall did with Elmore Leonard, LeGros wasn't quite as convincing as Olyphant.
* You know, I think there's a possible series in Raylan's offhand line about quitting the marshal service and becoming an ice cream man. I sense a lot of tense exchanges like this: "Now, I can sell you that waffle cone. But you and I both know you're gonna want to eat that cone bottom first. And you'll probably drip Rocky Road alllllll over this nice new ice cream truck. And that there would be a shame."
Someone get FX development on the phone!


Dan said...

Such a fantastic episode. This season really did a fantastic job of masking where the show would go so I didn't expect an outcome quite like this. The scenes where Raylan was rescued (first by Boyd then by Art/Tim) would have been fantastic conclusions on any other show, but Justified takes it to the next level by adding a psychological showdown between Raylan, Mags and Loretta. It was as close to perfect as Justified has ever come and it sets the stage for a very interesting third season.

Anonymous said...

This week was the best and that is saying a lot seeing the previous shows have been fantastic. This may have emerged as my favorite show on television. Great recap!