Contributor: Gregg Wright
The consensus around the web seems to be that this may be the best episode of “Justified” yet. And after letting the episode sink in a bit, I’m finding it hard to disagree. I can’t think of a single fault in the episode. The culmination of current conflicts was simultaneously satisfying and completely unexpected in how it occurred. I always knew that “Justified” needed to commit to a pre-planned story arc to unlock its true greatness, and that it did. This episode once again solidifies “Justified’s” status as one of the best shows on television, and perhaps even one of the best shows of all time.
The climax involving Coover, Loretta, and Raylan was an excellent example of long-term planning. I can see now how they’ve been building up to this from very early on in the season: the brief encounters between Loretta and Coover, the tension between Raylan and Coover, and the derisive and abusive attitude Mags has had toward Coover. The signs were all there. I just failed to recognize them. Loretta was the favored newcomer, and Coover began to resent her for it. When we factor in Loretta’s discovery of the truth about her father, it isn’t hard to see why things went downhill so quickly.
Someone somewhere pointed out that the watch Coover takes from Loretta’s dad’s body would probably end up playing a role in future events. But since then I’d forgotten all about the watch, so it actually took me a moment to realize what Loretta was looking at when she helped Coover with the kegs. I love it when a show respects my intelligence enough not to blatantly show me the watch so I won’t have to think for myself.
I expected Carol Johnson and Black Pike Coal to play a bigger role in the conflicts to come. But it looks as though Carol’s importance may have ended with this episode. I knew Mags was not to be underestimated, but I expected Carol to put up more of a fight. I love how she came to town oozing with confidence and power, and has now been reduced to relaying messages between Mags and Black Pike Coal (or rather, whoever owns Black Pike Coal; a bigger story arc in the planning?). I misread the entire land situation. I’d assumed that there was something specifically important that Mags wanted on the land. But Mags had already bought up all the land she needed for her plan. And as it turns out, she doesn’t give a damn about the mountain or anyone else besides her kin. She was willing to sell, but only for the right price. The land she bought, which Black Pike needs in order to build roads for carting coal down from the mountain, was just a bargaining chip.
Carol was in over her head, and doesn’t seem nearly as cunning now as she once did. She shouldn’t have underestimated Mags’ intelligence, and she shouldn’t have trusted Boyd. The situation has resulted in making Carol a bit more likable, though, as she’s softened up a bit and begun to treat Raylan more as a person rather than just another tool. I doubt that we’ll be seeing any more of her, but I might be surprised.
But speaking of Boyd, that man can dance! That scene was definitely one of the highlights of the episode. Carol really underestimated Boyd as well it seems. She should have taken his history into account rather than attempting to use him to achieve her goals. Once Boyd took a look at a map, it wasn’t that hard (being a coal miner himself) to figure out what Mags was up to. Carol thought she had it all figured out, but her employers hadn’t even clued her in on their real intentions. When re-watching the scene I was amused to see Boyd crack a quick smile at Mags’ “bony ass” comment. I totally love this concept of the naive, overconfident outsider coming in and shoving people around, only to finally get schooled by the locals. Something similar happened on season 3 of that other excellent Timothy Olyphant show, “Deadwood”. On a related note, Mags seems to have given Boyd permission to take her place as the major crime lord of Harlan County. Would Boyd go that far? Wherever Boyd goes from here, his involvement in Mags’ deal was a great way of keeping Boyd in morally gray territory.
As always, the acting on “Justified” is excellent. This may be Margo Martindale’s best performance in her role. And the same could be said for Kaitlyn Dever. I’ve said it more than once already, but this kid has serious acting chops. It’s too bad she probably wouldn’t be around anymore this season. The way everythig played out during her realization about the Bennetts and her father’s murder is heartbreaking to watch, and Dever had to sell a lot of it on her own. Loretta was exceptionally and atypically well-written in that she was allowed to be much more intelligent and mature than one would normally expect of a character that age. And it makes sense that she would develop this way, given her circumstances. Her dad was something of a drunk, so she had to learn to take care of herself. The scene in which she meets up with Coover in an apparent attempt at friendship, veiling her true plans, was an absolutely excellent and suspenseful scene.
The biggest surprise in this episode was Coover. They managed to make the character pretty sympathetic, right up to the end when he’s finally shot by Raylan and falls down a mineshaft to his death(Brad William Henke deserves a lot of credit for engendering that sympathy). I didn’t expect to become sympathetic to that character at all, so it certainly added a layer of tragedy to the episode’s events. All of the Bennett boys yearn for the appreciation of their mother. But Coover is the youngest, and probably the stupidest of the Bennett boys. So Mags seems to take out most of her disappointment in her children on Coover. All of this was well-established in previous episodes. The two plot threads (Loretta’s growing suspicions and Coover’s growing jealousy) seemed independent of each other, but they managed to combine and complement each other perfectly. This is something “Justified” seems particularly good at: taking seemingly independent stories and bringing them together in surprising and satisfying ways.
Jeremy Davies also warrants mention for his work. It’s been interesting to watch how each of the Bennett boys have been distinguished from each other as their respective roles in the family have grown clear. Doyle is the oldest, and consequently the most level-headed and responsible one (and, I believe, the most dangerous one). Coover was the youngest and most irresponsible one. Physically, he posed a threat to Raylan, but it makes sense that he’d be the first to die. He makes the most mistakes, and seems to drag Dickie into them fairly often. Dickie is somewhere in between. He thinks he’s got everything under control, that he can get by on sheer craftiness, but he keeps getting into trouble with Coover. That scene where he tries to convince Raylan to let him into the house was a really good indicator of his overall character. It’s much more interesting to watch how Dickie and Raylan react to each other after hearing Raylan’s story of what he did to Dickie’s leg. Dickie seems to have developed a level of fear or respect for Raylan, and he realizes that he’s no match for Raylan. And that scene in the house where Raylan interrogates Dickie was a further extension of that relationship. I have to give a shout out to Jeremy Davies for that scene. That moment where he ends the scene with his face in the camera screaming “Don’t you hurt my brother Raylan!” was spine-chilling. Right then and there you know that Raylan is going to kill Coover.
I could go on and on about how great this episode is and how much I love this show. The episode feels like it could be the season finale, but there are four more episodes to go. Mags is definitely going to want revenge on Raylan. Coover’s death may have upset her to some degree, but it’s the loss of Loretta that’s really boiling her blood. We’ve seen how calculating Mags can be, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she found out about Winona’s theft and tried to use it in her bid to destroy Raylan. I’m pleased to have learned that “Justified” has been renewed for a third season, and that the show is winning a Peabody award. The reward is well-earned. This season is even better than the last. But I hope the actors get some recognition eventually.