Contributor: Gregg Wright
This episode is a tough one to review. Even after giving it time to sink in, I’m still struggling to reconcile the various plot elements and characterizations. I want to say that this is a great episode. The fallout from Helen’s death has resulted in some of the show’s strongest material yet. But I still can’t shake the feeling that the show has made a few missteps in the last couple of episodes.
The official episode summary for the next episode helps make some sense of the situation. This season has had a pretty consistent and well-planned arc right up to “Brother’s Keeper”. There was every indication that the show was rapidly barreling toward a spectacular finish as part of that well-planned arc. But something must have gone wrong in the planning phase. It’s as if the writers suddenly had a change of plan right after “Brother’s Keeper”. I’ll elaborate.
This whole season has been a slow build towards the reveal of Mags’ plan, while Dickie and Coover continued to jeopardize this plan, drawing unwanted attention from Raylan. Mags’ plan and real motivations were surprising, but made a lot of sense with what we’d seen already. When Coover died, Mags was willing to set aside her personal feelings in favor of her ultimate goal: ensuring her family’s future. This is even further reinforced this week by Mags’ confession that she never wanted to live a life of crime, but took on the role out of necessity. Mags has always wanted nothing more than to protect her own.
Dickie, on the other hand, wants power and control over Harlan County. Dickie’s character progression makes plenty of sense. What doesn’t make sense to me is that Mags would turn around and decide that she was wrong to try and leave a life of crime behind. Her family’s future is set. She has no real need to return. But she does, because that’s what’s needed for the finale to occur as intended.
The other major piece that needed to be set up for the finale is Boyd Crowder. For the majority of this season, Boyd has been exactly what I expected him to be: a conflicted, guilt-ridden anti-hero with a developing conscience that’s now at odds with his darker side. This new Boyd had a sense of humility and was easy to sympathize with. Then, suddenly, Boyd turns around and becomes a charismatic criminal with an over-inflated sense of self worth. I get that they wanted Boyd to become a criminal again, but there’s really no excuse for how unbelievable the transition has been. It’s like Boyd has reverted to the way he was earlier in season 1, with some differences of course.
In contrast, Boyd’s brief return to crime earlier this season (in “Cottonmouth”) felt much more natural. Boyd retained his signature calm and fierce intelligence, as well as his quiet humility and conscience. Now, Boyd is just an arrogant asshole. He got cocky and it got Helen killed, and yet he refuses to take any responsibility for the situation. This reminds me a bit of what happened to Jack Bauer in the last season of “24″. Jack’s character progression was completely sabotaged so Jack could go on a revenge spree. Here, Boyd and his crew needed to be in a specific position for the finale, so all that character growth that’s occurred this season was seemingly sabotaged.
At least Raylan still makes sense. The character may be a tad simplistic at times, but I gotta hand it to Timothy Olyphant for giving the role everything he’s got. He and Jeremy Davies were fantastic in what may have been the best scene in the episode, where Raylan takes Dickie out into the woods at night to execute him. I spent the whole episode trying to figure out whether Raylan was going to arrest Dickie or kill him when he catches up to him, and the episode kept me guessing right up to the last moment. I loved the way that scene played out, with Raylan yelling at Dickie about just how much Helen did for him, leading Raylan to have an epiphany mid-sentence that causes him to re-think what he’s doing. They really got me into Raylan’s head, and I was completely ready to pull the trigger myself and get rid of Dickie, who’s there bawling his eyes out. I’ve got my complaints about the episode and the overall direction of the season, but the fact that it was suddenly clear what Raylan was thinking at the moment he stopped talking speaks volumes about the quality of the writing.
Loretta has another brief appearance. I’m not surprised to find that she’s not very happy in foster care. I’ve said it before, but I think she’d be a lot happier back in Harlan, with Raylan. Another reviewer mentioned that the fact that she keeps appearing is a strong indicator that she’ll play an important role in the finale. This makes a lot of sense to me.
I’ve outlined some clear problems I’m having with the season that seem to have cropped up in the last two or three episodes. But considering how great the season has been in all other respects (the heavier emphasis on a supporting cast of characters was an extremely good idea), I still have to give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the finale will help clear up some of my issues.