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Review #2501: Justified 2.13: “Bloody Harlan”

Posted on the 06 May 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Gregg Wright

Any fan of “Justified” could predict that the finale of season 2 would likely include a lot of shooting, blood, and death. But other than that, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I expected a showdown between the Bennetts and Boyd Crowder’s gang, and that’s exactly what I got, and it results in a pretty respectable body count for Dickie’s hired guns. I was never worried about whether the finale could deliver an entertaining amount of bloodshed or not. But there was plenty to worry about.

Review #2501: Justified 2.13: “Bloody Harlan”

Season 2 has been a remarkably complex journey, and far more ambitious than the first season. Mags Bennett ended up being one of the best TV villains I’ve ever seen. She had the appearance of a folksy mother-figure which belied a cunning, ruthless intelligence. She was often easy to hate. But the writers refused to take the easy route by pinning her into a cardboard villain role. Mags is a human being, a loving mother who does immoral things in the name of family. Perhaps more than anything else, the presence of Loretta humanized Mags.

So yes, there’s a big showdown between Boyd and the Bennetts. Mags sends Dickie, along with a bunch of hired guns, after Johnny Crowder and Ava. It still feels completely out of character for mags to turn around and decide to do away with Boyd and his gang completely, even as Boyd attempts to extend a hand of peace to her. I thought she was smarter than that. I’m also still confused by Boyd’s choice to become the lead crime lord of Harlan County. But it helped that Boyd seems to retain something of a code of honor. He was willing to try the peaceful option. But he still feels out of character. He’s getting reckless again, making mistakes. The whole thing unnecessarily devolves into a big mess for both sides. Both Boyd and Mags needed to be dumbed-down for this showdown to occur, and it still doesn’t make sense to me.

It’s a little unfortunate that so much time in the episode is spent on the conflict between Boyd and the Bennetts. Because, ultimately, I didn’t find it all that interesting. It’s effective enough as a backdrop for the more important events in the episode. And it really hammers home the inherent tragedy of the Bennett clan’s story. But it’s an overly simplified conclusion to an otherwise amazing and complex crime drama. I must stick with my opinion that the need to force this conclusion took the characters and the plot in an unnatural and unearned direction.

Thankfully, though, the episode manages to turn things around toward the end, resulting in a powerful conclusion that redeems a lot of the mistakes made late in the season. Kaitlyn Dever, one of the best young actresses alive today, returns to give another powerful performance and possibly a level of closure for Loretta. I had mixed feelings about the episode until those last few minutes at the Bennett home, where Loretta confronts Mags with a gun in her hand, and Raylan stands in the doorway bleeding. Bringing Loretta back into the mix was extremely integral to ending the Mags arc. She really cared about Loretta, and the finale would have been a tremendous cheat if there hadn’t been one final confrontation between those two. It’s also important in how it brings Raylan back into the situation. The rest of the episode isn’t really worthy of this great conclusion.

As much as I’ve liked Boyd in the past, the episode (as well as the previous two or three episodes) didn’t set up those final moments as well as it should have. The mishandling of the storyline after the deal with Black Pike Coal lead to too much emphasis on weak plot elements that detracted from the stronger, emotional tale at the core. All Mags ever wanted was to ensure a better life for Doyle and his kids, and to be a mother to Loretta to make up for her own failures with Coover and Dickie. But she inexplicably lets Dickie drag her into this futile conflict with Boyd, which in itself makes little sense. Boyd had become an even more interesting character than he was in season 1, but then an abrupt character shift has all but destroyed all that ambiguity and complexity that made the character interesting. Instead of focusing on the elements that worked.

I would have liked to see more of Raylan, and more emphasis on his inner conflict between wanting to leave Harlan with Winona and the pull that Harlan county exerts on him. I wanted more emphasis on Raylan’s relationship with Art and his other co-workers. That moment where Art arrives with the cavalry (including Tim Gutterson and his well-placed gunshot) just didn’t have the impact that it would have had with better set-up.

I hate to be so negative about the episode, considering how great the final scenes were. Maybe I’ll be able to appreciate the episode more with time. But as it stands, I’m unable to look past the story issues that lead to a somewhat disappointing resolution for some of the threads. The bloodbath that takes up so much of the episode is directed with spectacular flair, but it results in the heart and soul of the story being pushed aside until too late in the game. The events with Boyd are important as set-up for the next season. More time should have been spent on closure for other elements. Still, those final scenes packed a punch. And it’s still been an amazing season, overall. In fact, season 3 has a pretty big challenge ahead if it’s aiming to match what season 2 accomplished. How can anything live up to the Margo Martindale?

Rating: 7/10


Contributor: Henry T.

Written by Fred Golan
Directed by Michael Dinner

I’ve been following “Justified” all season but haven’t written about it since the first two episodes. Now that the season is over, I thought I would put out my thoughts on the season finale. I have personally loved this season and thought it was much more satisfying and memorable than season one. I think “Brother’s Keeper” was the episode where I basically got off the mat and started paying much more attention to what was happening to Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens and Harlan County. I thought the series from that point on had its moments (certainly last episode with Dickie almost getting executed cold-bloodedly by Raylan), but largely wandered before throwing Raylan back into a long-standing war with the Bennetts.

The Bennett family has been very much the reason why the second season has worked as well as it has. Mags, in particular, is a character with many shades and Margo Martindale delivers in the finale. The war didn’t come out the way I expected so it was a bit of a letdown in that respect for me. It put the focus on a character I thought the writers were going to disregard and ceded a great character like Boyd Crowder into the background. An odd turn, and that’s why I didn’t enjoy the finale as much as I would like.

Raylan has had better days than the ones he’s been through at the back end of this season. It makes a lot of sense that he just needs to get out of Harlan County. After the death of his beloved aunt, he believed there was nothing left for him here. People are out to kill him, he’s been dragged into a family feud that he never wanted a part of, his boss and friend in the Marshal Service silently despises him, and to top it off, his girlfriend is now pregnant with their unborn child. That last detail was, I believe, a way to chain Winona to the show’s narrative. She has been the weak link of the entire season according to many fans of the show (I’m personally okay with her because she appears in the narrative so infrequently that she leaves little impression) and this may upset some who want her gone.

I thought it gave their story more weight and ballast, since we now know how hard a decision Raylan has to go back and try to save Loretta from the Bennetts. It lays out the stakes for him. It looked for a little while there like Raylan may not leave Harlan County alive or at least badly injured judging from how Dickie had him strung up and beat on him like a pinata. Raylan lives out what Winona warned him about when she begged him to stay away from Harlan. While he’s finding Loretta, he gets strung up by Dickie, only to be saved at the last minute by Boyd, then runs into Doyle and the Bennett family security before saving Loretta from committing murder. Of course he’s going to live through it (he’s the hero of the show after all), but it was made all the more harrowing. In the end, I have to wonder if the Bennett-Givens feud will continue even with Mags’ death.

It was a bravura performance by Margo Martindale as the head of the Bennett family. Even when you know she’s evil, there’s this sense of regret that casts a pall over what she does now. That was reflected in her final conversations with both Loretta and Raylan. I knew Loretta came into the Bennett compound with the express purpose of shooting Mags, but that didn’t defuse the tension of the entire scene. I have to think that Mags saw a bit of her younger self in Loretta and if the girl had murdered Mags (right in front of cops, no less), she might have ended up like Mags. I think Raylan thought that as well. Raylan, and to some degree Mags as well, saved Loretta from that fate. I just thought it was a bit odd to push Loretta front and center after keeping her away from the overall narrative.

How about the Bennetts, huh? I had Dickie dead to rights from the get-go. Raylan didn’t execute him in the previous episode, he got bailed out of jail by his mother (who basically disowned him from then on), and he was out there wreaking havoc all over Harlan County. He should have paid for everything he did, killing Helen and possibly mortally wounding Ava (I personally think she lives, though there’s significant doubt about that), as well as temporarily stringing up Raylan. He’s such a pathetic weasel of a character that his death would have been welcome. Instead, Doyle dies and he’s spared from the hail of bullets. His entire family has been wiped out and he’s probably going to jail.

I have to say that I had mixed feelings about the direction the writers went with this storyline. There is the unaddressed, however: the Franklin mob is still coming for the Bennetts, though it’s questionable how effective they’ll be with Dickie in federal custody. It’s been a really fun ride with these people as villains and I’m a bit sad to see them go. It was a finely poetic way for Mags to leave this world, though, with her ingesting the poisonous “apple pie” brew that she used on Walt McCreedy in the season premiere. Next season’s villain or villains have a lot to live up to here if they want to top the Bennetts.

Here’s the chief problem I had with the finale: it short-changed Boyd. I had the impression throughout the season that once Boyd turned to a life of crime, he’d be the crucial wild-card in the middle of the Bennett-Givens feud. That strangely did not materialize here. He had that meeting with Mags in the church, which was beautifully edited in contrast to Johnny and the Bennetts engaging in gunplay out of their knowledge, and went hunting for Dickie after Ava got shot, but that was it. He saved Raylan and I really thought Dickie was a dead man there. Raylan talked Boyd out of killing him and he disappeared from the rest of the episode. I have to wonder if Boyd regrets what he did, trying to jack Mags and bringing war to the Bennetts, especially if Ava proves to be collateral damage. It’s something left to explore next season perhaps.

Boyd’s a tricky character to navigate. This season, it had seemed like he reformed, only to turn on a dime to a life of crime, perhaps because he missed it. And like Raylan and Harlan County, he just can’t escape what’s in his blood. It would be somewhat repetitive to go that way again in the third season. Either make him good or bad and have him stay that way. I think he’ll be the central villain again, and as such, may have inherited the Franklin Mob problem that’s coming to Harlan. But that’s all I have to say about the second season of Justified. I look forward to the next season.

Grade: 8/10

Season 2 Final Average: 8.3

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