I haven’t been writing about Justified on a weekly basis because of various scheduling issues but in short, I’ve really enjoyed this season. And I’m still short on time today but I wanted to get a few thoughts down on “Save My Love” because it was just that good. Anyway, the world of Justified is continuing to expand and deepen and I could spend hours upon hours spending time with the Bennetts, the Crowders and the Givens. I wanted to write something about last week’s episode because I thought it was a really solid standalone episode that complicated the Raylan-Winona relationship in an interesting way without sacrificing much of the season’s momentum. But as good as I thought last week’s episode was, it doesn’t come close to touching the greatness that is “Save My Love.” I said this on Twitter last night when I re-watched the episode, but this episode is most certainly the best drama episode of 2011. Obviously we’re only three-and-a-half months in, but this episode is fantastic and probably also the best effort Justified has ever produced.
What was particularly effective about this episode is how it consistently cut off Raylan and Winona at every single turn. Last week’s episode hinted at the resolution to Winona’s stupid decision to take a few dollars from the vault, but “Love” intelligently pulls that rug out from under Raylan and us within two minutes by having Winona reveal that she didn’t actually take just a one $100 bill, she took them all. From that moment onward, the episode plays out like a compelling race against the clock that features one roadblock after another. Not only does this make for super-intense and fantastic dramatic television, but it opens up the narrative for some awkward comedic moments with Raylan stuck in a terrible situation trying to make the best of it so that he can save the presumed love of his life. I would argue that Raylan has calmed in intensity since the pilot episode where he shot a man in a crowded restaurant, but the events of this episode do their best to test his patience and when things get even more out of control, his focus and ability to keep everyone in the courthouse safe.
From very early on in this episode, the indication is given that this is just not going to be Raylan’s day. He heads into the office hoping to find a lead on the missing $100 so that he can return all the money sight unseen, but he quickly discovers that the secret service and FBI are involved in trying to figure out why a bill not used in two decades is suddenly out in circulation. There onward, things continue to block Raylan and Winona’s plan to find and subsequently return all the money. And while these roadblocks are completely obvious to us at home, the episode still integrates them seamlessly and emphasizes the discomforting and suffocating feelings these moments are creating. A lesser series would not be able to finesse these building conflicts like “Save My Love” does. By the time Raylan walks into the courtroom to check it for any explosives and sees Boyd sitting there, the look on his face sells it all: This is literally one of the worst days and plans ever and there appears to be nothing that Raylan can do to make it better.These are sort of normal day occurrences that are made to feel much worse and much more frustrating because of what Raylan and Winona are trying to accomplish and I think anyone who has had a bad day can find something to relate to with these conflicts.
This episode also succeeds because it finds a really nice way to build tension for the rest of the season to come. Although the court proceeding happening is just an introductory hearing, the danger and hysteria that come along with it suggest that Boyd is going to have one hell of a time serving as a security man for the coal mine. His boss wants him to defend them against the troublesome Bennett clan, which can only mean very bad things for Harlan and its surrounding areas. Not only did “Save My Love” feel like a fantastic conclusion to the two-parter that began last week, it also feels like the pivot point for the rest of the season. The first six episodes slowly built up three distinct narratives on their own in Boyd’s journey, Raylan’s relationship with Winona and the introduction of the Bennett clan. Now it appears that all three of those threads are going to clash dramatically over the coming six episodes and I really cannot wait to see how it’s all going to come down on Raylan’s head. He’s been able to handle all these conflicts, this history and this weight thus far, but at a certain point, the cooler, calmer Raylan might have to take a holiday so that the real Raylan Givens can show up and take care of business.