Justified, “The Spoil”

In my review of last week’s Justified, I talked about how that episode served as a nice pivot point for the rest of the season. While I still stand by that observation, this week’s episode more overtly points out those sorts of things. So many of the characters and smaller problems introduced in the first half-dozen episodes of the season are brought into one room here, with Raylan stuck in the middle of all of it with his personal issues slowing him down. And boy is it completely glorious.

As I tweeted last night during this episode, I think we should strongly consider the fact that Justified is the best television series not named Breaking Bad. That might sound hyperbolic to those Mad Men fans out there (and maybe you Boardwalk Empire fans out there?), but for my money, Justified has quickly become the second best television series on the air and it’s actually sort of similar to Breaking Bad in important ways. Much like AMC’s great series, Justified, especially in this season, knows how to slowly build up lots of terrible possibilities that could come crashing down on its lead character at any moment and then just leave them hanging there, leaving the character and us waiting for all hell to break loose. I think Breaking Bad is more willing to let these proverbial balls to fall from the air at literally any moment whereas Justified appears to like having them hang and hang and hang until the end of the season when things get REALLY bad, and that’s fine. That approach helps in making the lead character more paranoid, more flawed and as we see in “The Spoil,” more drunk.

Even though he wouldn’t admit it, I think Raylan make a conscious decision to “change” (as much as a bad-ass U.S. Marshall can change) in hopes of perhaps getting back with Winona. He’s not turning into a love-sick puppy at any moment, but he didn’t think twice about saving her from the terrible circumstances she found herself in with the money, despite the suffocating events of last week’s episode. And even though he and Winona unofficially wiggled their way out of her theft, Raylan is coming to grips with the fact that he probably made the wrong decision in helping her to begin with, or he’s at least he’s not particularly looking forward to having to deal with the consequences. Sometimes caring gets you in trouble in Raylan’s line of work and now that Raylan recognizes that Art knows of he and Winona’s indiscretions, things are getting hairy. Raylan’s in charge of protecting Carol during another visit to Harlan, but his mind is elsewhere. He has a massive hangover, he picks a fight with the much bigger and angrier Coover and gets the hell beat out of him. I don’t want to say that Raylan is in full self-destructive mode, but he’s clearly not on his A-game and this is probably the worst time for that kind of slump.

After we spent a number of episodes getting to know the Bennett clan and their capabilities in private, “The Spoil” does a fantastic job of showing how Mags and her boys work in public.  With Carol and Boyd going around to the Harlan locals in hopes of buying up their land for more coal mining, Dickie and Coover try their own form of negotiation — one that involves a rabid animal. But it’s at Carol’s public forum where we really get a sense of how Mags and the Bennetts have such a pull on the people of Harlan. Mags’ speech about the specificities and particulars of what the Harlan folks enjoy, from their food and drink to their music and kid-raising. Because of the structure of television, we’ve been trained to look at Mags and her family as the season’s big villains and they most certainly are. However, after this speech, Mags is certainly more sympathetic or at least relatable as a character. The people of Harlan all might be degenerate criminals, but they often keep their degenerate-ness and criminal activities within their county lines. They’re all just trying to keep their unique albeit mostly criminal, community intact and despite Carol’s inherent charm, they know what signing over their land could mean. And in general, we’re not fully aware of Carol’s intentions. Obviously, she wants the land for the company, but I have to imagine there’s more at play here.

Unfortunately for Raylan, that means he’s stuck directly in the middle of a storm with really no support system. These are his people in a lot of ways and his personal history and pride is going to keep him from leaving without making sure the people who need to pay actually do so, but with Art breathing down his neck, Winona lying low in the hotel waiting for the next move and Carol basically throwing herself at him, Raylan’s going to have a hard time focusing on Mags, her boys, Boyd, Carol, his father, his aunt and maybe even Ava. There are a lot of people who want to control this corrupt land and it appears as if Raylan’s the only one who can really stop all hell from breaking loose. But in his current state, his chances don’t look good. But at least it will make fantastic television.

Other thoughts:

  • Nice to see Ava again, but it was really weird to see her and Raylan in the same building with no looks or conversation at all. I guess that plotline well has completely dried up. Ava did get to kill Coover’s animal though, so that’s fun.
  • From the department of predictable but awesome nevertheless: Dickie’s limp came courtesy of Raylan and a baseball bat during their high school days. That’s just fantastic. Having Raylan spend some time at the batting cages earlier in the episode before the reveal was a nice touch as well.
  • I hate Hung, but Rebecca Creskoff is doing really good work here. She’s just so flirty it’s contagious. Raylan is totally going to screw up any chance he has with Winona when he self-destructs and sleeps with Carol.
  • I also tweeted this, but it’s fascinating to me that somehow, Boyd is the best-dressed man in Harlan county. Dude knows how to rock a stylish coat.
  • Next week’s episode is supposedly the best one yet, so I am very, very excited for that possibility.

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