There was A LOT of hype for this episode of Justified. People were calling this best episode of the series yet, the best episode of 2011 and so on and so forth.
For the most part, that hype is, well, justified. “Brother’s Keeper” is a fantastic episode of television and most certainly one of the best episodes of Justified. But for whatever reason I have a problem with so much focus on this episode in particular. I think “Keeper” is amazing in all respects, but it wouldn’t be so without the tremendous season leading up to it. I think the last three episodes before “Keeper” have all been great in their own respects and this just feels like a continuation and escalation of that momentum. I guess it’s sort of hard for me to point out which episode is better when they’re all wonderful and part of one hell of a season that I cannot believe only has four episodes left. This season of Justified has just flown by in a flash and that’s really a travesty of moderate proportions.
In any event, I think the hype for this episode is right in that “Brother’s Keeper” is definitely the most emotionally effective episode of the season. The last two episodes have been thrilling and intense, but in a different kind of way when compared to this episode. There’s very little shooting here and no bomb threats or firecrackers. Nope, this episode is jam-packed with compelling conversations and sees both Mags, Boyd and Raylan make moves and decisions that will most certainly reverberate throughout the rest of the season. I know that I keep saying things are going to get much, much worse for Raylan, but every week the series continues to prove me correct. Just when he thinks things are sort of calmed down on the personal front, Winona steals some money. And then when he gets that all taken care of (at least momentarily), he’s stuck protecting Carol Johnson during intense negotiations in hostile territory. AND THEN when that appears to be over and out of the way, he ends up having to save Loretta from the lumbering hands of Coover and this time, he’s sober and not feeling so sorry for himself.
The great thing about this episode and really this season as a whole is that it just keeps moving the goal-posts on us. Clearly, with Boyd involved motivations are always going to be muddled and secret, but we in the audience were just like Carol when Mags blindsided her with the whole road development thing in the negotiations. This episode changes directions two or three different times, first appearing to be a continuation of last week’s intense debate, then quickly transitioning into the fantastic discussion between Boyd, Mags and Carol in the Bennett home, which could have lasted three full episodes and I probably wouldn’t have complained one bit. But by the end, events explode so quickly and so deadly that Raylan’s back in Marshall mode trying to save Loretta from Coover and ultimately, killing Coover and sending Loretta away to child protective services. Now not only has Raylan muddled in Mags’ business, he’s killed her son and taken away her wannabe daughter. Raylan might be REALLY considering getting out of Kentucky now, even if he didn’t really want to kill Coover. It seemed like he and Boyd would end up on the same side of this war against the Bennett clan, but Boyd makes a decision that appears to only benefit himself (and Ava) yet again. Of course, Raylan isn’t totally aware of this and Boyd could just as easily change his mind after getting his cut of the Black Pike money.
The performances in this episode are just unbelievably good. We’ve been talking about Margo Martindale all season, but she’s amazing in this episode, as she gets to play so many different sides of Mags: the giddy mother when dressing Loretta up for the party, the cordial, but firm host during the party, the cunning, beast of a businesswoman during the meeting with Boyd and Carol and then finally the crushed, but enraged mother when she discovers that Raylan has killed Coover and taken her Loretta away. I don’t think we have to worry about Martindale being nominated for an Emmy, but if and when she submits this episode, she should probably win in her category as well. But it’s not just Martindale. Brad William Henke, who has been just fine as the lurching idiot Coover, is tremendous here as Coover realizes that his mother no longer gives any sh** about him because she’s so charmed by Loretta. Under Henke’s control, Coover becomes both fully sympathetic and totally terrible in this episode and it’s actually sort of heartbreaking to watch. He’s clearly the weak link in the Bennett family and so wearing the watch of Loretta’s dead father probably reminds him of at least one of the good things he did. It’s awful, but it makes sense in Coover’s now-dead brain. Jeremy Davies was also very, very good in his scene with Raylan on the porch when he realized that perhaps he’s not the heir apparent to the family business as he once thought. Good stuff all around.
Honestly, this could have been a season finale or a penultimate episode, which makes it crazy that there are still four episodes left. Mags is now more powerful than ever before and she has all the reason in the world to come after Raylan with all she has. And based on the previews for next week’s episode, that’s probably exactly what she’ll be doing.