With the third season of FX’s critically acclaimed series Justified prepping to launch in January, bitchstolemyremote is marathoning season two to catch up. I finished season one last week, itching to find out what would happen next in the ongoing sibling-rivalry-esque battle between US Deputy Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and his childhood friend turned criminal Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins).
Let’s get started…The first episode of the second season, ‘The Moonshine War’ literally picks up during the events of the first season finale. Boyd, Raylan and nausea-inducing Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) are trapped in a shack in the middle of nowhere, under fire from the Miami cartel. Gosh it sure is fun to try describing events that are in medias res, especially when there’s a full season of backhistory!
After securing their release, Raylan ends up in Miami and, in a scene reminiscent of his introduction in season one, he threatens to shoot an unarmed man: Miami drug kingpin, Gio Reyes (Jordi Caballero). Instead of getting in more trouble, however, Raylan’s former captain steps in. It’s here that we learn that Kentucky Captain Art (Nick Searcy) called in a favour to get Raylan his old job back. Except of course that now he doesn’t want it. The offer to return to Miami reaffirms that as good as Raylan is at what he does, he’s still considered a loose-canon that causes a lot of trouble for his superiors.
The rest of the premiere reintroduces many of the show’s central conflicts: Raylan is a hot head who’s always in trouble; he’s sleeping with his married ex-wife; and he still doesn’t trust Boyd, who has gotten a conventional job. The other main purpose is to introduce this season’s new Big Bad: the Bennett family. The Bennetts are the local crime family, headed by seemingly caring matriarch Mags Bennett (Emmy award winner Margo Martindale) as well as sons Dickie (Jeremy Davies) and Doyle (Joseph Lyle Taylor). They’re big in the local weed scene, with the suggestion that they have a few other fingers in illegal pies.
In their introduction, the Bennetts mostly play damage control covering up for one of their employees, Jimmy Earl Dean (Billy Miller – Charlie from Ringer!). See Jimmy’s a child molester who targeted a cute local girl named Loretta McCready (Kaitlyn Dever) and her dad Walt (Chris Mulkey) called the cops, not realizing that Jimmy was on the Bennett payroll. And since this is Justified, things don’t work out well for anyone. Walt is shot in the leg by Dickie, is forced to put his foot in a bear trap and ends up on the fatal end of Mags’ apple pie flavoured moonshine elixirs. Jimmy, meanwhile, tries to make a run for it with Loretta in his trunk before Raylan catches up with him, douses him in gasoline and more or less dares him to light himself on fire via gunfire.
Now while I don’t condone child molestation, this unpleasant storyline did generate this gem of a line from Jimmy:
(As he kidnaps a bound Loretta and tosses her in the trunk): You’re gonna have to ride the trunk. If they see us together they may not understand our age difference. Or the tape.
The second episode, ‘The Life Inside’ is more of a traditional stand-alone episode that I’d come to associate with early episodes of Justified‘s first season. The plot revolves around a pregnant escaped convict that the Marshals have to rescue from the kidnapers after it becomes clear that the plan was to kill her and sell the baby after she delivered. I wanted to care, but honestly, it was all so blah that I simply couldn’t. Not after a layered character piece like the premiere! I guess that these are the dangers of marathoning.
It wasn’t all bad, though. I freely admit that I enjoyed the scenes with Raylan and Winona (Natalie Zea), though I have trouble focusing on what she says sometimes because she’s so skinny, and her hair is so shiny. Wait…what was I talking about? Right – they got their sexual mojo back on and she tried to breach Raylan’s silence. I like that sometimes he’s verbose and almost downright catty when he’s mocking/talking down baddies, but clams right up around anything feeling related (pretty typical guy behaviour). We saw this in his interactions with Ava in the first season and it’s clear that even though his relationship with Shiny Hair dates further back, they still don’t really talk. He’s a complicated man and I think Winona’s line from season one when she admits that he is the angriest man she’s ever met is very on the nose.
It’s a perfect description of him, but not because of the way he acts. Well, sometimes because of the way he acts. More often, though, it describes him because we’re given hints that he’s keeping secrets buried under the surface. Whether this is the result of his upbringing in Kentucky (we’re constantly reminded that he’s become a US Marshal while everyone else he knew became a criminal) or the relationship he has with his father is unclear. In a way I hope they don’t deconstruct Raylan – he’s more interesting as an enigmatic protagonist.
Overall, I think I enjoyed the first episode more for a few reasons. I always found Bo Crowder from season one too jovial (and honestly he was still Tom from Lost to me), so I relish an excitingly new complex group of villains. I’ve heard so much about how excellent Jeremy Davies and Margo Martindale are in their respective roles that I was biased from the start, but they bring a cool menace masked by a nonchalant (or in Mags’ case, maternal) presence. It’s hard to consider them threatening until you realize that they’re scheming to profit from everything and kill anyone who gets in their way. Let’s face it: anyone who dispatches folks with poisoned moonshine is clearly formidable.
There’s also something exciting about seeing things being set-up, knowing that they’ll be paid off in later episodes. I have no doubt that Raylan’s issues with Shiny Hair and Boyd’s and Ava’s relationship will get picked up further down the line, but so much of the story in the second episode is taken up by characters we’ll never see again, it’s hard not to lose interest in the A-story for large chunks of time.
I was also really happy that Walter Groggins’ Boyd is still in the mix. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of his religious conversion, I think the show is wise to continually present him as a morally questionable figure. He may not be a straightforward villain, but he can’t be trusted either. Plus Groggins’ line delivery is so melodious that at times he can seem downright hypnotic.
- I did not care to see Boyd and Ava together. I’m unsure if it is a mixture of actress and poor writing, but I’ve always found Ava one-dimensional and uninteresting. I never understood Raylan’s interest in her, and not-so-secretly hoped that she would bite it in the first season finale. Alas no luck and it appears that she’s not going anywhere.
- Mags’ decision to take in young Loretta after killing her father would seem a lot less selfless if Mags didn’t creepily talk about how excited she was for their time together and how she’s never had a girl before. Umm…she’s 14, not a doll! This is clearly a woman that would kill a child if it benefited her. Clearly
- The interaction between Dickie, his friend Coover (Brad William Henke), Marshal Rachel Brooks and Raylan was first rate. After exchanging dodgy pleasantries, Dickie welcomes Coover out from shooting rats in the kitchen and then has to talk his friend down from exchanging fire with the Marshals. I was particularly fond of Raylan’s warning that Rachel will shoot Coover (he’s always volunteering other people to do things!) and her response that she needs Raylan to move a foot to the side to do so. Humour at a semi-Mexican stand-off. Amusement!
- I enjoyed seeing more of Erica Tazel’s Rachel in the premiere. She was one of the characters I wanted to find out more about in the first season, and at times it can feel like the show is in love solely with Raylan. I frequently feel that Justified casts its great supporting cast to the curb, so here’s hoping the second season gives them a few chances to shine (or even develop a good running gag. I was quite fond of Rachel’s assertion that Harlan’s racist population calling her “ma’am” was to conceal their discomfort with her, and then everyone they met did just that).
- Is it just me or is the show significantly funnier in its second season? The dialogue is snappy and everyone has a better handle on their characters. Both episodes had full-on belly laughs (often inappropriately so, but I’ll take ’em). How is this show funnier than many of the comedies I’m watching?
And so we’re two episodes into our marathon. The goal is to get through a few episodes at a time, though I’ll likely reserve my thoughts to key points as opposed to specific episode breakdowns for the sake of brevity (clearly not an issue with this post). Feel free to chime in with comments, though please refrain from spoiling upcoming episodes so that I can enjoy them along with any other newbies partaking in the marathon,