In the interest of saving time in the lead-up to season three (next Monday, January 16), the Justified marathon continues with a multi-episode recap. As the second season hits its middle stretch the action heats up and a recurring character is finally given something to do.
Let’s break it down…In just three episodes Justified‘s second season went from compelling to “must-watch” television for me. If you’ve read my recaps (or my profile), you know that I love television arcs: stories told over a series of episodes that reward attentive viewers. The first season – and parts of the second season – of Justified have frustrated me for this reason. ‘Cottonmouth,’ ‘Blaze of Glory’ and ‘Save My Love’ turned that around. Although each episode more or less functioned as a closed story with a beginning, middle and end, there were enough dangling threads and stories for multiple characters to satisfy any fan of the show.
So what happened?
‘Cottonmouth’ revolves primarily around Boyd (Walton Goggins) as he’s recruited for a mine robbery by the shady guys he previously dealt with in 2×03 and 2×04. Although the episode is well done, there’s no drama involved because it’s too obvious that Boyd is, intellectually, miles ahead of the good old boys. The only surprise? The fact that Boyd doesn’t just turn the tables on them, but actually blows them up. In the end he comes out a hero, although in taking the stolen money he puts Ava (Joelle Carter) in a compromising position. Seeing these two as co-conspirators should be interesting, although in ‘Save My Love’ it almost seems like the story is intended more as a set-up to introduce coal mine executive, Carol Johnson (Rebecca Creskoff). In ‘Save My Love,’ Carol hires Boyd onto her security detail, but the flashy, no-nonsense woman has ulterior motives: she has plans for the Bennett family that involve Boyd. Clearly no good can come of this.
Speaking of no good, Winona’s super classy estranged husband, Gary (William Ragsdale) puts up their house as collateral for a horse. In doing so he gets back into bed with the loan shark that Raylan had to save him from last season. Man, this guy is an idiot (or is ‘entertainingly stupid’ a better expression?) This drives Winona to commit an even stupider act: she steals from the evidence locker. At first we’re led to believe it’s petty cash ($100) but by the end of ‘Blaze of Glory’ we learn that it’s actually $20 grand of marked bills.
Although the bank robbery in ‘Blaze of Glory’ (featuring a hilarious geriatric chase) is resolved by episode’s end, the Winona drama carries over into ‘Save My Love.’ The title is apropos since Raylan has to go above and beyond what anyone should have to in order to protect Winona by preventing the discovery of the missing money. This is the best episode of the three because it gives almost everyone something to do (Joelle Carter is MIA, but does anyone really care?). Frequently sidelined Marshals Rachel (Erica Tazel) and Tim (Jacob Pitts) actually get to do something – acting alternately as foils to Raylan’s attempts to get the money back into evidence, and then aiding to resolve the bomb threat against Carol at the courthouse. Even Art (Nick Searcy) gets involved. By episode’s end the money is safely back in evidence, but it’s already been reported missing and Art is suspicious after he sees Raylan and Winona leaving the evidence locker. How and when this comes back to bite the lovers remains to be seen, but this story is far from over.
- The cross-cut scenes between the bomb squad nearly discovering Winona’s purse full of stolen $100 bills and Raylan and co. search for gunmen/faux-bombers is extremely well done. Solid editing, good use of music and genuine tension, even if I had serious doubts a random agent would be the one to uncover Winona’s dirty little secret.
- In addition to that hilarious chase scene between Art and convicted bank robber Frank Reasoner (Scott Wilson aka Herschel from The Walking Dead), there are some great comedic elements in all three episodes. I like how the show can balance such heavy themes (drug dealing, murder, hand bashing) with some lighter moments. A huge part is this is the show’s great dialogue. Another great example: the interplay between Brad William Henke’s Coover (who I call Stupid Bennett) and teenager Loretta McCready (Kaitlyn Dever) when she admonishes him for taking a candy bar from the Bennett convenience store without paying.
- Not too much on the Bennett front except for Mama Mags (Margo Martindale) finding out that Coover and Dickie (Jeremy Davies) are running a side project that’s gone awry. The punishment? Mags smashes Coover’s left hand with a hammer. What’s more disturbing: the calm efficiency Mags breaks her son’s fingers, or the way he begs for her forgiveness afterwards? This is one seriously messed up family.
- Finally, kudos to Natalie Zea for her good work in ‘Blaze of Glory’ and ‘Save My Love.’ Winona finally gets to step out of the background as “Raylan’s married ex that he’s now banging” and do something (even if it makes her look like an idiot). I’m still not convinced that Justified knows what to do with its female characters (besides Mags), but both Ava and Winona are exponentially more interesting this season compared to last.