When I saw the preview for this episode of Justified, I was apprehensive at best. The show ended on a nail-biting cliffhanger last week and now it was heading into all too familiar territory with a Winona-in-peril story? I was skeptical, but I should’ve remembered that Justified rarely goes the way that we expect it to. I’d dare to say that “Blaze of Glory” isn’t really a Winona story at all. She’s our way into a main plot that actually belongs to Art Mullen.
We lead off with a pair of ATF agents taking statements from Boyd and Ava about the robbery attempt. Boyd tells them that he was coerced into helping when the gang made threats against Ava, and Ava backs his story, despite threats of being charged with felony murder. Following the unofficial rule of TV shows which says that law enforcement officials from another agency are always jerks, one of the ATF agents (played by Conor O’Farrell, who’s been a jerk in just about everything I’ve ever seen him in, like CSI and Without A Trace) tries to rile up Boyd by asking how many of his family members Ava has slept with. Boyd is not amused, and neither is Art, who’s watching this whole thing unfold. I’m pretty sure this plotline is far from over, but it’s an efficient way to at least give us a fair amount of closure on the situation so that we can move forward.
As Boyd and Ava are leaving the Marshals office, Boyd pays a visit to Raylan, who finds it highly amusing that he hasn’t been arrested. Boyd reminds him that he was just trying to protect Ava, and that Raylan himself was once “in the same situation with the same woman.” Oh, snap. I love you, Raylan, but you just got pwned.
Meanwhile, Gary and Winona are having another fight, since he decided to put up their house as collateral for a racehorse without consulting her first. It’s an idiotic idea if I’ve ever heard one, but he has a point when he says that he couldn’t find her to consult her anyway, taking a dig at the fact that she’s now too busy with her ex-husband to work on saving their marriage.
The following morning, she and Raylan are having another one of their elevator conversations en route to the evidence room. She tells him about the fight, and isn’t amused that he finds that funny. Then she gets ticked off when he doesn’t have a key to the cage she needs to get into. Obviously, she woke up on the wrong side of the bed. While they wait for the person who does have the key, they end up having another chat about the state of their relationship. She’s wondering if they’ve changed since their divorce, and they start talking about kids. He points out that she once told him it wouldn’t be fair if they had kids because of his job. She asks if there would be a chance that “you wouldn’t be walkin’ through the door to come here.” He doesn’t know what to say to that for a second, but I do. Does she really not have a clue who she used to be married to? I’m pretty sure he was a Marshal when she married him. This is what men mean when they complain about women trying to change them. You have to love someone for who they are, not what you want them to be, career choices included.
Thankfully, the guy they’re waiting for arrives and Raylan can quietly escape. Winona, meanwhile, is left alone in the evidence cage to find a place to put her stuff. She happens to discover a box full of hundred-dollar bills and can’t stop herself from taking one of them. Insert groan. I know she’s desperate, but she really ought to know that such a move would not end well for her, no matter how rough her situation is. We next find her in line at the bank, but she changes her mind – just seconds before three guys decide to rob the place. Honestly, the first thought in my head is that karma is clearly getting her back for having such poor judgment.
But what happens next is pretty terrifying regardless. One of the thugs takes a liking to Winona, leaving her in fear that she might even be raped. He takes the money from her and, to add injury to insult, kicks her in the face. He’s not even done, shooting the security guard in the leg on the way out. I still don’t like Winona, but I have to give kudos to Natalie Zea; just from the look on her face, I felt her character’s fear.
Raylan is not a happy man when this comes to light. He reminds her that he explained to her repeatedly what to do in such a situation when they were married. Winona, now holding an icepack to her face, ignores him. Raylan explains that Art recognized a guy named Frank Reisner on the security tapes – a career bank robber who was just paroled after a thirty-year sentence on account of his emphysema. Rachel and Tim have brought in Frank’s wife for questioning, and it’s clear that she had no idea what her husband was up to. Raylan tunes this out and is watching the security camera footage and twitches a little.
Frank and his young buddies are in a hotel room enjoying their newfound profits, and talking about a second job. Frank isn’t pleased with the one kid who decided to beat up on Winona and shoot the guard. Despite his condition, he grabs the kid, throws him up against the wall, and threatens to beat him to death with his oxygen tank.
Winona is able to identify the third perp as Bobby Green. Therefore, she’s in the room when Rachel and Tim have a discussion about trying to follow the money based on the serial numbers. Tim informs her (and us) about counterfeit hundred-dollar bills, and how they have to individually scan every single bill that goes into evidence. (Tim is not happy about this, yet even when he’s disgruntled, he’s as cool as the other side of the pillow. I’d hate to see what it takes to make him have an emotional reaction.) She realizes that when they recover the money from the robbery, they’ll find the one that she had, scan it and realize that it was taken from the evidence cage. So what does she do? Promptly go to Raylan to bail her out of trouble.
A very ticked-off Raylan (who is obviously trying to keep his temper in check) drags Winona into the locker room to make sure he’s heard her right. “I know I did a stupid thing,” she admits, the first right thing she’s done all episode. He doesn’t seem too freaked out, thinking he can pass the situation off as a clerical error, but doesn’t get much time to think on it as Tim is sent to get him. Frank wants a video chat with his wife, and all the Marshals are supposed to be there to listen in. Raylan takes this time to ask Art if he can be on the entry team when the robbers are busted, attempting to save his ex-wife’s bacon. Art believes he’s just trying to defend her honor and tells him no, but offers that maybe the guy that hit her can hit his head when he’s dragged in.
Frank gets on the computer and quickly wants to speak to whomever’s in charge. We learn that Art was on Frank’s case years ago and nearly caught him. Frank says that he was planning on going out in a “blaze of glory” rather than dying in a hospital. He sets up a meeting two hours from then. This means Tim gets to walk around with his very cool sniper rifle as everyone is dispatched to the meeting side. The only people who stay behind are Art and Raylan, who believe that Frank won’t really be there.
At that moment, as the psycho is making do with an explosive vest, Frank considers blowing his brains out. Unfortunately, though, he falls over at that moment and the two kids leave him at the hotel to die. They have another bank robbery to pull off.
Raylan tells Art that they have only three Marshals left in the office, but it’s really four – he forgot to count Art. He also manages to offend Chris the tech guy by asking if they were able to get onto Frank’s computer. (“Am I an asshole?” Chris retorts, and Raylan’s confused reaction is priceless.) At that moment, they’re told (by presumably the only other person left in the office) that Bobby and his buddy have arrived at the other bank. Raylan is the only one who can be spared to head out there, where he meets two federal agents. He decides to go into the bank and see what’s going on.
Art is still poking around on a mirror image of Frank’s computer, and thinks he knows where Frank is going. The problem is that he has absolutely no one to share this revelation with. Sadface.
Raylan walks into the bank and quietly makes eye contact with the elderly security guard, letting him know that he’s a Marshal. He then calmly walks up to Bobby and his psycho friend. Psycho is totally unconcerned about this, as he’s stupid enough to have shoved a firearm down his pants. He gloats about having killed Frank, but Raylan corrects him. He asks how they think he was tipped to their robbery attempt, and the two geniuses realize that their getaway car has been stolen by their not-dead compatriot, with their money in it. Bobby is smart enough to surrender. His friend isn’t, choosing instead to goad Raylan about what he did to Winona. Wrong move, idiot.
“You know where I’m from, asshole? Harlan County,” Raylan says, before he decks him. “Down there we know the difference between dynamite and road flares.” And he kicks him in the face fo measure on the way out. Winona’s honor is upheld, quietly and simply. He doesn’t have to cave the guy’s face in, and that’s what I love about him. If this was any other show, that guy would be in the ICU, but Raylan can make his point with very little.
Frank is at a local airfield, trying to juggle both his oxygen tank and the money. Art is there waiting for him. “I didn’t believe all that blaze of glory bullshit,” he says, explaining that he found a flight simulator on Frank’s computer and remembered that he used to own a plane, so it wasn’t that hard to figure out. “Was that your plan? Send them in there and dime them to us?” he adds, before the world’s slowest foot chase ensues. Art, bad knees and all, curses as he has to pursue the slow-moving Frank, having to stop and go back for the man’s oxygen tank. Neither of them get very far. “Was that really necessary?” Art wonders aloud.
The two talk about getting older and how life might be passing them both by. Raylan eventually arrives once Art arrests Frank, and is surprised that his boss now has a hearing aid. He offers to take the money from Art and scan it in for him, therefore saving Winona from a world of hurt. He gets back to the motel and explains just what he had to go through to keep her from trouble, and she’s grateful for it, as she should be. “You know, we’re going to have to talk about it, sooner or later,” he reminds her, but she’d rather not. This does not surprise me at all. We’ve learned that Winona is not very good with life-altering conversations.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I dislike her; for a woman that was once married to a U.S. Marshal, as Raylan points out, she is lacking in common sense all the way around this episode. Not to mention that on a personal level, I think she’s kidding herself if she believes that she’s going to be able to have Raylan change so they can get their “happily ever after.” Wasn’t her need for that what drove her away from him and to Gary in the first place? I’d love to see her learn her lesson the hard way, instead of always having Raylan there to run to. Having said that, though, I have nothing against Natalie Zea, who is a fine actress and absolutely right when she told me last week that Winona had to have some sort of connection to Raylan or would risk falling by the wayside. I know we have to have the character around, but I really wish that she’d stop being so darn infuriating.
As I said in my advance review, however, it’s a credit to the writers that they don’t turn this installment into some melodramatic story of Winona in peril. I’d call this more of an Art story, and I will never, ever complain about seeing more of Art Mullen. Nick Searcy has made him so much more than “the disapproving boss figure who sits behind the desk.” Art is still just as capable as anyone who works under him, even though he’s getting older, and we see in this story that while he and Frank are on divergent paths, they understand each other all too well. The difference is that Art isn’t ready to give up yet. And did anyone else go “awwww” when they realized Art didn’t have anyone in the office to share breaking the case with? The guy gets to be the hero and there’s no one there for him to share his moment of glory with! (Although he’d probably like it better that way, I suppose.)
We also get at least a partial wrapup of the current Boyd and Ava story. I’m pretty sure we haven’t heard the last of it, but we’re told enough that we feel like most of our questions have been answered. Now that Ava has covered for Boyd, what is that going to do to their relationship? Does anyone really believe they can go back to the way things were? Or is she going to get burned by him, like she was burned by getting close to Raylan? This time around, Ava’s a much tougher cookie than she was last season, so I’m interested to see how she reacts when trouble is on her doorstep again as opposed to before.
Justified has never been what we’ve expected it to be, from its genre to its characters and especially with episodes like these, which look to be one thing and end up being something entirely different. It’s admirable that its writers and actors can flout convention so consistently, without needing to call attention to it. And how appropriate is that this week, when it’s a story about two men who’ve been underestimated by those around them, but who still have plenty of fighting spirit? This is the perfect tale for this show to tell, and it’s told in great fashion.