In case you’ve forgotten, a whole lot of people got shot or nearly shot in Justified‘s first season finale. It’s not only fitting but logical that the second season opens with a messy aftermath.
Art Mullen is not having a good day; he’s not happy to see Bo Crowder’s dead body as the Marshals show up in Bulletville. Neither is the random trucker who gets a gun in his ear, courtesy of the one surviving shooter from that whole exchange. She forces him to drive her to an airfield, but before she can get away, Boyd hauls her from the truck. In this moment, I absolutely love Boyd Crowder. On cue, however, Raylan appears to stop him from killing her. The two have another lively exchange; Raylan says that he has no moral objection to her murder, but needs her alive. Unfortunately, their arguing is cut short as they both have to stop and gun down the dude with the assault weapon inside the airplane. Making sure the trucker gets Boyd to a hospital, Raylan grabs the girl, stuffs her on the plan, and goes down to – where else? – Miami.
In lovely Florida, he makes an uninvited visit to the home of Gio Reyes, the bad guy he ticked off when he shot Tommy Bucks. “This ends right here, right now,” he tells the guy as he dumps the girl on his furniture. “You leave me alone and we will leave her alone.” The two proceed to barter about what it’s going to take to settle this, before Raylan’s short temper gets the better of him and he threatens to shoot Gio in the head. In a perfect example of how hilarious this show can be, this great dramatic scene is interrupted by a phone call from Raylan’s former boss, Dan Grant, who intervenes before anyone gets shot. It’s a moment that made me choke laughing on my soda all three times I’ve seen this episode. Dan tells Gio that if Raylan gets harmed, he’ll kill him personally. Well, that’s one way to settle the situation. Once it’s done, Dan offers Raylan his old job back. We know he won’t take it (or there wouldn’t be a show), but he quickly susses out that Art put Dan up to the idea. The idea that Art wants him out of Kentucky riles up my favorite U.S. Marshal, who really just wants a nap. Of course, when he gets back home, his place is still a crime scene, complete with yellow tape and the body outlines on the floor. Well…that’s unique interior decorating.
With all this making him more than a little annoyed, Raylan decides to pay Art a late-night visit, wherein he learns Boyd has slipped out of the hospital. The two quickly start discussing how Art isn’t happy with Raylan’s decision-making. “Everything I did, I saw no choice,” Raylan tells him, but Art says that the AUSA will be on their case now and asks Raylan to relinquish his gun, suggesting that he get an Uzi. Did I mention how I love Nick Searcy?
Our boy gets ready to face the music, doing plenty of paperwork and having too much fun with a whiteboard. Wow, it’s a hero who actually has to do administrative work! I think the world just ended. (For example, as much as I loved 24, I’m trying to think about the last time I saw Jack Bauer have to do paperwork. Yes, I would put Raylan Givens on the same coolness level as Jack Bauer.) Various people ask him about the events of last season, including the missing money that was given to his father (and that his father absconded with). I have to feel for these guys. With all the people Raylan shoots, they must all groan the moment someone mentions his name. I bet they draw straws to see who has to deal with him.
Raylan is eventually rescued by Rachel, who wants his help tracking down a sex offender named Jimmy Earle Dean, who’s in Harlan trying to chat up a young girl named Loretta McCready who’s not very fond of him. When she spurns his advances, things get ugly and a chase ensues; thankfully, he runs into some razor wire – with his face. He so deserved that. Loretta goes to her father Walt, telling him that Dean works for the Bennett family. He admits with chagrin that he called a police tip line earlier, which clues us into the fact that the Bennett family is not to be trifled with. If you needed another sign, when Raylan, Rachel and a state policeman arrive at their house, he feigns innocence (except he sucks at it). The moment the state policeman figures this out and drops the Bennett name, Raylan’s expression is priceless.
Dickie Bennett (Lost alum Jeremy Davies) and his brother Doyle (Joseph Lyle Taylor, who looks a lot different from when I saw him years ago on Sidney Lumet’s 100 Centre Street) pay Walt McCready a visit. Word has spread and they’re not thrilled about his calling the authorities, nor that they’ve learned he’s illegally growing marijuana on their land. They are quite sadistic, and over his protests and apologies, Dickie forces Walt to put his leg into a bear trap at gunpoint. Thankfully, we don’t have to see this, but the sounds are enough to turn one’s stomach.
Loretta, however, is talking to matriarch Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), who wants to know that she’s being properly cared for. “You should’ve come to me, Loretta,” Mags advises her, and says they’ll work something out. As for Dean, she adds, “You don’t have to worry about him no more.” This ominous conversation ends just as Raylan and Rachel roll up on Mags’ store. It’s clear that Mags and Raylan have a past (kind of like Raylan and everyone in Harlan County) as she insists he call her by her first name, and actually seems proud of him. The two have a frank conversation about her other business before Doyle arrives, and then Rachel asks about Dean. Mags denies that he works for her, and Doyle says he’s not in the family business, as he is himself in law enforcement. Well, that makes things a lot more interesting.
Raylan pays a visit to the other two Bennett brothers, getting Dickie to easily admit that Dean had been with them and left not long ago. His not-so-bright brother Coover, taking a break from shooting rodents, has to be told who Raylan is, and is not impressed, throwing a dead rat in his car. Raylan is equally unimpressed by the deceased rodent and what it represents. Without so much as a change in expression, he tells Rachel to shoot Coover if the other man raises the gun in his hand. At Dickie’s insistence, Coover drops the gun and goes back into their house. Situation defused, though I am all for more gun-wielding Rachel any day of the week. Did I mention how much I also love Erica Tazel?
Loretta is tending to her father’s injuries when Dean shows up and puts a gun to her head. He’s decided that they’re going to take a road trip, and throws her in the trunk of his car. It’s scenes like this that gave me an aversion to the trunks of cars as a child. That, and the fact that I always seemed to close my hand in them.
Raylan and Rachel get a phone call from the state trooper, saying that someone spotted Dean’s car. Raylan is easily able to deduce that he must have Loretta. The two of them track Dean to a gas station, so we can learn another reason why Raylan is awesome: he does not merely go in guns blazing to be heroic. He checks to make sure that Loretta is okay in the trunk, telling her to make herself as small as possible before he confronts Dean…with the gas pump. Not his gun, not a weapon, the gas pump. When Dean pulls his own firearm, Raylan warns him that he’d rather not see him light himself on fire. “I am doing my level best to avoid the paperwork and the self-recrimination that comes with it,” he says as to why he isn’t shooting. I’d be laughing more if I wasn’t so impressed with how Raylan can do all this without looking bothered at all. Dean surrenders, and Loretta is freed.
Yet it’s not all good. Mags is visiting Walt and the two are sharing a drink; she wants to know if the police asked about his injuries when they returned his daughter to him. While Dickie might be apologetic, it doesn’t matter as Mags has poisoned Walt and he dies right there.
With the case closed and unaware of that fact, Raylan calls ex-wife Winona over so they can have a conversation, and they end up in bed together. Given my previously expressed distaste for this subplot, this is the part I could easily forget about, although I think there’s a backhanded compliment in here. Part of the reason I don’t care for the subplot is that I personally have no sympathy for those that cheat on their loved ones, and I don’t think I’d dislike Winona cheating on Gary with Raylan if I didn’t feel so strongly for all the characters on this show. I completely dislike her at this point, but that’s still getting me to feel something.
Raylan is, at episode’s end, finally tipped off to where Boyd has disappeared to. Where is he? Well, he’s back in the coal mines, blowing things up. I don’t know about you, but putting “Boyd Crowder” and “explosives” in the same sentence kind of scares the hell out of me. The question is, has he truly gone straight, or is it just a matter of time before he’s up to something else that will put him at odds with his former friend yet again? (And really, what could be much worse than what he was put through last season, anyway?) I don’t know if the guy needs handcuffs or a hug, and therein lies the fun of it. I honestly do not know, and I love not knowing.
As I mentioned in my advance review three weeks ago, I love this premiere episode of Justified on so many levels that were I to list them, you’d go to sleep. Firstly, I love that the characters I love haven’t missed a beat; Raylan is still awesome, Art is still hilarious, and it’s great to see more screen time for Erica Tazel, whose Rachel is great in her own right. The plotline is honestly interesting, and I am appreciative of the fact that Raylan has to face real consequences for the actions he’s taken; he’s got questions to answer and a boss that isn’t sure what to do with him. I’m impressed by the fact that he can solve a situation without any physical confrontation. Too many heroes on TV would come in, have a shootout, and get off scot-free because they’re the heroes. Justified doesn’t live in that fantasy world; it lives in the real world.
I still haven’t seen a better individual performance on television than that of Timothy Olyphant. That’s another reason I compare Raylan to Jack Bauer; like Kiefer Sutherland, Olyphant isn’t just a great actor playing a great character; he is Raylan Givens. And Raylan Givens lives in a pretty awesome world that I love to visit again and again. By the time you’re reading this, I’ll have seen this episode three times, and that hasn’t dulled any of my feelings for it whatsoever. It simply holds up that well. It holds up so well that even as an admitted cynic, one who can’t help but see certain things coming whether I want to or not, I find myself surprised by this show. When so many shows do the same things over and over again, it is a true pleasure to find one where I can say, “What’s next?” and want so badly to figure it out.
Welcome back, Justified. I have three words for you: bring it on.