Considering it as a stand-alone episode, I’m not quite raving about this week’s Justified like some of my cohorts have. Yet when I look at it as a part one, I can say that it’s an intriguing first step. A first step down the road to hell paved with good intentions, and I mean that as a compliment.
We start things off with Dickie and Coover Bennett playing a late-night visit to a guy named Reggie with something live in a duffel bag. Yet Reggie isn’t alone; Boyd is with him. So what’s the situation? Dickie tells Reggie to tell Black Pike Mining that he’s not interested, but Reggie says that he’s trying to do what’s best for his family. Unmoved, Dickie says they’ll be back. Once he leaves, Boyd convinces Reggie that he can protect him and his family. Ominous moment!
There’s a bad taste in my mouth after that, because just when I thought we’d wrapped up Winona’s sob story, we get one last dose of it. Raylan is out late taking batting practice, without a helmet and with the aid of alcohol, when Art tracks him down and informs him that he’ll be protecting Black Pike exec Carol Johnson (Rebecca Creskoff) when she visits Harlan for a town hall meeting, obviously about whatever business the mining company has with the townspeople. Raylan returns to the hotel at nearly 3 AM, and when Winona wakes up, Raylan tells her that he’s sure Art knows about their hijinks with the money from last week. She asks if Art will turn them in, and he says that if he were Art, he certainly would. This is not comforting to Winona. I’m starting to believe that this subplot is going to be strung out over the rest of the season, and that doesn’t make me happy. But enough of that for now.
Boyd is minding his own business the next day when he’s pulled over by two of Doyle Bennett’s deputies, who pull the groan-worthy “busted taillight” trick. (Seriously, can we just retire that? The only time it was ever interesting was when The Rock did it in Walking Tall.) This is clearly a warning shot on the part of the Bennett clan.
Meanwhile, a hungover Raylan is very cranky as he sits in the passenger seat while Carol Johnson drives them to Harlan. Disinterest drips off his every word, but we learn that he thinks he knows who wants to kill her – Kirby Junior, the person suspected of calling in the bomb threat last week. Raylan continues to have a stick shoved up somewhere as Carol arrives to bail Boyd out of jail, and starts picking a fight with Doyle. He tells all three of them “you all deserve each other” and that “I won’t be here to clean up the bodies.” Yep, someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
A brief conversation between Carol and Boyd clues us into the fact that the mining company is trying to convince the townsfolk to sell their land to them. After cautioning Carol that bigger problems will be on the horizon if they persist, Boyd follows Raylan out to the car, asking if that last statement means that he’s planning on leaving Kentucky. He also believes that they’re on the same side, only for Raylan to retort, “The only thing that we’re on the same side of is, like, this car.” But does that dissuade Boyd? Of course not!
Ignoring Boyd’s warning, Carol decides to pay Mags Bennett a visit, hoping to smooth things over before the town hall meeting. This does not go well. What goes worse is Coover’s sudden desire to pick a fight with Raylan. The two quickly come to blows, wrecking all sorts of fixtures in front of poor Loretta McCready, who picks a really bad time to show up. Raylan gets the worst of it, unfortunately. He has all sorts of fun bruises on his face when he arrives at Carol’s hotel room later on to escort her to the meeting. She wants to know what the fight was about, and he explains how the Givens and Bennett families have had a longstanding feud going back to the days of Prohibition. He tells her that in high school, Dickie hit him with a pitch at a baseball game, so he picked up his bat and hit him back – which is the reason why Dickie is now limping everywhere. Rachel interrupts storytime when she calls to tell Raylan that Kirby is headed his way, but of course, Carol is too stubborn to cancel the meeting even with that in mind, like most protectees on TV.
At the same time, Boyd is meeting Raylan’s dad Arlo and Aunt Helen, with the same proposition he had for Reggie. Though they rebuff him, they’re surprised when he asks if Raylan has told them anything about leaving Kentucky.
Raylan and his new friend Trooper Tom Bergen (seriously, I like this guy) are helping to secure the town meeting at a local church when Boyd arrives and immediately takes note of Raylan’s face. Raylan tells him that the plan is for him to step in front of any gun that he sees pulled. This is subtle Male PMS at its finest. Carol doesn’t help, because when she starts her spiel to the populace, she puts Raylan on the spot, knowing that he was once a miner himself. He gets to give a spiel about the differences between being a miner and being a U.S. Marshal. Boyd steps in to give the other side of the argument, talking about how he has a second chance thanks to the mining company, and that he believes they can help stimulate the economy.
No one seems particularly moved by anything that’s said, until Mags starts talking. She’s on full tilt, going on about how she’s seen other people come into the area, take the natural resources, and leave desolation in their wake. She reveals that she’s put up her own money to stop any more landowners from selling their rights away to the mining company, and that she’s throwing a party the following day which she’d like everyone to attend because “I want you all to see just what it is we are fighting for down here.” Ladies and gentlemen, Margo Martindale. If she doesn’t get a Supporting Actress Emmy nod, I will be surprised. But no sooner has Mags finished her spiel than we hear what sounds like gunfire. It’s not. It’s a firecracker. Raylan is still unimpressed.
Boyd comes home and is beset upon by Dickie and Coover, who proceed to give him a pounding worse than Coover gave Raylan. He is rescued, however, by one shotgun-wielding Ava, who is not afraid to kill the little dude in the duffel bag and put a hole in them if they provoke her. Ava Crowder with a shotgun may be the coolest part of this entire episode. She is definitely no longer the damsel in distress; now it’s her turn to save Boyd after Boyd helped save her. She and Boyd talk about it, and he says “there might be a way out of this that works for us.” Yes, us. To him, there is an us. Aw, how sweet.
Raylan and Carol get drunk together. He tells her about the demise of his marriage; she very obviously flirts with him. It could not be more obvious if she had a giant neon sign around her neck. After he rebuffs her, she tells him that they’ll be paying a visit to his aunt Helen.
The meeting is particularly awkward, with Arlo being his chippy self and Helen asking Raylan about his possibly leaving Kentucky. “I never expected you to stay,” she says. “I was surprised that you ever came back. And to tell you the honest truth, I wish you hadn’t.” With that in mind, she offers to give him the rest of the money that he stole from the Marshals – as long as he leaves Harlan County and doesn’t come back. Their conversation is truncated by sniper fire that sends everyone running into the house, except for Arlo, who gets shot in the leg and stumbles in. There’s no way to call for help, so Raylan severs Arlo’s ankle bracelet in order to get the attention of the cops before he heads outside to confront the sniper. Though Helen nearly gets her head shot off thanks to standing too close to a window, there’s otherwise not much to worry about before Raylan tackles the sniper from behind and makes her (yes, her) squeal like a stuck pig. She’s Kirby’s sister and she has an axe to grind about the death of her father. Raylan does not care. He subdues her and tells the responding authorities to tell Judge Reardon not to leave his home, just in case.
Boyd tells Ava that he knows what Mags is up to, and that they’re going to the Bennetts’ party. Also attending? Raylan and Carol, who is shaken but refuses not to change her itinerary. “I’ve got a job to do and so do you,” she tells Raylan, who takes the money from Helen just before revealing that yes, they’re going to the party. She’s not happy. But really, who is in this episode? Almost everyone seems to be a bit cranky.
“The Spoil” is not the best standalone episode in my opinion; it becomes clear by the midpoint that the real action isn’t going to happen this week, and everything from then on is basically playing through to that point. There are some great individual scenes – the fight between Raylan and Coover, Mags’ confrontation with Carol at the town meeting, and the sniper exchange – but I never lose the sense of this being part one of something else. The episode’s ending is fun, but aside from Helen, once everyone gets into the Givens house, there’s no real threat to any of them, which makes it not as tense as it could have been. Certain things become anticlimactic by nature when you watch too much TV, though; unless you’re watching 24, you can be reasonably assured that major characters aren’t going to kick the bucket randomly.
Having said that, though, it does work well as a setup for next week. Boyd knows what the Bennett family is planning, and so perhaps he’ll share that knowledge with us. Ava is going to be in the mix, which is always a good thing. And who is going to turn down more of Margo Martindale? It’s clear that this ‘party’ is going to be a powder keg of conflict, and that’s great. I think this episode set up expectations for that one very well, which is I presume its intended function. It’s not the best single episode of Justified ever, but it does top last week, and it does leave me wanting next Wednesday to get here already – so for what it was built for, “The Spoil” does its job.