At the end of the first season of “Justified,” the finale wrapped up with a climactic battle involving Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), some Miami gangsters, and also (more importantly) the Crowder family, who were plenty menacing in their own right. This season, however, revolved around Raylan’s interactions (and far-reaching interfamily history) with the even more foreboding Bennett clan, who are headed up by its undeniably terrifying matriarch, Mags (Margo Martindale), who thinks nothing of punishing one of her sons by breaking his knuckles with a hammer. It was only a few episodes ago when the Bennetts ruled Harlan County both in the drug trade and also through the negotiations with Black Pike. Now, only one Bennett remains, but he’s the one wfho’s not only caused Raylan physical harm (by stringing him up in a tree and taking aim with a baseball bat) and also emotional damage as well (by killing his Aunt Helen) in the past few episodes. Certainly, the fact that Dickie’s (Jeremy Davies) recent antics have earned him some prison time doesn’t mean that he won’t be out in a jiffy, so we’ll have to wait and see how that all shakes out. For a season that commenced with an appalling lack of violence (hey, Raylan was just trying to avoid the paperwork), the Season 2 finale of “Justified” certainly earned its title, “Bloody Harlan,” which references the historic 8-day battle that took place in 1939 during which company hired guns unleashed violence against coal protestors. While I probably enjoyed the bloodshed and violence of the first season’s finale slightly more than that of the second season, what pulled things up to par was a series of fine performances, and, of course, Mags.
Overall, the second season continued its hillbilly take on film noir with its variation on femme fatales, including regulars Winona Hawkins (Natalie Zea) and Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter). In terms of story and execution, the second season contained many more compelling moments of white-knuckled tension, but the results varied in the few standalone episodes that resided largely outside of the main storyline. A successful standalone episode revolved around Raylan and Tim (Jacob Pitts) rescuing the pregnant felon, which gave us an interesting glimpse of the latter’s sniper background and also served to keep Raylan’s trigger finger out of trouble for another week. On the more unfortunate end, Rachel (Erica Tazel) got shortchanged with her entire history getting summarized in just one episode. Of Raylan’s two fellow marshalls, Tim has obviously been granted a more interesting aura (sniper background; possible alcohol problems as demonstrated when he failed to recognize Raylan and Winona in a bar setting) that has yet to be explored in full and will possibly come to the forefront next season. Hopefully, Dewey Crowe will also return and do something incredibly stupid yet again; while nothing that Dewey could possibly venture in the future could rival his dreadfully hilarious impression of Raylan, well, I’ve really got a soft spot for that clueless little hillbilly (mullet notwithstanding).
Another evident change this season is that “the hat” took much more of narrative backseat and has been decidedly less of an object of discussion. Of course, the Stetson has definitely been front, present, and (at times) pulled down over one Olyphantastic eye, but it seems as if the writers don’t want to overdo that gimmick and have wisely realized that the hat should be seen but not spoken of for the most part. Still, when the hat comes off, Raylan is often at his most vulnerable and not only more susceptible to physical harm but also the feminine wiles of Winona as they roll around in the sack. When the hat goes back on, Raylan once again transforms into the seemingly indestructible lawman who speaks strong words in a soft voice [incidentally, Mags tried to fake out the gun-wielding Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever) in the same fashion but failed miserably, but that’s what she gets for not wearing a hat]. While the fact that I’m taking a full paragraph to discuss the hat might seem silly to those that don’t know the power of “Justified,” but that damn Stetson is very important as a construction of Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens and his mythic ways (remember the dentist gasped who his name in one of the series’ first episodes?), which he very deliberately carries out in the face of the past that he cannot escape.
In this season finale, however, we see that Winona is still eager to pull Raylan away from his calling when we learn that she is pregnant, and she once again articulates her worries over Raylan’s safety. One can’t blame Winona for her concern, particularly because she’s been eyeing that damn creepy future tombstone of Raylan at his father’s house, which proves that no matter what legacy Raylan forges as a lawman, he’ll never be able to break free from Harlan or his family’s history. Further complicating matters is the fact that Raylan is a man who has grown increasingly alone in life as the show wears on; he recently lost one of the only relatives that he cared about, and Winona might not be around waiting when he gets back from helping out his latest project (in this instance, Loretta). Over and over again, Raylan has proven his love for Winona in various ways, including taking care of her reprehensible estranged husband, Gary (William Ragsdale), and his dealings with the Dixie Mafia. Further, Raylan has already once risked his profession for Winona and jeopardized his working relationship with Chief Deputy Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), but that’s not enough to satisfy her. Clearly, Winona is attempting to manipulate Raylan the Red-Nosed Lawman (he gets a bit misty eyed in this episode) out of doing what he feels is the right thing to do, since he promised Loretta (who is also inextricably drawn to the past and compelled to return to the dangers of Harlan to find out who killed her father) that he’d always be there if she called him. Also, Winona damn well already knew Raylan’s tendencies towards dangerous situations, yet she still got back together with him and got knocked up to boot. She wants to take the lawman out of Raylan, and he seems willing to go along with it for the now, but it won’t last. Raylan’s too entrenched and obliged to the people of Harlan to let all of that history go even though he so desperately wants to leave again. Quite simply, you can never (really) leave Harlan alive.
One big thematic shift in the second season revolved around coal, which is both the nemesis and the livelihood of Harlan county. In the first season, coal was merely an undesirable nuisance and dreaded source of livelihood (even Elmore Leonard’s original, pilot-driving short story referenced the fact that Ava married Bo Crowder because he was cute and also because he initially promised to never work in the mines, and his eventual resolution to take that job was a constant impetus of marital conflict). One of the reasons for Harlan’s prominent criminal element was that the lucrative sale of drugs and weapons provided an alternative to the dreaded mine life, which is considered both more dangerous and reprehensible than, say, holding up a bus in an Oxycontin raid. Towards the middle of the second season, coal became a much more unavoidable topic to all Harlan county residents when Black Pike, through their representative Carol Johnson (Rebecca Creskoff), aimed to blow the top off a mountain, poison the environment, and ruin what little enjoyment that the Harlan people get from their surroundings. Within “Justified,” many residents have held a firm stance that one must choose between a life of crime or coal, and the two must remain mutually exclusive or the consequences will be extremely explosive (and just might come in the form of dynamite at the hands of Boyd). When Mags held herself out at a townhall meeting, she seemed to adhere to this rule as well, but she then switched sides and sold out to Black Pike. The Bennetts didn’t keep Black Pike out like they were supposed to do and, instead, they used it for themselves. This crossing of the steams forecasted certain destruction as all of this season’s various story threads swirled into the perfect hillbilly storm.
Naturally, Boyd Crowder (Walton Fucking Goggins) had his moments too within the finale while dressed all in black with his wonderfully awful hair standing on end (always a sure sign of trouble). He delivered wonderful lines of dialogue (“I think we can all agree that bloodletting is bad for business.”) and a nice moment where he shows Ava how much he cares for her when she gets shot (probably not fatally). Meanwhile, Johnny Crowder is still alive and keeps himself that way by hiding out on the back porch while blowing up his own house, and Boyd must rescue Raylan from the clutches of Dickie, who was apparently taking revenge for a 20-year grudge that had to do with Dickie’s limp. The action built up quite nicely to the point when Loretta shoots Mags in the leg, which immediately sets off an outside chain reaction of gunfire that ends only because Art intervenes by shouting, “On the ground, hillbillies, now.” As always, the writers pulled things off marvelously and have given us much to look forward to when the series resumes.
In the end, the second season closed in the same way that it began; that is, death by Mags’ secret Apple Pie. When she repeats her previous line, “It’s too late. It’s already in the glass, not in the jar,” and we see the look upon Raylan’s face, we can’t help but panic for a moment that Raylan might have been the one who was poisoned, even though (deep down) we know that would never happen. Before she leaves us, Mags verbally ends the feud between Raylan and the Bennett clan, yet Dickie still remains something of a wild card to be reckoned with, as is Arlo (Raymond J. Barry), who is still kicking and has never shown any hesitation to sell out his son to save his own ass. And if those two ever truly join forces with Boyd, Raylan will need to watch his back, but that’s nothing new to him at all. I think I speak for all “Justified” fans when I say, “Long live the “hillbilly whisperer.”
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.