We’re getting close to the end of the second season of Justified, with just two episodes left after last night’s offering, and I’m dying to find out how things end in the bloody mess that Harlan County has become. After a very strong first season, Justified has only gotten better this year with the introduction of the Bennetts and their long and acrimonious history with the Givens clan.
Last season it seemed like Raylan had plenty of personal subtext to color his interactions with the various ne’er-do-wells in the Kentucky hollers of his childhood, but this season has managed to up the ante on those entanglements, with the writers slowly revealing the extent to which the Bennetts and Givens (Givenses? Giveni?) have been feuding. I particularly liked the revelation last week that Aunt Helen, someone I had always thought stood apart from Arlo’s criminal doings, was just as flinty a clan matriarch as Margo Martindale’s villainous Mags Bennett. It’s a shame that their mutual determination to continue the detente between the two families was ruined by loose-cannon Dickie (although I suppose there’s an argument to be made that some blame blows back on Arlo for robbing Dickie to begin with), and depending on the results of last night’s final scene, I wonder if we’ll ever find out the extent, if any, of Helen’s participation in the long game of Bennett/Givens criminal one-upmanship.
It was an interesting episode for Raylan last night as well. Understand, I love Raylan Givens, and if not for Ron Swanson, Raylan would be my favorite character currently on television. Timothy Olyphant absolutely has played the hell out of this character since the first episode of the series. His combination of confidence, swagger and laid-back cool defines the character. Last night though, we saw something a little different. Raylan still had his laid back confidence, whether it was being forthright with Tim about the various ways he was going to ignore Art’s orders or getting the jump on the Dixie Mafia gun-thug taking a piss, but Raylan also had a little bit of the crazy eyes going on. I thought some of the cool was missing, like Raylan knew that his handle on things was slipping out of his grasp. Going into that scene in the camper with Wynn Duffy, I was half wondering if Raylan was just going to put everyone down, consequences and career be damned. And depending on what happened with Helen in the final scene of the episode, I really think we’re going to see even more of crazy-eyes Raylan next week.
As for Boyd, I can honestly say that I love the direction his character has gone this season. To go from trying to live straight while pragmatically recognizing who and what he is, to pragmatically being who and what he is while recognizing he’ll never live straight was a great transition for Boyd. I’m disappointed that it probably means the end of the tentative alliance between himself and Raylan, but I’m looking forward to next season when I assume he and Raylan will be squarely at each other’s throats.
Final thought, I enjoyed seeing more of Tim this week. I’ve always liked that character’s laconic charm, but the show rarely finds a way to work him into the narrative. Him vs. Raylan gave us some fun moments, particularly the resigned tone in Tim’s voice when he asked the convenience store clerk “you don’t have a bathroom, do you?” I’d be thrilled to get a little more Tim in the final two episodes of the season.