Whew. Now that was a season finale. We had gunfights and we had tears. We had startling revelations and some not unsurprising deaths. We got closure on some things, but others were left dangling intriguingly for season three. Most of all though, we had Raylan being Raylan, as he reached new heights of laconic quotes and stoicism.
As the episode opens, Raylan has seemingly made up his mind about leaving fieldwork behind for a more stable life as a firearms instructor at Glencoe. His conversation was mainly a chance for Art to drop some of his typically hilarious deadpan lines on us, particularly his response to Raylan’s assertion that Glencoe is always looking for instructors who have shot people- “Whelp, you got that covered.” The scenes with Art and Raylan are always great in my opinion, because you’re seeing two men that obviously respect and like one another, but are either uncomfortable expressing it or those feelings are being subsumed by frustration with one another (whether it’s Art wishing Raylan was a more conventional Marshal, or Raylan wishing Art would give him more latitude to operate). There is a definite heart to all the scenes between these two.
The next scene, between Winona and Raylan is a classic example of us viewers being more omniscient than the characters. Winona reveals that there’s a little lawman baking in her oven, and Raylan is overjoyed to the point that he announces he’ll quit, get out of Harlan and get out of the line of fire. You sweet, foolish man. Announcing you’re going to quit in the first act of a season finale (on a show in which nearly everyone is armed) is tantamount to a guarantee that you’ll either be shot before it’s all said and done, or someone you care about is done for. Just when I think I’m out, they keep pulling me– well, you know the rest.
Onwards now to a very excellent parlay between our rival crime lords. I loved the priest serving as mediator (that being said, he’s no Prop Joe when it comes to these matters) and providing the church as the location for the sitdown. The setting provided a great juxtaposition for the subject matter, both visually and existentially. Boyd was just flat out fantastic here, so confident and in control, yet respectful at the same time. Mags was equally formidable, as her polite words were clearly a veneer for her calculating nature.
We quickly see what it was that Mags hope to achieve in her palaver with Boyd and Arlo. While she distracts them, the Bennett gun-thugs simultaneously attack two locations, trying to cut Boyd’s gang off at the knees. I initially thought that Johnny Crowder had caught a raw a deal, killed off only a couple episodes after we’d found out he was actually still alive (surprisingly having survived the messy shootout at the end of season one), but I certainly cheered as he blew up his own house to take out Mags’ shooters. The other attack, however, went a little better for the Bennetts, as Dickie was able to slip inside the house and shoot Ava. Fantastic acting by Walton Goggins when Boyd returns to find her lying on the sofa in a gut-shot state. The fear and anger and hurt (and maybe some guilt?) that you can hear in his voice are a reminder of what makes Boyd such a complicated character.
Our next couple scenes are spent moving a critical piece for the episode’s showdown into place. Loretta, her intentions bending towards vengeance, has apparently been in contact with an old friend her father’s and is using him to hitch a ride back into Harlan. I loved the moment in the car when Wade struggles with her and she delivers a line that is pure Raylan, “make me pull my hand out of this bag, you might not like what I come up with.” On the topic of Loretta, I found myself feeling bad for the foster parents, who were clearly good people and had cared for Loretta.
After a brief interlude in which Winona first tries to convince Raylan to stay out of Harlan and then Art to back Raylan’s play, we get a scene that’s been twenty years in the making. Dickie gets the drop on Raylan and strings him up in a tree by his foot, ready to revisit the kind of baseball bat inflicted pain that Raylan had gifted him in their adolescence. Absolutely awesome work here by Jeremy Davies, as he takes Dickie’s twitchiness and simmering anger to a full boil. Dickie has always been a little off, but we finally see his full-on crazy as he gleefully batters Raylan, all the while making baseball-themed quips. Raylan gets the best line of the scene though, “go back to the part about you reading.” Even in a jam as tight as this, Raylan can’t help himself. I had no doubt the scene would culminate with Boyd rescuing Raylan, and I loved seeing Dickie transition from his insane bravado to cowering and crying, just as he was when Raylan nearly executed him last week. More classic lines from Timothy Olyphant (who flat out delivered this episode) with both “I didn’t pull the trigger, but I’ll sleep like a baby knowing he will” and “Makes you feel better, you can tell people I asked.”
Finally, we get to the showdown at the Bennett compound that both this episode and this season have been building towards. It starts off with Loretta drawing a gun on Mags, whose cool response “you think this is the first time a pistol’s been pointed at me? and by steadier hands than yours” gets right at the heart of who Mags Bennett is. Honestly, I was having trouble telling if she was genuinely happy and relieved to see Loretta (meaning she really did care for the girl), or if she was getting set to kill her to avenge Coover. Regardless, Loretta’s errant shot touches off the firefight outside, between Doyle and the recently arrived Raylan. Winged in the initial exchange, Raylan can do nothing but lie in the dirt as Doyle steps over him and delivers a fantastic kiss-off line, “this bullets been on the way for twenty years.” Yet before Doyle can deliver the coup de grace, a bullet that’s been on its way for less than a second (courtesty of Tim) takes Doyle square in the forehead. It turns out Winona got through to Art after all, and he brought the cavalry to the defense of his wayward lawman.
Back in the house, there is one last loose end to tie up. Loretta still has Mags at gunpoint, and it takes the combined effort of Raylan and Mags to talk the girl down. Seeing these two enemies both arguing the same side to prevent Loretta from doing something that would irrevocably change her life was a very powerful beat for the writers to play here at the end. Mags gets to deliver a great confession too, so matter of fact and blunt. The business with Loretta resolved, Raylan proceeds to make an absolute classic blunder in accepting a drink from Mags Bennett (I’m not going to say that she uses icocaine powder, but come on, of course she does). Now, clearly I didn’t expect the writers to kill off Raylan, but that didn’t lessen the tension in the scene in any way. We get a near line-for-line recreation of the murder of Walt McCready (which, in a way set this all in motion), this time with Mags herself at the receiving end of her venomous dram. Personally, I thought this was a fitting end for the character. Not only to die in the presence of someone that had been a respectful antagonist for so long, but to go out on her terms, looking forward to seeing her boys again (by omission this further establishes the low regard in which she held Dickie). Margo Martindale was an absolute force this season as Mags, and I’ll certainly miss her in season three.
Just a perfect season finale to an excellent season of what’s become one of the best, most tightly written, dramas on tv. I can’t wait for season three, especially with Ava’s life still hanging in the balance, Raylan’s child on the way, and a Dickie Bennett who is still very much alive.