‘Justified’ and the Battle of “Bloody Harlan”

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This essay is part of our Episodes series, a column in which senior staff member Valerie Ettenhofer looks at the individual chapters of television that make the medium great. This entry repeats the epic finale of Justified season two: “Bloody Harlan”.

TV shows don’t get much cooler than Justifiedand TV protagonists don’t get much cooler than Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, who was brought to a boastful life by Timothy Olyphant about the six seasons of the series. Fans of Graham YostThe neo-western saga tends to discuss Raylan like a true folk hero, spreading stories of his wickedness with awe or exuberance. Eventually, the characters on the show start doing the same thing. He’s a cowboy for the ages, a local word of mouth legend, and a man who wears his body number like a badge of honor and a red flag. Few chapters in its story are as thrilling and bone-deeply satisfying as the series’ second season finale, “Bloody Harlan”.

Elmore Leonard wrote the stories that first brought us Raylan Givens, but by season two, in 2011, the attorney had left the original source material behind and burned it to unknown locations. It has also been indelibly present on our television screens every week. Olyphant’s performance is sleek and secure, making the tight hips, tight jaw, and squint of a cowboy look less like antiquated mannerisms of a dead genre, and more like a way of life. When “Bloody Harlan” opens, Raylan is filled with a calm anger we have never seen before following the recent murder of his beloved Aunt Helen.Linda Gehringer).

Harlan County, Kentucky is at the heart of Justified, and the Appalachian countryside is full of bad guys, lawyers, and everything in between. The show’s second season has a cast full of talent, including several actors whose careers flourished after their time on the show. There are Walton GogginsBoyd Crowder, a silver-tongued criminal who grew up with Raylan and whose fate seems inextricably linked to that of the Marshal. Margo Martindale, who won an Emmy for her performance here, is the season’s main antagonist as Mags Bennett, a maternal – and deadly – weed farmer with gravitas. Finally a young one Kaitlyn Dever claims to be Loretta, a foster child and teenage weed dealer who has just discovered that Mags murdered her father.

At the beginning of “Bloody Harlan”, which is artfully directed by Michael dinnerMags is ready to go on the offensive. Your son Coover (Brad William Henke), died recently after meeting Raylan, and now the Marshal is after another son, Dickie (Jeremy Davies), thanks to his role in Helen’s Death. She plays Boyd and Raylan’s dead father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) in a church – the parishioner asks the two crime lords of course to surrender all weapons – while their people elsewhere in town try to take out his crew. Dickie shoots Boyd’s lover, tough Ava, with the shotgun (Joelle Carter), in a sequence of gunfire galore and a massive explosion. While the terms are being set, the fight has already begun.

In the meantime, Raylan has just found out that he is going to be a father through his girlfriend Winona (dad).Natalie Zea). He has already considered leaving the field for a safer stance as a firearms instructor, but the newfound pressures of fatherhood make the dangers of his job particularly clear. Episode writer Fred Golan does an excellent job of both referring to past moments and setting the future of the series, such as when Raylan says he will sell ice cream if necessary if it means he is no longer working in Harlan County. It’s a moment that, in hindsight, is reminiscent of an emotional scene in the Justified series finale, but it’s also just one of the dozen noteworthy lines in an airtight script. Raylan was always dragged into the darkness by Harlan despite himself, and it calls him back again when he finds out that Loretta ran away from her foster family and took a gun and a wad of cash with her.

One of Justified’s greatest strengths is that, unlike so much of its genre inspirations, it treats the idea of ​​upholding the law and breaking the law as two sides of the same coin – with just a thin line between them. There are fewer villains and heroes than people who have drawn heads and tails. This feeling carries the season into its tense and surprisingly emotional final. Raylan goes after Loretta and rightly believes she wants to kill Mags because, as he says, that’s what he would have done at her age.

However, Raylan runs into problems along the way. He meets Dickie Bennett, who gains the upper hand by coldly bashing Raylan and lining him up next to a gutted stag in the open air. Dickie is pissed off because Raylan broke his knee during a baseball game in high school and sees the man as a bully. Davies would go on to win an Emmy for performance as Dickie, and it’s easy to see why. In a season reminiscent of Mag’s dominance and Loretta’s bravery, Dickie’s incredibly confident idiocy shouldn’t be overlooked. He gasps victoriously when he hits Raylan, a classic hillbilly, and then yells, “Nobody will tell me that wasn’t a base hit!” Raylan’s dry sense of humor wins out soon after, however, when Dickie begins his villain monologue with a fact he’s picked up and Raylan – helpless and upside down, a baseball bat on his head – quips easily, “Go back to the part about you read. “

Before Dickie can do a homerun on Raylan’s skull, an unlikely savior arrives in the form of Boyd Crowder. The couple chat coolly as temporary allies. They are two imperturbable men who pretend they are not moments away from killing or killing. The special thing about the two sides of a coin is that, although they are opposites, they are also part of each other. First, Raylan hands Dickie over to Boyd, who is willing to look away, while the Man in Black sends the person responsible for Helen’s death and Ava’s injury. Realizing he needs Dickie alive to get to Loretta, this is another opportunity for ironic humor and more personal myth-making. “Do you ask me or do you tell me?” Says Boyd disappointed, gun still drawn. “If it makes you feel better,” says Raylan, “you can tell people I asked.” Boyd hands Raylan his hat before leaving. Heads and tails.

All over town, Loretta has just turned up at Mags, who is armed to the gills with armed hillbillies. Mags grabs a glass to serve the girl with a drink – the audience knows she’s a poisoner, but few characters – and when she looks in the bar’s mirror, a rack-focused shot reveals an anxious, but determined Loretta pointing a gun at her. Mags, who briefly nursed the girl as her own daughter, senses a weakness and plays on it. It describes the feeling of holding a gun, the heaviness in your hand and the relief when you realize that you would never actually shoot. At that moment, Loretta lets off a shot and hits Mags in the leg. The shot starts a full-blown war outside, and the Bennett clan shoots Raylan and Dickie, who have just arrived. Dickie’s crooked cop brother Doyle (Joseph Lyle Taylor) stands over Raylan with a cocked gun. “That bullet has been around for twenty years,” he says, but over time it is shot through the forehead by Raylan’s support.

Bad blood flows deep between the Bennetts and the Givens, whose family feud has lasted nearly a century, and Dickie’s scream as his only living brother falls to the ground is a sound of a Shakespearean level tragedy. History tends to have its heartbreaking, inevitable final moments. Raylan goes in to beg Loretta’s mercy. This is a clear reversal of his reputation; The well-known marksman tries to prevent someone he cares about from getting a fatal shot. Mags also pleads, saying that both she and Raylan made their choices and “now we’re paying for them,” but Loretta still has a chance. It doesn’t matter which side of the law you’re on, she seems to be saying. Killing is killing is killing and it is a choice that can never be undone.

Loretta finally gives in in a moment of raw emotion. She just wants her father back. Raylan picks up her gun and leads her outside, but he decides to stay with Mags for a moment before the other Marshals walk in. He tells Mags that Doyle is dead and Dickie is in custody. We see mags break. This is the fatal blow. A whole family line wiped out by drugs and greed and a torrent of bullets flowing like water. Mags thanks Raylan for telling her, and you can tell she means business. This, too, is essentially justified: a relentless American tragedy confronted with a polite nod and the tip of a hat.

Mags asks Raylan to sit down with her for a drink. She pulls out another glass from under the bar cabinet. It is apple pie moonshine that she is famous for among the citizens. One local legend sits with another and they hold Raylan’s hand as the moonlight sinks, far from smooth. “It’s as good as I remember,” says Raylan gently, and he’s at home at this kitchen table, under the most dangerous circumstances as always with the same keel. It takes a moment before he realizes what Mags did. “It was already in the glass, not in the glass,” she says when she begins to shiver. Much of the light went out of her life a few moments ago and now she’s putting the rest off with a tall glass of poison. Raylan doesn’t let go of her hand until she’s gone.

At the end of the episode, a song begins to play filled with every inch of sadness and soul Justified deserves. It is originally from Darrell Scottand throughout the series’ six seasons run, multiple versions will wind through episodes like an anthem. This time it is Brad Paisley Play us off: “In the deep dark hills of eastern Kentucky / This is where I traced my bloodline / And there I read on a tombstone on the hillside / ‘You will never leave Harlan alive.'”

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