After its first less than stellar episode of season two, Justified begins to bounce back with an episode that isn't perfect, but that gives us a few answers, some more questions, and quite a few gunshots.
There's a little bit of a bad taste from last week to begin with: Raylan's out late (and drinking), presumably because of the business with Winona, because he comes back at almost 3 AM to tell her that he's certain Art knows about her theft. I was hoping that we'd leave all that behind after the previous two episodes. It does, however, give Raylan a massive hangover which makes him cranky, and that's played for comic relief for a fair amount of the episode.
Thankfully, though, we move quickly from old issues into new business. Carol Johnson (Rebecca Creskoff) has come to Harlan to negotiate with the locals on behalf of the mining company, despite the continuing threat on her life from whomever called in last week's not-bomb. This means Raylan has to protect her, Boyd is still at her side, and the Bennetts don't like her. It also means interactions between characters who wouldn't normally cross paths, including Boyd talking with Raylan's father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) and finally crossing paths with the Bennett boys, one of whom also mixes things up with Raylan. You'll also see the triumphant return of Ava. Oh, Joelle Carter, you were sorely missed. And I do miss the character of Tim Gutterson, who sits this week out. But almost everyone is at the dance now, and the episode shows how Justified really works best when they're all present.
This is not your typical hard-charging Justified episode, however. There's a fair amount of time that has to be spent establishing how some of these new interactions are supposed to shape up, which is to be expected when you put characters who've never or hardly met in a scene together. There's also the unwieldly task of wrapping up (at least partly) the previous week's B-story of who's after Carol Johnson while starting a whole new tale. This is not a standalone episode; it's very clearly part one of two. In that respect, this is like reading the middle of a book, which will be maddening to some and intriguing to others. That makes it a bit harder to judge, because it's not really fair to say what does and doesn't work until you see the entire picture.
Yet for all that, the episode contains some pretty satisfying action scenes in its mix. There are three separate scenes where things get dangerous, all of which are great fun to watch. In particular, the last ten minutes aren't to be missed. Not to mention that you're going to get an answer to one question that's been bugging us for awhile. At least we're being entertained while we're starting our journey to developments unknown.
"The Spoil" has too much work to do for it to be an outstanding episode of Justified on its own merits, but it does a great job of ratcheting tension and furthering relationships for future endeavors. It's certainly a much better episode than the one that preceded it. I can't say that I'm raving about it, but I am certainly starting to see the big picture pull itself together, and I definitely want to see where all this is headed.
Check out "The Spoil" for yourself when it airs tomorrow night at 10 PM ET/PT on FX. And for more Justified, head over to DigitalAirwaves.net.