If this week's Justified doesn't end up as someone's Emmy submission, I'll be surprised. So why do I feel slightly underwhelmed by it? Well, I think I was expecting a lot more than just great acting.
That great acting starts from the first moment. Raylan arrives at his father's house, which has become a crime scene. We now know for sure that Aunt Helen is dead. What a shame. Our hero sees the aftermath of her demise in slow motion and near silence. Normally, I hate slow motion scenes. Most of the time, slow motion is an annoying visual effect for a moment that's sorely overblown. Not in this case. It allows us to better appreciate everything Timothy Olyphant is conveying in his facial expressions and body language.
Once the sound kicks back in, we hear state trooper Tom Bergen (hi again, Tom!) telling Raylan that Helen got a shot off before she was killed. Tom also notes that money was taken, and that Raylan is back in town as a private citizen. We all know that's not going to stop him, though!
Arlo walks out onto the porch as Helen's body is removed by the coroner. He and Raylan have nothing to say to each other. In fact, the wheels are already turning in Raylan's head.
Meanwhile, Boyd is making breakfast (and plotting his next move in the battle with Dickie) when a stunned Ava arrives home and tells him that Helen is dead. This makes Boyd angry, and he tells his friends to tell their friends to arrive that night instead of the next.
Raylan has a testy conversation with his father, who's loading a gun to go after the Bennetts. He thinks Raylan's killing of Coover is the reason that Helen is dead. Raylan wants to know where Arlo was when Helen was shot. Arlo brushes that off by saying, "She's dead because you killed one of theirs." An argument between them is interrupted by Boyd and Ava, who want to offer their condolences. Raylan doesn't want anything to do with either of them. He asks Tom to have someone keep an eye on Arlo, and heads for the funeral home...allegedly.
Boyd and Arlo have a chat in which they discuss how Dickie obviously made Arlo in the pot robbery and how Raylan should never know about it. Arlo believes Raylan will kill Dickie and the situation will be resolved. Yes, he's a real piece of work, that Arlo Givens.
Dickie is patching up his friend Jed (ladies and gentlemen, that's the ever-awesome Richard Speight Jr. of Band of Brothers and more recently Supernatural, who will always be Lex from The Agency to me), who was hit by that one shot Helen got off. Dickie's convinced that they won't be caught. I start laughing at that. Not like we haven't heard that before.
No one is surprised when Raylan is not at the funeral home. He's at the store, talking to Mags, wanting to know where Dickie is. Mags insists that it might not be her son - there are a lot of angry people who could've gone after Helen's money. "I had every intention of living a simple life," she says, before telling Raylan that she disowned Dickie after Coover's death. Outside the store, Tom tells Raylan that Boyd helped Arlo escape, and inside, Mags calls Doyle.
Raylan heads to Coover's place looking for Dickie, but finds an armed Arlo instead. "Remember the last time you pointed a gun at me?" he tells his father, who relents and decides to wax poetic about his relationship with Helen. He talks about how his wife's sister hated him, but stepped in to save him regardless. He calls the last fifteen years the best of his life. That's almost romantic. But because he can't really be nice, he then tears into Raylan for not sharing his own feelings. Raylan retorts that private citizen or not, he can still have his father arrested, and he promptly does - even after Arlo tells him where else he might find Dickie. There's no love lost between father and son.
Loretta is not exactly enjoying life at her new foster home. And her foster mom is not too thrilled when Loretta tells her that she worked selling marijuana to kids at school. Awkward! God bless her, though, she's trying.
Raylan's next stop is the hooker with whom Dewey Crowe was busted in "The I of the Storm." I think she may be high. This is also massively awkward. At least she tells him that if he finds Jed, he'll find Dickie - who is at that moment being slapped by his mom. Said slap causes him to have a rant about how she gave away everything they had to Boyd, blaming Boyd for all the things that have happened since he told Boyd the truce was off. Not that he mentions that part. His bright idea? Set Jed up to be killed resisting arrest and pin Helen's murder on him. So much for having good friends...
Doyle reluctantly shows up at Jed's doorstep, intent on helping his brother with this great plan. He's stopped, however, by Jed's belligerent wife Jenny, and then by Raylan, who appears like a ninja out of nowhere. Raylan has sussed out the plan in about twenty seconds. Once Doyle skulks off, Raylan explains the Bennetts' plan to Jed and starts questioning him about the shooting. Jed admits that yes, it was Dickie who shot Helen. He'll testify to that, and adds that they were there for Arlo, on account of what Arlo and Boyd did to Dickie.
This means that Raylan is furious when he arrives at Ava's house. He ends up with both Boyd and Ava armed and angry at him. Boyd tells him that he's sorry, but he isn't the one that pulled the trigger. He also offers to use his deal with Black Pike to get Mags to give up Dickie. The deal between her and the mining company hasn't closed, so he can threaten to pull that from under her. Raylan would rather finish things himself.
There's one other person he needs to chew out, and that's his father. Raylan returns to jail, saying that Arlo will take his property bag and pull the deal out from under Mags unless she gives up Dickie. Arlo would rather keep the money he got from the deal than help get Dickie. This, coupled with the knowledge that Helen's blood is on his father's hands, gets Raylan to slug his father and then enjoy squeezing his windpipe. There's a moment I've been waiting to see for a long time now, and it makes me honestly scared of Timothy Olyphant. He's that good. After that, it's no surprise that Arlo does as he's told, and Mags is backed into a corner.
Doyle arrives to see his brother, and Raylan is just steps behind. There's a bit of a fight as Doyle handcuffs his brother, but it doesn't matter as Raylan knocks him unconscious and takes charge of Dickie himself. He drags him out into the woods, where Dickie pleads for his life. While Dickie cries and begs, Raylan tells him how much Helen meant to him. If not for Helen, he might never have escaped Harlan County. Still, he can't bring himself to shoot the other man, and just knocks him out instead.
Everyone arrives for Helen's funeral on the Givens property, including Winona, Boyd and Ava. As they lay her to rest, Mags signs papers finalizing her deal with Black Pike. Afterward, an elderly woman arrives at the store to see her, and later turns up to see Jed at the jail. It's more than a little bit creepy. Unsurprisingly, after this, Tom tells Raylan that Jed has recanted his statement and taken the blame for Helen's death. This means Dickie is in the clear. He leaves jail and is met by his mom, who tells him that she's realized she can't escape life in Harlan and that they'll take care of everything. She must see something in him that I don't; at this point, family or not, he's disrespected her a few times and he's killed someone. I wouldn't be tearfully coming to his defense. But then again I suppose the conflict has to come from somewhere...
Before I get into my analysis, I want to take a moment to get on my soapbox, and give a special shout-out to Justified production designer Dave Blass, cinematographer Francis Kenny, and all the people they work with to create Kentucky every week. As I mentioned in my on-set feature in March, the show is shot here in California, but it's next to impossible to tell. There are some truly beautiful sets, inside and out, on this show and an incredible amount of work goes into creating them. I'd like to say thank you to Dave, Francis and everyone behind the scenes for all their hard work. This episode showed it in spades.
I do feel a bit of a letdown with this episode, however, for a variety of reasons. The first is the same problem that I had with last week's "Full Commitment." If ever the time was right for Raylan to shoot somebody, it would have been either last week or this week. Both Wynn Duffy and Dickie Bennett certainly deserved it, and I don't think the fans would've shed any tears over either of them. But our hero's being surprisingly nonviolent...which wouldn't bother me as much if we weren't so aware of his tendencies toward anger and gunplay. It's strange when you have a character who's no stranger to violence, that character is given every reason to engage in violence, and then there isn't any. Perhaps he's just saving bullets for next week's season finale.
Speaking of strange, after spending all season loving her, I found Ava weirdly tetchy this week. While Raylan has been a jerk to her at times this season, I didn't expect that she'd be on her porch holding a shotgun and possibly prepared to use it on him. Perhaps all that time with Boyd is rubbing off on her.
I'm also disappointed in the show's decision to kill off Helen. She was a great character, who added quite a bit to the show, whether it was in her sharply hilarious exchanges with Arlo or the advice she gave to everyone. There was certainly a hint of story potential for her last week when she began dispensing wisdom to Ava; I could've seen those two bonding further over their relationships with less than admirable men. Not to mention that it was nice to see a female character from Raylan's past other than a love interest, and someone from his past who wasn't somehow mixed up with something unfavorable. Helen was a great figure to have in Raylan's life and the Justified world is poorer for having lost her.
I was waiting for some moment here to get me truly excited about next week's finale. Something jaw-dropping, shocking, amazing on some level - that big bang right before the final act. "Reckoning" didn't have that. There were some great character moments, for sure, but nothing that got me feeling like I just had to see what comes next.
That said, this episode is a great showcase for some unbelievable acting, particularly on the parts of Timothy Olyphant, Jeremy Davies, and Margo Martindale. It reinforces that Olyphant was robbed of an Emmy last season, and I can only hope he finally gets a nomination this season. I really couldn't see anyone else playing Raylan Givens but Olyphant; it's just a perfect marriage of actor and character. Likewise, I'd be shocked if Martindale doesn't pick up a Supporting Actress nomination for her work as Mags, which has been consistently good all season long. And Davies has what may be his best scene of the season, as unhinged Dickie dissolves into a weeping wreck in fear for his life. From the first scene, to the confrontation between Raylan and Dickie in the woods at the end of the third act, to a funeral scene that got me a little choked up, the acting is just fabulous. This show really is populated by some of the best actors on television.
With it being the next-to-last episode of the season, following two fairly slower episodes, and with such a powerful premise, I expected something much bigger from "Reckoning." While I liked the episode enough, I also can't blame anyone who was looking for more than this. However, it's got some great scenes that allow for some truly excellent acting performances. It's worth the watch for the acting alone. It just leaves one question in my mind: how is the end of season two going to stack up to the jaw-dropping end of season one? We'll find out next week.
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