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Justified: Season 1

Justified: Season 2

What She said:

She

You would think the bad guys would have figured it out by now—you don’t get in a gun fight with Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens.  In fact, you don’t even look at your gun while in his presence, unless you want to end up shot.  By the end of Season 2 of Justified, I’d say Raylan’s body count has gone from robust to downright terrifying.  The dude cannot get through a case without filling someone with lead.  But hey, it’s justified afterall.

We join Raylan fresh off Boyd Crowder’s latest shady dealings and escape from the hands of law.  He’s not a fugitive at this point, but he’s a thorn in everyone’s backside.  The Crowder family has been largely extinguished aside from Boyd, so at least there’s progress.  But Raylan’s greatest concern this season is another family—the Bennetts.  Mags is the matriarch of the crew, and her three sons run a large marijuana business in Harlan County.  With the death of Bo Crowder, Mags is looking to expand her sphere of influence, and, although a mother at heart, she also has a ruthless and murderous side.  Of course, it seems like the Bennetts really have a beef with everyone.  There is actually also a long standing feud between Givens family and the Bennetts, as it’s explained that Raylan was somehow responsible for Dickie Bennett’s persistent limp, and Mags has never moved past it.  I personally think it has more to do with the fact that Raylan has made a career for himself and Mags has managed to raise a bunch of buffoons.  Her most successful son is Doyle, who is a local police chief and is operating a not surprisingly corrupt law enforcement detail for himself.  I should mention the third son, Coover, is a true idiot, but apparently is also a very talented pot cultivator.

Justified: Season 2

There’s a rather interesting subplot in Season 2 that deals with a young girl, Loretta, whose father works for Mags Bennett.  Mags gets mad at him for calling the police on a child predator who was lurking around, so she kills him.  She takes Loretta under her wing and tries to raise her as the daughter she’s never had.  This goes on for quite some time, until Loretta starts to suspect the truth behind what really happened to her father.  This subplot/story arch actually extends throughout most of the season, and is one of the more heart-tugging of the plotlines from the season.

And Mags Bennett has more up her sleeve than we could have even imagined.  She’s also in negotiations with a coal mining company to sell off a good chunk of her land so that she can settle down and live off the profit.  This does not sit well with many throughout the county, including her own son Dickie.  He wants to see the Bennetts grow to become even more powerful, exploring options for drugs outside of the marijuana trade. 

Of course, Boyd is also considering his options for the future.  He’s played it straight for long enough, and so he turns to his remaining family and recruits Arlo Givens to help him grow a drug crime business.  Basically, the crap hits the fan between Crowder’s crew and the Bennett family, and the result of this is plenty of death. 

As if Raylan doesn’t have enough to worry about, his ex-wife Winona has once again become a fixture in his life.  It starts off pretty casual, but things get more serious as Season 2 progresses.  She’s divorcing her current husband, Gary, and is dealing with his continual baggage, including the cunning Wynn Duffy.  By now, Duffy doesn’t only have it out for Gary; he’s got a special place in his heart for Raylan as well.  And Duffy is that kind of crazy that is completely unpredictable.  Season 2 ends with a startling revelation from Winona that is sure to change Raylan’s life. 

Justified: Season 2

Just as with Season 1 of Justified, Season 2 features amazing acting from nearly every actor on the ensemble cast.  Week to week, you may not realize just how many players there are on this show, but when you reflect back upon the entire season, it’s apparent that we’ve got a lot of characters here.  In Season 2, we’re primarily focused on the Bennetts, the Givens, and the Crowders.  Of course, Timothy Olyphant is solid as ever as Raylan.  But one person who really stood out to me this season was Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett.  She’s one of those chameleon actors who you’ve seen play many roles, but she always puts in stellar performances.  Mags is a complex and troubled character, and Martindale is spectacular.  I also enjoyed Jeremy Davies as her son Dickie Bennett.  He really came to personify that character of Dickie.  Of course, the rest of our cast is also strong this season including Nick Searcy (Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen), Walton Goggins (Boyd Crowder), Jacob Pitts (Deputy U.S. Marshal Tim Gutterson), Erica Tazel (Deputy U.S. Marshal Rachel Brooks), Raymond J. Barry (Arlo Givens), Linda Gehringer (Aunt Helen Givens), and Jere Burns (Wynn Duffy).   They’re all such joys to watch.

The general plot and story arches throughout Season 2 are captivating.  I found the events this go around to be particularly interesting to watch, and the show is overall very well written.  The plot is sometimes complex, but stops short of being confusing or hard to understand.  Justified reminds me of Breaking Bad in that sense—and I may have said this exact same thing before—because it’s smartly written and dark, and yet quite funny at times.

Visually, Justified looks like a movie.  Good camera angles, authentic locational sets, and good lighting.  I think the show benefits from being a short order run that airs on a cable network like FX.  This helps in the execution, the writing, and the general plot development from season to season.  My only hope is that the show can continue to sustain the momentum that it built up in Season 2.  I know that to date, five seasons of the show have aired, and a sixth, and last, is going into production.  My hope is that we can continue to see these characters grow as we move through these first few seasons and that the plot does not run out of good story to drive it.  We’ll see what’s ahead of us!

Thumbs up.

Justified: Season 2

What He said:

He

Mostly every hour long drama has subplots. There’s a main storyline, a subplot or two, and the occasional standalone episode. The thing that sets apart the subplots – and there are plenty of them – of season 2 of Justified is how they are woven together and play a part in the overall storyline.

Justified: Season 2

Without giving too much away, I have to give a little recap from the previous season. The Crowder family, the main family in charge of all major criminal activity in Harlan County, as well as some neighboring counties. Sometimes friend, sometimes ally of Raylan (Timothy Olyphant), Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins)is one of the only surviving members of the Crowder family after they got involved in a shootout with their drug lord partners from Miami. Boyd has no interest in taking over the family business.

As a result, a crime family in neighboring Bennett County, has interest in expanding their territory. The Bennett Family – you know they are a big deal if a county is named after them – consists of matriarch Mags and her sons Doyle, Dickie, and Coover. Mags (Margo Martidale) is the head of the family in more ways than one. The Bennett’s criminal activities are almost exclusively growing marijuana and making moonshine. Nothing is done without Mags’ blessing. Doyle (Joseph Lyle Taylor) is the local sheriff, but it seems like he’s sheriff for no other reason than to cover up his family’s various criminal activities. Dickie (Jeremy Davies) is her middle son. He hangs out with his youngest brother Coover (Brad William Henke) and the two of them are her primary foot soldiers. Of the two of them, Dickie is the brains. I’m not saying he’s smart, but between the two of them, he’s the one who makes better decisions. He has a severe limp that Raylan is responsible for (over the course of the season you learn about their history). Coover is a complete moron. There’s two things he does well: grow weed and fight. Despite being an idiot, he plays an important part in the gang, because he’s their muscle and grows quality weed.

Boyd tries to live a crime free life, but if you know Boyd, you know that isn’t possible. First, he reluctantly gets involved in a robbery with a bunch of guys he really doesn’t care for very much. Knowing his reputation, they pressure him into getting involved. He’s not involved with that crew very long, but it serves as a spark for that lights the fire under his ass to become involved in the criminal world once again.

First, he gets involved with a Black Pike Mining Company. He used to work in the mines for them, but they have something else in mind for him. Black Pike is trying to purchase all the land along a local mountain so that they can mine it. Carol Johnson (Rebecca Creskoff) is a representative of the company who makes offers to many local residents for their land. As you can imagine, she’s not very popular amongst local residents, so she needs protection. Boyd becomes her “body guard”, amongst other things. He’s definitely supposed to protect her, but she is interested in him because of his criminal background. He’s sort of a mercenary for Black Pike.

As the season goes on, Boyd becomes involved with the Bennett’s. I won’t say why or how, but I just wanted to mention that he does become involved in Harlan County’s criminal underground once again.

Justified: Season 2

I have to circle back to something for a second. One of the subplots involves a young girl named Loretta McCready. Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever) lives with her father Walt (Chris Mulkey). Walt is a small time pot dealer who unknowingly grows his product on the Bennett’s land. Loretta sells it at school. A Bennett family employee, James Earl Dean (Billy Miller), catches Loretta harvesting the crops one day when he attempts to sexually assault her. This causes her father to call the cops and report him.

This is important for a few reasons. First, it gets the attention of Mags. She is not happy that Walt reported one of her employees. However, she is a mother, and was already fond of Loretta, and is not happy she had a convicted sex offender working for her. Mags is an interesting character – caring mother, but ruthless crime boss too. Between that and growing his own stash on her land, she needs to work out some things with Walt and as a result Loretta ends up staying with Mags for a while; and becomes involved in her criminal activities.

Mostly all of these subplots are connected. Mags and her family’s illegal activities are connected to both Boyd and Black Pike. Raylan is an agent of the law, so he’s automatically involved, however he’s also assigned to protect Carol Johnson, so he’s right on the frontlines.

This isn’t even counting some of the subplots and standalone episodes that don’t play a part in the overall storyline. Raylan still has to deal with his love life.

Who is he going to end up with? His ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) seemed to want not parts of him when he moved back to Kentucky, but she’s got her own marital problems, which affect Raylan’s life too. Her husband Gary (William Ragsdale) is a major screw up. He makes some awful business decisions, and being the nice guy he is Raylan often bails them out of it. But this makes Gary jealous and Raylan suddenly looks more appealing than he used to. Or is he going to end up with his new beau, Ava Crowder, whom he split up with towards the end of season one? Ava (Joelle Carter) put the moves on Raylan almost immediately after Raylan moved back to Harlan. But her and Raylan were having problems when she found out he still has feelings for Winona. I have to say, the path they have chosen so far (haven’t seen season 3 yet) surprised me. I didn’t expect him to end up with the one he did and I didn’t expect the other one to end up with the person she did.

There is, of course, Raylan’s father Arlo too. Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) is almost always up to no good. He used to work for Boyd’s father, but with him gone, he’s looking for his latest score. This character is extremely entertaining. Raylan’s a good guy, a man of the law, but his father is the exact opposite of him. He’s a lifelong criminal and makes no apologies about that.

Raylan also runs into countless criminals throughout the course of the season, including former nemesis’ like Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) and Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman). These two are always good for a few laughs.

This show reminds me a lot of Dexter. It’s not exactly the same tone, but it’s really similar. They are both quite funny despite the gritty and violent worlds they take place in. Justified is probably even a little lighter, which I didn’t expect the first few times I saw it, but it’s fine. The approach works. They both also revolve around the activities of some seedy people. Both Raylan and Dexter are always going up against the worst of the worst. They both also have a habit of having everything go the hero’s way a little too often or conveniently, but the character are so strong, you don’t mind at all.

I honestly don’t even know where to start when talking about the acting, because there are so many good performances. Raylan Givens is a force to be reckoned with. He is very Han Solo. He isn’t going to win every fight he is in, but do not force the man to draw a gun on you, because that is an encounter you will not win. Timothy Olyphant delivers such a calm and cool performance as a calm and cool character. He’s very old school. He is like an old-fashioned “law man” from those old western movies. He’s also a local boy, so despite the fact he’s a cop and a good cop at that, he’s also got a little backwoods justice in him.

Justified: Season 2

Margo Martindale is absolutely fantastic as Mags Bennett. I never saw this actress before in my life up until a few years ago when she had a very small occasionally recurring role in Dexter. Since then, I’ve seen her in The Millers, The Americans, and now Justified. These are all very different roles and damn this woman has some talent. She’s such a chameleon. I loved this performance, because it was yet another personality type I got to see her play and it was such an interesting personality too. Mags is a pretty complicated lady. When you first meet her you think, “Ah, so she grows some weed and makes moonshine, there are worse things in the world.” Mags also seems like a pretty nice lady. She can be, but she can also be pretty damn nasty too. She is the head of this criminal family for a reason. All three of the actors playing her sons were good too.

There are lots of great supporting roles too. Kaitlyn Dever showed some acting chops beyond her years in this role, as a kid who is thrust into a lifestyle nobody, let alone a child, should have to deal with. Rebecca Creskoff, who was only in three episodes, left an impression on me.  She is a face for what is portrayed as a ruthless corporation, so you should hate her, but she’s sympathetic at times too. She’s also very nice to look at. She’s the kind of gal you know you shouldn’t get involed with, but do anyway.

There’s also a ton of regulars you can’t forget about. Walton Goggins is tremendously entertaining as Boy Crowder. That’s the only way I can put it. The character, while not a good guy, is a pleasure to watch. So is Arlo, and his former sister-in-law and current wife, Helen (Linda Gehringer). Arlo is a dirtbag. He’s funny, but he’s a dirtbag, and Raylan knows this. It’s why he’s not afraid to take him down, even if he is his father. Helen knows Arlo is a criminal and Raylan is a cop. She’s in an interesting predicament. She doesn’t hesitate to slap Arlo in the back of the head when he does something wrong, but also isn’t afraid to lay into Raylan when he arrests or bullies his father (to get information). A lot of people in this environment have really questionable morals. Ava is another one. She seems like a really nice gal, and God knows she’s charming, but she makes some really terrible decisions. She did a few things that surprised me this year and made me look at her in a different way; but it was a hell of a performance by Joelle Carter. I’m probably leaving somebody out, but there’s so many good performances in this show it’s hard to remember them all.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on September 6, 2014.

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