You should know how to obey the law…
Justified – “The Spoil”
‘Wow. I feel like every week we comment on how awesome this show is and every week it seems to get better and better! I mean, honestly, I feel like it is not at all too much of a stretch to say that Justified is easily the best show on TV right now. My only disappointment about this week’s episode is that I have to wait a whole week to find out what is going to happen at Mags’s party! So many things going on. I’ll say a few things:
(1) The theme of mutual recognition that I’ve been talking about.
We see this play out in a variety of interesting ways this episode. The whole bit with Raylan, Winona, and Art. It is interesting how heavy Art’s knowing hits Raylan and I think this has to do a lot with how important–whether intentionally or unintentionally–it is to Raylan how he is perceived. Similarly, it was classic Boyd/Raylan in this episode: “The only thing we are on the same side of is this car.” Which was promptly followed up by the epic improvisation of both of them at the town meeting–when Boyd stood up and said, “there’s another side”–you just couldn’t help but smile. On this theme, I also thought how introduced into the show was the idea of a sort of responsibility to the dead. When Arlo says, “What would your daddy think?” it calls to mind the idea that whatever the mechanics of recognition will ultimately be, they will be as responsive to the past as they are to the present (and future), and, of course, Mags speech during the meeting once again reinforced this point. Finally, the episode even gave a nod to this theme explicitly with Raylan’s little quip that: “Perhaps your safety is more important than how it looks?”
(2) Mags speech and the whole showdown with the mining company. Wow. I feel like with this dynamic the show just entered a new phase and really reached a new level. It’s went beyond the simple sort of “big government” vs. “people” mentality that not only curses American politics, but often infects dramas set in “red states.” Now, the true issue is exposed: the corporations. In this sense, I see the show taking a clear-cut stance vis-a-vis contemporary politics, firmly placing itself outside of any mainstream political camp (I should note that it is a testament to this show that it’s carefully avoiding the two parties–and now we see that there is a clear intellectual reason for doing so). It is interesting to see Raylan on the same side as Mags and Boyd on the side of the corporation. It is also interesting in the context of Mags’s pronouncement that “they have their own way of doing things…of living and dying.” Does Raylan still fit into *that* picture? Or has he spent too much time in Miami? This little speech manages to suck in so much history and politics that it’ll be interesting to see where it goes–but as I’ve tried to argue before: the theme of America is explicitly omnipresent.
(3) Some other thoughts: (a) Boyd: will be interesting to see what he figured out, (b) Coover and Raylan…obviously this is not over yet. But was totally classic the moment between them in the meeting, where Raylan could laugh off getting beat up. Also, did you get the hint the Raylan would have won the fight were it not for Loretta? If so, what does that suggest? (c) Charlie! Totally classic., and finally (d) “You see anyone pull a gun…step in front of it.” Raylan was totally classic this episode. It was a new mood for Timothy Olyphant. He captured the hangover well and he captured the sort of guilt/shame/remorse that must be wreaking havoc to Raylan…he was unpredictable, but not entirely impulsive (i.e. no getting together with Carol…yet). And I suppose that brings me to (e) Carol–will be interesting to see how her character plays out.
Looking forward to your thoughts,
I’m with you, of course, on the excellence of this episode, and the superlative quality of this show in general – when it hits full momentum, nothing on tv right now is quite like it. And while I actually liked last week just a bit better (a symptom, I think, of my admiration for organically articulated dramatic structure, episodes that tell a self-contained story within the overarching metaplot), there’s no denying the excitement of this season’s endgame emerging. Apart from the mining company story, we had great little moments – that little opening scene between Art and Raylan in the batting cage being one of my favorites. I’m intrigued by the morally compromised Raylan, and the way this is tied to his obvious weakness for his women. Granted, he got himself into trouble this way last season, sleeping with a witness and all, but the ordeal with Winona is a different thing altogether. It’s interesting isn’t it, that as soon as he’s back in bed with her, in a literal and figurative manner of speaking, that Carol Johnson comes along. It’s no coincidence that Winona is portrayed listlessly in bed while Carol is seen in a somewhat…different and more, um, flattering…light this episode. The reason this is interesting is that the last time we saw Raylan gets his ass kicked well and good – when he lost his hat in season one, as you recently reminded me – was over his defense of a woman’s honor (a woman he didn’t really have any business defending). So again this week Coover gets the best of him while he’s supposed to be protecting Carol.
What I’m getting at, I guess, is the interesting way Raylan enacts a habitus, if you will, of anachronism. He is continually called upon to certain duties that smack of a kind of ill-advised chivalry, the kind of Wild West tipping your hat and saying, “Ma’am” in the middle of a gunfight. If we’re going to talk about the idea of America in this show, which he definitely should, then part of that is the highlighting of the way these kinds of tropes are played with and deconstructed (if I can be forgiven for using that word). Raylan is a kind of walking nostalgia the show loves to undermine, just as it does with Harlan County itself. The stunning cynicism (and weird undercurrent of truth) to Mags’ speech is a good example. The Bennetts are just as predatory on this community as the mine company is, and in showing that the writers all but openly mock the kind of “real America” rhetoric that occupies our political discourse these days. So I’m agreeing with you here, I guess: the politics of Justified are totally outside anything we see today, and this episode helped us see why: the show has always been about playing with and exposing the myth of America for what it is. It’s something that Justified shares with its sibling, Sons of Anarchy, and its predecessor, The Shield: a way of piercing the veneer of ideology in which “tradition,” “honor,” and “authority” are sustained, to expose the inherently ironic way they are held in this country, and to highlight the far more immediate and messy ties of kinship and relation, and the exigencies of mere survival that subtend them.
Ok, I’m pretty sure I’m being intolerably obscure here, which I’ll chalk up to writing this in an airport. Great episode, great second half of the season developing, and a lot of really great stuff go come in the weeks episode. Until next week!