It’s just a mountain
Justified: “Brother’s Keeper”
So we have our answer on how long Raylan’s no-kill streak would last, and of course it ends protecting Loretta. In many respects, this episode feels like the one we’ve been heading toward all season, only to have the promise of a truly vicious fight with Mags emerge in the final moments. We’ve probably exhausted our stock of superlatives for this show the last few weeks, and “Brother’s Keeper” brings multiple trajectories converging together in one brilliant series of confrontations after another. Any number of scenes warrant comment, but I’m afraid I’m a bit pressed for time today, so I just want to make a couple of observations before passing the baton to you.
First, I’m continually struck by how this show finds ways to comment upon the walking enigma that is Raylan Givens. When Carol, fresh from being outmaneuvered by Mags (who, as acted by Margo Martindale – do I even need to say it? – absolutely killed in every scene she was in) and Boyd, marvels at his genuine soft spot for “these people,” we see highlighted the inherent paradox that Raylan is, occupying as he does a permanently liminal space. Like Carol, he represents an external authority, and is an outsider by virtue of his position; but like Boyd he’s an insider, one who knows the rules of the game, and operates within the traditions that constitute Harlan. I know I keep coming back to this point, but there’s something fascinating here: the way a self-mythologizing place like Harlan is personified in Mags, whose exploitation of her own people, about whose ways she can talk so eloquently, is not so much cynical (as her speech last week seemed) but is the essence of that tradition itself. Mags can wave off Carol’s sneer about robbing from her own people, because this is what we do, and it’s not your affair. That’s shown starkly in Mags this week – how she can virtually ignore the death of her son, and mourn the loss of her adopted daughter that she herself orphaned, while (at least so the final scene hints) declaring war on Raylan for representing the force that takes Loretta away from her. No outside force is going to exploit these people; Mags can do that herself, thank you.
It’s a paradox reflected in her attitude toward her sons, an attitude that reveals just how ruthless the world of Mags Bennett is. Jeremy Davies has been surprisingly understated in his role as Dickie, but I think he was the unsung star (along with Kaitlyn Dever, of course, because holy crap is Loretta well-acted) of this episode: his confrontations with Raylan and Coover were superb, because they showed Dickie finding out the startling limitations of family privilege in Mags’s world – that dawning realization on his face that Raylan is right (he would already be inside if Mags wanted him inside), and that desperate appeal to “momma” in trying to get through to Coover. Harlan is a place constituted by blood relations and family, but there’s real limits to those relations. The trespass of those limitations brings terrible penalty.
The reason I focus on Raylan as the lens in which to see all of this? It seems to me that Raylan’s character has been marked by his passivity this season. There’s his noted hesitation to fire his gun; the Winona subplot finds him simply reacting to Winona’s impulsive theft; his role as Carol’s security escort is upstaged more than once, whether by Coover kicking his ass last week, or by Carol’s surprising ability to take care of herself this week; and even his protection of Loretta really just finds him enacting something that was effectively decreed beforehand by the code Mags represents: Coover’s stupid and jealous endangerment of Loretta was going to mean a far worse penalty than a broken hand from his mother, and Raylan merely is the agent of that. They both know it in that final scene. That passivity marks, it seems to me, the ways that authority comes up against a community like Harlan only to find itself relativized and outmaneuvered. Carol is the best representation of this, and of course Carol is just going to move on to the next mountaintop; insofar as Raylan is part of that community, he can act more effectively within it. But then like Mags, that means to him it’s just a mountain.
Thanks for a great (and meaty) response. Although I tend to agree with most everything you write about this episode, I didn’t find it as satisfying as you did. My issues with it were mostly stylistic–I thought it was sort of peculiar, with lots of different threads, going on at different times. Character-wise and plot-wise, it was, of course, very satisfying since several storylines are finally resolved, but as an episode it seems sort of uneven. I think, perhaps, that this has to do with the fact that a lot of the episode centered on Coover, and Coover just isn’t a deep or interesting enough character to carry an episode.
With that said, I did find the scene with Raylan and Mags really amazing. One, I thought Raylan’s finality: that’s impossible, to be not only the only thing left to say (reminded me very much of the Wittgenstein-ian idea of “my spade is turned” — this is what I do.), but also just so well delivered by Timothy Olyphant. I think it’s been interesting all along how the theme of recognition has been developing as a sort of misrecognition or, perhaps more accurately, disinformation. Mags’s *mutual* relation (and so mutual recognitive relationship) with Loretta was based on a lie (well, several actually)–but nonetheless it was a real relationship, especially for Mags. And the abrupt end to it–which as you point out was completely of her own doing–still strikes her as would the end of any other relationship (even more so, it seems, given the loss of Coover). Trying to think through the implications of this becomes quickly entirely too complex. Is Mags deluding herself? How exactly? What is the nature of delusion? Or is it simply that no delusion is involved and its just a matter of Mags asserting her power, thinking that it goes far enough even to accomplish this? It is a testament to Margo Martindale’s skills that she manages to portray Mags as a strange combination of obvious power, great ferocity, but also a strange gentleness and, at times, even trepidation and shyness.
As far as Raylan–well, it seems that everyone and their mom is complaining about Raylan this season (not you, but everyone else). The thing seems to be that his relationship with Winona is phony and that the “real” Raylan would have “kicked her to the curb.” Of course, this is all total nonsense. This *is* Raylan. We’re not too familiar with Raylan outside of Harlan, but Raylan in Harlan *just is* this tension between the women in his life and his job. That’s been his defining feature from the beginning. I think it has been interesting how they’ve complicated this with Carol (especially by moving Winona completely offscreen for several episodes). I find Carol interesting because it is hard to figure out *why* she is so upset. Is it just that her company caved in so quickly? But what sort of answer is that? Why would that upset her? It seems to me that when she tells Raylan that he cares for these people, she is really talking about herself, especially her relationship with Raylan (and also with Boyd, who–Winona thus far excluded–seems to be interchangeable in many respects with Raylan).
And this brings me, of course, to Boyd. What was most interesting to me–even with everything else going on–was the further evolution of Boyd…into what? We know he won’t be growing pot…but that’s about it. We still don’t have a sense of what Boyd is up to, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens.
Until next week,