‘Justified’ – ‘Reckoning’: The grieving gunslinger

A review of tonight’s “Justified,” the penultimate episode of season two, coming up just as soon as I ask a rhetorical question…

“You don’t have to do this!” -Dickie
“Of course I do. This is who we are, Dickie.” -Raylan

This season of “Justified” has been one long scorpion and the frog parable, as Raylan, Boyd, Mags and so many others have tried and failed to change their natures, dragging a variety of frogs down with them.

And by the end of the fantastic “Reckoning,” many of the major players have accepted who and what they are. Mags may be happy to provide a respectable life for her grandkids, but they’re going to have to pry her criminal empire from her cold, dead fingers. Dickie will never be a mastermind, because he’ll always need Mags to bail him out. Boyd will always be a bandit, and Ava always in love with a Crowder man.

But Raylan? Well, maybe Raylan doesn’t always need to be a killer – or, at least, he doesn’t need to be a Givens-style killer.

I don’t know that Tim Olyphant has a realistic shot at an Emmy nomination(*), but this would be one hell of a submission episode where he to crack the field. Because of the man Raylan is, and because of all the armor he’s built up around himself – and that doubles whenever he goes back to Harlan – he doesn’t let himself grieve for Helen for a very long time. He’s cold, and he’s laser-focused on finding Dickie, and when the armor cracks, it’s only to let anger with Arlo through for a while. But then he takes Dickie out into the woods to execute him – to live up to his family destiny and become one more player in the ancient Givens/Bennett feud – and Raylan decides he wants Dickie to understand just who it was that he killed. And in talking about Helen, and what she did for him in giving him the money to get away from Arlo and Harlan and the coal mines, he realizes that this is exactly what Helen wouldn’t want of him. She wanted him to make something of himself, something other than what his family had done for decade after decade. And while Raylan Givens has no problem killing people, it should never be like this. One of the reasons he built his famous code in the first place was to separate himself from Arlo and the others – so that he could look himself in the mirror after putting a man down and feel like it was the thing to do. Dragging an unarmed, crying, pathetic Dickie into the woods is not that, and as he gets caught up in his memories of Helen, Raylan can’t do it. Hell of a scene at the end of a hell of an episode for Olyphant.

(*) To break down the math quickly, you have to figure Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall and Hugh Laurie are locks to be repeat nominees, and that Kyle Chandler is a decent bet, since once you’re in with those people, you’re usually in for a while. But Bryan Cranston won’t be there (“Breaking Bad” season 4 won’t air in the eligibility window), nor will Matthew Fox, theoretically leaving two spots. But Steve Buscemi will almost certainly take one of those, Gabriel Byrne was nominated for the two previous “In Treatment” seasons, there are other wild cards (Peter Krause and Ray Romano were multiple nominees for previous roles), and the Academy has a pretty erratic history of recognizing FX shows. Frankly, I wouldn’t even be surprised to see Margo Martindale fail to get a nomination, because the Emmys are just that silly.

But everyone’s great around him. Just consider Jeremy Davies. For most of the season, Dickie has been twitchy and clowny virtually to the point of caricature, but it’s always been a deliberate kind of thing. Because he’s hobbled, because he didn’t have Coover’s bulk or Doyle’s badge, Dickie has had to position himself as the crazy one in the family, and there’s always been an element of performance to it. Then Mags shows up to scold him for what he did to Helen, and the act goes away and you just see hurt, resentful Dickie, demanding his turn at the head of the family – a turn Mags makes clear by episode’s end that won’t come for a long time, if ever.

Or consider Margo Martindale, for that matter. In that same scene where Dickie yells at her, I asked myself why Mags hadn’t just left town already. She’s about to have more money than she’ll ever need, the locals all despise her for conning and then betraying them, Dickie’s a troublemaker, etc. But of course Mags is who she is. She tells Raylan that “I had every intention of living a simple life,” but nobody does the kinds of things Mags has done for as long and as well as she has without wanting it in some way. So of course, she had a counter-move(**) to get Dickie out of prison, and of course now she’s going after Raylan anyway – and Boyd, for that matter.

(**) Been a lot of “The Godfather” this season, and whoever that old lady was to Jed, that was the same move Michael used to make Frankie Pentangeli recant his testimony in “The Godfather Part II.”

And whatever Graham Yost and company have in mind for the final showdown between the Bennetts, the Crowders and the Givens men, I surely can’t wait to see it.

Some other thoughts:

• Because Arlo is such a selfish, unyielding sonuvabitch, Raymond J. Barry has a really tricky part to play in this one. Arlo’s hurt by Helen’s death, but he’s even more determined to keep that pain to himself than Raylan is, and Barry gets to show just enough of how this Arlo is different from the usual Arlo even before he talks a bit about what she meant to him.

• Loretta pops up briefly to remind us of her living situation and prepare us for whatever role she winds up playing in the family. But she’s yet another character having great difficulty changing who she is.

• Because of Raylan’s white-hot hatred for his father and childhood home, this was the first time Winona had either met Arlo or been to that house, and Natalie Zea did a great job of showing Winona’s reaction to the tombstone with Raylan’s name on it, which (as it did for us when we first saw it last season) explains so much about who he is.

• Great makeup work on the hooker from the Dewey Crowe incident Raylan goes to question. Her eyes were practically all yellow.

Finally, post-production on the finale is on such a tight, late schedule that it sounds like FX won’t be able to get copies out in advance, which means I’m going go be watching it live with the rest of y’all. Which means that, unless the DVDs magically get finished sooner, my review of the finale is going to be done sometime next Thursday morning at the earliest.

What did everybody else think?