‘Justified’ – ‘The Spoil’: Whoop-de-doo!

A review of tonight’s “Justified” coming up just as soon as I need you to put on a dress…

“Far as I’m concerned, y’all deserve each other.” -Raylan

Playtime’s over. It’s been fun to this point in the season, but now is when stuff starts getting real.

And what made “The Spoil” especially strong was how it managed to take recent events that seemed minor from an arc standpoint and give them equal weight with what’s happening in Harlan. Raylan is pretty sure Art knows what he did with the stolen money, and since Raylan’s hunches tend to be right, then Art knows. So Raylan goes through all the other business of the episode with that cloud hanging over his head. As viewers of the TV adventures of Raylan Givens, we know he’s not going to get transferred, or drummed out of the service, or incarcerated, but he doesn’t know that, and that sense of fatalism informs everything Raylan does throughout the episode, including him getting his ass good and thoroughly kicked by Coover.

This is roughly the point in season one when we got “Hatless.” We know that Raylan isn’t infallible, particularly when he’s drunk or hungover, but it’s still kind of shocking to see him catch a beating like that – and from a character like Coover, who to this point has mostly been comic relief. He’s been such a clown that we forget just how big Brad Henke is, and how convincingly he could lay a hurting on our man – particularly when our man is both physically impaired and suffering a crisis of confidence.

And now that it looks like we’ll be spending most of the rest of the season inside the Harlan County line, it’s important that we understand just how dangerous the Bennetts are. Mags is the evil mastermind, and Doyle has the power of his badge, but Dickie is fearless and devious himself, and if Coover’s dumb, he’s also big and strong and won’t quit. And we got to see all their powers on full display in “The Spoil,” with Mags’ speech about the evils of mountaintop removal mining(*) just as impressive in its own right as Coover’s wrasslin’ skills.

(*) One drawback to an otherwise fantastic scene that wonderfully showcased Margo Martindale was how much the subject matter kept reminding me of my unfortunate decision to read Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” – and, particularly, to keep reading and reading as he went on at length about the pros and (mostly) cons of mountaintop removal. God, I hated that book.

Just as important was simply putting most of the major players – Raylan, Boyd, Ava, the Bennetts, Arlo and Helen, and troublemaking Carol(**) – all in the same territory, and even briefly in the same room. We don’t know exactly what Mags’ plans for all that land is, but we know that she’s opposed to Carol, that Boyd and Raylan are somehow both protecting Carol, and now that the Bennetts even have something of a personal vendetta against Ava, who makes the mistake of killing Coover’s favorite critter instead of simply shooting Coover himself. (And we know from the fate of Bowman Crowder that Ava doesn’t necessarily flinch at killing people.)

(**) It’s clear that Carol has eyes for Raylan, though it may just be that Rebecca Creskoff is an inherently flirtatious performer. But anyone want to set odds on whether Raylan gives into a self-destructive impulse and sleeps with her, wrecking the new thing with Winona in the process?

So we had that great town hall meeting scene, and a fine little action set piece a Aunt Helen’s house, in which we found out that there are circumstances under which Raylan will actually let Arlo watch his back. (And his decision to cut the anklet to alert a rescue party was a good bit of thinking from our clever Marshal.)

The question is whether he’ll again allow Boyd to have his back, or whether he’ll let himself have Boyd’s back when things with the Bennetts inevitably get ugly.

But all the players are on the board together now, and we know most of the battles – even getting confirmation that it was Raylan who hobbled Dickie, and why – and that was a damned entertaining hour of “Justified.”

What did everybody else think?