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'Justified' Season Finale: FX Series Delivers Potent Kick
May 5, 2011  | By David Bianculli
 
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If you're not ready to read about Wednesday's stellar second-season finale of FX's Justified, then don't read past this paragraph. Because I can't wait to write about it -- and I don't intend to...

More than any episode to date, this most recent episode mirrored all the satisfying elements of its inspirational source, an Elmore Leonard story. Characters fleshed out with both wit and menace finally quit circling each other, and moved in for a tense, anything-can-happen confrontation.

What was most impressive and amazing about the second-season finale was the staggering number of confrontations it crammed into one edge-of-the-seat hour -- and how, despite managing to mount one thrilling duel after another, it saved the very best for last.

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The Justified season had begun, a dozen episodes earlier, with mountain matriarch Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale, in what is a great bet to be an Emmy-winning recurring guest role) killing one of her pot-growing underlings for attracting undue attention.

She killed him by serving him a glass of her homemade "Apple Pie" moonshine -- a glass laced with a lethal, fast-acting poison. Then she reached out to Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever), the teen daughter of man she'd just killed, and took her in as her own unofficial ward.

Mags, surrounded by unruly grown boys, fell in love with the girl -- a love that was reciprocated only until Loretta discovered that Mags and her clan were responsible, somehow, for the death of her daddy. That led to one of many potentially deadly confrontations in the season finale, as Loretta returned to Harlan County, pistol in purse, to seek both answers and revenge from Mags.

Other face-offs? Let me count the ways...

The first season's major antagonist, the mercurial Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), had managed to thwart Mags' plan for a financial land-scam windfall, and rub salt in the wounds by horning in on her marijuana business. She, in turn, set her vastly superior legion of backwoods thugs against Boyd and his crew, who fought back as best they could.

When the dust cleared, and this was still very early in the finale, some people were dead, others were shot and wounded, and everyone else was out for blood -- or out for something.

Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), the show's hero, had gotten wind of Loretta's vengeful mission, and was determined to intercept her and stop her from committing murder. One of Mags' sons, the limping, volatile Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies, another masterfully played guest role), had been dispatched to find her, too, but neither he nor Mags knew of her true intent in heading back home.

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Eventually, the two men on Loretta's trail caught up with one another -- and Dickie, not Raylan, got the upper hand. Dickie knocked Raylan out with a baseball bat, then strung him up in a tree, by one leg, like a helpless pinata. Raylan, as a boy, had shattered Dickie's leg with a baseball bat, and Dickie was out for slow, sadistic revenge, swing by swing.

That undercard -- Raylan vs. Dickie -- had drawn me in, emotionally, like no other TV scene I've witnessed this season. Raylan was disarmed, strung up, helpless, yet swung at Dickie, at every opportunity, with the only weapon he had left: his caustic wit. He'd insult Dickie, then absorb another brutal swing of the bat. There seemed to be no way out for Raylan, but he couldn't help himself from taking his own last swings, albeit verbally.

And there were other fights, too, before the main event:

Dickie vs. Boyd, who came to Raylan's rescue, and wanted to kill Dickie for shooting his loved one, Ava (Joelle Carter) -- who also happens to be Raylan's ex.

Boyd vs. Raylan, who wanted to spare Dickie so he could use him as a pawn to enter Mags' country compound and protect Loretta.

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Mags vs. Loretta, who got there, with gun drawn, ahead of either Raylan or Dickie, and got the confession she was after.

Loretta vs. Raylan, with the angry teen already having fired one bullet, and now aiming the gun at him as well.

And, finally, at the very end of the season, the main event: Mags vs. Raylan.

Poetically, perfectly, the season ended as it began, with Mags pouring into two Mason jars some of her home-brewed Apple Pie moonshine -- this time one for herself, and one for Raylan. And once again, as we soon learned, with one of the glasses laced with poison.

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Mags extended her hand to Raylan in a gesture to end the decades-long feud between their families, but refused to release or relax her grasp. After a few seconds, Raylan looks at her with an expression of helpless anxiety: "Mags, what did you do?"

She had taken one of their lives, in a final scene that was mythic in tone, and added to this excellent series' one rapidly enhancing mythology and reputation.

Justified, one of the best shows on TV just ended its latest season with one of TV's finest hours.

[You can see a repeat of the season finale Saturday night, 1 a.m. ET, on FX.]


4 Comments

 

Jim said:

I'm glad they didn't leave us with a cliffhanger over whether Mags had poisoned Raylan's glass, too. But yeah, it was a great season finale. Now where do they go?

Comment posted on May 5, 2011 2:13 PM


Elias said:

I couldn't agree more, this season far surpassed the superb first season, destroying the so-called sophomore curse so many shows fall prey to This season has read like a modernized version of a sprawling Shakespearean family tragedy -- think the war between the Montagues and the Capulets, without Romeo and Juliet in the mix. EPIC. I want season three now! I saved the finale on my DVR so I could re-watch today on my lunch break at work with the TV Everywhere app, which lets me watch live or recorded TV off my home receiver on my mobile device, like my iPhone. Just love this show so much!

Comment posted on May 6, 2011 10:02 AM


linda said:

I love Justified but just once I'd like to see the hero fail to talk the youngster out of taking that hillbilly revenge. They also did such a great job of creating the Mags Bennett character that I couldn't accept the idea that she would commit suicide without taking Raylan with her-not to mention leaving Boyd Crowder victorious.
That said I'll certainly be back for more.

Comment posted on May 8, 2011 8:54 PM


Disturbed

Of all the characters in this series, why is Dickie Bennett still limping around, alive? The words "lethal injection" keep going through my mind. First, he shot and killed Aunt Helen in her own kitchen, then he sneaks up on Ava in her own kitchen and shoots her.

He is a lower form of human being that doesn't deserve to live. When he ties Raylan in a tree and hits him with a baseball bat until Boyd Crowder shows up, I don't know why either Raylan or Boyd one, didn't just shoot him, since he was not really going to help him get past Doyle's gun thugs the way he said he would. Dickie just NEEDS to be either dead from gunshot wound or some form of lethal poison, soon, please. Writers? Please hurry.

Comment posted on June 14, 2011 2:17 AM
 
 
 
 
 
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