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'Justified' recap: The best episode of this show yet

April 7, 2011 |  9:00 am

JUS-ep209_20110125_PG-0969 “Brother’s Keeper” is my new favorite episode of “Justified” ever made. If I were going to make a list of my 100 favorite TV episodes, it would stand a good shot at making it on there (and I’ve seen a lot of TV over the years).

It does pretty much everything I want a good episode of TV to do -- thrilling plot twists; putting the majority of the characters into the same, small-ish space; providing lots of strong character moments, when we learn things we didn’t know about these people before. It’s the best "Justified" episode yet at laying out just what stands to be lost if the top is blown off the mountain by the Holler, and it’s also the best episode yet at laying out how the people in the Holler will survive, no matter what happens.

The bulk of the episode takes place on the same day, the day that Mags is throwing her big party down at the Bennett compound. Indeed, the vast majority of the episode takes place at that party, and it’s downright leisurely, even as we know that the show has built in a number of plot revelations to come later.

Among other things, Coover has put on the watch of Loretta’s dead father (even as she’s feeling more and more like Mags has her best interests at heart), Carol shows up to try to close the deal with Mags, Boyd wins an audience with Mags in which we don’t quite know what he tells her, and Raylan just wanders the premises, trying to make sure nothing goes wrong. By the end of the hour, all of these little bombs will have gone off, sending the plot points all over like shrapnel and making a mess of everybody’s carefully laid plans.

At first, it seems like this will result in Mags and Boyd’s ultimate triumph. After his realization last week while looking at the county maps, Boyd successfully worms his way into a talk with Mags (which occurs off screen), one that results in a deal between the two, a deal designed to drive Carol out unless she brings favorable terms. What’s Mags’ big plan? She knows she can’t keep the mining company away from the mountaintop forever (though she’d like them to just give it a shot), so she’s, instead, been buying up the property leading to the mountaintop, giving her as much control over the roads in the Holler as possible. And those roads are inadequate for big mining trucks. If Carol wants to get up there, she’ll have to build new roads, and buying up all of that property from Mags, much less developing it, will prove much more problematic for Black Pike.

It’s great to see Carol realize just how thoroughly in trouble she is in this scene, which takes its time with the deal that Mags and Boyd lay on the table. What does Mags want? What she wants amounts to having a minor (but significant) share not in Black Pike but in the corporation that owns Black Pike. It’ll be a legacy deal, she says, one designed to provide for her children’s children and for everyone who lives in the Holler. If Black Pike is going to destroy life as the folks in the Holler know it, well, Mags is going to get enough money to rebuild that life somewhere else (or to protect the current homes and livelihoods of those who live around her). And Carol finally realizes that she’s going to have to take this deal if Black Pike is going to get what it wants, leading to a triumphant scene of Mags sitting on her porch and singing “High on a Mountain,” a scene that is a lovely character moment and a heck of a culmination for everything she’s done in the episode.

But, of course, nothing ever goes that smoothly on “Justified.” As the party winds down and Carol exits to head back home (driven to the airport by Raylan, of course), Loretta, who’s spent the day being chased by older boys (so long as Raylan hasn't chased them off), sees that Coover’s wearing the watch her father once owned. And in an instant, she knows what happened to her father and she knows why he hasn’t given her any calls from down South. The Bennetts thought they could buy her off, could find a way to get into her affections and make her think less about her father. But in one instant, she snaps, realizing that these people don’t have her best interests at heart, maybe don’t have anyone’s best interests at heart. So she goes to Coover and Dickie’s place to search for evidence (after knocking Coover out with some great weed, of course), but she also calls Raylan to let him know what’s going on. And just in time, because Coover isn't really out of it, and she races just ahead of him, sure her death is about to come.

What’s great about this sequence is how it pivots on the emotions of a character who’s not even there. Mags has made it pretty clear that she doesn’t think much of Coover, who’s her youngest son, and she’s made it clear she sees Loretta as a second chance, a chance to get one of her kids right for once, even if she realizes she can’t keep lying to Loretta indefinitely. So Coover’s rage at Loretta isn’t just driven by the fact that he realizes he needs to cover up a crime but also by the fact that he’s been cast out by his mother, seemingly forever. When Raylan gets the best of him, sending him plunging to the bottom of a mine shaft with the corpse of Loretta’s dad, it’s an ultra-tragic moment for a character who had seemed like an unfeeling brute just a few episodes ago. But that’s what “Justified” has done this season: It’s taken a bunch of characters we didn’t know before this year and made them feel fully realized and deeply felt.

Photo: Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) has to come to the rescue of Loretta McCready (Kaitlyn Dever), and one of Mags Bennett's sons dies in the process. Credit: FX

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Complete Show Tracker coverage of 'Justified'

-- Todd VanDerWerff (follow me at twitter.com/tvoti)

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