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'Justified' recap: The old-man follies

March 17, 2011 |  9:00 am

JUSs2ep206_20101215_PG-0190 We don't know everything about how the first marriage between Winona Hawkins and Raylan Givens ended on "Justified," but we know enough. They wanted different things, in that Winona wanted a life in which she wasn't half convinced that when her husband went to work every day, he would be coming home in a body bag. She wanted someone stable; Raylan is something like the opposite of stability. And so, as the years passed, they fell apart, and she fell for Gary, and we all know where that ended up. Now that she's back with Raylan, having left Gary for him, and now that she might be pregnant with his baby (as I continue to read those little scenes in which the two seem to talk around the thought that she has a bun in the oven, though the show has yet to outright confirm anything), well, she's back to being serious about wanting him to change, and he's back to not wanting to change. Well, you know that old saying about things changing and things staying the same. Applies here too.

Anyway, "Blaze of Glory" has quite a few fun scenes and quite a few nice moments, but it's all driven by some mighty strange character decisions. Winona is having some money troubles, thanks to the fact that Gary re-mortgaged the couple's former home -– the one good asset they have left -– in order to buy a racehorse. (He's absolutely the smoothest of financial decision-makers, though this being "Justified," I wouldn't be surprised if Gary is somehow wildly successful with his new steed.) Now, as she heads into the evidence room to drop off some files she was using for a case, she just happens to find a giant box full of $100 bills in one of the lock boxes in the cage. And she takes one of the bills. Just for safekeeping, I guess.

Here's the thing: I can get as far as Winona taking the bill. Even though she's going to know it's a terrible idea, I can buy that she'd succumb to a brief moment of temptation. But driving to the bank with the bill? Putting herself in even more danger? That seems just too stupid for words, even if we assume that she was telling the truth to Raylan and was just trying to get someone to scan the bill to see if it was real and not counterfeit. (And let's be honest: She's lying through her teeth when she tells Raylan that.) I just don't think Winona would be quite this dumb, and though the plot that kicks off from her bank visit –- featuring a trio of unlikely bank robbers -– is better, it casts a pall over everything else that happens. Sure, it gives Raylan a chance to prove his love by scanning the bills at the end and returning the three that could be Winona's bill, so she can put it back in the evidence room, but it feels like a weird way to get everything started. (I suspect this will pay off somewhere down the line, in a very different way, but for now, it's bizarre.)

The bank robbers, though, were very fun. Led by a veteran criminal named Frank, a man who seemed to be in at least his 60s and had to lug around an oxygen tank when robbing people, the three were a good example of one of "Justified's" favorite ideas: If you're a smart person like Frank (or like Boyd, who pops in for a bit), it's almost not worth it to get into the world of crime, no matter how many great ideas you have. The other criminals around you are often so dumb that they'll drag you down into the muck with them. Frank is a great character, and I loved his interactions with the other two men he was doing the job with, particularly when he outsmarts them to escape with the entire haul. I also liked the way that Frank was a touchstone in the career of Art, a man who rarely leaves the office now but was quite the marshal back in the day. When he finally got the chance to catch the man he was never able to bring in personally back in the day, it felt like a great triumph for the character. And that's to say nothing of Frank's wife, a woman seemingly oblivious to his criminal career who found herself blindsided.

But the best thing about this story line was its end, when Frank and Art had a frank discussion about getting older and losing your potency, after Art tracked Frank to a local hangar, where he was about to take off in his plane toward a small Mexican town where he could live his last few years indulging vices and wasting time. It's a lovely little scene that touches on the history between the two men before descending into one of the silliest scenes the show has ever done, an ultra-slow motion chase between Frank, who's cast aside his oxygen tank after Art threatens to put a bullet in it (Art asks if Frank remembers the end of "Jaws"), and Art, who's no spring chicken himself and has bad knees. Frank collapses just feet from his plane, unable to close the gap due to his inability to breathe (which makes one wonder just how he thought he could fly, but I digress). It's a very funny scene, and it brings the episode to a rousingly amusing conclusion. (All of the scenes between Frank and Art were very well written, providing nice character shading to Raylan's boss.)

We also get a brief drop-in into the lives of Ava and Boyd, in the immediate aftermath of the mine explosion. The ATF officers are pretty sure that Boyd was responsible for more than he's copping to, and they're also pretty sure he has the missing money. They make a good show of trying to get either Boyd or Ava to flip and tell on the other (even though Ava would have very little to tell), but the two present a united front. And once it's all over, Boyd tells Raylan just how he feels about Ava, just how much his feelings for her have been rekindled. Though Boyd mostly takes the week off, this is a nice little turn in the story. A Boyd who's fighting to get something, not just take something, could be a very fascinating character.

This wasn't the strongest hour of "Justified" ever, if only for that moment with Winona that didn't quite work. But it was an episode that nonetheless had lots of great texture and lots of great character moments. In particular, it's amazing that this show can create characters as complex as Frank in just a few minutes of screen time, and it's great that it can do very funny scenes like the chase and alternate them with surprisingly tense scenes like the one in which Raylan stopped the bank robbery before anything happened, using his wits, the backup of a grizzled security guard and knowledge he gained from growing up in Harlan County. (Anyone who grew up there would know the bomb was made of road flares and not dynamite. C'mon, robbers!) Even when "Justified" doesn't nail every aspect of a particular episode, it's created a fascinating world to hang out in.

Some other thoughts:

  • --OK, that last scene is clearly hinting that Winona is pregnant, right? I mean, that's what I'm taking from it, and my wife thought so too. Alternative thoughts?
  • --I loved the scene in which Art was digging through Frank’s hard drive and realized he was going to have to go to the hangar after finding the flight sim game. For a split second, you could imagine a version of him that didn’t leave, instead choosing to let the guy escape and save his knees.
  • --I liked the tech-guy character. Let's bring him back, show!

Photo: Art (Nick Searcy) has to actually leave the office to catch a criminal. Credit: FX


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-- Todd VanDerWerff / @tvoti