Episode Title: "The Spoil"
Story by: Elmore Leonard & Dave Andron
Teleplay by: Dave Andron
Director: Michael Watkins
Previously on "Justified":
U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) was stunned to learn that his ex-wife and current love, Winona Hawkins (Natalie Zea) stole a large sum of money from the evidence room. When it seemed clear that the theft would soon be discovered, Raylan helped her sneak the money back where it belongs… But they were spotted by Raylan's boss, Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), who seemed to realize what they were up to.
Around the same time, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) was surprised when Carol Johnson (Rebecca Creskoff) from Black Pike gave him a job on her security team for a courthouse appearance against the Peener family, who blamed the coal company for the death of their father. In the middle of his plan with Winona, Raylan realized that a bomb threat at the courthouse was a ruse to lure Carol and the presiding judge outside, so he took two of the Peener family members into custody. Later, Boyd apologized to Carol for falling for the ruse, but she told him that she hired him to help her deal with the Bennett clan; the large family led by Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) who seemed to be taking over Harlan's underworld.
Late at night, Dickie (Jeremy Davies) and Coover Bennett (Brad William Henke) attempt to strong arm one of the locals from selling his land to Black Pike. They threaten him with a creature in a duffel bag and threaten to reveal what it is, but Boyd is there as well to convince him to sell. Boyd gets the Bennett brothers to leave and assures the scared local that he can protect him and his family. Meanwhile, Raylan is trying to work through his frustration in the batting cages when Art catches up to him and assigns him to protect Carol. But from Art's manner, Raylan infers that he knows about the stolen money that he put back.
At his hotel room, Raylan tells Winona that he believes that Art is on to them, but she seems barely awake enough to process it. The next day, Boyd is pulled over by deputies loyal to Doyle Bennett (Joseph Lyle Taylor), who proceed to arrest him on false charges. Shortly thereafter, a hungover and barely awake Raylan is with Carol when she gets a call from Boyd. Raylan goes with her to bail out Boyd, but when she argues with Doyle, Raylan tells them that they're all corrupt and that he won't be around to clean up the bodies this time.
Boyd takes Raylan's speech as an indication that he's leaving Harlan and Raylan doesn't say anything to dissuade that notion. Carol then brings Raylan with her to Mags' store, where she tries to win over Mags before a critical town meeting. While there, Dickie and Coover show up and Coover provokes Raylan until a fight breaks out between them. It's fairly even until Raylan sees Loretta McCready (Kaitlyn Dever) walk in and he hesitates. Coover responds by beating the s*** out of him until Mags pulls him off. Later, Carol gets Raylan's side of the story behind the Bennett and Givens family feud and he reveals that he crippled Dickie's leg during a baseball game.
Elsewhere, Boyd tries to get Raylan's dad, Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) and his aunt, Helen (Linda Gehringer) to sign off on the Black Pike land deal, but they refuse. They are also surprised when Boyd mentions that Raylan may leave Harlan again. At the town meeting, Raylan gives an impromptu speech against Black Pike, which Boyd counters. But it's Mags who truly wins the crowd over with an impassioned argument against letting Black Pike rape their land. Shots ring out, but it turns out to just be fireworks.
Later, Boyd is ambushed at home by Dickie and Coover, who nearly unleash the critter in the bag on him. But Ava (Joelle Carter) arrives with a shotgun in hand and shoots the bag. Coover swears at her as she drives off the Bennett brothers. Soon, Boyd tells Ava that he's figured out what the Bennetts really want and says that he sees a way that both he and Ava can come out ahead. Back at Carol's hotel room, she flirts with Raylan while they get drunk. But he refuses her advances. The next day, they visit his aunt and his dad, but they come under fire from a sniper.
Arlo is shot on his way back into the house, but the rest are safe. To get the police there, Raylan cuts off Arlo's ankle bracelet and hunts down the sniper… who turns out to be one of the Peener family daughters. When the police arrive, he has them pass on a message to arrest her brother as well, who is staking out the judge's house. Helen then confronts Raylan over the rumors that he's leaving and offers the rest of the $20,000 that Arlo stole in return for his promise to leave Harlan for good. He takes her money but instantly breaks his word by announcing his intention to go Mags' party.
After a two episode interlude, "Justified" is back to its season long storyline with the Bennett clan. And the writing of this episode was really strong. It wasn't the most exciting episode of "Justified," but the dialog was stellar. I particularly liked Raylan's early condemnation of Boyd, Carol and Doyle at the police station. It was the kind of thing that I wouldn't expect Raylan to say if he was fully sober. And from his tone, it's clear that he expects to lose his job as a Marshal over helping Winona return the stolen money.
The town meeting was also unexpectedly riveting. Raylan and Boyd's speeches were both compelling and true to their respective characters. But Mags Bennett was a revelation. Margo Martindale has been great in the role all season, so it wasn't a shock that she delivered the speech so well. What surprised me was that I agreed with everything that she said. "Justified" just made the strongest argument against the impact of blowing off a mountain top to get at coal by using an impassioned argument from a woman so cold that she actually took a hammer to her own son's hand just a few episodes ago.
In short, the audience is being made to side with the villain. Hell, even Raylan is ideologically on her side. Of course, since Mags is the villain, she's not above sending her boys out to intimidate the other residents. I didn't think too much of the first scene between Boyd and the Bennett brothers, but that second scene was fantastic. Ava shooting the animal in the bag was darkly hilarious, as was Coover's reaction to it. We never even saw what the animal was (but I was guessing ferret).
The fight between Coover and Raylan kind of came out of nowhere, but it worked as a way of demonstrating just how off his game Raylan is at the moment. Personally, I think he held back because he saw Loretta there in the store. But Coover got a lot farther in that fight than he probably should have. It was also amusing to watch Mags subdue Coover by smacking his head with a pan repeatedly. Coover even got to taunt Raylan about the beating openly at the town meeting.
Of course, it's only a matter of time before Raylan gives Coover his comeuppance. In fact, I fully expect that Raylan will wind up killing Coover and/or Dickie within a few episodes just to really kick the feud with the Bennetts into high gear. That's just a theory for now. I haven't seen the next episode, but the preview for it looks intense.
I'm also really enjoying the relationship between Ava and Boyd, mostly because they haven't really acknowledged that they're in a relationship. They don't kiss or embrace, but there's a definite closeness between them. And Ava seemed genuinely touched when Boyd mentioned that he has plan to get both of them ahead. As a pair, they play off of each other really well.
I have to admit that I wasn't that familiar with "Justified" coming into this season. But the show has won me over. It may not be the best show on FX, but it's still among the best on TV.
Crave Online Rating: 9 out of 10.