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Season 2, Episode 7: “Save My Love”
It’s every movie slogan, every television teaser, every scrap of copy written at the eleventh hour because you know you haven’t got anything better than: How Far Would You Go For Love? I couldn’t tell you how often I’ve heard that and not thought a thing of it, how-far-would-you-go I mean, I would go just as far as necessary, I mean, I would probably lay a cold compress on his head or whatever, what are you getting at, exactly? Are you getting at death, or are you getting at where my soul will hang, before death takes it for its own? 
How far would you go, and then, once you’ve gone that far, would it feel very far at all? Winona took not just a hundred dollar bill but all of the hundred dollar bills, it seems like, in a leather bag that is frankly too good for gym clothes. She could have confessed to Raylan the night before, or the morning after, or any time around in between but she waits until there is a very good chance that she is going to be in very big trouble. And he can only say, “Wow.” Her words from before ringing in his ears like he’s been sleeping under the pipe organ: “I think you’re gonna save me.”
To save Winona, Raylan must also get himself in the line of trouble. Which is his job, isn’t it, getting in trouble when other people are getting in trouble? But it’s different, here, because there aren’t any guns and there aren’t any bad guys, at least not traditional ones. There’s his ex-wife who has made a mistake, his ex-wife who he loves. Everyone can make a mistake, which is why she got away from him in the first place, why things between them always seem to be tenuous. Why Winona looks down, and then up. Why he sets his jaw, like he must always have done before.
Everyone can make a mistake, which is why now he’s shuffling suspiciously around his own office, trying to retrieve the evidence before the evidence can make her trouble real trouble. He’s so bad at breaking the law, it’s almost charming. Picking up the hat and putting it down, going down the elevator and going up. In "Blaze of Glory" Winona reminded him what it was that broke them apart: his inability—and unwillingness—to put his marriage before his career. And yet here, he hardly hesitates before he’s risking his badge for her. Sighs, sure, looks incredibly irritated, but does it, and does it, and between that and some convenient conveniences Winona might actually get away with it. But for Art. But for Raylan standing between his love and his conscience, as his conscience looks on with factory-new hearing aids turned up.
So what then is the difference between Raylan then and Raylan now, or in fact is there no difference at all? Was it just that Winona was asking the wrong questions, when she was asking. When she said, let’s have children, should she have asked, what would you do for my love? And when he said anything, should she have said, children? Only then, reverse it, and wonder: what did Raylan ask of her, and did she deny it. Because what-would-you-do cuts both ways, Winona. I do believe that what she did was a mistake, and not some sublimated revenge, but then again. Will she take any pleasure in this, in being saved by the man who before couldn’t seem to give her what she wanted?
And behind them, a simmer begins. A suit from the coal mine wants Boyd on her side, wants Boyd on her side against the Bennetts, heaven help it-all. Wynn Duffy is back, and Gary with his fine pens and horse-related opportunities. You can be ready for anything, if you are Raylan at full strength, but you cannot be ready for everything that these meetings portend. Not if you have already gone and given everything for love. Exposed yourself, and that love, to something much worse than the lack of it.

Season 2, Episode 7: “Save My Love”

It’s every movie slogan, every television teaser, every scrap of copy written at the eleventh hour because you know you haven’t got anything better than: How Far Would You Go For Love? I couldn’t tell you how often I’ve heard that and not thought a thing of it, how-far-would-you-go I mean, I would go just as far as necessary, I mean, I would probably lay a cold compress on his head or whatever, what are you getting at, exactly? Are you getting at death, or are you getting at where my soul will hang, before death takes it for its own? 

How far would you go, and then, once you’ve gone that far, would it feel very far at all? Winona took not just a hundred dollar bill but all of the hundred dollar bills, it seems like, in a leather bag that is frankly too good for gym clothes. She could have confessed to Raylan the night before, or the morning after, or any time around in between but she waits until there is a very good chance that she is going to be in very big trouble. And he can only say, “Wow.” Her words from before ringing in his ears like he’s been sleeping under the pipe organ: “I think you’re gonna save me.”

To save Winona, Raylan must also get himself in the line of trouble. Which is his job, isn’t it, getting in trouble when other people are getting in trouble? But it’s different, here, because there aren’t any guns and there aren’t any bad guys, at least not traditional ones. There’s his ex-wife who has made a mistake, his ex-wife who he loves. Everyone can make a mistake, which is why she got away from him in the first place, why things between them always seem to be tenuous. Why Winona looks down, and then up. Why he sets his jaw, like he must always have done before.

Everyone can make a mistake, which is why now he’s shuffling suspiciously around his own office, trying to retrieve the evidence before the evidence can make her trouble real trouble. He’s so bad at breaking the law, it’s almost charming. Picking up the hat and putting it down, going down the elevator and going up. In "Blaze of Glory" Winona reminded him what it was that broke them apart: his inability—and unwillingness—to put his marriage before his career. And yet here, he hardly hesitates before he’s risking his badge for her. Sighs, sure, looks incredibly irritated, but does it, and does it, and between that and some convenient conveniences Winona might actually get away with it. But for Art. But for Raylan standing between his love and his conscience, as his conscience looks on with factory-new hearing aids turned up.

So what then is the difference between Raylan then and Raylan now, or in fact is there no difference at all? Was it just that Winona was asking the wrong questions, when she was asking. When she said, let’s have children, should she have asked, what would you do for my love? And when he said anything, should she have said, children? Only then, reverse it, and wonder: what did Raylan ask of her, and did she deny it. Because what-would-you-do cuts both ways, Winona. I do believe that what she did was a mistake, and not some sublimated revenge, but then again. Will she take any pleasure in this, in being saved by the man who before couldn’t seem to give her what she wanted?

And behind them, a simmer begins. A suit from the coal mine wants Boyd on her side, wants Boyd on her side against the Bennetts, heaven help it-all. Wynn Duffy is back, and Gary with his fine pens and horse-related opportunities. You can be ready for anything, if you are Raylan at full strength, but you cannot be ready for everything that these meetings portend. Not if you have already gone and given everything for love. Exposed yourself, and that love, to something much worse than the lack of it.

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Season 2, Episode 6: “Blaze of Glory”
It can’t be easy to be a man getting older in the vicinity of Raylan. Near his incessant good looks and youthful disregard for policy, it can’t be easy to be Art, newly outfitted with hearing aids, time and time and time again forced to rein in that spark. Can’t be easy, either, to be a recently-paroled bank robber whose self-inflicted disease forces him to rely on an oxygen tank and a pack of dumb men, young men. Art once thought he’d make his name on Frank Reasoner, and Frank Reasoner once thought he’d always be one step away from men making names. Didn’t work out the way either of them thought. On paper it appears Art got the better end of things—he’s got charge of an office, after all—but you wonder what Art means when he says he meant to make his name on Frank Reasoner. Make his name with what goal in mind, with what would come after that? Did Art maybe never mean to be in charge of this marshal’s office, wagging his finger and drinking whiskey. Did he maybe mean to be someone else, did he maybe have some potential untapped? Did he mean, I wonder, to change?
That word again, I know it. That thing you want from others, but hardly ask of yourself. That look in Winona’s eyes when she gets Raylan down to the evidence lock-up, gets wistful about a yard full of little Raylans with little guns, gets to wondering out loud what-if this-time-around. Could things be different if she and Raylan were together, could things be different now that their chemistry is undeniable, now that she stays awake at night staring at the ceiling and thinking of him. But what is she asking him, when she asks him if things could be different, when she is asking for his change. Is she just asking if he would consider giving up the marshal service in order to raise a family? Or is she asking if he’s got tin where his heart should be? 
When he dodges the question, Winona must hear: no, I don’t choose you, no, I’ll never choose you. She must hear that his work is more important to him than anything. And I can’t say I blame her, not wanting to start a family with such youthful disregard for policy. But it’s getting to be clear that Winona is working herself overtime, fitting square pegs in round holes. Making everything the way things should be, where should be is according to some vision she had some time long ago. She wants things that are reasonable to want, she wants love and companionship and a partner but she is ignoring the evidence that proves these things come in odd-sized packages. She thought Gary fit the mold, and he did on paper, but Gary turned out to be a mess of a man who’s bet their house on a horse. She thought Raylan didn’t fit the mold, and he didn’t, on paper, but Raylan has turned out to be a strange sort of constant. A man who loves her. A man who wants to be with her. And a man who will cover for her when she does something incredibly stupid.
Almost too stupid to be believed, but a woman in trouble can do many things. Can shoot a man, even, can lie to law enforcement to cover for him, straight up-and-down like Ava does for Boyd. Hard to believe but not impossible to believe. Taking money from the evidence lock-up was harmless, anyway, a victimless crime. Or not even a full crime, just a meditation on one. And maybe that’s just how bad it’s got for Winona, when we weren’t looking, when we were just meeting her for another night at the motel. That look in Winona’s eyes when she stood at the front of the line at the bank, unwilling to go forward. Perhaps a part of her has started to recognize that her vision was cracked from the beginning and has started to act on its own. Raylan scolds her for not releasing the money during the robbery, victim-blames until she changes the subject but maybe it doesn’t matter, how good Raylan trained her. Because deeper than any training laid on you by others is the pain you lay in yourself. A pain that begins to dictate your life, the deeper it sits. 

Season 2, Episode 6: “Blaze of Glory”

It can’t be easy to be a man getting older in the vicinity of Raylan. Near his incessant good looks and youthful disregard for policy, it can’t be easy to be Art, newly outfitted with hearing aids, time and time and time again forced to rein in that spark. Can’t be easy, either, to be a recently-paroled bank robber whose self-inflicted disease forces him to rely on an oxygen tank and a pack of dumb men, young men. Art once thought he’d make his name on Frank Reasoner, and Frank Reasoner once thought he’d always be one step away from men making names. Didn’t work out the way either of them thought. On paper it appears Art got the better end of things—he’s got charge of an office, after all—but you wonder what Art means when he says he meant to make his name on Frank Reasoner. Make his name with what goal in mind, with what would come after that? Did Art maybe never mean to be in charge of this marshal’s office, wagging his finger and drinking whiskey. Did he maybe mean to be someone else, did he maybe have some potential untapped? Did he mean, I wonder, to change?

That word again, I know it. That thing you want from others, but hardly ask of yourself. That look in Winona’s eyes when she gets Raylan down to the evidence lock-up, gets wistful about a yard full of little Raylans with little guns, gets to wondering out loud what-if this-time-around. Could things be different if she and Raylan were together, could things be different now that their chemistry is undeniable, now that she stays awake at night staring at the ceiling and thinking of him. But what is she asking him, when she asks him if things could be different, when she is asking for his change. Is she just asking if he would consider giving up the marshal service in order to raise a family? Or is she asking if he’s got tin where his heart should be? 

When he dodges the question, Winona must hear: no, I don’t choose you, no, I’ll never choose you. She must hear that his work is more important to him than anything. And I can’t say I blame her, not wanting to start a family with such youthful disregard for policy. But it’s getting to be clear that Winona is working herself overtime, fitting square pegs in round holes. Making everything the way things should be, where should be is according to some vision she had some time long ago. She wants things that are reasonable to want, she wants love and companionship and a partner but she is ignoring the evidence that proves these things come in odd-sized packages. She thought Gary fit the mold, and he did on paper, but Gary turned out to be a mess of a man who’s bet their house on a horse. She thought Raylan didn’t fit the mold, and he didn’t, on paper, but Raylan has turned out to be a strange sort of constant. A man who loves her. A man who wants to be with her. And a man who will cover for her when she does something incredibly stupid.

Almost too stupid to be believed, but a woman in trouble can do many things. Can shoot a man, even, can lie to law enforcement to cover for him, straight up-and-down like Ava does for Boyd. Hard to believe but not impossible to believe. Taking money from the evidence lock-up was harmless, anyway, a victimless crime. Or not even a full crime, just a meditation on one. And maybe that’s just how bad it’s got for Winona, when we weren’t looking, when we were just meeting her for another night at the motel. That look in Winona’s eyes when she stood at the front of the line at the bank, unwilling to go forward. Perhaps a part of her has started to recognize that her vision was cracked from the beginning and has started to act on its own. Raylan scolds her for not releasing the money during the robbery, victim-blames until she changes the subject but maybe it doesn’t matter, how good Raylan trained her. Because deeper than any training laid on you by others is the pain you lay in yourself. A pain that begins to dictate your life, the deeper it sits. 

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Season 2, Episode 5: “Cottonmouth”
What are you?
Are you someone who accepts himself, a gunslinger-lawman, hillbilly-whisperer who easily acknowledges that he did indeed tase a suspect in the nuts because what of it? What of it, that is who he is, Raylan Givens, in fact you are lucky he didn’t have a chance to get a good shot off. There are many Raylans to love but “Cottonmouth” gives us the one who lays back, infuriatingly confident and bold. Not even Arlo’s brief appearance can ruffle Raylan today, as today he is the thing that he is, the thing that everyone knows him to be. Gunslinger-whisperer, hillbilly-lawman. Before I have wondered, is it Raylan’s confidence that feeds his drive? Is it his steady hand that makes him so terribly good at wearing a badge? But it is not, I don’t think, anymore. What it is, is, he’s smart and he is prideful. Terribly, terribly prideful. You tell this man, this smart man, that he’s seen just but the tip of the iceberg? And he will do what it takes to see the rest of it. And why not? It’s who he is. And he can’t change that.
Right?
You can’t change. You can’t change in Harlan. You can’t change, Boyd to Ava like he is in confession, or interrogation. Boyd’s been cutting deals with himself, daily deals like you can imagine, today I will not, today I will not. But today he did. Accepted a challenge, three broadforeheaded co-workers who have what they feel is a very smart plan. A heist, in fact, and I do love a heist. Boyd agrees to be a man in it, but Boyd—no matter what he tells you, later—had one foot out from the beginning. To Ava, later, he says he had no choice, but then to Ava, later, he passes her a bag full of money. He had no choice because this is who he is, he is a man who can reverse-engineer a plot and then shoot the last survivor twice, for insurance. Only what is not yet clear, to me and not to him either, is if Boyd understands the difference between being a man who is because he can and being a man who is because he is. Because we all have got tools. We all have got smarts and we all have got guns. But we haven’t all got to say yes to the broadforeheaded men who mean us harm. Unless—it’s not the men. And it’s not the money, really. Unless what it is at the core of Boyd is not that he’s a villain, not ever that he was, but that he is an incorrigible believer in perfection. Perfection, as God. And perfection, as love. As a bag of money is but a road to.
Ava must will lie for him, I can’t see that she won’t. Women in Harlan love lying for their men almost nearly as much as the men love lying for the women. Brilliantly and on a shoestring Boyd did a fine job keeping the evidence at a low simmer. Which is not to say it can’t be traced, of course it can, but it’ll be by whom, and for what purpose, that makes all the difference. As ever the scene with perhaps the most tension was the simplest, that of Raylan visiting Boyd to ask a few questions about one of Bowman’s old rackets. Boyd and Raylan together in the half-sunlight, bad men looking on from the porch, there is nothing so charged. Boyd has in these scenes the confidence of Raylan, and Raylan has in these scenes the calculation of Boyd. Between them is trust, though not the noble kind. Just the sort where you trust you know the man across from you. Trust that doesn’t change, because neither does the man.
But I keep saying change. And I imagine you might want to know. Change—from what? Where is the root, the source of the you-you-are, the point from which you no longer change? What were you like, at 14, growing up in Harlan? Raylan is asked, and let’s all ask it. Of him and of Loretta McCready, slinging weed and talking trash to the 5-0 like phew it ain’t nothing so much as air. Are you born confident with a gun in one hand and a taser in the other, born trembling with a Bible in one hand and a bag of money in the other? Or is it hammered through you, like Mags with her ball-peen and Coover saying he’s sorry to her. We say nature versus nurture but it stands to reason it might not be one or the other. Might be a pinch of both plus chemistry, plus the shape of the world as you come into it. So it might also stand to reason that there are many ways to make, or save, a man.
Boyd and Raylan, two sides of a wooden nickel, Raylan not the only man who can mete out justice and Boyd not the only man who can believe in perfection. Raylan just a hint of sheepish as he sits down next to Loretta and passes her a cell phone, tells her he’ll come for her no matter when, or why. Loretta’s face goes hard, then soft again as he leaves. Not for a second a young woman who needs saving but also not for second is there a being who can’t use some help, sometimes. The phone will beat under her floorboards, reminding her there are men who are smarter and do not resent her for being what she’s barely grown into. Whether she pulls up those floorboards—whether she’ll want to, whether she’ll have the opportunity—might be the final word on what it means to change, in Harlan.
(screencap via)

Season 2, Episode 5: “Cottonmouth”

What are you?

Are you someone who accepts himself, a gunslinger-lawman, hillbilly-whisperer who easily acknowledges that he did indeed tase a suspect in the nuts because what of it? What of it, that is who he is, Raylan Givens, in fact you are lucky he didn’t have a chance to get a good shot off. There are many Raylans to love but “Cottonmouth” gives us the one who lays back, infuriatingly confident and bold. Not even Arlo’s brief appearance can ruffle Raylan today, as today he is the thing that he is, the thing that everyone knows him to be. Gunslinger-whisperer, hillbilly-lawman. Before I have wondered, is it Raylan’s confidence that feeds his drive? Is it his steady hand that makes him so terribly good at wearing a badge? But it is not, I don’t think, anymore. What it is, is, he’s smart and he is prideful. Terribly, terribly prideful. You tell this man, this smart man, that he’s seen just but the tip of the iceberg? And he will do what it takes to see the rest of it. And why not? It’s who he is. And he can’t change that.

Right?

You can’t change. You can’t change in Harlan. You can’t change, Boyd to Ava like he is in confession, or interrogation. Boyd’s been cutting deals with himself, daily deals like you can imagine, today I will not, today I will not. But today he did. Accepted a challenge, three broadforeheaded co-workers who have what they feel is a very smart plan. A heist, in fact, and I do love a heist. Boyd agrees to be a man in it, but Boyd—no matter what he tells you, later—had one foot out from the beginning. To Ava, later, he says he had no choice, but then to Ava, later, he passes her a bag full of money. He had no choice because this is who he is, he is a man who can reverse-engineer a plot and then shoot the last survivor twice, for insurance. Only what is not yet clear, to me and not to him either, is if Boyd understands the difference between being a man who is because he can and being a man who is because he is. Because we all have got tools. We all have got smarts and we all have got guns. But we haven’t all got to say yes to the broadforeheaded men who mean us harm. Unless—it’s not the men. And it’s not the money, really. Unless what it is at the core of Boyd is not that he’s a villain, not ever that he was, but that he is an incorrigible believer in perfection. Perfection, as God. And perfection, as love. As a bag of money is but a road to.

Ava must will lie for him, I can’t see that she won’t. Women in Harlan love lying for their men almost nearly as much as the men love lying for the women. Brilliantly and on a shoestring Boyd did a fine job keeping the evidence at a low simmer. Which is not to say it can’t be traced, of course it can, but it’ll be by whom, and for what purpose, that makes all the difference. As ever the scene with perhaps the most tension was the simplest, that of Raylan visiting Boyd to ask a few questions about one of Bowman’s old rackets. Boyd and Raylan together in the half-sunlight, bad men looking on from the porch, there is nothing so charged. Boyd has in these scenes the confidence of Raylan, and Raylan has in these scenes the calculation of Boyd. Between them is trust, though not the noble kind. Just the sort where you trust you know the man across from you. Trust that doesn’t change, because neither does the man.

But I keep saying change. And I imagine you might want to know. Change—from what? Where is the root, the source of the you-you-are, the point from which you no longer change? What were you like, at 14, growing up in Harlan? Raylan is asked, and let’s all ask it. Of him and of Loretta McCready, slinging weed and talking trash to the 5-0 like phew it ain’t nothing so much as air. Are you born confident with a gun in one hand and a taser in the other, born trembling with a Bible in one hand and a bag of money in the other? Or is it hammered through you, like Mags with her ball-peen and Coover saying he’s sorry to her. We say nature versus nurture but it stands to reason it might not be one or the other. Might be a pinch of both plus chemistry, plus the shape of the world as you come into it. So it might also stand to reason that there are many ways to make, or save, a man.

Boyd and Raylan, two sides of a wooden nickel, Raylan not the only man who can mete out justice and Boyd not the only man who can believe in perfection. Raylan just a hint of sheepish as he sits down next to Loretta and passes her a cell phone, tells her he’ll come for her no matter when, or why. Loretta’s face goes hard, then soft again as he leaves. Not for a second a young woman who needs saving but also not for second is there a being who can’t use some help, sometimes. The phone will beat under her floorboards, reminding her there are men who are smarter and do not resent her for being what she’s barely grown into. Whether she pulls up those floorboards—whether she’ll want to, whether she’ll have the opportunity—might be the final word on what it means to change, in Harlan.

(screencap via)

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Season 2, Episode 4: “For Blood or Money”
The people of Harlan County have long memories for filial feuding. Sons will neither forget nor forgive the sins of their fathers, and the families who have histories between them will neither forget nor forgive those, either. So it is something to meet Clinton, a man in a halfway house who holds his son so dear that he will go to great, terrible lengths to join him on his twelfth birthday. Only Clinton has been in jail for manslaughter, for killing his son’s mother in a car accident. He was trying to get her to the hospital because she had overdosed; she had overdosed because they had a relationship built on addiction. She died being saved. Clinton is a character sketched quickly but clearly. We watch as he makes his bed, as he puts on a tie, as he proudly puts a Furby knockoff in a gift bag. It’s a gift for a six-year-old, not a twelve-year-old, but Clinton could be forgiven. He has been in stasis these past years, jailed and halfway, he has died being saved.
Watching Clinton go to those great and terrible lengths is painful. There is a certain inevitability to them, a hopelessness, and yet. What is the nature of that inevitability? Ask Boyd, perhaps. Ask him as he is approached once again by the men from the mine who want him to join them in a bit of criminal activity. Ask Ava as she watches their approach. She’s a woman who doesn’t believe in the inevitability of evil, but she is aware, certainly, of the slip that becomes a slide. She’s invited Boyd into her house. She’s encouraged him to join her on her porch. If Boyd were to take these men up on their offer—after saying to Ava he won’t, after telling himself the same thing—it will be painful, no matter the nature of the heist. No matter if it’s victimless, or successful. As the halfway house manager reminds Clinton, recovery is work. Daily work, constant work, mindful work. Once a man stops doing that work, it is very hard to begin again. You find first that you have beaten that halfway house manager, you find second that you have shot your friend through the hand, you find third that you are in a standoff in a second-rate pizza restaurant. You find that you have slid, that you can’t remember why you stopped work in the first place.
But I’ll tell you, it was for your son. It was for what your son represents, for your family, for your freedom, for the life you had before. They say that a man with nothing to lose is a dangerous man except what about a man with just one thing left? He’s no great fun, either. What does Boyd have, except a copy of Of Human Bondage and Ava standing by with a shotgun, and will that be enough. And what about Rachel. We learned so much about Rachel, and we learned it brutally. Last week Ava told Raylan that she had took in Boyd because Boyd was about her only kin; by the same token, Clinton is nearly the end of Rachel’s. Her mother is still around, but determined defend her wayward son-in-law. Her sister is dead of a car accident, as mentioned. She has her nephew, at least, a kid with a sense of humor and the good sense to accept his father’s inadequate gift. But can the child be enough?
Everyone is convinced that Rachel wants to shoot Clinton, but she’s convinced she doesn’t. As it is she does shoot a man, but it isn’t Clinton, and it isn’t fatal. It is her first. Drinking whiskey, later, Raylan and Tim are in a dark humor. Raylan declares that shooting Arlo wasn’t as fun as he thought it might be, Tim notes that his father has the good sense to die before Tim had the opportunity to do him any harm. Rachel says only that she thought her family was the Cosbys, until she grew up and realized that they were not. Later on Raylan offers a word of support, thinking her stoic midnight oil-burning has to do with the shooting, but I imagine it’s not. I imagine it has more to do with her ongoing work, her life’s act of recovery. To recommit to something other than revenge and resentment, to take pride in her work and value her remaining family. To not find herself with nothing, or one thing, left to lose.
Of course not every Harlan family is a broken one. The Bennetts are united, mostly. They may keep secrets from one another, but even the secret-keeping is protective, I will save my brother from my mother’s wrath. Still the Oxy bus casts a long shadow, and so Raylan indulges in a hopeful ounce of prevention. He visits the hornet’s nest to inform its residents that the bus was Dixie Mafia-owned, and he’s only saying so because he hopes there won’t be an all-out war, because he hopes there isn’t some greater plan to make trouble with the Dixies. And there isn’t, not by Mags’ reaction. She has a plan but it’s something else, and it is large, and she’s upset to have a marshal anywhere near it. The Bennett boys take this as a mandate to kill Raylan, a heartwarming bond of brotherhood if I ever. Though we do not know what the long game is, we know those Bennett boys would do anything to please their mother. She is powerful and capricious, better off dead but unthinkable to kill. The Bennett boys are in trouble because the Bennett boys have never fallen, not really. They’ve been slapped and hobbled but always brought home to apple pie. In Harlan, it seems, the villains are village-raised and the heroes raised themselves.
(picture via)

Season 2, Episode 4: “For Blood or Money”

The people of Harlan County have long memories for filial feuding. Sons will neither forget nor forgive the sins of their fathers, and the families who have histories between them will neither forget nor forgive those, either. So it is something to meet Clinton, a man in a halfway house who holds his son so dear that he will go to great, terrible lengths to join him on his twelfth birthday. Only Clinton has been in jail for manslaughter, for killing his son’s mother in a car accident. He was trying to get her to the hospital because she had overdosed; she had overdosed because they had a relationship built on addiction. She died being saved. Clinton is a character sketched quickly but clearly. We watch as he makes his bed, as he puts on a tie, as he proudly puts a Furby knockoff in a gift bag. It’s a gift for a six-year-old, not a twelve-year-old, but Clinton could be forgiven. He has been in stasis these past years, jailed and halfway, he has died being saved.

Watching Clinton go to those great and terrible lengths is painful. There is a certain inevitability to them, a hopelessness, and yet. What is the nature of that inevitability? Ask Boyd, perhaps. Ask him as he is approached once again by the men from the mine who want him to join them in a bit of criminal activity. Ask Ava as she watches their approach. She’s a woman who doesn’t believe in the inevitability of evil, but she is aware, certainly, of the slip that becomes a slide. She’s invited Boyd into her house. She’s encouraged him to join her on her porch. If Boyd were to take these men up on their offer—after saying to Ava he won’t, after telling himself the same thing—it will be painful, no matter the nature of the heist. No matter if it’s victimless, or successful. As the halfway house manager reminds Clinton, recovery is work. Daily work, constant work, mindful work. Once a man stops doing that work, it is very hard to begin again. You find first that you have beaten that halfway house manager, you find second that you have shot your friend through the hand, you find third that you are in a standoff in a second-rate pizza restaurant. You find that you have slid, that you can’t remember why you stopped work in the first place.

But I’ll tell you, it was for your son. It was for what your son represents, for your family, for your freedom, for the life you had before. They say that a man with nothing to lose is a dangerous man except what about a man with just one thing left? He’s no great fun, either. What does Boyd have, except a copy of Of Human Bondage and Ava standing by with a shotgun, and will that be enough. And what about Rachel. We learned so much about Rachel, and we learned it brutally. Last week Ava told Raylan that she had took in Boyd because Boyd was about her only kin; by the same token, Clinton is nearly the end of Rachel’s. Her mother is still around, but determined defend her wayward son-in-law. Her sister is dead of a car accident, as mentioned. She has her nephew, at least, a kid with a sense of humor and the good sense to accept his father’s inadequate gift. But can the child be enough?

Everyone is convinced that Rachel wants to shoot Clinton, but she’s convinced she doesn’t. As it is she does shoot a man, but it isn’t Clinton, and it isn’t fatal. It is her first. Drinking whiskey, later, Raylan and Tim are in a dark humor. Raylan declares that shooting Arlo wasn’t as fun as he thought it might be, Tim notes that his father has the good sense to die before Tim had the opportunity to do him any harm. Rachel says only that she thought her family was the Cosbys, until she grew up and realized that they were not. Later on Raylan offers a word of support, thinking her stoic midnight oil-burning has to do with the shooting, but I imagine it’s not. I imagine it has more to do with her ongoing work, her life’s act of recovery. To recommit to something other than revenge and resentment, to take pride in her work and value her remaining family. To not find herself with nothing, or one thing, left to lose.

Of course not every Harlan family is a broken one. The Bennetts are united, mostly. They may keep secrets from one another, but even the secret-keeping is protective, I will save my brother from my mother’s wrath. Still the Oxy bus casts a long shadow, and so Raylan indulges in a hopeful ounce of prevention. He visits the hornet’s nest to inform its residents that the bus was Dixie Mafia-owned, and he’s only saying so because he hopes there won’t be an all-out war, because he hopes there isn’t some greater plan to make trouble with the Dixies. And there isn’t, not by Mags’ reaction. She has a plan but it’s something else, and it is large, and she’s upset to have a marshal anywhere near it. The Bennett boys take this as a mandate to kill Raylan, a heartwarming bond of brotherhood if I ever. Though we do not know what the long game is, we know those Bennett boys would do anything to please their mother. She is powerful and capricious, better off dead but unthinkable to kill. The Bennett boys are in trouble because the Bennett boys have never fallen, not really. They’ve been slapped and hobbled but always brought home to apple pie. In Harlan, it seems, the villains are village-raised and the heroes raised themselves.

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Season 2, Episode 3: “The I of the Storm” 
Folks have a tendency to reveal themselves when they think that you are not looking at them directly. Tim, at the bar, with a hard-set jaw and far-away stare. Winona, on a middle-of-nowhere date, flustered by a straightforward question of geography. Dewey Crowe, play-acting at Raylan Givens with wild gunfire and a wilder tongue. And the Bennett boys, each of them, but Doyle first. Play-acting at local law with just the faintest amount of sense, hinting to Raylan that if it turned out they were both dirty, then maybe they could play dirty together. Raylan keeps his on the case at hand but he doesn’t entirely miss what Doyle’s getting at. Two criminals lying stupid dead at Doyle’s feet won’t help him either, and when he storms over to Dickie and Coover and yells at them for their sloppy criminality, he does so without any self-awareness. Without any sense that anyone might be watching him.
But it is hard to watch yourself, or know yourself, or hear yourself. Raylan can’t seem to ever hear himself, with Ava. Ava probably hears herself just fine, with Raylan, but I don’t imagine she likes it. Here’s a woman who has a confidence that rival’s Raylan’s and so there’s a heat even in the two of them keeping distance on the porch. Leaning back from another. You might never see these two in love but you won’t need to. They are opposing sides of the same temper. They are not fighting, anymore, not really. Not enemies, not particularly. But each scored deep, proud in his or her own way, desperately important to the other in a manner to be determined.
Ava says she and Boyd have an arrangement, a flimsy-sounding thing that can’t be more flimsy than the arrangement Boyd currently has with himself. Raylan says he might buy the fact that Boyd wants to reform, but Raylan seems to have doubts as to whether or not a man such as Boyd can reform himself. Raylan then is taking the position of the jaded lawman, the one who believes that no matter what etc. a man of Boyd’s grade etc. with his history etc. cannot be changed not even etc.
And maybe he can’t, I don’t know. You don’t know. But I think we all know a thing or two about wounds, physical and emotional both. What Boyd has now is a life made of cuts and bruises, gashes covered with the faintest layer of new skin. A job, a home, a routine, only. New skin is easily pierced. And of course when Raylan visits with Boyd and asks if he had a hand in knocking over an Oxy bus, Raylan likely does not mean to be doing what he does. But he does it, he exposes Boyd in the manner that only oldest friends can.
Of course that new tear might have healed over if it hadn’t been for this bright-eyed young man from the mine, the one telling Boyd he knows about his past and worse, respects it. Wants it for himself. That life of dead men as collateral and better-life schemes that bring you lower. When Boyd does snap, when he does drag the bright-eyed man alongside his truck, hollering and preaching like a natural, it’s a terrible relief. When he releases the man, sends him rolling to the side of the road, it’s a shame. But when he stops his truck, leans out to make sure the man stands again, it’s new. It’s proof against Raylan’s instinct. There could be something new in Boyd, if only he could just get a quiet place to drink.

Season 2, Episode 3: “The I of the Storm”

Folks have a tendency to reveal themselves when they think that you are not looking at them directly. Tim, at the bar, with a hard-set jaw and far-away stare. Winona, on a middle-of-nowhere date, flustered by a straightforward question of geography. Dewey Crowe, play-acting at Raylan Givens with wild gunfire and a wilder tongue. And the Bennett boys, each of them, but Doyle first. Play-acting at local law with just the faintest amount of sense, hinting to Raylan that if it turned out they were both dirty, then maybe they could play dirty together. Raylan keeps his on the case at hand but he doesn’t entirely miss what Doyle’s getting at. Two criminals lying stupid dead at Doyle’s feet won’t help him either, and when he storms over to Dickie and Coover and yells at them for their sloppy criminality, he does so without any self-awareness. Without any sense that anyone might be watching him.

But it is hard to watch yourself, or know yourself, or hear yourself. Raylan can’t seem to ever hear himself, with Ava. Ava probably hears herself just fine, with Raylan, but I don’t imagine she likes it. Here’s a woman who has a confidence that rival’s Raylan’s and so there’s a heat even in the two of them keeping distance on the porch. Leaning back from another. You might never see these two in love but you won’t need to. They are opposing sides of the same temper. They are not fighting, anymore, not really. Not enemies, not particularly. But each scored deep, proud in his or her own way, desperately important to the other in a manner to be determined.

Ava says she and Boyd have an arrangement, a flimsy-sounding thing that can’t be more flimsy than the arrangement Boyd currently has with himself. Raylan says he might buy the fact that Boyd wants to reform, but Raylan seems to have doubts as to whether or not a man such as Boyd can reform himself. Raylan then is taking the position of the jaded lawman, the one who believes that no matter what etc. a man of Boyd’s grade etc. with his history etc. cannot be changed not even etc.

And maybe he can’t, I don’t know. You don’t know. But I think we all know a thing or two about wounds, physical and emotional both. What Boyd has now is a life made of cuts and bruises, gashes covered with the faintest layer of new skin. A job, a home, a routine, only. New skin is easily pierced. And of course when Raylan visits with Boyd and asks if he had a hand in knocking over an Oxy bus, Raylan likely does not mean to be doing what he does. But he does it, he exposes Boyd in the manner that only oldest friends can.

Of course that new tear might have healed over if it hadn’t been for this bright-eyed young man from the mine, the one telling Boyd he knows about his past and worse, respects it. Wants it for himself. That life of dead men as collateral and better-life schemes that bring you lower. When Boyd does snap, when he does drag the bright-eyed man alongside his truck, hollering and preaching like a natural, it’s a terrible relief. When he releases the man, sends him rolling to the side of the road, it’s a shame. But when he stops his truck, leans out to make sure the man stands again, it’s new. It’s proof against Raylan’s instinct. There could be something new in Boyd, if only he could just get a quiet place to drink.

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Season 2, Episode 2: “The Life Inside”
A pregnant woman in the first act is as bad as a loaded gun, and so too is Justified's parent structure, that of a serial-procedural. You may have forgotten but the fact is that every so often, Raylan will have to deal in a case that has nothing overtly to do with the season's story, whatever that may be, I have not forgotten that it is only episode two of season two and so what do I know about the big bad, yet. But I trust the show and so the life inside this episode is what it might mean once the episode is over, once the inmate has her baby and the prison guard is arrested. What we might learn from their mistakes. And so.
Let’s start with children, with motherhood, with parenting. Let’s start with Mags and Loretta, who as far as I’m concerned could have their own spin-off and I would watch it gladly, no Raylan necessary (though if every so often he were to drive by wearing a beat-up henley I would not complain). Mags greets Loretta with a jar of soft cider and spins her up a story about how her father has been sent on a job for the Bennetts, and how it had to be done under cover of night and so Loretta will stay with Mags, now. I was surprised at this, I thought for sure Mags would tell the truth but the move she makes is the right move, because Loretta takes all this without a question. Without a fight. And the way Mags gazes at her you know what she’s about to say before she says it. She’s never had a girl. Now she’s got one. Have you ever seen what happens when you give to someone something that she wants, something that she’s wanted for a very long time. Have you ever seen what that does to the strength with which she’ll fight.
Maybe you have, because you’ve watched the rest of the episode and met Jamie, the pregnant prisoner. Jamie’s child was fathered by a prison guard, and that prison guard is a stand-up sort who has paid to have Jamie broken out of a Raylan/Tim marshal transport and brought to a home where first an erstwhile EMT will perform a c-section and second a man named Jess will sell the child on the black market. Delightful! Jess also plans to kill Jamie, and while Jamie doesn’t know that she has enough hormones and clean air and instinct in her to attempt an escape. From a situation that she herself agreed to! But that was before. Before she started thinking about California, and what it really means to not have her child ride her rap. And maybe her escape is unsuccessful, and maybe she comes perilously close to losing it all, but it’s the need to do it that’s important, here. That, and the way her tormenter is disposed of: a bullet to the head, courtesy of sniper Tim, in an appearance that re-establishes him as a character I’d actually like to spend some more time with. Between Tim’s killshot here and Rachel’s wary eyes in the last episode, who knows. We might have a team of marshals after all.
Back to children. Or parents. Or Arlo, whichever he is. Raylan gets a call about Arlo breaking his house arrest, turns out it’s because Aunt Helen has kicked him out of the house proper and he’s living ten feet from the front porch, in a trailer. Ten feet is enough feet. Raylan, still thinking he can convince Arlo to give up the missing money the marshals gave him at the end of season one, drops in to yell and get yelled at. Helen and Arlo are at each other’s throats, Arlo wishing cancer on Helen and Helen biting back that she’s already had it and Arlo returning that maybe she should get it again. Raylan backs away slowly, but not before Arlo and Helen take a moment to warn him off messing with Mags Bennett, which probably Raylan didn’t even realize was something he was doing, yet, but his parents, such as they are, are uncomfortable with the idea of the past getting stirred up. Fights within family is one thing, they’re telling him. Fights between families can go bad fast.
And what of Boyd, the lost son. The wandering brother. Raylan picks him up at the mine and buys him a drink one county over, gets all Raylan at him, like Boyd don’t you go messing with the Miami cartel no matter what they’ve done to your father. All the talk does is make Boyd drink, and faster, and by the end of the episode he’s turned up at Ava’s house—an event that by her manner does not seem unprecedented—bruised and bloodied. The lost son and wandering brother gets tended to by his dead brother’s widow, his dead brother’s killer. God, did Boyd even ever have a mother? Ava hands him gaze and bandages and says we’ll forget this ever happened and it’s almost like he has, for a moment, a place to land. He hasn’t got Raylan, Raylan won’t believe him. He hasn’t got his own family, his own family’s dead or bad. But there’s Ava, with her gauze and her bandages, and she’s let him inside.
Finally we come round to Raylan and Winona, playing out a comedy of remarriage. Winona picks a fight while standing in his shirt, Raylan apologizes without knowing why. Gary’s back, too, you all remember Gary, he didn’t have much of a backbone until Raylan scared one into him, and now he’s decided to use it on a vow to get Winona back. I’ve always liked the idea of Raylan and Winona but I’ve never loved it as much as I did in the last scene, with Raylan coming home and the two of them gently bantering before he sits next to her and presses his hand down on her abdomen. In his hand you can see the same prayer that Mags had in her eyes. I’ve never had a girl. I’ve never had a family. Winona presses him to talk about his day, and when he gives up the gory details, she keeps steady. “I can handle that, Raylan,” she says. “I can’t handle silence.” Except the silence is over so much more than his day. The silence is big and deep and wraps around them, is in his hands and in her body. There is still so much for them to learn to say.

Season 2, Episode 2: “The Life Inside”

A pregnant woman in the first act is as bad as a loaded gun, and so too is Justified's parent structure, that of a serial-procedural. You may have forgotten but the fact is that every so often, Raylan will have to deal in a case that has nothing overtly to do with the season's story, whatever that may be, I have not forgotten that it is only episode two of season two and so what do I know about the big bad, yet. But I trust the show and so the life inside this episode is what it might mean once the episode is over, once the inmate has her baby and the prison guard is arrested. What we might learn from their mistakes. And so.

Let’s start with children, with motherhood, with parenting. Let’s start with Mags and Loretta, who as far as I’m concerned could have their own spin-off and I would watch it gladly, no Raylan necessary (though if every so often he were to drive by wearing a beat-up henley I would not complain). Mags greets Loretta with a jar of soft cider and spins her up a story about how her father has been sent on a job for the Bennetts, and how it had to be done under cover of night and so Loretta will stay with Mags, now. I was surprised at this, I thought for sure Mags would tell the truth but the move she makes is the right move, because Loretta takes all this without a question. Without a fight. And the way Mags gazes at her you know what she’s about to say before she says it. She’s never had a girl. Now she’s got one. Have you ever seen what happens when you give to someone something that she wants, something that she’s wanted for a very long time. Have you ever seen what that does to the strength with which she’ll fight.

Maybe you have, because you’ve watched the rest of the episode and met Jamie, the pregnant prisoner. Jamie’s child was fathered by a prison guard, and that prison guard is a stand-up sort who has paid to have Jamie broken out of a Raylan/Tim marshal transport and brought to a home where first an erstwhile EMT will perform a c-section and second a man named Jess will sell the child on the black market. Delightful! Jess also plans to kill Jamie, and while Jamie doesn’t know that she has enough hormones and clean air and instinct in her to attempt an escape. From a situation that she herself agreed to! But that was before. Before she started thinking about California, and what it really means to not have her child ride her rap. And maybe her escape is unsuccessful, and maybe she comes perilously close to losing it all, but it’s the need to do it that’s important, here. That, and the way her tormenter is disposed of: a bullet to the head, courtesy of sniper Tim, in an appearance that re-establishes him as a character I’d actually like to spend some more time with. Between Tim’s killshot here and Rachel’s wary eyes in the last episode, who knows. We might have a team of marshals after all.

Back to children. Or parents. Or Arlo, whichever he is. Raylan gets a call about Arlo breaking his house arrest, turns out it’s because Aunt Helen has kicked him out of the house proper and he’s living ten feet from the front porch, in a trailer. Ten feet is enough feet. Raylan, still thinking he can convince Arlo to give up the missing money the marshals gave him at the end of season one, drops in to yell and get yelled at. Helen and Arlo are at each other’s throats, Arlo wishing cancer on Helen and Helen biting back that she’s already had it and Arlo returning that maybe she should get it again. Raylan backs away slowly, but not before Arlo and Helen take a moment to warn him off messing with Mags Bennett, which probably Raylan didn’t even realize was something he was doing, yet, but his parents, such as they are, are uncomfortable with the idea of the past getting stirred up. Fights within family is one thing, they’re telling him. Fights between families can go bad fast.

And what of Boyd, the lost son. The wandering brother. Raylan picks him up at the mine and buys him a drink one county over, gets all Raylan at him, like Boyd don’t you go messing with the Miami cartel no matter what they’ve done to your father. All the talk does is make Boyd drink, and faster, and by the end of the episode he’s turned up at Ava’s house—an event that by her manner does not seem unprecedented—bruised and bloodied. The lost son and wandering brother gets tended to by his dead brother’s widow, his dead brother’s killer. God, did Boyd even ever have a mother? Ava hands him gaze and bandages and says we’ll forget this ever happened and it’s almost like he has, for a moment, a place to land. He hasn’t got Raylan, Raylan won’t believe him. He hasn’t got his own family, his own family’s dead or bad. But there’s Ava, with her gauze and her bandages, and she’s let him inside.

Finally we come round to Raylan and Winona, playing out a comedy of remarriage. Winona picks a fight while standing in his shirt, Raylan apologizes without knowing why. Gary’s back, too, you all remember Gary, he didn’t have much of a backbone until Raylan scared one into him, and now he’s decided to use it on a vow to get Winona back. I’ve always liked the idea of Raylan and Winona but I’ve never loved it as much as I did in the last scene, with Raylan coming home and the two of them gently bantering before he sits next to her and presses his hand down on her abdomen. In his hand you can see the same prayer that Mags had in her eyes. I’ve never had a girl. I’ve never had a family. Winona presses him to talk about his day, and when he gives up the gory details, she keeps steady. “I can handle that, Raylan,” she says. “I can’t handle silence.” Except the silence is over so much more than his day. The silence is big and deep and wraps around them, is in his hands and in her body. There is still so much for them to learn to say.

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Season 2, Episode 1: “The Moonshine War”
Last season we learned about fathers and sons, and here’s what you have to like about fathers and sons. Fathers and sons are learnt of each other, bred of each other, engaged in each other on a level so gut you would be forgiven, for instance, for not understanding, at first, Raylan’s mistrust of his father. For condemning it, perhaps. But as the season progressed and we learned a shard of what Raylan had in his bones, we knew enough to stand back in that motel room, to let the bullet be what it would be. “What did uh…Arlo say?” asks Raylan to the suits. “Your father said you shot him by accident when the bad guys started shootin’.” Smirks Raylan, “He should know.”
And so with that, and with a trip to Miami, and with Boyd off somewhere and Raylan submitting to a full investigation, we bury the first season. He turns in his gun because it’s a season one gun, and now it’s time for season two and a season two gun. Only what could be as interesting as the relationship between a father and a son, what could be so complex as that. Maybe Raylan’s people could be. And I don’t mean his family this time, neither does Rachel, when she asks Raylan to accompany her up to Harlan as she pursues a fugitive. Rachel doesn’t feel comfortable in Harlan, a good angle to lead with on her thus-far ridiculously-underutilized character. She is a woman, but as we’ll soon see that’s not a problem; she is black, which apparently is. So Rachel becomes our eyes, the outsider in the hollers of Kentucky, as Raylan strides forward with all the confidence and swagger a prodigal can have.
What’s up in the holler this time is a sex offender who’s been pursuing a wise-beyond-her teenager named Loretta. Loretta’s mother is dead and her father is depressed and if having a sex offender following you around weren’t enough problems for one family, they’ve also caught the attention of the Bennetts, the local farm-to-table syndicate. Loretta and her father have been growing pot in Bennett territory, and here’s how we meet the gang. Two Bennetts visit Loretta’s father to warn him off growing further. One’s got a limp and the other is the law (adorable!), but they’re both mean as hell. The one with the limp is named Dickie, and first he shoots Loretta’s father in the leg and then he forces Loretta’s father to trap his own leg in a bear trap. It’s awful, and we’ve barely got started. We haven’t even yet met Mags.
Mags runs a store. That’s all she does, you can check. She knows Raylan, is even glad to see him when he and Rachel Ma’am drive up to ask after this sex offender who they have heard is in her family’s employ. Mags tells Loretta here’s Raylan Givens, he was a baseball player, now he’s a fed’ral. Offers everyone a round of apple pie. Apple pie is not a baked good. It is a moonshine. Mags reminisces fondly of her days selling moonshine with Raylan’s grandfather, and wouldn’t you love to know more about that generation but no, no. We’re here in the store, with Rachel as us looking on, trying to keep up with the bred-in familiarity between Mags and Raylan. The way he treats her, distantly respectful and smiling the whole time, tells you plenty about the depth of Mags’ reach. Raylan knows better than to push hard, better than to insult her. Were Rachel driving, what would she be doing, what would you? Seeing an older woman, who clearly knows more than, who openly bemoans the declining life of a grower and turns hard at any hint she might have the law down on her. But where does that leave all of us who aren’t Raylan, all of us who weren’t baseball players back then? How’s anyone supposed to get a thing done in a town operating on gut level itself. 
Anyway it turns out that once they learn he is a sex offender, the Bennetts want nothing to do with the fugitive. “She likes me,” says Loretta to her father, and she’s right. Mags likes the girl and fears for her character. Character is big among Harlan folks; while warning Boyd off one of their cartel opponents, Raylan took time to note that while he didn’t want Boyd to do the killing, he had no “moral objections” to her being killed. “You understand, Miss, the life you’ve led?” Must be something gets in you from the hills, and so the fugitive is turned out. He makes a run for it, throwing Loretta in the trunk as he goes. Raylan and Rachel track him to a gas station and Raylan, loathe to return to the “paperwork and self-recrimination” that gunplay would create, drenches the fugitive in gasoline until the man surrenders. It’s a tidy ending but for the coda, which returns us to Loretta’s father’s house. Loretta’s father sits with Mags, and with Dickie, and with the apple pie, that as I said is not a baked good. The three drink, but one glass is poisoned. As Loretta’s father dies, Mags says calming things to him. Soon he’ll be free. Soon he’ll know the secret. Soon he’ll see his dead wife again. And best of all, she’ll raise the girl. And that will be better for the girl. Won’t it? It’s like one of Boyd’s sermons, refracted through the lens of motherhood and power. Boyd had righteousness but never true power. Mags has it less God plus cold cruelty. After a season of dangerous men, she pulls hard at a string you thought had been overlooked. To be a woman in Harlan is no problem at all, so long as you know everyone, and rule them, too.
Oh but the second coda. Can there be? I don’t know. I didn’t forget, anyway, about Raylan being so goddamn tired he can’t help but sleep with his ex-wife, again. “Sonofabitch,” he says, the sweetest pillowtalker you could ever want, and if that weren’t enough, it’s just then that he receives word of his other long-lost love. Boyd having surfaced, in a manner of speaking, in a mine. Fire in the hole, wearing wonderful glasses, seeking, I can only imagine, redemption at the hand of legal explosives. “Are you stealing gas?” asked the fugitive of Raylan. “Yeah,” he lied. “Shit. You caught me. I’m stealing gas. I don’t know why I do it! It’s not like I can’t afford it.” Well, we’ll see.

Season 2, Episode 1: “The Moonshine War”

Last season we learned about fathers and sons, and here’s what you have to like about fathers and sons. Fathers and sons are learnt of each other, bred of each other, engaged in each other on a level so gut you would be forgiven, for instance, for not understanding, at first, Raylan’s mistrust of his father. For condemning it, perhaps. But as the season progressed and we learned a shard of what Raylan had in his bones, we knew enough to stand back in that motel room, to let the bullet be what it would be. “What did uh…Arlo say?” asks Raylan to the suits. “Your father said you shot him by accident when the bad guys started shootin’.” Smirks Raylan, “He should know.”

And so with that, and with a trip to Miami, and with Boyd off somewhere and Raylan submitting to a full investigation, we bury the first season. He turns in his gun because it’s a season one gun, and now it’s time for season two and a season two gun. Only what could be as interesting as the relationship between a father and a son, what could be so complex as that. Maybe Raylan’s people could be. And I don’t mean his family this time, neither does Rachel, when she asks Raylan to accompany her up to Harlan as she pursues a fugitive. Rachel doesn’t feel comfortable in Harlan, a good angle to lead with on her thus-far ridiculously-underutilized character. She is a woman, but as we’ll soon see that’s not a problem; she is black, which apparently is. So Rachel becomes our eyes, the outsider in the hollers of Kentucky, as Raylan strides forward with all the confidence and swagger a prodigal can have.

What’s up in the holler this time is a sex offender who’s been pursuing a wise-beyond-her teenager named Loretta. Loretta’s mother is dead and her father is depressed and if having a sex offender following you around weren’t enough problems for one family, they’ve also caught the attention of the Bennetts, the local farm-to-table syndicate. Loretta and her father have been growing pot in Bennett territory, and here’s how we meet the gang. Two Bennetts visit Loretta’s father to warn him off growing further. One’s got a limp and the other is the law (adorable!), but they’re both mean as hell. The one with the limp is named Dickie, and first he shoots Loretta’s father in the leg and then he forces Loretta’s father to trap his own leg in a bear trap. It’s awful, and we’ve barely got started. We haven’t even yet met Mags.

Mags runs a store. That’s all she does, you can check. She knows Raylan, is even glad to see him when he and Rachel Ma’am drive up to ask after this sex offender who they have heard is in her family’s employ. Mags tells Loretta here’s Raylan Givens, he was a baseball player, now he’s a fed’ral. Offers everyone a round of apple pie. Apple pie is not a baked good. It is a moonshine. Mags reminisces fondly of her days selling moonshine with Raylan’s grandfather, and wouldn’t you love to know more about that generation but no, no. We’re here in the store, with Rachel as us looking on, trying to keep up with the bred-in familiarity between Mags and Raylan. The way he treats her, distantly respectful and smiling the whole time, tells you plenty about the depth of Mags’ reach. Raylan knows better than to push hard, better than to insult her. Were Rachel driving, what would she be doing, what would you? Seeing an older woman, who clearly knows more than, who openly bemoans the declining life of a grower and turns hard at any hint she might have the law down on her. But where does that leave all of us who aren’t Raylan, all of us who weren’t baseball players back then? How’s anyone supposed to get a thing done in a town operating on gut level itself. 

Anyway it turns out that once they learn he is a sex offender, the Bennetts want nothing to do with the fugitive. “She likes me,” says Loretta to her father, and she’s right. Mags likes the girl and fears for her character. Character is big among Harlan folks; while warning Boyd off one of their cartel opponents, Raylan took time to note that while he didn’t want Boyd to do the killing, he had no “moral objections” to her being killed. “You understand, Miss, the life you’ve led?” Must be something gets in you from the hills, and so the fugitive is turned out. He makes a run for it, throwing Loretta in the trunk as he goes. Raylan and Rachel track him to a gas station and Raylan, loathe to return to the “paperwork and self-recrimination” that gunplay would create, drenches the fugitive in gasoline until the man surrenders. It’s a tidy ending but for the coda, which returns us to Loretta’s father’s house. Loretta’s father sits with Mags, and with Dickie, and with the apple pie, that as I said is not a baked good. The three drink, but one glass is poisoned. As Loretta’s father dies, Mags says calming things to him. Soon he’ll be free. Soon he’ll know the secret. Soon he’ll see his dead wife again. And best of all, she’ll raise the girl. And that will be better for the girl. Won’t it? It’s like one of Boyd’s sermons, refracted through the lens of motherhood and power. Boyd had righteousness but never true power. Mags has it less God plus cold cruelty. After a season of dangerous men, she pulls hard at a string you thought had been overlooked. To be a woman in Harlan is no problem at all, so long as you know everyone, and rule them, too.

Oh but the second coda. Can there be? I don’t know. I didn’t forget, anyway, about Raylan being so goddamn tired he can’t help but sleep with his ex-wife, again. “Sonofabitch,” he says, the sweetest pillowtalker you could ever want, and if that weren’t enough, it’s just then that he receives word of his other long-lost love. Boyd having surfaced, in a manner of speaking, in a mine. Fire in the hole, wearing wonderful glasses, seeking, I can only imagine, redemption at the hand of legal explosives. “Are you stealing gas?” asked the fugitive of Raylan. “Yeah,” he lied. “Shit. You caught me. I’m stealing gas. I don’t know why I do it! It’s not like I can’t afford it.” Well, we’ll see.

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Season 1, Episode 13: “Bulletville”
Was there ever anything more satisfying than watching Raylan and Boyd team up to fight crime? The second Boyd walked into Raylan’s room a surge of something went through me, a jubilation or an urge to write fanfiction or something. I flashed on their future together, the two of them taking road trips and playing darts in a bar and giving each other away at their weddings or whatever else it is men do once men have realized that it is rare indeed to find another soul who understands you, and when you find that soul it is imperative that you hang onto him.
You could argue, I suppose, that for all this about how it’s a show about Raylan Givens it was ultimately Boyd Crowder had the fuller journey. Just a few episodes ago I noted that although we know Boyd to be the sort of man who will cast his lot where it is most convenient, his conversion was starting to grow wings of its own. If you act like a churchgoing man long enough, you will find that you are simply a man who goes to church. The flicker in his eye that we noted when he accidentally killed a man in a meth lab, that flicker turned flame here as he returned to his camp to find his flock strung up and shot dead. Boyd’s final conversion took place under that grotesque fruit, and I say. I say maybe he will be tempted, in the future. I say maybe he will give in to that temptation. But I say he is a man of God, now, baptized by fist and by flock and now searching for answers he previously thought he had. 
Of course once you know God, you will also know guilt. Or responsibility, I forget what the Bible calls it. Raylan and Boyd, driving together, are guilty men. Men to whom all responsibility can be traced. If you believe responsibility is a straight line, and I don’t. It isn’t. But it doesn’t matter what I believe because that is what the two of them believe. “I set all this into motion, didn’t I?” says Boyd. “Actually, I think me shootin’ Tommy Bucks mighta had something to do with it,” returns Raylan. If you take responsibility, is that the same thing as atonement? Is that is why Raylan will go to Bulletville for Ava and why Boyd will train his gun on his father? But, or. God works in mysterious ways and maybe God is the cartel, and maybe it was God who shot Bo Crowder from out from under Boyd. To save Boyd’s soul. And maybe it’s been God this whole time who has been after Raylan, and maybe it’s Him, or a version, who will continue his pursuit of our marshal.
And then there are the Godless, the men who are just men, the fathers, in this case. Bo, who sets a man to soundly beat his own son, in front of him. Arlo, who embraces the opportunity to turn his son over to the cartel. Both are hungry for power and status, both in debt so deeply to morality and goodness that what is the matter of one more body, even if he is part of your own. This show has a heart for redemption but a mind for what’s more often true: men who believe they have nothing to gain by changing, they will not change. Why, after all, was Boyd’s transformation only in voice and composure, up until he hit bottom? Because for awhile, having God was a way to have power. Once that power had been stripped, he sought real change. Arlo and Bo have hit no such bottom, in their lives, and won’t ever. Bo because he’s dead. Arlo because he’s convinced himself that digging deeper is the way to survive. Raylan shooting his own father was the least he could have done, considering. Boyd going to Raylan was a similar stroke. Both avoiding the killshot for as long as absolutely possible.
In the end, amid the God and fire, there was the shootout you were demanding without even knowing it. Better than a showdown, I think, is the entrenched versus the oncoming. We know Raylan draws fast but here we see him witty and clever. Setting Ava to shoot as a distraction, lying hatless and low under a window until his prey is near. A shootout creates violence that is blameless and triumphant, but no marshal should have to be there, on the floor of the cabin, two childhood friends slash parolees his only assistance. And though a shootout is not a shooting, our finale sees our marshal as violent and lonesome as ever. Maybe now he can trust Boyd, or Ava, or Winona, but he’ll be hard-pressed to do so without hesitation, at the least. And the funny thing about hesitation, is that’s what kills you. Life draws first, and faster, and without regard for your soul. You may be a clever man, quick with a gun, handy with a joke, and good with a hat. But if you have a heart—and Raylan Givens has—then you aren’t ever going to survive it all alone.

Season 1, Episode 13: “Bulletville”

Was there ever anything more satisfying than watching Raylan and Boyd team up to fight crime? The second Boyd walked into Raylan’s room a surge of something went through me, a jubilation or an urge to write fanfiction or something. I flashed on their future together, the two of them taking road trips and playing darts in a bar and giving each other away at their weddings or whatever else it is men do once men have realized that it is rare indeed to find another soul who understands you, and when you find that soul it is imperative that you hang onto him.

You could argue, I suppose, that for all this about how it’s a show about Raylan Givens it was ultimately Boyd Crowder had the fuller journey. Just a few episodes ago I noted that although we know Boyd to be the sort of man who will cast his lot where it is most convenient, his conversion was starting to grow wings of its own. If you act like a churchgoing man long enough, you will find that you are simply a man who goes to church. The flicker in his eye that we noted when he accidentally killed a man in a meth lab, that flicker turned flame here as he returned to his camp to find his flock strung up and shot dead. Boyd’s final conversion took place under that grotesque fruit, and I say. I say maybe he will be tempted, in the future. I say maybe he will give in to that temptation. But I say he is a man of God, now, baptized by fist and by flock and now searching for answers he previously thought he had. 

Of course once you know God, you will also know guilt. Or responsibility, I forget what the Bible calls it. Raylan and Boyd, driving together, are guilty men. Men to whom all responsibility can be traced. If you believe responsibility is a straight line, and I don’t. It isn’t. But it doesn’t matter what I believe because that is what the two of them believe. “I set all this into motion, didn’t I?” says Boyd. “Actually, I think me shootin’ Tommy Bucks mighta had something to do with it,” returns Raylan. If you take responsibility, is that the same thing as atonement? Is that is why Raylan will go to Bulletville for Ava and why Boyd will train his gun on his father? But, or. God works in mysterious ways and maybe God is the cartel, and maybe it was God who shot Bo Crowder from out from under Boyd. To save Boyd’s soul. And maybe it’s been God this whole time who has been after Raylan, and maybe it’s Him, or a version, who will continue his pursuit of our marshal.

And then there are the Godless, the men who are just men, the fathers, in this case. Bo, who sets a man to soundly beat his own son, in front of him. Arlo, who embraces the opportunity to turn his son over to the cartel. Both are hungry for power and status, both in debt so deeply to morality and goodness that what is the matter of one more body, even if he is part of your own. This show has a heart for redemption but a mind for what’s more often true: men who believe they have nothing to gain by changing, they will not change. Why, after all, was Boyd’s transformation only in voice and composure, up until he hit bottom? Because for awhile, having God was a way to have power. Once that power had been stripped, he sought real change. Arlo and Bo have hit no such bottom, in their lives, and won’t ever. Bo because he’s dead. Arlo because he’s convinced himself that digging deeper is the way to survive. Raylan shooting his own father was the least he could have done, considering. Boyd going to Raylan was a similar stroke. Both avoiding the killshot for as long as absolutely possible.

In the end, amid the God and fire, there was the shootout you were demanding without even knowing it. Better than a showdown, I think, is the entrenched versus the oncoming. We know Raylan draws fast but here we see him witty and clever. Setting Ava to shoot as a distraction, lying hatless and low under a window until his prey is near. A shootout creates violence that is blameless and triumphant, but no marshal should have to be there, on the floor of the cabin, two childhood friends slash parolees his only assistance. And though a shootout is not a shooting, our finale sees our marshal as violent and lonesome as ever. Maybe now he can trust Boyd, or Ava, or Winona, but he’ll be hard-pressed to do so without hesitation, at the least. And the funny thing about hesitation, is that’s what kills you. Life draws first, and faster, and without regard for your soul. You may be a clever man, quick with a gun, handy with a joke, and good with a hat. But if you have a heart—and Raylan Givens has—then you aren’t ever going to survive it all alone.

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Season 1, Episode 12: “Fathers and Sons”
Over the last few episodes we have seen the show do a remarkable thing to its hero, which is, it has made him look fairly unheroic. If your complaint in the early episodes was that Raylan was always getting off too easy or succeeding too much, good news, that is no longer happening. Having his father nearby has brought out what appears to be the absolute worst in him. Raylan-as-bitchface. Raylan as “It’s astounding to me that you’re just now realizing that’s why we’re here.” Raylan as petulantly drinking his boss’ bourbon. Raylan as got to the point where I was thinking, for god’s sake, Raylan, give your damn father a break. I truly thought that! And the episode leads you on, there, by presenting us the scene in the VFW where Arlo talks a young veteran (all Iraq veterans must be named Lucky, that is television law) out of blowing up the only bar in town by feeding him a line of bullshit about his own service in Vietnam.
It’s an awfully clever deke, because of course it puts you in the mind of Raylan’s own hostage negotiation, and you start to think you know there’s a lot to be said for the things we inherit from our fathers and maybe a man can change, right, a man can change, I kind of wish a man could change, and then (a) Arlo tells the VFW bartender that “My son’s been fighting wars since the day he was born,” and (b) Arlo tells Raylan that he will wear a wire and you are like SEE THAT SEE THAT A MAN CAN CHANGE A MAN CAN
Except he can’t. One line of bullshit follows another, and the wars that Raylan’s been fighting march ever onward. Arlo takes that wire, he does, and he marches straight into Bo’s hideaway and he proceeds to double-cross the marshals. And Raylan. Red-faced, petulant Raylan. Who has done his honest best to warn us off falling for his father’s tricks! Can’t stop this one. It’s not that he’s cried wolf too frequently. It’s that anything rings hollow if it’s heard too often, if it’s shouted too stridently. If it appears to be coming from a heroic man who is recently acquainted with desperation.
Plus Raylan must certainly want his father’s redemption, in some way. That want is a form of hope. And if Arlo destroys it, here? That’s a far fall for our marshal, who has guarded so carefully and who told the truth so much.
The Crowder family is meanwhile fighting on a different plane, one where both parties are being entirely open with one another and waiting to see which will crumble first. Two bucks and horns and a mountain and something something, right? Boyd is bold and Boyd is crafty, Boyd certainly knows that his father is on the hook to the Miami cartel and Boyd certainly knows that blowing up that shipment will put his father in trouble. I suppose it could put Boyd in trouble as well, but he’s lately got the air of a man protected by God, so I’m not too worried about him. His play is complex, his play is a shuffle in the aisle at church as well as a rocket launcher on the side of the road. All that wondering I’ve done about whether or not he’s a good or bad man, it may all be irrelevant. It may all be about fathers and sons, it may all be about disposing of his own roots so that he can grow fresh. In the eyes of God or in the eyes of becoming the new Crowder in town. Either way. What would Boyd do, with his father gone. What would Raylan do, without his. If you have leaned on a stuck door your whole life, and it falls open all of a sudden, how do you learn to walk through?
Ava walked through. Back in episode one she did. She shot her husband and fell in love with a new man, and look, now, where all those choices and chances have got her. When Winona came to Raylan, at night, and she took off her wedding ring and the two of them fell together I could not figure it. It was smart to keep the scene wordless, to give me room to think all sorts of things: was it just sex, or just power, or just something deeper. Why now, why, now. Hard to say, except for Ava’s car out front. I don’t know why now for Winona or why now for Raylan, but I do know why now for Ava. I know that she’ll never go back, now. I know that it’s important she went to Aunt Helen, then, and asked her for a gun. Aunt Helen looked at Ava and no doubt saw a piece of herself. Aunt Helen warned her dutifully, about picking the lifestyle with the sawed-off shotgun and you sitting in the dark, but Aunt Helen knows that sometimes you can’t and shouldn’t rely on the ones who swear to protect you. Particularly the men. They have their own battles, their father and son battles. You are easy collateral, because you love them so much.
In church Boyd said that he is “a new creature,” and though it was part of a shuffle-and-hop, I believe him. I believe him and I believe that this is the way to survive in Harlan. Ava is a new creature now, and I believe she will survive. Does Raylan have it in him? You hope. He could choose the other path, he could be Bo or he could be Arlo and he could hang on tenaciously, unchanging and cruel. Raylan may think he’s a new creature, but being different than your father does not make you new. That is a position he took years ago. What he needs now is more than righteousness, more than a quick draw, more than confident negotiation tactics. What he needs now is to be reborn.

Season 1, Episode 12: “Fathers and Sons”

Over the last few episodes we have seen the show do a remarkable thing to its hero, which is, it has made him look fairly unheroic. If your complaint in the early episodes was that Raylan was always getting off too easy or succeeding too much, good news, that is no longer happening. Having his father nearby has brought out what appears to be the absolute worst in him. Raylan-as-bitchface. Raylan as “It’s astounding to me that you’re just now realizing that’s why we’re here.” Raylan as petulantly drinking his boss’ bourbon. Raylan as got to the point where I was thinking, for god’s sake, Raylan, give your damn father a break. I truly thought that! And the episode leads you on, there, by presenting us the scene in the VFW where Arlo talks a young veteran (all Iraq veterans must be named Lucky, that is television law) out of blowing up the only bar in town by feeding him a line of bullshit about his own service in Vietnam.

It’s an awfully clever deke, because of course it puts you in the mind of Raylan’s own hostage negotiation, and you start to think you know there’s a lot to be said for the things we inherit from our fathers and maybe a man can change, right, a man can change, I kind of wish a man could change, and then (a) Arlo tells the VFW bartender that “My son’s been fighting wars since the day he was born,” and (b) Arlo tells Raylan that he will wear a wire and you are like SEE THAT SEE THAT A MAN CAN CHANGE A MAN CAN

Except he can’t. One line of bullshit follows another, and the wars that Raylan’s been fighting march ever onward. Arlo takes that wire, he does, and he marches straight into Bo’s hideaway and he proceeds to double-cross the marshals. And Raylan. Red-faced, petulant Raylan. Who has done his honest best to warn us off falling for his father’s tricks! Can’t stop this one. It’s not that he’s cried wolf too frequently. It’s that anything rings hollow if it’s heard too often, if it’s shouted too stridently. If it appears to be coming from a heroic man who is recently acquainted with desperation.

Plus Raylan must certainly want his father’s redemption, in some way. That want is a form of hope. And if Arlo destroys it, here? That’s a far fall for our marshal, who has guarded so carefully and who told the truth so much.

The Crowder family is meanwhile fighting on a different plane, one where both parties are being entirely open with one another and waiting to see which will crumble first. Two bucks and horns and a mountain and something something, right? Boyd is bold and Boyd is crafty, Boyd certainly knows that his father is on the hook to the Miami cartel and Boyd certainly knows that blowing up that shipment will put his father in trouble. I suppose it could put Boyd in trouble as well, but he’s lately got the air of a man protected by God, so I’m not too worried about him. His play is complex, his play is a shuffle in the aisle at church as well as a rocket launcher on the side of the road. All that wondering I’ve done about whether or not he’s a good or bad man, it may all be irrelevant. It may all be about fathers and sons, it may all be about disposing of his own roots so that he can grow fresh. In the eyes of God or in the eyes of becoming the new Crowder in town. Either way. What would Boyd do, with his father gone. What would Raylan do, without his. If you have leaned on a stuck door your whole life, and it falls open all of a sudden, how do you learn to walk through?

Ava walked through. Back in episode one she did. She shot her husband and fell in love with a new man, and look, now, where all those choices and chances have got her. When Winona came to Raylan, at night, and she took off her wedding ring and the two of them fell together I could not figure it. It was smart to keep the scene wordless, to give me room to think all sorts of things: was it just sex, or just power, or just something deeper. Why now, why, now. Hard to say, except for Ava’s car out front. I don’t know why now for Winona or why now for Raylan, but I do know why now for Ava. I know that she’ll never go back, now. I know that it’s important she went to Aunt Helen, then, and asked her for a gun. Aunt Helen looked at Ava and no doubt saw a piece of herself. Aunt Helen warned her dutifully, about picking the lifestyle with the sawed-off shotgun and you sitting in the dark, but Aunt Helen knows that sometimes you can’t and shouldn’t rely on the ones who swear to protect you. Particularly the men. They have their own battles, their father and son battles. You are easy collateral, because you love them so much.

In church Boyd said that he is “a new creature,” and though it was part of a shuffle-and-hop, I believe him. I believe him and I believe that this is the way to survive in Harlan. Ava is a new creature now, and I believe she will survive. Does Raylan have it in him? You hope. He could choose the other path, he could be Bo or he could be Arlo and he could hang on tenaciously, unchanging and cruel. Raylan may think he’s a new creature, but being different than your father does not make you new. That is a position he took years ago. What he needs now is more than righteousness, more than a quick draw, more than confident negotiation tactics. What he needs now is to be reborn.

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Season One, Episode 11: “Veterans”
It is of course best if the conflict can be personal. It is all well and good to have your hero roughed up by a thug, or, perhaps, to have your hero rough up a thug. But it is infinitely better to have your hero set his jaw and sneer at his own father within the walls of a VFW. Better still if the VFW in question can be the one outside of which your hero, as a child, whiled away hours, bouncing balls against a rough-stone wall, waiting for his father to stumble out and drive them both home. Raylan marches into that VFW with two good and brave men in tow, the Christian snail-killer Art and the on-his-way-to-drunk Afghanistan-veteran Tim, and both of those men know to steer clear of the blood between the blood. The trouble so old its mold has mold. They hang back, and Arlo slaps Raylan, and Raylan condescends to Arlo, and the two of them both stare the other down like they have always and will continue to be.
But fathers are tricky, as we continue to learn, and Arlo saved some of that attitude for none other than Bo Crowder, that patriarch of Harlan crime who is also not in a particularly good place with his son. Arlo ran Bo’s business while Bo was in prison, Arlo ran Bo’s business poorly, Bo means to collect, Arlo has nothing to give. That should be, and is truly, the problem between them, but you wouldn’t know it from the spitting argument the two have about their sons, each man defending his. Your son’s gone off the deep end! Well, at least mine isn’t a marshal! Well, at least mine doesn’t preach and blow stuff up! Well, I’ve got mine under control! Well, mine wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for yours! One generation speaks through another; Raylan and Boyd may think themselves rebellious youths, but so long as they fight fights as brutally as their fathers do, they are all the same.
Speaking of the kids, it seems that Boyd’s accidental transformation is progressing nicely, or, at least, his fraud is getting insanely elaborate. There are cracks showing amidst his posturing, preaching, and control. Sure, he’s still able to rile up his father by righteously refusing to take a cut of the protection money Bo has taken from the meth cooks with the burnt-up lab. And absolutely, he’s able to get under Raylan’s skin by casually dropping a line about how Bowman Crowder, Ava’s late husband, was co-running Bo’s business along with Arlo. He’s even able to convince one of his men to turn himself into the marshals and take full responsibility for the meth lab explosion. But when it comes time to kill the weakest dog in the pack, the goony Dewey Crowe, Boyd falters. Lets him go. Looks straight to the heavens and seems unable to understand what he sees. A man’s relationship with his god, now that’s personal. Even if that relationship was initially feigned.
Then Raylan, our dear one. Determined as ever to extricate the personal from all conflicts, even when a touch of the personal is exactly what’s called for, such as when you’re speaking to your recently jilted ex about crimes possibly committed by the husband she shot dead. Raylan deals with drunk and angry Ava the same way he’d deal with any other belligerent witness: simple logic, rough handling, and a pair of handcuffs. Then, as a bonus, a ride to his ex-wife’s house, into the arms of the slowly-warming (and, earlier, possibly-flirting) Winona. It is, obviously, a bad decision. It may be the right decision. It may be the safe decision. But it is a bad decision, and when Ava shakes off that hangover, the decision will have consequences.
Because our Raylan cannot modulate between lawman and man, not expertly, the way that Art is able to both calmly lead an investigation and angrily slam a Bible down on Boyd’s knuckles. That is the sweet spot, letting yourself in just enough. Raylan cannot, he cannot hold a professional conversation in the VFW with his father, he can barely hold a professional conversation with his stepmother-aunt in her garden. “I came here as an officer of the law,” he says to his father, and everybody in the entire room is like “HORSESHIT.” And you know what: that’s fine. You don’t have to be going in there as an officer of the law. You could go in as a son concerned for his father’s safety. I’m not saying that’d work. I don’t know exactly what works with Arlo, except the prospect of briefly having money that no one else knows about. But what’s worrying me is how much Raylan is asking of himself, in the face of problems that would run a lesser man ragged, I mean, is he sleeping, even, anymore? Not likely. Our marshal takes each fresh problem and files it, hidden, it behind his badge. Then he shines that badge up better than before, and he continues. So that we’ll only know by the quickness of his draw how personal all of this really is.

Season One, Episode 11: “Veterans”

It is of course best if the conflict can be personal. It is all well and good to have your hero roughed up by a thug, or, perhaps, to have your hero rough up a thug. But it is infinitely better to have your hero set his jaw and sneer at his own father within the walls of a VFW. Better still if the VFW in question can be the one outside of which your hero, as a child, whiled away hours, bouncing balls against a rough-stone wall, waiting for his father to stumble out and drive them both home. Raylan marches into that VFW with two good and brave men in tow, the Christian snail-killer Art and the on-his-way-to-drunk Afghanistan-veteran Tim, and both of those men know to steer clear of the blood between the blood. The trouble so old its mold has mold. They hang back, and Arlo slaps Raylan, and Raylan condescends to Arlo, and the two of them both stare the other down like they have always and will continue to be.

But fathers are tricky, as we continue to learn, and Arlo saved some of that attitude for none other than Bo Crowder, that patriarch of Harlan crime who is also not in a particularly good place with his son. Arlo ran Bo’s business while Bo was in prison, Arlo ran Bo’s business poorly, Bo means to collect, Arlo has nothing to give. That should be, and is truly, the problem between them, but you wouldn’t know it from the spitting argument the two have about their sons, each man defending his. Your son’s gone off the deep end! Well, at least mine isn’t a marshal! Well, at least mine doesn’t preach and blow stuff up! Well, I’ve got mine under control! Well, mine wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for yours! One generation speaks through another; Raylan and Boyd may think themselves rebellious youths, but so long as they fight fights as brutally as their fathers do, they are all the same.

Speaking of the kids, it seems that Boyd’s accidental transformation is progressing nicely, or, at least, his fraud is getting insanely elaborate. There are cracks showing amidst his posturing, preaching, and control. Sure, he’s still able to rile up his father by righteously refusing to take a cut of the protection money Bo has taken from the meth cooks with the burnt-up lab. And absolutely, he’s able to get under Raylan’s skin by casually dropping a line about how Bowman Crowder, Ava’s late husband, was co-running Bo’s business along with Arlo. He’s even able to convince one of his men to turn himself into the marshals and take full responsibility for the meth lab explosion. But when it comes time to kill the weakest dog in the pack, the goony Dewey Crowe, Boyd falters. Lets him go. Looks straight to the heavens and seems unable to understand what he sees. A man’s relationship with his god, now that’s personal. Even if that relationship was initially feigned.

Then Raylan, our dear one. Determined as ever to extricate the personal from all conflicts, even when a touch of the personal is exactly what’s called for, such as when you’re speaking to your recently jilted ex about crimes possibly committed by the husband she shot dead. Raylan deals with drunk and angry Ava the same way he’d deal with any other belligerent witness: simple logic, rough handling, and a pair of handcuffs. Then, as a bonus, a ride to his ex-wife’s house, into the arms of the slowly-warming (and, earlier, possibly-flirting) Winona. It is, obviously, a bad decision. It may be the right decision. It may be the safe decision. But it is a bad decision, and when Ava shakes off that hangover, the decision will have consequences.

Because our Raylan cannot modulate between lawman and man, not expertly, the way that Art is able to both calmly lead an investigation and angrily slam a Bible down on Boyd’s knuckles. That is the sweet spot, letting yourself in just enough. Raylan cannot, he cannot hold a professional conversation in the VFW with his father, he can barely hold a professional conversation with his stepmother-aunt in her garden. “I came here as an officer of the law,” he says to his father, and everybody in the entire room is like “HORSESHIT.” And you know what: that’s fine. You don’t have to be going in there as an officer of the law. You could go in as a son concerned for his father’s safety. I’m not saying that’d work. I don’t know exactly what works with Arlo, except the prospect of briefly having money that no one else knows about. But what’s worrying me is how much Raylan is asking of himself, in the face of problems that would run a lesser man ragged, I mean, is he sleeping, even, anymore? Not likely. Our marshal takes each fresh problem and files it, hidden, it behind his badge. Then he shines that badge up better than before, and he continues. So that we’ll only know by the quickness of his draw how personal all of this really is.