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.