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Put an End to My Troubles: Getting to Know the Mystery on the Season Finale of Justified

If there is any justice in the world--our world, that is, and not the rough-and-tumble Harlan County--Margo Martindale will walk away with an Emmy nomination (and, one imagines, a win) for her jaw-dropping performance as Mags Bennett this season. Tough-as-nails and quick with her rapier wit, Mags was a top-notch schemer with the brutality to match her Machiavellian machinations, and Martindale brought her to life with all of the grit and dust of the Kentucky mountains intact.

And if there was a highlight of the second season of FX's sensational and atmospheric lawman drama Justified, a season overflowing with dramatic highs and serpentine plot twists galore, it was Martindale's accomplished turn as the head of the Bennetts, a pot-growing clan that has been enmeshed in a feud with the Givens for seventy years. Would Mags and Raylan bury the hatchet? Or bury it in each other's backs? That was the question swirling around the season finale, one populated by several other compelling strands: the quest of vengeance enacted by poor Loretta McCready, the wily plots carried out by bad boy Boyd Crowder, and the future happiness between Raylan and ex-wife Winona.

In the end, Season Two came to a close with much bloodshed, violence, and enmity, much in the same way that it began: with two people sitting across from one another, over a bottle of Mags Bennett's infamous apple pie.

There was a sense of coming full-circle here in the terrific and taut season finale ("Bloody Harlan"), written by Fred Golan and directed by Michael Dinner (who helmed the pilot and second episodes of the series), as Mags poured out another dram of apple pie.

Once more, the poison, we're told, was in the glass and not the jar. I didn't think that dear old Mags would try to kill Raylan, but as soon as she grabbed two separate glasses--one from above and one from below--I knew that Mags had made her choice. That she died, her stomach wrenching from the very same poison that killed Loretta's daddy as she made her peace, both with the world and with Raylan Givens, shuffling off this mortal coil and clutching Raylan's hand was profound and perfect. Was it the only way to end a bitter feud that began seventy years earlier? Was Mags going to see her dead sons--Coover and Doyle--once more and "get to know the mystery" that she spoke of so fondly in her final moments?

Loretta did get one shot off at Mags, shooting her in the leg, but rather than become a killer and enact her revenge on the woman who killed her father--becoming, in essence, Mags herself--Loretta is given a second chance at life. It's Raylan who talks her down, which is ironic as Raylan knows a thing or two about vengeance and about killing. And it's interesting that it's Mags herself who serves as the conduit for Loretta's new life twice: first in killing her father (an effort to transform Loretta's existence and take her away from a life of crime) and here in the final showdown. But is Mag's suicide an escape from punishment--both Loretta's and the law's--or a balancing of the scales? A life for a life? Hers for Loretta's? Hmmm...

I do mourn the loss of the Bennetts, though interestingly Dickie--the one man whom everyone wanted dead--managed to survive everything this season, including what seemed like a pretty certain execution from Boyd. The man with a limp ended up being the last man standing. Which means that in the world of Justified, the story of the Bennetts might not be over quite yet. With Dickie still kicking and the identity of the mysterious old woman who got him out of jail last week still unclear, there are still quite a few story threads to be picked up down the line. And that's a Good Thing Indeed, though I will miss the wrathful leadership of Mags herself.

The season finale also left more than a few storylines dangling in the wind: would Ava survive Dickie's gunshot, falling to the ground in her own kitchen much like Helen a few episodes ago? Would a pregnant Winona face the future with Raylan... or without him? And would Raylan stay in Kentucky or get the hell out?

We at least learn that Art hasn't completely written off Raylan as a lost cause. He and the Marshal Service do come to Raylan's rescue, just as Doyle is about to end Raylan for good. (As soon as Doyle took the gunshot to the head, it was clear that the bullet had been fired by marksman Tim.) We've not spent much time in Lexington these past few episodes, though the relationship between Raylan and Art did get some depth this season.

However, I'm still of the mindset that we desperately need some development of Tim and Rachel, who got seriously shafted this season (even more than in Season One) when it came to storylines. But this is a quibble that I hope is addressed when the writers begin to break stories for Season Three; these two need some more screen time and some additional shading, which is difficult when much of the action takes place not in the offices of Lexington but on the dirt roads of Harlan.

As for Boyd, he proved himself to be just as--if not more--crafty than old Mags Bennett, envisioning that the Bennetts would attempt to gain the upper-hand during their parley and take out his compatriots. (I loved the shot of Johnny Crowder wheeling out of the barn after he blew up his own house, with two of the Bennett's goons inside.) While the finale once again came down to white hat Raylan working together with black hat Boyd, there was the sense here that Raylan may have been willing to cross a moral line and allow Boyd to murder Dickie... until he realized that he needed his old adversary alive.

But it was the sight of Boyd, literally handing Raylan's white hat back to him, that made me think that Raylan's moral compass wasn't quite as haywire as it appeared. Was it a moment of weakness or of the realization that he and/or Boyd couldn't enact justice upon Dickie Bennett? Or was it something far more pragmatic?

Ultimately, I thought that "Bloody Harlan" was the perfect ending to a sensational season of Justified, one that masterfully balanced individual, character-based plotlines (Winona/Raylan, the salvation of Boyd Crowder, Loretta McCready) with episodic plots... and one hell of an overarching, serialized narrative, one that took the strengths of the series and exploded them sky-high. While I was a huge fan of the first season, it's this second season that demonstrated the real depth and scope of Justified... and has given the writers some mighty big shoes to fill when it comes to Season Three.

What did you think of the season finale of Justified? Did it meet your expectations? What will happen to Raylan, Ava, Winona, Boyd, and Dickie? Who was that mysterious old woman from last week? And how on earth will we be able to stand the long wait for Season Three? Head to the comments section to discuss.

Season Three of Justified is set to air next year.


Samantha Hunter said…
I thought it was awesome -- so many great moments. Ava getting shot was so unexpected, and knew Boyd would save Raylan's bacon at some point -- and love Goggins. I think he's been the most compelling character this season outside of Mags. The show is clearly setting up the new criminal structure in Harlan, with Raylan and Boyd at the center of it, and will be interesting to see what comes of Dickie. The final scene was killer -- for a second there, really didn't know which way it would go. Most awesome.
Tempest said…
Truly amazing. Wow. Just wow. I love how they keep the characters consistent, yet surprising.

The problems I have are these:
1) Waaay too many amazing actors who I miss when they're not on screen -- more Tim! more Rachel! more Art! more everybody!
2) The writing is too good -- I don't realize that I've been holding my breath until the commercial break. Some day, I won't be able to hold my breath that long.
3) Do I really have to wait another year for a season of "Justified"????? That's just mean.
(Esp since I don't have DirecTV to give me a "Damages" fix.)
YC19916 said…
It was amazing, I hope we see more of Dickie next season so that Boyd can have some form of revenge. I wonder if the old woman is the real ringleader of the Bennett clan. I don't think Winona would of stayed because it would be strange if when deciding between work and family he chose his work and still ended up with both. I almost totally forgot about Ava but i don't think i am too blame when the final scene is that good. The poisoned pie was genius, I had a thought who she gave the glass to but i loved that i had too wait too be sure. Great end to a great season.
Ally said…
My request for season 3 is more James LeGros!
shaxs said…
You'll never leave Harlen alive.....
Anonymous said…
Such a great show and a just stellar season
Anonymous said…
What a fabulous season. The finale was so satisfying and yet frustrating too in that I know it is over until next year. Bummed

There were a number of times during the season when Mags offered up some Apple Pie and you just wondered when she would poison again. She is such a fabulous villian. I am sad to see her go but this should mean greater things for Boyd next season and that is always good.

I as sure Dickie will view Raylan as killing Mags and add to his revenge motives.

Art and Raylan still have some patching up to do but glad to see the Marshalls came through when necessary. And at least Art didn't need to run!

The finale is on my DVR. I need to watch it again!
Anonymous said…
can they just figure out a way to get john hawkes, for next season. Agreed that it was a different show from season 1, but they are killing off too many characters too quickly
Hadley said…
Margo Martindale is amazing!! Totally agree that her performance was Emmy-worthy. Fantastic finale to an incredible season.
Hatfield said…
Nice write-up, but I think people are treating the woman from last week too much like a plot development from Lost. She was almost certainly Jed's mother, and Mags asked her to remind him of who he was snitching on. I'd be surprised if it ever came up again.
Kris said…
I loved Natalie Zea in this episode. Well, I loved everyone, but she got to pull out some emotional stops that she generally hasn't before, and that was cool.

It's nice to see Kevin Rankin getting interesting work after Trauma getting axed last year.

This season needed more Ava, I think, but still, yeah, love love loved it all.
alan0825 said…
I just loved that Loretta actually shot Mags. Usually on a TV show or movie, when a female holds a gun on someone, she never seems to be able to pull the trigger, leaving the other person to either get away or simply take the gun away from the shooter. I don't know how many times I've shouted at the screen "Just shoot him (or Her) in the leg.", Thank you, Loretta.
rockauteur said…
Producers said that the feud was over and that season 3 would have a new story... so why make dickie survive? Obviously they want to keep around Jeremy Davies around, and will plan to use him for something, but his plot of revenge will only get worse for Rayland after the death of his mom and brother. Though Boyd's need for retribution could diminish if Ava survives (which she will).

On a side note, Boyd needs to get rid of his Nazi tattoos if we truly wants some sort of redemption from his past... even if he still wants to be an outlaw.
McCoy said…
Had to wait to watch it on Hulu - no cable for me. Loved it. Loved the writeup, but agree with previous comment - mysterious woman was likely Jed's mom, and that's that.

The big question in my mind continues to be whether or not Boyd is actually really bad or not - he gave Mags the money back, even though he knew she was probably sneak attacking during the parlay. What's that about? And his love for Ava is not the love of a villain, but shows signs of true tenderness.. I think the writers have portrayed him this season so well that it's hard to tell what's really going on with this character, and has me still guessing!

Dickie survived.. Dewey Crow is still out there.. did Wynonna's ex actually leave town? .. what about the psycho who was gonna kill him? .. with Doyle gone, looks like Harlan will have a new sherrif who is on the take from Boyd .. at what point does Wynonna's theft of the money come back into play? .. WOW! Lots to see in Season 3.

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