Despite being a big fan of the show, I neglected to give ‘Justified’ much coverage in this blog during its first season. Since the second season premiered last week, let’s rectify that oversight right now. This is a great series that barely made it to renewal, and deserves a lot more attention than it has gotten.
With that said, the S2 premiere, ‘The Moonshine War’, starts off kind of awkwardly. We open with a strange condensed replay of last season’s finale, in which Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd (Walton Goggins) had a shootout with some Miami assassins at a cabin in the woods. This isn’t a “Previously on…” recap that I’m talking about. The first scene of the episode is a rerun of earlier events that seems… off… somehow. Admittedly, it’s been a good nine months since I watched the S1 finale, but I seem to recall it ending on a more conclusive note, as far as that storyline being pretty much wrapped up, and Raylan and Boyd being on somewhat better terms with one another.
Nonetheless, here Boyd tracks down the surviving female assassin and almost kills her until Raylan intervenes. He hauls the girl on a jet to Miami, drags her to the house of the drug lord who had it in for him, and has a face-off that nearly results in Raylan killing everyone until his former boss at the U.S. Marshals Service steps in to arrange a truce. Raylan will give the girl (the drug lord’s niece) back and see that she gets medical attention, and the drug lord will call off the dogs. The boss also offers Raylan his old job back, but Raylan declines and heads back to Kentucky, where he learns that Boyd has once again escaped custody.
This all happens in the first 15 minutes of the episode, and then we never hear of any of it again. The remainder of the episode is a completely different storyline. It almost feels as though the producers had intended for a whole episode to wrap up the loose ends from last season, but then decided at the last minute to cut it down and cram it in to the beginning of the next episode instead. Not only do some of the events seem like a ret-con, but I really don’t believe that we needed anything more on that plot, at least not so soon.
Fortunately, the rest of the episode picks up nicely. After settling in back home, Raylan gets antsy and jumps on the first case to come along. He tags along with Rachel to pick up a pedophile named James Earl Dean. (Cue several jokes about not trusting a man with three first names.) Dean has taken up with the Bennetts, a local clan of moonshiners and pot-runners led by Mags (Margo Martindale from ‘The Riches’). Mags is a fascinating character. She’s warm and motherly one minute, and seems to have a cordial relationship with Raylan that goes back a ways. Then the next minute she can be ruthless and deadly.
Mags’ little empire is enforced by her sons: Doyle (who conveniently also happens to be the local Sheriff), Coover (a total blockhead), and Dickie (Jeremy Davies from ‘Lost’). Davies nicely plays against type as a psychotic yet crafty redneck.
Mags claims not to know that Dean was a pedophile, and says that he recently ran off. However, he’s really been her errand-boy, harassing a two-bit pot farmer named Walt McCready (Chris Mulkey from ‘Twin Peaks’) who’s been growing weed on Bennett land without Mags’ authorization. Dean has also taken a special liking to McCready’s 14-year-old daughter Loretta, a wise-beyond-her-years type who’s on to his games and will have none of it.
When word comes that the law is looking for him, Dean manages to kidnap the girl and shove her in the trunk of his car. Raylan and Rachel track him down at a gas station, where Raylan pretends to be stealing gas from his car in order to trick Dean into stepping close enough that Raylan can douse him in gasoline from the pump. When Dean pulls a gun, Raylan bemusedly asks, “Do you know how a firearm works?” After explaining the likelihood that he would burst into flames if he fired the gun, the Marshals take the idiot into custody and save the girl.
Back in town, Mags pays a special visit to Walt. She tells him that she’ll extend him amnesty and offers him a glass of her special “Apple Pie” moonshine for a toast. But she’s poisoned the glass. As she watches him die, she tells him that she’s going to take Loretta under her wing to raise as her own.
Mags and her boys make great villains. With most of the Crowders now out of the way, she’s poised to fill the vacuum as the new crime kingpin in the area. This seems like the start of some very interesting new storylines.
‘The Moonshine War’ pulls itself together for most of its length, but I still wish that the episode had started off on a better foot.