Justified 2.1 “The Moonshine War” Review

How does Justified improve on a stellar first season, one that arguably made it the best new series on television? By adding more stellar talent.

I just about did backflips when I saw Jeremy Davies, aka Lost’s Daniel Faraday, playing a limping bad ass from the new Bennett crew. Not only does he steal nearly every scene he’s in, but he’s also really handy with a bear trap. I can’t wait to see how his demure but deadly character develops.

And then there’s the new head crime honcho, who just also happens to be a matronly woman. Margo Martindale has always been a brilliant character actor, but she excels here as Mags Bennett. Justified‘s characters, particularly its antagonists, always fall within that murky gray area that makes it difficult not to empathize with them, or at the very least, find yourself rooting for them despite yourself. Mags is the perfect villain after Bo. You can’t take your eyes off her because she’s both so seemingly nurturing in that endearing southern momma sort of way while also leeching poison with every comforting embrace. What’s particularly interesting is that we’ve gone from paternal crime boss to maternal crime boss, which allows the show to continue exploring its dominant themes of the confusing obligations and mixed loyalties between parents and children. It may also be the first time on television we’ve ever seen someone murdered with apple pie.

This was perhaps one of the first Justified episodes where we couldn’t simultaneously root for the fugitive on the run. Jimmy the molester was particularly vile. And even though we knew 14-year old Loretta (Kaityln Dever) was most likely never truly going to be harmed, it changed the tone throughout these segments to be a bit darker. I wonder if that’s a direction the show will be taking overall or if this was an isolated occurrence. The killing of Walt also had a similarly ominous tone (“You get to know the mystery…”).

That’s not to say that Justified’s return lacked any of the trademark banter and wit that makes for so many ear-to-ear grinning moments in every episode. Tops on the list was Winona’s (Natalie Zea) response to Raylan’s (Timothy Olyphant) post-coital cursing: “It’s what every girl wants to hear for pillow talk: regret.” And then there was the gas station scene. What makes this show brilliant week after week is that we know Raylan will most likely get his man (or woman) but we want to see the “how”. Whether he’s outsmarting them, out-quipping them, or just plain out shooting them, we haven’t yet been disappointed in seeing exactly how Raylan delivers his own unique brand of justice. What makes Mags such a dangerous opponent for Raylan is that she may have the smarts to outplay him occasionally.

“The Moonshine War” brought back to us the kinds of characters, dialog, and acting that make this show so special. And oh yeah, Boyd’s (Walton Goggins) blowing stuff up again. How cool is that?

Favorite Line: “Just cause’ I shot the occasional person doesn’t make me a thief.” – Raylan

Grade: A-

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