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Justified Watch: Family Feud

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FX

Spoilers for last night’s Justified follow:

In a recent Justified post, I noted how the show had developed its cast so well that it can hold my attention even without Raylan Givens. Last night’s “Reckoning” didn’t change that opinion—much of it, especially Jeremy Davies’ work, only underscored it. But it also emphasized, undeniably, that Timothy Olyphant remains fan-damn-tastic in this role.

As Justified has established from the pilot, Raylan is one of those lawmen who is good at what he does because he has a certain amount bad in him. He’s not bad, he’s not abusive, he’s not a vigilante. But he has enough anger in him—packed deep, deep down like coal—that he understands the desire. And with Aunt Helen dead at Dickie’s hands, Olyphant shows that tension, between wanting revenge and knowing the law, in every glance, action and sarcastic line that escapes Raylan’s lips. His rage hums behind Olyphant’s performance like the tension in a steel wire.

When Raylan pistol-whipped Doyle and marched Dickie out into the woods, I can’t say that I actually expected Raylan to execute him; maybe you didn’t either. What matters is that we saw how Dickie could believe it. Olyphant showed Raylan’s controlled rage escaping control, in little ways—an untoward hand restraining Mags when he asked about Dickie’s whereabouts, for instance—even as he worked to arrest Dickie before Arlo could kill him. Raylan’s monologue to Dickie about the inescapable history of their family sold it further. And the sad resignation with which Raylan instead cold-cocked his prisoner before bringing it in—”God damn it, Dickie”—may have said more than the entire speech itself.

Jeremy Davies, meanwhile, more than held his own, in this scene and throughout the episode. All season, he’s made a showcase of Dickie’s edgy, jittery bravado; now, he shows us him falling apart, not just in pleading pathetically for his life to Raylan but also in his hurt, desperate pleas for his mama not to forsake him.

Just a staggeringly powerful rendering from beginning to end. This season has shown a richness and depth beyond anything in season one, and as its stories of generational vengeance and Harlan County history come to a head, it sets up next week’s finale strongly (with an added twist at the end, with the mystery woman who shows up to spring Dickie). If Emmy is listening, this looks like a submission episode for Olyphant and Davies alike. The rest of us viewers, meanwhile, have already won.

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