In HitFix's new feature "Waxing Episodic," we reflect on an episode of television we'll never forget.
FX's "Justified" is coming to an end next week.
Let's all respectfully tip our morally color-coded cowboy hat to Graham Yost and company's often superb Elmore Leonard adaptation, which has dispensed heaping servings of badassery on a consistent basis, especially if you pretend Season 5 just never happened.
But just as Season 5 is accepted by anybody sensible as the "Justified" nadir, I'm unprepared to accept the contention that any "Justified" season other than the second constitutes its peak.
"Justified" has reliably hovered in the second half of my Top 20 for all of its non-Season 5 seasons, but Season 2 was the only one to crack my Top 10, finishing at No.7, which seemed insufficiently rapturous to me in retrospect, but I looked back at the six shows that finished above and you're talking about the final "Friday Night Lights" season, the fourth "Breaking Bad" season, 26 near-perfect episodes of "Parks & Recreation," Season 2 of "Louie" and Season 1 of "Game of Thrones." I'm not going to quibble with any of those preferences, while distancing myself from the decision to place Season 1 of "Downton Abbey" at No.3 would just be bitter, disappointed ret-conning of my preferences and there's no point to that.
To my mind, "Justified" has been a near-great show for four seasons of its run, a perplexingly bad show for one season and, for one 13-episode stretch, it was great.
Once I decided that this week's Waxing Episodic feature would focus on a Season 2 "Justified" episode, it became a question of which one to choose. "The Spoil" features Mags Bennett's town-hall speech against Black Pike Mining, which may be my favorite moment of the season. "The Reckoning" was Timothy Olyphant's submission episode for the only "Justified" season that earned him an Emmy nomination.
But sometimes it's safer not to try to outthink the room. The best season of "Justified" is as satisfying as it is in large part due to its climactic episode, a glorious bloodbath that left several major characters dead and at least two more major characters nursing bullet-wounds into the next season.
Appropriately titled "Bloody Harlan," the Season 2 finale featured shootouts, explosions, highfalutin speechifying, heroic sacrifice, nefarious double-dealing and as much Raylan Givens ethical and moral ambiguity as one could ever want.
Some more thoughts on "Bloody Harlan," as well as thoughts on what made Season 2 of "Justified" so special, after the break... This'll definitely contain Season 2 spoilers, but probably more.