It should be said upfront that Timothy Olyphant and Natalie Zea have a certain amount of sexual chemistry. As in “smokin’,” “combustible,” or other adjectives along these lines. They’re attractive people who are attractive together, which is partly owed to details like costume design—Raylan exuding that lanky, Old West swagger in a jeans and a cowboy hat; Winona in business suits that mean business—and partly owed to that intangible “something” that defies description.
This makes Winona another major character in Justified’s growing ensemble that needs to be served and a problematic one, too, because she exists outside the realm of Raylan’s job, which is the focus of the show. (See also: Tyra on Friday Night Lights. What the show was going to do with her every season was always an issue, if one the writers usually resolved well.) “Blaze Of Glory,” a disappointing retreat from the explosive advances of last week’s episode, tries to bring Winona into the fold with mixed success, turning on a decision that I didn’t really buy and then watching things spiral from there. The episode had more than its share of small pleasures, as usual, but I’m not convinced the show has solved the Winona problem.
The domestic situation between Raylan and Winona has been a source of tension between the two ever since she left Gary and rekindled her relationship with Raylan. Winona wants him to commit to something; Raylan seems happy enough with the status quo. When Gary makes the questionable decision to put up their house as collateral for an Arabian horse, Winona turns to Raylan for comfort, or at least a sounding board for her anger and disappointment, but he isn’t up to the task. And the prospect of giving up his job for “two rocking chairs on the porch” and “a bunch of little Raylans running around with toy guns” clearly makes him uncomfortable.
The show’s solution for them is clever: Rather than have them dither forever about a relationship that’s in a holding pattern, the writers have contrived an incident to bring them closer, no matter their wishes. By the end of “Blaze Of Glory,” they need each other to cover up Winona’s very big mistake, and while she expresses her gratitude to Raylan in the most appealing way possible, their bond is troublesome in the long term. This isn’t Winona and Raylan agreeing to move forward with the rocking-chairs-on-the-porch idea; this is the two of them united in a deception that will inevitably cause tension as it festers.
We should accept that people make mistakes, even Dewey-level dumb mistakes—a show wouldn’t be a show with a cast of perfect people—but Winona has always struck me as more sensible than the woman who lifts a single $100 bill from an evidence locker. I suppose anyone encountering a box full of money might wonder, “What’s the big deal if a bill or two goes missing?” But someone in Winona’s position ought to know that the bills in an evidence locker might be marked or traceable and that the consequences would be catastrophic if a bill got flagged. Much like Janet Leigh in Psycho, who resolves to return her ill-gotten loot during a conversation with Norman Bates, Winona recognizes her mistake too late. When she goes to the bank to deposit the cash, she turns around in line, only to lose the money in an armed robbery. (Another major contrivance, though a slightly more forgivable one.)
Winona’s dilemma is at the heart of “Blaze Of Glory,” but I found myself far more interested in the character of Frank, a former bank robber who was released from prison for medical reasons after 30 years, only to go back to his old ways. He’s a wily old coot, still powerful enough to contain a loose cannon in his crew and plot a getaway that nearly leaves his co-conspirators and the feds in the dust. Though the writers never explicitly make the connection, Frank is a little like Boyd might be in his old age, too; both have come to terms with their identities as career criminals—and brilliant ones at that—and that’s not going to change in their twilight years. Having Art be the one to bring Frank down is wonderfully apropos, two seniors on opposite sides of the law, each recognizing the other’s role in this particular drama. (Think Al Pacino and Robert De Niro meeting for coffee in Heat.)
Otherwise, this was a shaky episode by Justified standards. Curious to hear if I’m alone in questioning the mess Winona creates for herself; I’m guessing those who weren’t resistant found a lot more to like about “Blaze Of Glory” than I did.
- Nice storytelling to weigh Raylan and Winona’s troubles against those of Boyd and Ava, who are in more immediate hot water over the mine robbery, but are seeming much more in synch.
- Favorite exchange of the night, as a techie attempts to break into Frank’s computer. Raylan: “Did you get into Reisner’s hard drive.” Techie: “What am I, an asshole?”
- The ever-cool Raylan, thwarting a second robbery attempt: “Down here we know the difference between dynamite and road flares.”
- Raylan manages to take back the three bills that would incriminate Winona. Whew. You can close the book on that one!