Here at T.V. Club central—and in the TV-reviewing universe at large—we often find ourselves discussing the perils of reviewing shows on a week-to-week basis. (And later that discussion leads to an article about the discussion, then to discussions about that article, and so forth down the rabbit hole from there.) The biggest peril is the forest-for-the-trees problem, especially when dealing with serialized shows that may have payoffs every week but also save some revelations for other episodes down the line. And since we’re blind to those later revelations, they can make whole sections of an earlier episode review totally irrelevant.
Tonight’s terrific episode, “Save My Love,” is a classic example. Last week, I groused about the pettiness of Winona’s $100 evidence-locker heist and how it was both hard to comprehend from a character standpoint and a weak peg to built an episode or two around. This week, I’m looking like an ass—or at least more of one than usual. (How it must frustrate writers to see viewers complain about developments that they know will pay off in the future.) Because this week we learn that Winona didn’t take $100 but the whole damned box of money, left over from a bank robbery 20 years earlier and full of bills that have since been removed from circulation. Burned by Gary’s abuse of their money, Winona had foolishly succumbed to the temptation of free money, and now has a gym bag full of hot, useless paper. And while I still question Winona’s motives a bit, they’re articulated better here than they were a week ago. So adjust my previous opinion/grade accordingly.
The news about the scope of Winona’s heist is revealed slowly and patiently in “Save My Love,” an episode that masterfully ratchets up the tension as it goes along. First, Winona recalls that her $100 bill had a missing corner and thus isn’t one of the three bills Raylan requisitioned for her; this requires an exasperated Raylan to stick his neck out again and steal back the bill before the FBI gets a scan of it. When he comes back with the bad news that the bill has been scanned, Raylan tries to soften the blow by assuring Winona that she’ll only pay a small fine for lifting the hundred, which then forces her to pull out the entire bag of loot. The entire incident forces Raylan to show his hand: If Winona wants an indication of how much he cares about her, then him risking his career (and jail time) in covering up her crimes is as good of one as any. (Then again, he’s not the type to turn his back on a friend; even Boyd can count on him.)
If you wanted to poke holes in “Save My Love,” you could talk about the unlikely pile-up of coincidences employed just to keep the suspense going. Just the horrible task of getting Winona’s bag o’ cash back into the evidence locker meets with nail-baiting hang-ups at security; a judge (Stephen Root!) in a hurry; an evidence-room guard who’s available and unavailable at the wrong times; and an unrelated bomb threat. But I was all too happy to suspend my disbelief in the face of classic Hitchcockian bomb-under-the-table theatrics. Having the bag of money uncontained for that long would be tension enough without the additional threat posed by a high-profile courtroom hearing between the coal company and angry activists. The nifty little irony, of course, is that Raylan and Winona lucked out by not putting the bag of money back in evidence promptly, which would have connected the last dot. But that great last scene with Art suggests that he may well make that connection on his own.
And speaking of ironic developments, Boyd gets an offer from Carol Johnson, the vice president of the coal company he tried to rub, to work as part of its security detail. She understands his past all too well: Carol doesn’t need protection, she needs an enforcer, which makes sense given the real history of coal companies in the area (a history chronicled in Barbara Kopple’s essential, Oscar-winning 1976 documentary Harlan County U.S.A.). And as we head into the backstretch of season two, the strands are coming together: Apparently, Carol’s company is having some problems with Mags and the Bennett boys and needs Boyd to help sort things out.
In all, “Save My Love” felt like the back-half of an unofficial two-parter, throwing us right into Winona’s sticky situation and amping up the suspense from there. And none of tonight’s thriller payoffs would have been possible without the set-up of last week’s episode, which I now confess to have underrated. Such are the hazards of the trade: Apologies in advance for doing it again in the near future. It’s inevitable.
- Two fantastic character actors returned to the fold tonight: Jere Burns as colorful lowlife Wynn Duffy, who Gary wants to enlist in his surefire racehorse investment scheme, and Stephen Root as the gun-toting Judge Reardon, who presides over the coal case. Both offered line-of-the-night candidates. Burns: “Gary, I don’t have 18 inches of intestine preserved in Lucite.” Root, referencing the “gym clothes” in Winona’s bag: “I know 50 men in this building who would pay good money to sniff your gym clothes.”
- Real line-of-the-night, from the reliably quotable Art as they prepare to open the evidence locker: “I feel like Geraldo Rivera right before they opened Al Capone’s vault.”
- Of course Judge Reardon isn’t wearing pants under that robe.
- I wonder how Boyd’s conscience might tug at him over the security job. I don’t imagine he feels that fondly about the Bennetts, but Carol seems to misread him as an evil man and we’ve learned that he’s more complicated than that.