No one, and I mean no one, is allowed to bust Mags Bennett's boys' chops except for Mags herself. But last night, Raylan Givens donned his white-knight armor and did some chop-busting anyway, full-on reigniting a family rivalry that goes back through many generations of gap-toothed hillbillies.
"Brother's Keeper" drew a line in the sand and then jumped across it with two feet, moving Justified along at an even faster pace as we hurtle towards the Season 2 finish line. We've been watching Raylan and Mags size each other up like dogs in a fight for several episodes, but now the muzzles are off and we've got a handful of episodes left to watch the metaphorical fur fly. In sum: The s*** has hit the fan.
A gray cloud hovered over the first three-quarters of "Brother's Keeper," giving us the sense that something was about to go very, very wrong. There seemed to be a target on everybody's back: Loretta, Coover, Dickie, Carol, and Ava were all especially at risk in my mind. And in the end, things got really dark, with dim Coover Bennett ending up at the bottom of a mineshaft, dead from lead poisoning courtesy of one of Raylan's bullets. Make no mistake, Coover HAD to go. And I think we all saw that in the cards when we first met him. Dumb guys with hot tempers and U.S. Marshals with dead-eye aim don't mix.
But before we say goodbye to Coover for good, we should applaud Brad William Henke for a fantastic performance as the sharp-as-a-spoon goon. It ain't easy playin' that dumb while squeezing compassion out of viewers, but Henke almost had me cutting onions with his grief over not being Momma's favorite no more. If you want to see more of Henke, I believe you can still see him on Fox's The Chicago Code.
Coover's death is about to bring the wrath of Mags down on Raylan—and so hard that he'll see her when his eyes are closed. And it won't be the hammer-to-the-hand situation that she reserves for her loved ones: Coover was Mags' baby, and even though she considered him an oaf and has her new prize possession in the daughter she never had, you don't mess with a momma's young one. How about that parting attitude that Mags gave Raylan at the end of the episode? That's more gold from Margo Martindale, who apparently improvised that scene.
Boyd rightfully did a happy dance upon shaking hands with Mags to make himself a rich man, but with Mags' priorities now heading in a new direction (kill Raylan!), I expect that their brief partnership will sour and something entirely new will be thrown in our faces. Justified has built up Boyd all season long as being back on the straight-and-narrow (as straight and narrow as Boyd can be, anyway), so teaming him with Raylan's new foe would undermine all of our good favor. Will Boyd side with Raylan for an epic shoot-out at the end of the season, just as he did in Season 1? Or would that be the show repeating itself? And how is Ava going to fit into all of this? Boyd's storyline is the murkiest of all, but I'm confident he will emerge as a key player once everything is said and done.
And let's not forget about the power of gigantic energy corporations. I doubt we've seen the last of Carol and Black Pike. Expect a forceful counteroffer or some dirt on Mags to surface to throw a wrench in the deal.
Did you guys also hold your breath while Dickie lost his? We all knew something big was going to go down in this episode—the air was thick with that sense—and my heart sank as Dickie lay there motionless. Thankfully, a splash of bong water brought him back to us (Marijuana, is there anything it can't do?). I would have been absolutely crushed if Dickie had expired on us last night. There's just too much to like about both the character and Jeremy Davies.
Is Justified the best drama on television right now? For me, "Brother's Keeper" answered that question in the affirmative.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom