A lot of people aren't crazy about this episode because it contains one of Michael's many "soapbox moments". There are several episodes where the conflict at hand is all too easily sewn up by a passionate and heartfelt speech given by Dr. Mike to which the townsfolk react appropriately for that particular situation. In this case, cutting Robert E down from the tree. But I don't really have a problem with the almost too-pat ending of The First Circle. I think, if you watch the show carefully, you see the seeds of doubt about what they are doing begin to take root in at least a few of the men. And if that's the case, Dr. Mike's impassioned speech gave them an excuse to back away from the Klan while still "saving face". There are so many other fine examples of work in this episode that it's easy to overcome an imperfect ending (if you percieve it to be). The performances given by Jonelle Allen and Henry Sanders are stellar. Both are fine actors to begin with, but this episode allowed them both to go above and beyond. The script was well written and the music couldn't have been better or more appropriate. You can feel the foreboding in the air as Grace works in the cafe just moments before she is attacked. The back and forth between her in the cafe and Robert E in the livery is nerve-wracking as the tension mounts and you know you are going to witness something awful-but what?
Also, though pretty far into the 2nd season, this episode provides some very good character development as we learn more about how the other folks in town feel about Robert E and Grace owning a home there. It's shocking, but honest.
This was one of many episodes on DQMW that would deal with racism in one form or another and I definately feel that it was one of the best.