TV Review: Justified Season 2 Premiere — The Moonshine War

Despite the title, there’s not a whole lot of “moonshine war’ring” going on in the “Justified” Season 2 premiere episode, “The Moonshine War”. If anything, it’s a hint at what’s to come — not exactly moonshine, not anymore, but more like the Pot Wars. Pot, as in, marijuana. Ganja. Mary Jane. Etc.

Picking up right where the Season 1 finale left off, “The Moonshine War” immediately opens with U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) in pursuit of Miami gun thug Pilar (Alexandra Barreto), the only surviving baddie from the finale. The pursuit eventually takes Raylan back to his old Miami stomping grounds, where he settles his feud with Miami drug lord Gio Reyes (Jordi Caballero) once and for all.

And that’s all before the opening credits kick in.

The remainder of the Season 2 premiere finds Raylan stuck behind a desk buried in paperwork after the shootings. With the Crowder problem solved and all parties (mostly) accounted for (minus Boyd, who seems to have gone missing again), Raylan is left to deal with his back-stabbing father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) and an unfinished “talk” with ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea). Sometimes girlfriend Ava (Joelle Carter) is mostly MIA from the episode, and it won’t be until the third episode of the new year before we find out what she’s been up to — and with whom. Hint: it’s not Raylan.

“The Moonshine War” is really an introduction to the Bennetts, a pot-growing family led by the tough-as-nails matriarch Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), whose family runs a substantial pot business in the Kentucky underworld. And all out of a shabby general store to boot. Raylan’s path crosses with the Bennetts when he agrees to help fellow U.S. Marshal Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel) look for a fugitive sex offender who has ended up in the employ of the Bennetts. (The fugitive’s status is unknown to the Bennetts, who, despite their vast criminal activities, proudly proclaims no tolerance for perverts.)

Tazel, who has had almost nothing to do in all of Season 1, finally gets her meatiest part to date in “The Moonshine War”. The script, by showrunner Graham Yost, has a couple of fantastic moments, including the reactions that Brooks, a black woman, gets from the locals. (“It’s all pleasant and polite, ‘Yes ma’am, no ma’am’, until the cuffs come out.”) There are a couple of priceless looks between her and Raylan during their investigations.

The Bennetts, like most of the criminal element that appears in “Justified”, are not your typical bad guys. Mags Bennett herself defies stereotype, as do her three sons — Doyle (Joseph Lyle Taylor), the family man, who has a rather odd side job; Dickie (Jeremy Davies), a gimp who likes to shoot first, then force you to voluntarily put your foot into a bear trap; and Coover (Brad William Henke), the “useful idiot” of the family. Another new character with plenty of possibilities is Loretta McCready (Kaitlyn Dever), a 14-year old whose father runs afoul of the Bennetts, though Mags shows some curious grandmotherly affections toward the girl. But this is Mags Bennett, after all, and she didn’t get to be the county’s biggest pot grower by being all kind and cuddly all the time.

Season 2 of “Justified” has some interesting ideas that it’s setting up in the season premiere. The Bennetts should prove to be formidable enemies for Raylan, and Margo Martindale has the makings of a very, very dangerous foe, not only because her Mags character is a force of nature, but she’s a very shrewd and intelligent opponent. Young Kaitlyn Dever is a great addition to the cast, and the final minutes of “The Moonshine War” should result in the young but whip-smart teenager staying in the sights of both the Bennetts and Raylan for a while.

The Season 2 premiere of “Justified” airs February 9, 2011 on the FX Network.