Things are heating up in Harlan County on Justified. The Black Pike mining company, which is trying to buy up land in order to begin a mountaintop mining operation (which involves removing the mountaintop to remove the coal), is coming into conflict with the Bennett clan, who also want to purchase the same land (for purposes as yet unclear). The “showdown” of the episode takes place at a public meeting where mining company representative Carol Johnson squares off against Mags Bennett, who gives a rousing “my family has been in this valley since George Washington was president” speech and vows to “protect” Harlan from the predatory mining company. As Raylan observes at one point, in a conflict between the Bennetts and the mining company, he’s hard pressed to choose sides: “You all deserve each other.”
The doubling of Raylan and Boyd Crowder becomes more and more apparent. In a previous episode, Carol Johnson hired Boyd for her “security detail” (and also, it seems, to encourage and or protect landowners who sell their land to the company rather than to the Bennetts). In “The Spoil,” the US Marshals office assigns Raylan to accompany Johnson, even though his sympathies are not with the mining company (“Unless she asks you a question,” Chief Mullen directs him, “Keep your coal miner loving mouth shut”). Boyd comments to Raylan, “we’re on the same side.” And although Raylan responds, “The only things we’re on the same side of is this car,” various elements of the episode draw out the parallels between them. Both of them get beaten bloody by Coover Bennett. When Raylan shows up with Johnson at his father and aunt’s house (Johnson is there to negotiate a purchase of land) shortly after Boyd visits them on behalf of the company as well, Raylan’s father comments, “First Boyd, now you.” At the public meeting, the two act in concert to protect Johnson.
We also find out more about the “history” between the Givens family and the Bennetts. It apparently stretches back to prohibition, when the Bennetts believed that a Givens tipped off the Feds about their bootlegging operation–and killed Raylan’s great uncle as a response. In Raylan’s own time, he and Dickie Bennett went at it during a high school baseball game, with Dickie pitching a ball that hit Raylan in the head, and Raylan, in response, busting up Dickie’s leg with a baseball bat.
The back and forth between mining company representative Johnson and Mags Bennett at the public meeting is one of the highlights of the season. When shots ring out at the meeting, they’re already anticlimactic even before we discover that they were only firecrackers. The real fireworks came from Mags Bennett. When she promises to host a party, a real “whoop-ti-doo,” at her place to further the anti-mining company cause, and when she invites Ms. Johnson to join them, well, it looks like even more fireworks are on the way.