Justified: Debts and Accounts

With the last episode of Justified ending with the death of one of the Bennetts at Raylan’s hands, one expects that the “debts and accounts” of this most recent episode will involve something along the lines of “settling old debts” on the parts of the Bennetts. There’s plenty of tension in Harlan, with some of Harlan’s citizen not happy with Mags for the deal she made with the mining company. Raylan and Chief Mullen are also at odds, and Raylan and Winona aren’t exactly in a harmonious place either.

Mags is settling accounts in multiple ways, including closing down the marijuana business (or handing it over). She also seems to be cutting Dickie out of the family and out of the Black Pike mining company settlement. She also forbids Dickie from seeking revenge on Raylan. And Boyd is jumping heavily back into the world of crime, deciding the take on his father’s legacy.

This seems like a transitional episode, with relationships between characters shifting and changing.

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Critical Regionalism–Call for Contributions

This is a repost of an earlier announcement, and a note to say that the Critical Regionalism website is actively looking for people to join the conversation at the website.

To all Western Literature Assoc members and those interested in re-thinking and challenging ideas about regions and regionalism, I am announcing a new website looking to expand and critique these concepts –  www.critical-regionalism.com

It is an open and collegial forum for exchanging and sharing ideas, essays, reviews, recommendations around the broad field known (and defined here) as Critical Regionalism. It is, as you will see, non-prescriptive as a site — but really intended as rhizomatic and open to comments and applications.

Please join in and make the site a success.

Best wishes to all – Neil Campbell and Caleb Bailey University of Derby, UK.

Neil Campbell adds:

If you want to post a longer piece, you can send it to me
n.campbell@derby.ac.uk and I’ll find a home for it.

Catching up with Little Mosque

Season five of the Canadian television series Little Mosque on the Prairie recently came to a conclusion. In keeping with the primary story arc of this season, we follow in the last few episodes the final march of Imam Amaar Rashid and Rayyan Hamoudi toward their nuptials. Also, in a related story arc, we see the continued efforts of Reverend Thorne to remake himself as a better person (and by the end of the series, he has a moment of redemption that suggests that he might make it after all).

Along the way, we also have the return of some old friends. For fans of the earlier seasons of Little Mosque, the most delightful of these is the appearance of Reverend Duncan McGee, (the original pastor of Mercy Anglican) who guest stars in the final three episodes of the season.  McGee and Thorne (unsurprisingly) don’t exactly hit it off at first, with each of them advancing rival plans for what to do at Amaar’s bachelor party. Amusing allusions to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly are scattered throughout the episode (“The Bachelor Party”), especially in terms of musical stings that allude to the film’s soundtrack. When Thorne decides to liven up what is (to him) a boring bachelor party by enticing everyone into a paint gun-battle (in which, somewhat accidentally, it’s the Christians versus the Muslims), the final showdown between the three survivors (McGee, Thorne, and Amaar) is staged like the stand-off at the end of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

The other pleasant return is that of Yasir Hamoudi from Lebanon. I’ve felt his absence through much of the last season and a half, so it was good to see him again. And, he has the opportunity to make a moving speech (in order to make up for a rift he helped cause) at the end of the final episode (“Amaar’s Well That Ends Well”).

At the end of season four, rejected by his congregation, Amaar took up residence on the prairie, living out of a tent. His congregation soon followed him, and we then had some of the most beautiful sequences of the series: Amaar leading his congregation in prayer beneath the open sky on the flat plain of the prairie. So, it makes a lot of sense that the wedding itself also takes place outside on the prairie. As with much in this series, in those moments when we are on the prairie, Little Mosque transcends the sitcom genre to achieve something quite wonderful.

And so, Amaar and Rayyan, despite the various sitcom tribulations they had to endure over the 13 episodes of the season, are married at last. Amaar has been offered a job in Montreal, and it seems as if we may be headed not only for the season’s end but also the series end. Could there be a Little Mosque without Amaar and Rayyan? That seems unlikely, but, as the newly married couple are headed off in the limo, they seem newly uncertain as to what the future holds. Will they stay in their little town or move to Montreal?

For more on Little Mosque, see also Season Five of Little Mosque on the Prairie.

On Friday Night Lights

One of the western telelvison shows that hasn’t received much discussion on WLA Blog thus far is the well-regarded series Friday Night Lights. I’ve posted in below an excerpt from Adrian Matejka’s commentary on Friday Night Lights (posted at the Ploughshares blog). Click on the excerpt to go to the whole article.

In Atlanta last Christmas, I got trapped like Jack Torrance by the first Yuletide snow that city had experienced since Reconstruction. The entire city shut down, and I was unable to leave my in-laws’ house for two days. If that wasn’t difficult enough, I finished watching the Fourth Season of Friday Night Lights while I was there. Those who know how Season Four ends will understand why I’ve been fiending for Season Five. Season Five is also slated to be the last season of the show and that makes me want to do the Charlie Brown walk

Simply put, FNL is the most arresting network television show I can remember. This isn’t hyperbole. The show is an astute character drama that occasionally includes football and fistfights. Because of that, the series confuses the synapses in that good, genre-mashup way. It also has a great soundtrack, the kind that spools the dramatic moments without overwhelming them.

Justified: Brother’s Keeper

The latest episode of Justified, “Brother’s Keeper,” develops slowly, with the big “whoop-ti-doo” party at the Bennetts serving as a prelude to the action rather than the climax. The party itself is built around small revelations, Mags’ continuing infatuation with her young ward Loretta (her ward only because Mags killed her father), as revealed through a gift of a hair pin to top off Loretta’s outfit for the party; Raylan’s admitting that he “never was much for clogging” (okay, maybe that’s not much of a revelation); Raylan’s inability to reach Winona by phone (and how is that bit of information going to pay off in the future?); Boyd Crowder’s switching sides from the mining company to looking after his own interests (as revealed by his surprising presence at the meeting between Mags and Carol Johnson); the revelation that Mags has something up her sleeve in her negotiations with the mining company; and the most important revelation of all: Loretta’s discovery of Coover wearing her father’s watch. That final discovery kicks the episode’s plot into full gear. In some ways, the build-up to the party in the previous episode, the conflict between Carol and Mags, all was a kind of misdirection.

Spoilers follow!

Boyd has figured out that Mags isn’t in the least bit interested in coal or coal rights, and we already know that her real interest is self-interest more than saving the community from the evil coal company. What Mags has realized is that the issue is roads, and that there is no way the mining company, even after “blowing the top of the mountain” can get the coal out on existing roads, and the only way to build adequate roads is to go through Bennett land. Mags negotiates a lucrative deal with the mining company, and by the 30 minute mark of the episode, we see Mags sitting on her front porch singing “High on the Mountain,” and, indeed, the Bennetts seem to be riding high at the moment.

The doubling of Raylan and Boyd throughout the earlier episodes also seems to come to an end here, as their stories diverge sharply as Boyd throws in with the Bennetts in his deal-making. And to further show the divergence of the characters, Boyd shows that, unlike Raylan, not only is he up for some clogging, but he’s also pretty good at it. Everybody’s dancing for joy. What could possibly go wrong?

The real powder keg in the episode is not the conflict between the mining company and the community but the dysfunction in the Bennett clan. Coover has been demonstrating increasing jealousy at Mags’ attentions to Loretta, and one suspects that, consciously or unconsciously, his wearing of her father’s watch is an action that came from that jealousy. He doesn’t like Loretta and gets back at her by revealing that her father is dead and indicating as well that he played a role in that death.

After Coover chokes his brother Dickie nearly to death, he takes Loretta out to the abandoned mine shaft where her father’s body has been dumped. Loretta at least gets a call out to Raylan, who rushes to her aid.  Dickie, nearly killed by Coover, shouts at Raylan, “Don’t you hurt my brother, Raylan!” It’s a complicated relationship these brothers have.

His face still healing from his last fight with Coover, Raylan goes after him again at the mine shaft, and ultimately shoots him, and the last we see of Coover is his body plunging into the darkness of the shaft. The shooting is “justified,” as Raylan was defending both himself and Loretta from the murderously angry Coover, and a kind of justice as well—as Coover joins McCready, a man he helped kill, at the bottom of the shaft.

Loretta, at least, is rescued, and taken away by child services.  I guess we’ll see as the rest of the season plays out what the killing of Coover does to the decades’s old Givens/Bennett feud.

Bodies, Rest, Motion

Last night I watched Bodies, Rest, Motion for the first time. I hadn’t heard of the film until it became the inspiration for the title of this year’s conference. I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, the inspiration for Enfield and the location of the film’s Arizona scenes. The summary of the film is easy: four twentysomethings struggle to move forward with their lives and think Butte, Montana may be the answer for the ennui that pervades their lives.

One of my favorite scenes of the movie takes place at a gas station in northern Arizona. Nick stops to fill up his car. A vibrant orange sky dominates the scene’s background and a wind blows through the isolated gas station. Nick asks the American Indian filling his tank what the wind means. The response to his question involves humidity and Nick tells him that’s not the answer he wants. “What does the wind really mean? Indians are supposed to know,” Nick asks again. He responds by saying, “It’s just a wind. Just like I’m just a Navajo.”

On the way back, Nick stops again at that gas station and goes into the Indian Craft Store that fills a small trailer. Nick asks how much the Indian headdress would be. The lady in the store tells him it’s authentic and Nick asks for a fake one. He buys the fake headdress and heads back to Enfield. A giant figure of an Indian stands over the gas station.

As a twentysomething in Tucson, in the process of figuring out my own life, I could relate to the movie on a personal level and be excited by its potential for rich, scholarly analysis. Those who haven’t seen the movie should keep an eye out for Peter Fonda as they watch.

Justified: The Spoil

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.