Both the title (“Bloody Harlan”) of the season concluding episode of Justified and the song that played over the end credits (“You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”) were very appropriate given what occurs in the episode. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, avoid reading any further, as it will be difficult to discuss the episode without revealing who leaves Harlan alive and who doesn’t.
One person who does leave Harlan alive is Raylan Givens, and he’s lucky to have made it out alive. In one instant, when he is tied up and hanging by his foot from a tree with a very very happy Dickie Bennett taking swings at him with a baseball bat, it’s Boyd Crowder who shows up to save Raylan—although not necessarily for Raylan’s sake. Earlier in the episode, in a raid on Boyd’s house, Dickie shoots Ava Crowder (demonstrating that he has a penchant for shooting women in their kitchens), and Boyd’s presence is not so much to rescue Raylan as to kill Dickie.
In the second moment, Doyle Bennett has the drop on Raylan, who is wounded and on the ground beside a car after an outburst of gunfire. Doyle makes a common mistake, in that he fails to take Tuco’s advice from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (“when it’s time to shoot–shoot, don’t talk”). “This bullet’s been on the way for 20 years,” Doyle says to Raylan, which turns out to be the last words Doyle speaks on this earth. It’s good to have skilled sharpshooters like Tim for friends. The marshal’s service arrives just in time, Tim takes out Doyle, and Art arrives with the rest of the marshals to secure the Bennett residence. Even though Raylan is in Harlan on his own “personal time” as Art tells Winona when she entreats him to help and he initially refuses, he changes his mind, and perhaps this is a step toward a reconciliation between Raylan and Art after a season that has seen the relationship between the two become increasingly strained and distant.
One of the most interesting parts of the episode involves the return of Loretta McCready to Harlan, as her story arc in the season is resolved by turning into a version of True Grit. She bolts from her foster home, after stealing her foster father’s pistol, and, as Raylan rightly observes, “She’s likely going down to Harlan to avenge her daddy’s murder” (Raylan knows this because, he says, “that’s what I would have done when I was fifteen”). When the man she’s contracted to drive her to Harlan balks, Loretta responds, “I’ve come this far. I will see this thing through.” Mattie Ross couldn’t have said it better.
When Mags Bennett tries to convince Loretta that she’s really too frightened of the gun to pull the trigger, Loretta proves otherwise and shoots Mags in the leg. If Tuco is right, and it’s better to shoot than talk when shooting needs to be done, Raylan knows that sometimes it’s time to talk, not shoot. Wounded himself, he convinces Loretta to put down the gun and saves her from murdering Mags. Loretta proves that she’s tough, but she escapes from the episode without becoming a killer.
Mags, however, does not leave Harlan alive. Somehow or another, Dickie is the only Bennett alive at the end of the episode. Mags takes herself out with a poisoned swig of her “apple pie” moonshine.
Unlike season one, which ended with a cliffhanger, season two resolves most of its primary plot lines in this episode. Raylan’s isolation from his colleagues at the Marshal’s service comes to an end, or, at least, they come to his rescue. The Bennett crime family dynasty has crumbled. We don’t know, however, whether or not Ava has survived the gunshot wound. And although Winona intercedes with Art on Raylan’s behalf, we don’t know if she’ll be waiting for him when he returns to Lexington. Even though Raylan was justified in his actions, which were taken to save Loretta, his willingness to put himself in danger while he is on leave and without backup is one of the reasons Winona divorced him in the first place. I guess we’ll see what happens in season three.