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Jeremy Davies (#110 of 23)

American Gods Recap Season 1, Episode 8, “Come to Jesus”

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American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 8, “Come to Jesus”

Starz

American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 8, “Come to Jesus”

“Come to Jesus” ends the first season of American Gods on an awkward and anticlimactic note. Creators and co-screenwriters Bryan Fuller and Michael Green seem to be aware of their own perversity, cracking a joke about it early in the episode. Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) and Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) are at the office of Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones), the present incarnation of the god Anansi, who’s tailoring suits for the next leg of their journey. For a moment, it seems that we’ve dodged the obligation of sitting through a deity origin tale that typically opens each episode, until Mr. Nancy announces that he has a story, which Wednesday greets with comic frustration while nursing a tall whiskey. Wednesday is clearly speaking for the audience here, who may be understandably weary of yet another damn flashback.

Every Episode of Hannibal Ranked

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Every Episode of Hannibal Ranked

NBC

Every Episode of Hannibal Ranked

NBC’s Hannibal ran for three seasons, but its concept called for at least twice as many. Undertaking a freeform adaptation of author Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter saga, producer Bryan Fuller crocheted 39 episodes out of Will Graham’s involvement with modern crime fiction’s most notable maneater without once mentioning the iconic Clarice Starling. In short, the result of the NBC severance was a bridge that reached not quite halfway across the river before being rudely interrupted by lack of funds. Happily, the unfinished symphony yielded great beauty.

In ranking all 39 episodes, the rich, once-in-a-lifetime series leads one down several paths. What’s the most fascinating aspect? Fuller’s fruitfully complex relationship with the source material, switching from solemnly pious to manically freestyle (even openly rebellious) at the drop of a hat? An equally complex study in the dynamic relationship between auteur (and not-so-auteur) directors and a showrunner who needs a stable of weirdly brilliant minds to realize his epic vision? The show’s evolution from vague Mentalist retread—possibly a canny bit of misdirection on Fuller’s part—to the grandest opera dedicated to the destructive infatuation shared by two men ever to air on network television?

Or is it simply about the story, meat and potatoes, and nothing more? Does the series rise and fall based on how tunefully a given episode renders the ballad of Will (Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen)? In truth, all these concerns factor into a 39-episode ranking, to a degree that Hannibal makes for a solid, encyclopedic study of the different ways we experience pleasure (or displeasure) with episodic television drama. This ranking will endeavor to adhere to a rough calculus, weighing the complex pleasures from one episode to the next. In preparation, I revisited every episode, in its established order, but also checked in with a selection of isolated scenes, quiet and loud alike.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 13, "Slaughterhouse"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 13, “Slaughterhouse”

FX

Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 13, “Slaughterhouse”

The major criticism of Justified’s third season is that it’s included a few too many plot elements. Especially in its latter half, season three has been a nonstop cavalcade of conniving and double crossing, and as such has, at times, been too busy to truly resonate. This was especially the case in last week’s episode, which moved neatly from one plot point to another, wrapping up the story of the Bennett money. However, this week’s finale, “Slaughterhouse,” is the sort of episode that can prompt a reexamination of an entire season’s worth of themes and ideas. I’ve long suspected that Justified has been illustrating a point about the ultimate emptiness of its characters’ continual struggle against each other, but it’s also a dark and unsettling examination of our relationship with the past.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 12, ‘‘Coalition’‘

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, ’’Coalition’’

FX

Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, ’’Coalition’’

If Justified feels plot heavy of late, it’s out of necessity given the premise of the third season: A disparate bunch of criminals, lawmen, and mobsters fight it out for control of Harlan County crime following the death of Mags Bennett. As countless characters play their own angles and hatch their own plans, the season has been, at points, a tad bloated. Thematically, though, this makes sense, as the mess of plot elements is conspicuously juxtaposed against the whole lot of nothing it ultimately amounts to. The show’s making a pertinent point about the destabilizing force of power struggles. However, as this week’s episode, ’’Coalition,’’ rushes to bring most of the plot threads to a close, I wonder if this point is worth all of the excess clutter.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 11, "Measures"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 11, “Measures”

FX

Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 11, “Measures”

An episode like “Measures” seemed inevitable at this point in Justified’s third season. Its role is simple: to set up the bloodshed coming in the final two episodes. This isn’t a criticism: There may not be much to say about “Measures” thematically, but the expectation of what’s to come creates more than enough tension to prop up the episode. It says perhaps even more about the season as a whole that episodes without clear through lines and ideas have become such a conspicuous rarity.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 10, "Guy Walks Into a Bar"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 10, “Guy Walks Into a Bar”

FX

Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 10, “Guy Walks Into a Bar”

It’s fitting that the title of this week’s installment of Justified is the classic joke lead-in “Guy Walks Into a Bar,” because the entire episode plays out like the season’s punchline. It’s the point when all of Harlan County’s absurdities become so extreme they begin to wrap back around on themselves, and everyone finally just throws their hands in the air and says, “Screw it.” Really, the episode may as well have been titled “Forget It, Raylan, It’s Harlan County.”

At this point, Harlan’s so-called “criminal underground” has become so pervasive it’s ceased to be underground at all and has simply replaced law-abiding life as the norm. In a different setting, Ava’s (Joelle Carter) willingness to take up a life of crime and become a madam might seem like a stretch, but it’s entirely believable in a setting where illicit behavior has become not only accepted, but expected.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 4, "The Devil You Know"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 4, “The Devil You Know”

FX

Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 4, “The Devil You Know”

A lot of talk regarding season three of Justified has centered around whether the show could successfully replace Mags Bennett. The writers have cleverly embraced the gap Mags left behind; instead of trying to replace her directly, they’ve used her absence to create the sense of a town on the precipice of a crime war. Many different players are eager to fill the role of Harlan’s chief villain. This week’s episode, however, reminds us that Mags was never truly the chief villain of Justified to begin with.

As great and as powerful a character as Mags was, the role of primary bad guy has been filled, from the beginning, by Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). This is easy to forget, because Boyd is incredibly likable. (Surely he must be the most beloved neo-Nazi skinhead on TV.) It’s a testament to Goggins and the writers that they’ve managed to craft a character with Boyd’s background of crime, hatred, and violence, yet who still manages to be as morally ambiguous and strangely sympathetic as he is.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 3, "Harlan Roulette"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 3, “Harlan Roulette”

FX

Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 3, “Harlan Roulette”

Change isn’t something that comes easily to Harlan County. Through Justified’s first two seasons, we certainly discovered new facets of Harlan’s seedy underbelly, but we haven’t seen much about Raylan Givens’s (Timothy Olyphant) hometown actually change. It’s an insular place filled with a lot of ignorant people and a lot of guns. Its ways of doing things are firmly established.

This likely serves to constantly frustrate Raylan, a man who would rather forget his formative years in Harlan altogether. He leaves town for most of his adult life, but when he returns, the place is still populated by the same folks kicking around the same stories. Life in Harlan doesn’t remind Raylan of his past; it is his past. And the version of Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) we see in this week’s episode might argue that this is exactly the way it should be.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 2, "Cut Ties"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 2, “Cut Ties”

FX

Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 2, “Cut Ties”

The case-of-the-week A-plot of “Cut Ties,” the second episode of Justified’s third season, doesn’t have much meat on it. It’s another episode set mostly in Lexington and featuring a lot of characters we’ll never see again, but it nonetheless manages to further complicate the power struggle brewing in Harlan. An old marshal friend of Art’s (Nick Searcy) comes to town to check on his clients in witness protection, only to be tortured by one of them into giving up the location of another witness, and later executed. Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) teams up with Art, Rachel (Erica Tazel), and Assistant Director Goodall (Carla Gugino), a woman Raylan knows from Miami, to catch the killer and protect the compromised witness.

At first glance, Justified can seem a lot like any other action show, where expendable characters are introduced just to be shot, and the bad guys are killed without much consideration. To a certain extent, that’s true, but the show also has a tendency to let the consequences of its various deaths fester, weighing the characters down until coming to the fore in unexpected ways. Most obvious is Raylan’s killing of a Miami mobster in the series pilot, which plays out as a typical bad-ass TV lawman exacting justice, but the consequences of which have served as the setup for the entire series. We also saw Mags Bennett coldly dispatch Loretta’s father in last season’s premiere, an act ultimately mirrored by her suicide in the finale.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 1, "The Gunfighter"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 1, “The Gunfighter”

FX

Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 1, “The Gunfighter”

In many respects, the third-season premiere of Justified, “The Gunfighter,” is a difficult episode to love. The show’s second season was incredibly strong, and went out with a powerhouse finale and a masterpiece of a final scene in which Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) commits suicide with a poisoned glass of her “Apple Pie” moonshine. It was easy to get lost in the world of Mags and the Bennett clan, enough so that one might wish that Justified never leave the confines of Harlan County.

By contrast, “The Gunfighter” takes place almost entirely in Lexington, broken up only by Ava (Joelle Carter) and Devil’s (Kevin Rankin) failed attempt to sell the now-spoiled pot Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) raided from the Bennett compound. Even Boyd and Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies) are separated from Harlan County on account of their respective incarcerations. In place of Mags, we’re introduced to Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), a well-dressed and cold-blooded mobster from Detroit who seems to be making a power play in Kentucky. Personally, I like Justified best when its stories are steeped in the tradition and mythology of Harlan County, and the idea of a central villain from Motor City isn’t as immediately compelling as Mags and her family’s tyranny.