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Mykelti Williamson (#110 of 11)

Summer of ‘89: Miracle Mile

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Summer of ‘89: <em>Miracle Mile</em>
Summer of ‘89: <em>Miracle Mile</em>

I used to think of Steve De Jarnatt’s magnificently oddball Miracle Mile as one of the most achingly romantic movies I’d ever seen. My younger self, experiencing it for the first time, saw it as a “boy meets girl” story spun out to its most rapturous extreme—a story of souls fused in the belly of nuclear fire. Many years and multiple viewings later, it feels a lot less straightforward. Roger Ebert closes his enthusiastic review of the film with an observation: “If there’s ever an hour’s warning that the nuclear missiles are on the way, thanks all the same, but I’d just as soon not know about it.” At one level, Miracle Mile is the story of a solipsistic young man’s attempt to make that decision for a woman he barely knows, using deception to selfishly separate her from family in what might be their last hour on earth. At another, it’s a perfect time capsule—its finger unerringly on the pulse of a society that had been taught not to let the threat of nuclear holocaust keep it up at night. But boy, those nightmares.

This one begins like a pleasantly hazy post-pubescent fever dream. Anthony Edwards, his star freshly ascendant off Revenge of the Nerds and Top Gun, plays musician and awkward romantic Harry Washello. In a languid opening montage at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, he meets cute with the equally dorky Julie (a terrific Mare Winningham), hitting it off with the proto-Manic Pixie Dream Girl all afternoon. They resolve to meet after her late shift at an all-night diner on the Miracle Mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard, but a missed alarm causes him to arrive too late to catch her. That’s when things take a shocking U-turn into the Twilight Zone, as Harry answers a call meant for someone else at the payphone outside the diner, only to hear that America’s nukes had been launched and the retaliatory strike will hit L.A. in an hour. Naturally, Harry sets out to retrieve his girl from her grandmother’s nearby apartment and escort her to a rooftop helipad, where a chopper would presumably take them to safety.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 13, "Slaughterhouse"

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

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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’’

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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”

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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”

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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 9 "Loose Ends"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 9  “Loose Ends”

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 9  “Loose Ends”

Justified never shies away from telling you exactly what it’s doing, and when it titles an episode “Loose Ends,” you can bet it will be all about tying up, well, loose ends. Given the particular brand of people who populate Harlan County, it’s not surprising that the tying up of these loose ends involves landmines, shotguns, and more bodies pushed into the swamp. Nor is it surprising that it manages to tell us something about Justified’s value system: Either you’re your own man, or you’re as good as dead.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episodes 7 & 8, "The Man Behind the Curtain" and "Watching the Detectives"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episodes 7 & 8, “The Man Behind the Curtain” and “Watching the Detectives”

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episodes 7 & 8, “The Man Behind the Curtain” and “Watching the Detectives”

For two episodes with very little action, “The Man Behind the Curtain” and “Watching the Detectives” wind up revealing quite a bit about Justified’s representation of violence. These are both plot-heavy episodes that serve mostly to move the various pieces around and transition the audience toward the season’s end game, but they’re also further proof that Justified has little interest in following traditional narratives of violence, and in particular how it relates to power. The various adversaries are certainly trying to carve out as much power for themselves as possible, yet their use of force only renders each of them more vulnerable and their many power moves ultimately serve to demonstrate how little control ear player has over their situations.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 6, "When the Guns Come Out"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 6, “When the Guns Come Out”

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 6, “When the Guns Come Out”

As season three of Justified reaches the halfway point, things are starting to escalate in a hurry: Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Quarles (Neal McDonough) are confronting each other, their respective Oxy clinics are being attacked, Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) has reluctantly become the linchpin of the coming war, and, sensing that things will only become more dangerous, Winona (Natalie Zea) has put an abrupt end to her reconciliation with Raylan. Yet, in this week’s episode, “When the Guns Come Out,” Raylan (Timothy Olyphant), the man seemingly always in control, comes across as quite oblivious to the trouble brewing in Harlan County.

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

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

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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”

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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.