Almost everyone would agree that, in the long run, serialized shows are more exciting than procedurals. Justified sits somewhere in between, juggling serialized elements with surefire procedural stories. However, as the first season progressed and the tension began rising, the show turned towards several purely serialized episodes, without the external, standalone Marshall jobs, and it really improved.
“Cottonmouth” is situated before the halfway point of the season, so the conflict still has a ways to go before the climax, but it is focused only on Raylan and Boyd. The guys from the mine drag Boyd into their scheme, which includes killing the mine foreman and blowing up tunnels. We wonder what Boyd is thinking, because it’s never really clear what he’s up to. Is he going back to criminal status? Then we hear him listening in to their conversation about killing Boyd as well, so it seems like Boyd has other ideas. Ultimately, Boyd turns the tables on them, switching the explosives to their deceit actually kills them, and saves the foreman. It’s not all clear, though. Boyd still shoots the last guy in cold blood and takes a significant amount of number for Ava. Once again, we’re left wondering exactly who Boyd is–is he a hero or a good-hearted villain?
While that’s happening, Raylan continues to pry into the Bennetts and once again finds Dickie and Coover at the heart of trouble, as Coover got a forger to sign Walt McCready’s checks from the state. The thing is, they don’t tell Mags, who is a savvy businesswomen and knows not to call attention to the family. Her solution, bludgeoning Coover’s hand with a hammer, is brutal, direct, and unforgettable.