Margo Martindale

Aw, shoot.

Wait, not literally. Them's fighting words on FX's Justified, where even an orphaned teenaged girl is packing heat and means business.

After Wednesday night's intense finale to a thoroughly gripping and enjoyable second season, I'm still trying to cope with the fact that we've seen the last of the mighty Mags Bennett, that mountainous and monstrous backwoods matriarch whose family's murderous grip on the hills of Harlan County, Kentucky, has finally had its day. With her last favored son (Doyle) dead, and the despicable Dickie in custody, and tough little Loretta transformed into a gun-toting angel of vengeance, Mags turns to her "apple pie" moonshine — the same elixir she used to send Loretta's hapless dad to his final rest — to "ease the pain."

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It's the glass, not the brew, that's laced with poison, she reveals to a dumbstruck Raylan Givens as she begins to slip away. (For a moment, I feared she'd dosed them both.) And after dominating this terrific season with a folksy menace that was as engaging as it was fearsome, Margo Martindale caps this character actor's dream role — surely the Emmy gods will smile upon her — with a splendid death scene. "Put an end to my troubles," Mags whispers. "Get to see my boys again. Get to know the mystery." End scene. End season. Curtains for an instant-classic character.

Aw, shoot. (Or should we say shucks?) And ah, sweet mystery of death. How it hangs, with the smell of blood and the bite of coal dust and the whiff of pot laced with a tang of whisky, over this thicket of drawling intrigue. Justified raised its game this season with a tangled family feud as instantly mythic as the Hatfields and McCoys — and you could sense how deeply entrenched the Bennett-Crowder-Givens conflict runs in this corner of the mid-country when the principals met in a church, a minister doing the pat-downs before the war council sit-down could begin. The tension mounts as Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, with his riveting whisper of lethal intent) pledges, "None of us wants a full-scale war," while Mags reveals she isn't ready to forgive him breaking their deal, even after an apology. "All the rest is chin music," she snaps. She knows Boyd even better than we do. "One of these days you're gonna want more — and we both know when that day comes, you will take more." There's a reason she's in charge of this family.

While they haggle, their foot soldiers are getting busy. Gunmen invade Cousin Johnny Crowder's house — but (neat fake-out twist) Johnny has it rigged with explosives. Boom! Back at Boyd and Ava's place, a gun battle breaks out, and Ava — too headstrong and restless to stay underground at Boyd's request — is cornered in the kitchen and shot in the chest by the irredeemable Dickie (Jeremy Davies, so twitchy and electrifying). She'll live, thanks to a doc from a free clinic over in Corbin — this show gets the details just right — but Boyd is now gunning for Dickie.

And where does he find the little creep? Torturing Marshal Raylan, of course, who's hanging upside down like a deer to the slaughter, being pummeled by a baseball bat as Dickie taunts and jeers and exults in the payback for the countless thousands of painful steps he has endured since being crippled by Raylan 20 years ago.

Poor Raylan (the charismatic Timothy Olyphant). He only wants to escape all of this poisonous personal quicksand and run away to Glencoe with the pregnant (!) Winona. But he's lured back by the hunt for 14-year-old Loretta. Solemn and sorrowful beyond her years (and very well played by Kaitlyn Dever), Loretta has run away from her pious Lexington foster home, with a pistol and $300, seeking answers and revenge regarding her dad's murder. (Nice cameo by James LeGros as her driver, a scruffy friend of her dad who abandons Loretta the second he realizes what her true intent is toward the Bennetts.)

The showdown is every bit as nerve-rattling as anyone could imagine. "Bad things are fixin' to happen," Mags understates as she welcomes little Loretta back into the Bennetts' guarded-like-a-fortress compound. But Loretta "didn't come for refreshments," she declares, pulling her gun on Mags, who pulls a face: "Oh honey, what have they been telling you?" It's what they haven't been telling her that has Loretta so upset. And as Mags walks towards her to talk her down, Loretta shoots Mags in the leg. The noise of this sudden gunshot triggers a gunfight outside, where Raylan is engaged in a standoff with Doyle — Dickie is in the car as leverage, spared from Boyd's clutches — and Raylan falls in the crossfire, wounded.

Just as Doyle is about to execute his long-time nemesis — "This bullet's been on its way for 20 years," he says, standing over Raylan — a sniper's bullet takes out the corrupt cop with a clean shot to the head as Dickie screams, "Noooooo!" when his brother falls. Yes, it's the Marshals and the State Police to the rescue, Art leading the charge. So much for his statement to a fretful Winona that "Sometimes you just can't help," when she begged him to send the troops after Raylan. Sometimes, I guess you can.

So Raylan really has Winona to thank for saving his life. But will she be there for him when he gets back? (She was pretty steamed that he went back into the fray again.) One of many questions lingering as the season ends. Like: How in the world is Justified going to top this season? I can't wait to see them try.

Till then, RIP Mags Bennett. It was great knowing you. From a distance.

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