“The wrathful judgment of Almighty God? Sheriff, that ought to be enough for anybody.”-Cassie St. Cyr
There’s no playbook to follow for how to plot a successful season of a television show. If there was, we wouldn’t have had to suffer through the last two seasons of Dexter and Glee might still be culturally relevant. It’s even worse these days than it used to be. It’s one thing to imagine how the tone of a show is going to play out in 23 hours stretched over 30-some weeks, but how about watched all in one clip during a Sunday marathon or clumped together on Netflix? It is with this quandary in mind that we come to the one-third mark of season four of Justified. With all the death and despair so far, we were due for some levity to break things up.
Not only does this episode wrap up the Badlands-esque Randall and Lindsay plotline, it makes an important statement about the nature of this season. Unlike past years, this season is going to be more multi-episodic in nature, with shorter, smaller plots that wrap up in a few episodes rather than one giant season-long arc. So far, this new tack is paying dividends.
I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that this week veers all the way into high camp, but it definitely looks pretty hard in high camp’s direction, and there is a much lighter tone to the proceedings. Randall has been a broad character since he stumbled menacingly into Raylan’s life and the resolution of Randall’s plotline fully embraces that cartoonish flavor. Given the direction that Boyd and Ava’s story is headed, the show could use some humor right about now.
First of all, Preacher Billy has indeed gone to his eternal home, and I must say I was pretty surprised by that. What seemed like a threat to Boyd has suddenly become a threat to Ava, and that completely changes the complexion of the story. I was surprised on one hand because Joseph Mazzello was both a capable actor and a compelling foil for Boyd (not to mention yet another Graham Yost acolyte from The Pacific) so it was shocking to see him drop out so quickly. On the other hand, I thought I knew where this storyline was headed and now I’m completely adrift, and at this point I am sure of only two things. First, we have yet to see Sister Cassie’s true self and second, Ella May just shot to the top of the chart for “least likely to make it till the season finale.” Poor Ella May just cannot catch a break, and it’s positively heart-breaking to see her find entirely new ways to prostitute herself as she begs to come back under Ava’s wing. How lost must a soul have to be to see a trailer-housed whorehouse as the only “home” she has to go to? The real revelation here is that while Boyd’s run-in with Billy’s church caused Boyd to question his moral choices and fear for his immortal soul only to then find strength and resolve in the success of those moral choices, it’s becoming more and more obvious that Ava has long since resigned herself to her eternal fate. Ask yourself this: who would you be more afraid to cross right now, Boyd or Ava?
Hell, now that I think about it that way, Ella May may not make it to the halfway point of the season.
Anyway, all the criminal underground stuff truly does play second fiddle to the much funnier “lovebirds on the run” storyline and justifiably so. Not only did we need a bit of a breather at this point in the season, it’s nice to be reminded once in a while of how well Justified can do quirky humor, and I don’t mean the clever weekly one-liners. I mean comedic tone and situations, not just comedic dialogue. It always talks the talk, but when it wants to walk the walk, it really struts.
Randall and Lindsay are trying to use Raylan’s baby stash to get Randall started as a fight promoter. Local bum fight promoter (and village idiot) Joe Hoppus is the contact they use and, predictably, hilarity ensues. Watching Randall and Hoppus (a terrific Joshua Close) try to out-macho each other is hysterical in the same way that it’s funny to watch YouTube videos of guys injuring themselves while attempting idiotic stunts. These two are the verbal equivalent of a crotch-hit compilation, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Finding out that the “fighters” Randall wants to manage are actually chickens (editor’s note: Gamecocks!)—right, sorry—that they are gamecocks only adds to the head-shaking amusement.
The two high points of the criminal scenes were finally getting to see the real Lindsay in action (that girl has some serious conning skills and she’s about a hundred times smarter than Raylan ever gave her credit for) and pretty much everything about Joe Hoppus (I really, really hope he becomes a recurring character as a criminal informant for the marshals). Thankfully, the scenes involving the marshals following along behind are just as strong.
In much the same way that Tim got some better screen time last week, Rachel is front and center this week. I cannot overstress how nice it is to see these characters being properly used. It creates a richer world for Raylan to inhabit and it makes his work-life a deeper and more interesting baseline to build stories from. Like I’ve always said, we learn more about Raylan through the people around him than we ever do solely from him. Raylan and Rachel have always had a fascinating dynamic, and she has always been the marshal who cuts him the least slack. There’s some fun business here with the question of how much of Raylan’s money was stolen, but it’s important to note that Rachel always has Raylan’s back. Just as important is the fact that Rachel never plays the race card or the gender card with people she deals with professionally. She also never tries to put on any faux-Southern pretenses or tries to get cozy with suspects. She is polite but professional and authoritative. It’s a subtle but key choice in both the writing and the performance, and it strikes a very strong contrast with what we usually see from Raylan, Tim and even Art. As nice as it is to see the writers finally doing something with the character, it’s even nicer to see Erica Tazel meeting the challenge. When people start comparing one show to another, it’s this kind of detail and effort in the smaller roles that separate the good from the great.
Also, Erica Tazel is totally believable wielding an asp baton, and that’s not nothing.
As expected, Raylan and Randall do finally get to have their fistfight, but also as expected, it doesn’t quite go the way we imagined. For starters, it involves a shotgun loaded with beanbags. Though Raylan does get his licks in, it’s pretty clear that Randall is the superior fighter. In the end, however, it’s the betrayal of Lindsay that hurts his pride more than losing the brawl (though he does get his man in the end, if not his woman). As usual, Raylan is his usual philosophical self about how things turn out and he is forced to tip his hat to a worthy opponent.
Of course, that doesn’t mean he won’t arrest her if he ever sees her again.
Some closing thoughts:
-I mostly want to single out some dialogue this week, but first I do want to call out one particular line for a different reason than usual. When Randall is talking about the chick…er, gamecocks that he wants to fight, he mentions a breed and then a particular type of gaffe or blade that he wants to arm them with. The name sounds like either Ronnie Galloway or maybe Ronnie Cavilway. I don’t know who this Ronnie is, but I’m guessing he must have done something pretty horrible for the writing staff to choose to name a cockfighting implement after him. So Mr. Galloway/Cavilway, wherever you are, shame on you.
-As usual, the writing was inspired, but here are a few of my particular favorites: “Ho! An aristocrat!” “The type you just want to shave down and domesticate.” “Why don’t we assume something like first thing?” “We do what now?” “So I figure, since I ain’t asking much, that maybe my participation earns me a simple they went thataway.“ “You buckle up for safety.” “I’ll have to download that.”
-The special acting award has to go to Abby Miller as Ella May again (look, I know IMDB says Ellen May, but until somebody tells me different, it sure sounds like Ella May to me). Her half-mouthed drawl combined with a creaky voice that often collapses in on itself makes Ella May as convincing as any character I’ve ever seen and even reminds me of a few folks I grew up with. I can’t give any higher praise than that.