“Raylan, on a scale from one to a shitload, how much do you need to tell me right now?”-Art Mullen
There’s a common Southern-ism about taking in a stray dog: it isn’t if he’ll bite you, it’s when. It’s a good idea to keep that in mind when watching Justified. With their witty banter, good looks and easy charm, a person could forget that the people they’re watching are hardened criminals, loose-cannon lawmen or both. The point is that every once in a while the show needs to remind the audience that even if you’re laughing one minute, you may be grimacing the next.
Ava has certainly developed quite a bite to match her bark. When poor, suggestible Ella May comes to give her notice on account of finding salvation at preacher Billy’s church, Ava’s reaction isn’t exactly what you’d call “Christian.” It’s telling that later in the episode when Boyd suggests that Ava’s reluctance to let Ella May go is emotional, it’s Ava that bristles at the suggestion and reduces Ella May to little more than livestock. With redemption and salvation shaping up to be the theme of the season, Ava’s weary pragmatism puts her in a precarious position alongside Boyd’s demolished faith.
The most shocking insight of the night was the revelation (fair warning, the religious punning will be fast and furious this season) that Boyd’s biblical fanaticism from season one was not an act. I had long assumed it was just another weapon in Boyd’s arsenal of manipulation schemes, but it was obvious tonight that his faith was real and that the scars are still fresh. Not only does this information complicate this season’s plotline by making his conflict with Preacher Billy immediately personal, it adds depth to his relationship with Ava. Again in that case I thought that his broken man act was a put-on that eventually grew to mutual respect and eventually love. Knowing that they truly were two deeply damaged people that found each at just the right time paints their relationship in a richer light and goes a long way toward explaining why Ava is Boyd’s number two over cousin Johnny.
Meanwhile Raylan and the marshals are busy trying to track down the owner of the driver’s license from the courier bag that was in Arlo’s wall. The writers made up for a complete lack of Art last week with a whole lot of Art this week, and that’s never a bad thing. The eventual confrontation between the marshals and the Truth family is precisely the kind of thing that Justified excels at, crackerjack dialogue and direction with quality underlying social commentary. The Truth family, with their medicinal weed and pathological dependence on their “draw check” threaten to sink the show into parody or, at the very least, lazy stereotyping. They are so effortlessly and naturally drawn, however, that you can’t help but believe that they are an accurate representation. At this point the show has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt.
Regardless, the mystery surrounding the courier bag, dead parachutist and Arlo is getting more interesting by the minute. I actually hope they string it out until late in the season. It’s a nice change of pace seeing the marshals actually do real police work and work through a problem more complex than if a bail jumper is hiding out with his girlfriend or his mother.
We finally got our confrontation between Boyd and Billy, and it mostly lived up to expectations. To be honest, I was hoping for a little more of a scripture-quoting competition, but it was obvious that Boyd was too emotionally raw in the moment for calm cleverness. Besides, his intention wasn’t to outduel Billy, it was to take the temperature of the relationship between Billy and sister Cassie and to that end it was a successful endeavor. Cassie emerged this week as the alpha in the relationship and I’m anxious to get our first look behind the curtain at Billy and Cassie’s private lives. I definitely get the feeling that there is more to their union than sibling caring and more to their arrival in Harlan than spreading the good word. Boyd is convinced that they simply want to extort money from him, but that seems too straightforward for this show. Time will tell.
It was a good week for guest stars, with Sheriff Shelby and Winn Duffy both popping up. It would be easy to write this off as fan service, but I think it serves an important role in placing each season’s storyline in a larger context. These are not self-contained plots, there is a larger attempt at world creation going on here and it’s important to see the larger ripples that flow out from Harlan.
That said, you only have so much time to tell your story and it’s important not to do too much. It’s unclear yet how Raylan’s relationship with Lindsay ties into the rest of the narrative and the sudden appearance of her previously unknown underground fighter husband doesn’t clear things up much. He’s established pretty quickly and efficiently as a dangerous character using only a couple of well-staged scenes and I appreciated the shorthand. The only question I have is what he represents beyond a romantic and physical rival for Raylan. Much like Quarles last season, I’m already feeling the build toward a confrontation between the two, but with fists this time rather than guns. I just really hope that there’s a connection to the larger story and that the writers once again find a way to subvert and twist our expectations of that duel when it finally happens. It will be difficult to top the disarming of Quarles, but the writers on Justified seem to have a knack for topping themselves.
We’ve had two really strong episodes so far and it’s hard for me to nitpick, but the one thing I will say is that I feel like there’s a real feeling of outward expansion as far as the core group of characters goes. I’d like to see some connections start forming between the disparate storylines sooner rather than later. For example, can you believe that we’re already two hours into the season and Boyd and Raylan have yet to so much as lay eyes on each other? It’s a real compliment to the show that until I really started thinking about it, I hadn’t noticed.
Some closing thoughts:
-It’s hard to pick just one of Art’s quips to call out for special attention, but my favorite had to be his thoughts on scheduling lunch on a stakeout. Always a good idea to eat first lest Raylan shoot someone and make you miss good barbecue.
-I also love the idea that Art’s deadpan delivery when dealing with Raylan is more of a managerial style choice than a personality trait.
-Really nice monologue from Art when he breaks down the personality issues of all his junior marshals. It’s a nice bit of winking deconstructionism, but I do have one problem with it. It’s a shame we had to be told these things rather than seeing them. We certainly see all of Raylan’s foibles and even Tim’s to some extent, but we learned more about Rachel from that 10 seconds of monologue than we’ve ever gleaned from any of Erica Tazel’s screen time. That’s a shame, and the writers should try to find ways to work her in more. I’ve always thought she had a rapport with Raylan that was unique, and Art’s speech showed that there’s more to the character than what we’ve been given in the past. I say either explore it or ship the character off to another office and be done with it.