“Family can be the perfect salve in difficult times.” —Boyd Crowder
It isn’t really fair to expect any show to reach new heights week in and week out and Justified, despite its consistent brilliance, is no exception. While episode three of the season is something of a letdown from episode two, it still has more high points than low.
First, the bad.
I think I’m giving up on trying to understand the Michael Rapaport project. In just two and a third episodes and perhaps 30 total lines of dialogue, Daryl’s accent has already become a caricature of itself. That has to be a record. He says the word “okay” at least a dozen times, and the variation between each instance is a perfect distillation of everything that is problematic about his performance. Sometimes a question, sometimes a placation, each “okay” feels more like a shirt being tried on than a definitive dramatic choice. Indeed, the entire performance is rapidly becoming an unfortunate distraction that seems completely unnecessary. What role is cousin Daryl playing in the larger narrative? Is Dewey really so directionless that he requires a distant relative to show him the way? With so many good characters in dire need of screen time, is a former everglades poacher who uses terms like “curb appeal” really the best person with whom to be spending our precious time?
On another show, a new character who doesn’t pan out might be par for the course. After all, over the last 10 years, everything from Lost to Glee has introduced new characters only to bury them alive or transfer them to another school once it was obvious that it wasn’t working out. The problem is that not only has Justified never had a miss in the guest casting category, it’s that up until now every new cast member has fallen somewhere between genius and all-time classic. What is Ellstin Limehouse up to these days? Is Patton Oswalt not available this season? The saddest, of course, is poor Erica Tazel who has been waiting patiently since season one for the creative team to reward her for her tremendous effort and consistent ability to do so much with so little. Yet, here we are a quarter of the way through yet another season, and Rachel still doesn’t rate her own storyline. Then again, Rachel does play a major role as Raylan’s chaperone (er … backup), so that’s a step forward.
Rachel has always been a dependable early barometer of where Raylan’s winds are blowing. She was the first in the office to be exasperated by him and, to be even more fair, was skeptical of him from the start. All of the other marshals, including Art, are starting to have a darker edge in their treatment of Raylan, and it’s no surprise to see that Rachel has gotten there a little ahead of the others. But at least for now, she’s still a marshal and so is Raylan (at least for now), so when a violent ex-con shows up at Raylan’s temporary mansion with a baseball bat, it’s Rachel to the rescue.
On a side note, it’s nice to see the writers bringing the issue of race, particularly in the rural South, up again. Justified has always had a strong undercurrent of social inequality issues, but money is the point of conflict more often than skin color. The relationship between the mansion’s former resident and his African-American maid/girlfriend was good for some mileage in the previous episode, and the maid returns to play an even bigger role this week. I do find it a bit troubling that apparently only Rachel is allowed to comment on racial situations on the show. As the only law-abiding character of color on the show, it seems like a bit of a dodge that she’s the only one giving a voice to this stuff. It almost feels like every time a situation comes along that might have a racial element, the writers have to find a way to shoehorn Rachel into the story so that she can be there to comment. It’s worth wondering whether Raylan’s chaperone might have been Tim instead of Rachel if the maid weren’t part of the equation.
That’s probably not the case, but when a character is seldom around you tend to talk yourself into all kinds of observations when they do finally show up.
Anyway, the hidden mansion safe plotline isn’t the most elegant of setups, but it gives the writers a lot of gray area to work with, and they make the most of the possibilities. The audience doesn’t know who is in on what for most of the episode, and, more importantly, we still may not know at the end of the night. Just because Raylan’s new blonde of the moment, Alison, is cleared for the moment doesn’t mean she isn’t conning Raylan somehow, and I can’t help but wonder if the baseball bat thug’s sob story about Allison planting drugs in order to put him in prison won’t come back around at some point.
The real reason that all of this is important, of course, is that it ties our two disparate plotlines together. With the realization that Wynn Duffy is connected to the owner of the mansion, all of our pieces are, more or less, finally on the same chessboard.
I say “more or less” because I honestly don’t know what the hell is going on with Boyd. He spends most of the episode fighting with women, first Mina Paxton, then Ava and then back to Mina. I get the idea that all of this is supposed to twist the viewer into knots as we watch the anti-Ava seduce Boyd to the dark side while poor Ava rots in prison. The problem is that I don’t buy any of it. The “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” scar scene in Boyd’s bar is an obvious echo of a similar scene in Boyd and Ava’s nascent courtship a couple of seasons back, but it had none of the fire of the first version. There simply isn’t any chemistry between Boyd and Mina, so what you end up with is just two attractive people with their shirts off. I’m all for that most of the time, and, frankly, whole seasons of shows have been built on less, but here it feels clunky and wasteful. I will never buy Mina as a real threat to Ava, so the sooner Mina and Boyd use each other and move on, the better it will be for everyone.
Much more interesting is Boyd’s vengeful trail up the food chain to find out who stole his shipment of drugs. It is in Boyd’s nature to check and double-check everything, especially the things that he is the surest of. I do not doubt for a second that Boyd knew all along who hit his truck of dope, but when you’re dealing with family, you have to be sure. It will be nice to get David Meunier back. He’s another actor who was probably originally planned as a one-shot gig in the pilot but was so good that his role was fleshed out. Maybe he can take some of Rapaport’s screen time.
On the whole, this week was a solid if not spectacular one. They hit all the right notes in the right order, but somehow it just wasn’t a symphony. Maybe next week.
Some closing thoughts:
—James Le Gros doesn’t get enough attention for playing Wade Messer. Playing a delicate mix of weak, sly and pathetic is harder than it looks.
—Seriously, Boyd had Mooney at gunpoint, and Mina quite literally had his balls in her hand and he still lived? I just don’t get it.
—Boyd’s increasingly violent threats made against Ava’s defense attorney are officially my favorite part of every episode.