First the good news: everything is going according to plan. The bad news is that the plan belongs to the bad guys.
This was not a good week for our hero, Raylan. Not that things were good before, what with Winona leaving him and the consistent upward current of animosity between Raylan and Robert Quarles (to say nothing of Raylan’s relationships with Arlo and Boyd). But those are small potatoes and easily lived with compared to the tsunami of serious problems that hit Raylan in unison this week. Let‘s recap.
Quarles killed Gary on Winona’s front lawn and used the bullet that Raylan threw at Duffy to do it (thus leaving behind a shell casing with Raylan’s fingerprints on it).
The FBI is now investigating Raylan as a possible dirty cop on Boyd’s payroll after hearing Sammy Tonin say as much on a wiretap (at Quarles’ instruction).
Along those lines, the local sheriff has arrested Boyd on suspicion of attempted murder after the sheriff’s car gets totaled by a pile of dynamite (admittedly, this is only a problem for Raylan as long as the Feds think he and Boyd are in bed together…yes, that’s a bromance joke).
Maybe we should take these one at a time.
Poor Gary went out with a whimper, but his death set us up for one dynamite storyline (yes, that’s an explosives joke). This was my favorite episode of the season so far and the biggest reason I loved it so much was the terrific performances by all of the players involved in the LPD investigation. Dependable character actor Stoney Westmoreland shines as Detective Gary, and the interrogation scene between him and Raylan is a perfect example of what makes Justified such a unique and brilliant show. Not only is the writing and acting clever and effective, it also comments on itself without breaking the fourth wall. It’s one thing for the audience to love Raylan because he’s a 19th century lawman stuck in modern times, but having Det. Gary act as if he just met Wyatt Earp when he talks to Raylan is a master stroke. It’s difficult to wink at the audience without nudging us out of the scene, but as usual the writers and actors are so deft and nimble that we are able to laugh at the joke and feel as if we’ve been let it on it all at the same time. It doesn’t sound that difficult when you break it down in hindsight, but considering how many other shows have difficulty even establishing an interesting tone or believable characters, the fact that Justified does both while operating on multiple levels of meaning and even manages to work in a little meta self-examination makes it, to say the least, a singular show to experience. Here end of fanboy drooling.
The FBI case against Raylan never struck me as having much teeth, but it did get us some quality appearances by Rick Gomez and Stephen Root, both of whom are excellent by themselves and, as tonight showed, even better together. Seriously, if the producers ever wanted to do a Maximum Bob spin-off with Stephen Root, they should seriously consider taking Rick Gomez along as US Attorney Vasquez.
I mentioned Stephen Tobolowsky last week, and he doesn’t disappoint as Agent Barkley in his return engagement this week. There is a special kind of grating pretentiousness that only a handful of actors can pull off dependably. Tobolowsky is one of them.
The sheriff’s setup of Boyd as a mad bomber shows promise on multiple fronts. First off, with the local news coverage, Boyd looks to be on the verge of making the jump from infamous to famous. Judging from his grin, I’d say that’s a dangerous spotlight to throw on a man like Boyd. Secondarily, there is a brewing battle of allegiances happening in the background and this week marks the first meeting (and second) between our two potential heavies, Quarles and Limehouse.
Limehouse is obviously conning someone, but whether that someone is Quarles, Boyd or both will have to wait for further episodes. One thing is certain, with Quarles cut out of the Detroit gang, on his own, and using his own product, he is without a doubt the most dangerous man in Kentucky (that is, of course, subject to change depending on which side of the bed Raylan and Boyd get up on tomorrow…yes, that’s two bromance jokes in one review).
To be honest, it’s difficult to handicap a show that’s operating at the high-wire altitudes that Justified occupies on an average week. When everything clicks like it did tonight, the phrase “instant classic” keeps popping into your head (and then you feel like a sentimental chump and start backpedaling). This week one scene made me stop doubting and trust my gut. Justified excels at a number of things, but sentiment and poignancy are not often among them. That said, the final scene between Winona and Raylan didn’t just tug the heartstrings, it ripped the damn things out. It had never even occurred to me that Raylan and Winona had a musical theme until it played over their short goodbye, but when that slow acoustic guitar came in, it was like running into an old friend (and made a brilliant counterpoint to Raylan sitting alone in the bar at the start of the episode listening to some heartbroken solid country gold).
The rest was as inevitable as it was devastating. Winona making one last play for her man and then asking one favor of grace. Raylan stunned, almost broken, but always looking ahead and to the job. There are still bad men to punish and scales to level.
And that’s no joke.
Some closing thoughts:
-I love to comment on the state of the supporting case from week to week, and I think I’m starting to understand the long game that the writers are playing. The supporting marshals are never going to get big chunks of screen time every week, but minute by minute they’ve been building to something and it’s starting to pay off. All the scenes with Art (Nick Searcy) and Tim (Jacob Pitts) were off the charts good this week, but more importantly they rang true with depth and familiarity. That’s a hard combination to build over time but they’ve stuck to their guns (yup, gun joke) and to my extremely pleasant surprise, I’m starting to completely buy the importance of the minor players. Jacob Pitts deadpan humor was especially excellent this week and it’s nice to see that he’s a dry-humored ass to everyone, not just Raylan.
-Natalie Zea is terrific as Winona as usual and her chemistry with Timothy Olyphant is undeniable, but I’m hoping the writers aren’t in a hurry to undo the excellent send-off they gave Winona tonight. I definitely want to see Winona back eventually, but this felt like a natural end to that particular part of the storyline and given the large number of characters that the show is juggling at the moment, it seems like a natural point to pause and then bring her back when it’s closer to baby delivery time.
-I talked about the interrogation scene as a bit of gunslinger hero worship, which works both as Western deconstruction and also as a lovely tip of the pop culture cowboy hat. Raylan’s admittance that he copped his ‘faster bullet’ line from the Tonight Show is similar to Boyd stealing his robbery methods from a Steve McQueen movie. It’s one thing to have characters who are naturally cool. It’s something else to have those characters admit to trying to be cool and giving up their sources. Good stuff.
-I mentioned Stoney Westmoreland earlier and in the interest of being fair and balanced I feel that I should mention that we both hail from the same small town in northeast Tennessee (it’s possible we also went to high school together). So, rather than point out that Stoney has put together a solid history of character roles and guest appearances on many high profile shows like Bones and NCIS as well as a number of films you may have heard of like World Trade Center and Matchstick Men, I’ll just mention that he remembered all of his lines and appeared to be in focus in all of his scenes. He was also handed the best line in the episode and nailed it. Well played, sir. Well played.