“Can’t every day be Black Friday. Bound to have ebbs and flows. Today we had an ebb.” —Daryl Crowe Jr.
It was an oddly paced but important week on Justified. We got movement on almost every conceivable front and, more importantly, we shed some weight that needed shedding. It is difficult to type this next line with a straight face, but I’ll try.
Dewey has gone rogue. I doubt Dewey himself would know the meaning of the word, but no matter.
Damon Herriman’s creation finally got plenty of room to shine as Dewey became the driving force behind the whole episode. Tired analogy or not, this season has come together as a puzzle; we started with our corners, spent a little too much time filling in the border and now dependable, dopey Dewey popped in the last piece that tied it all together.
There are obvious pleasures in watching long-term character development, and while the show has never been thin in that regard, Dewey’s progression may be the one I find the most enjoyable. My count may be off, but I think Dewey may be the seventh person we met on the show (I’m sure someone will correct me on this), so duration hasn’t been a problem. Compared to our leads, though, the actual screen time that we have spent with the vertically challenged Crowe has been sporadic and staccato. It would be entirely forgivable to simply use those blips for some laughs and move on. What I find impressive is the unexpected depth and familiarity that Herriman and the writing staff have managed to pack into so few moments. Consider, as an example, Dewey’s tendency toward mimicry. He actually impersonated Raylan once, hat and all, and we have heard him repeat lines from several other characters when he thought the sentiment would benefit him. He clearly resents everyone above him on the ladder of life; there isn’t much subtly there. What I find fascinating is who he chooses to copy and when. When he delivers his ultimatum to Boyd over the phone, Dewey uses Boyd’s viciously cool demeanor as a weapon in reverse, though it only serves to enrage Boyd further. Not the reaction Dewey hoped for, I think, which is exactly my point. Within two seconds of attempting to be authoritative and powerful, Dewey cannot help but sheepishly ask if his message was heard. We’ve seen this from him before, a child asking a parent if an important new responsibility was done properly. Even as he is trying to threaten and blackmail Boyd, Dewey cannot help but to seek approval. Why, you may ask, is any of this important (hard to blame you)?
I’ve said several times that it is somewhat surprising that Dewey is a sympathetic character who people actually root for given that he is a racist, a bigot, a poacher, and most recently, a pimp. It is his mimicry and approval-seeking behavior that gives the audience an out. Since we have never been given a direct explanation of his tattoos and opinions, it is easy to chalk all of those up to the same behaviors that have led to his more recent problems: Dewey looks up to terrible people. Given that these are pretty much the only people around him, we can even forgive him for that, as well. This isn’t revolutionary in terms of television characters, but when you consider the dedication and consistency required to build Dewey’s persona a few minutes at a time (often with multiple episodes between appearances) and the sheer number of writers and directors involved, I think it’s a remarkable feat. None of that would have mattered without Damon Herriman, and this week’s episode felt like something of a reward for all those scattered moments of dependable work.
As fun as Dewey Crowe’s momentary time in the catbird seat was for him, none of the other characters seemed very happy. I would say that Boyd is at the end of his rope, but I’m pretty sure that happened at least two episodes ago. He’s been out for so long that I’m not even certain that Boyd remembers that he ever even had any rope to be out of. He has gone beyond himself in ways both good and bad this season, and the scheming required to get this heroin to Harlan has been herculean. So, it must be unimaginably frustrating to be in the home stretch only to see all that planning ruined by the dumbest person Boyd knows. Then, imagine realizing that the person who framed your fiancé is actually more weak and pathetic than the guy who just stole “the whole half” of your dope. Boyd is anything but a quitter, but his radar for the correct play in a given situation has been severely disrupted for quite some time now. Starting with the impulsive murder of Paxton, Boyd has made far more choices out of desperation than wisdom.
Here’s some life advice for anyone who is considering kidnapping as a form of coercion. Before you grab someone and tie him to a chair, you better be very, very sure of the kind of person you are dealing with. The fact that Boyd was expecting sinister sociopathy but ended up with puppy-level obsession shows just how completely off he is right now. It pains me to say it, but Ava is probably wise to be taking matters into her own hands.
Unless, that is, she plans to use those hands to murder Mama Jesus Christ. (I’m sorry, Heavenly Mother is a bit of a mouthful.) I’m looking forward to some explanation of why MJC (see how much better that works?) would try to kill Ava rather than partner with her, but I’m even more anxious to see if the writers are going to even bother trying to address how Ava is going to explain away full handprints on the floor all around the body. My money is on the prison completely covering up the death for an as yet unclear reason, but we shall see. Regardless, this storyline feels like it is about to burn out one way or another, and anything that lights the match is okay by me.
That same flaming out feeling permeated the whole episode for me. I’m very glad that the story is finally progressing, but tonight felt more like hurtling than a planned timeline. That handful of wheel-spinning episodes is having an unfortunate effect as the end approaches. For instance, Danny’s gruesome death was satisfying on several levels, but it still felt rushed to me. I am always amused by the increasingly absurd lengths that the writing team will come up with in order to prevent Raylan from having to shoot someone (this whole season has been rife with them), but the scene itself felt more like an obligation to fulfill Danny’s 21 foot obsession than an organic result of the plot.
It occurred to me toward the end of the episode that one of the things that has been bothering me about this season is that Raylan’s role has become primarily reactionary. Rather than driving the plot, he is often stuck begrudgingly making chase. The episodes I have enjoyed the most have been the times when Raylan has taken the fight to his enemies. It isn’t a matter of screen time. I don’t think we have seen Timothy Olyphant any less. I just can’t escape the sense that this was Boyd’s season more than Raylan’s. Mind you, that isn’t a bad thing, but it may explain at least part of the reason that I’ve struggled to connect with large stretches of the season. Raylan’s behavior suggests that he may be tiring of showing up just in time to clean up the mess. His decision to clock Daryl with a briefcase has all the earmarks of a man ready to retake the lead.
I will end with my least favorite part of most episodes, Michael Rapaport. It only took ten episodes, but Daryl finally had a really, really effective scene that I completely bought into and that gave me genuine hope for him as a legitimate villain. You may be thinking about the final scene of the night, but I’m not. I’m talking about the scene just before it. It starts with Danny whistling for Chelsea and ends with Daryl knocking Danny on his ass. For reasons unknown, Rapaport stopped worrying about the accent for a few minutes and the results were striking. For one thing, Rapaport was actually able to deliver lines with conviction. For the first time, I completely bought him as the head of a dangerous household.
The final scene, with its sibling abuse, was back to business as usual. The accent returned and was as limiting as ever. The violence felt less like an inevitable result of plotting and more like a calculated bullet point meant to both elevate Daryl to full-blown cartoonish bad guy status and continue sister Wendy’s transition to a sympathetic character that the audience wants to pull for.
Overall, this was a very good episode but not a great one. There were significant chunks of mediocrity, but the strong scenes were good enough to bring the average way up. Regardless of who is driving things, Walton Goggins and Tim Olyphant continue to anchor the show, and both were given strong material to work from this week. Unsurprisingly, they both made the most of it. It’s more important than ever that they continue to operate at a high level. With the less successful storylines about to wrap up, Boyd and Raylan are going to have to provide some much needed momentum heading into the final season.
It pains me to even type those last three words.
Some closing thoughts:
—Jeremy Davies can come back to the show whenever he likes as far as I’m concerned, but his glorious return as Dickie Bennett does come with some problems. Primarily, it just reminds us of how much better every previous season was, especially the second.
—Speaking of Dickie, the reaction he shares with Dewey upon seeing each other was the show’s biggest unexpected pleasure. There isn’t any way to precisely gauge what their mutual affection is based on and I don’t really care. It’s adorable and it reinforces my opinion that no final season can possibly be complete unless they are both part of it.
—With all my complaints about his brother, Danny Crowe slipped under my radar a lot of the time, often unfairly. A.J. Buckley did excellent work, effortlessly believable as both a psychopath and a Southerner. Neither is easy to pull off. Great work. Buckley, incidentally, is Irish. That means that, just in the Crowe family, there is an Australian and an Irishman doing phenomenal southern accents and a New Yorker who can’t quite nail it. Go figure.
Jack McKinney is a professional camera salesman by day and a freelance filmmaker, Paste contributor, and amateur prestidigitator by night (and occasionally weekends). You can cyber-stalk him on Twitter.