9.3

Justified Review: “Wrong Roads”

(Episode 5.09)

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<i>Justified</i> Review: &#8220;Wrong Roads&#8221;

“I don’t understand what these two are talking about, but I’ve got to admit, I’m interested.” —Raylan Givens

I find it unlikely that it is a coincidence that, as with the premiere, Raylan spends the bulk of this week’s hour outside of Kentucky partnered with a local lawman that Raylan feels a certain kinship with. More, Raylan does this in lieu of visiting Winona and little girl Givens, though once again that omission gets regular lip service. Last time around, Raylan was saddled with a rather ill-fitted David Koechner and their matching tales of fatherhood failed to generate even the implication of meaningful soul-searching. Eric Roberts as Agent Miller of Memphis is a different animal entirely. He is less a mirror for Raylan than he is the damned ghost of Givens’ future. Koechner’s character seemed superfluous to me since his role could have easily been used to give screen time to Tim, Rachel or, even better, Art without sacrificing anything related to Raylan’s “absent daddy” guilt. Roberts’ purpose is much broader, and he plays it well. I’ve always found Roberts to be hit and miss as an actor, but in fairness it has more to do with the roles he is given than the effort he puts forth. Bouncing between big screen blockbusters and straight-to-video schlock will do that to you. I was worried initially when I saw him in his first scene at the shooting range, bracing myself for some kind of unhinged gothic excess, but I found his performance surprisingly controlled and nuanced. He was an excellent choice to portray a potential future version of Raylan given that Roberts’ heritage gives him a built-in Southern swagger that Miller stubbornly maintains in the face of obvious alcoholism and a pronounced beer gut. It speaks to a capability for daily delusion that is becoming all too familiar among multiple characters on the show.

My meandering point is that this week feels like a very intentional reboot of the season. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is apologetic, but it definitely has all the earmarks of being made by people who recognized how far afield they had flown and had not only headed for home, but made sure to leave a forwarding address.

It amused me greatly that after my lamentation last week regarding the latitude and longitude of our primary players that the first quarter of the episode played like a “getting the band back together” sequence worthy of The Blues Brothers. The characters turned for home and the show turned for the better. Not unexpectedly, the quality of the show increased steadily over the course of the night as more and more characters made their way to Harlan before finally culminating in a scene that defies description. It is tempting to say “Mexican standoff” except that we just left Mexico and there wasn’t a traditional three-way standoff. Joking aside, if the show continues down the path that began this week and completely returns to glory over the next few weeks, it will be this scene that we look back on as the moment when the show course-corrected and truly felt like itself again. The scene is so good that it bears mentioning twice, so we will get back to it shortly, but first we need to check in on how everyone is doing.

Raylan is a damn wreck.

Given the house he was raised in, I’m not sure that Raylan is capable of recognizing rock bottom when he reaches it, but he seems intent on going there anyway. Better there than to Florida and his child obviously. I really do believe that Raylan wants to see his baby, but on a very deep level he cannot cope with bearing witness to his unlived life. It is one thing to wonder if you are deluding yourself about who you truly are and what life you truly want to lead. It is something else to be brought face to face with the choices you cannot make and something else beyond that when the face of those unmade choices belongs to your baby daughter. Seeing her through the window of a Skype connection is easy. There, her world is small, and her life exists only in those moments you spend watching her. It would be such an easy delusion. In the flesh, though, that mirage won’t hold up. Her world in person is boundless, unending, and most importantly, almost entirely devoid of you.

You weren’t watching her tiny life through that chat window, Raylan. She was watching yours.

Philosophizing aside (this is what happens when you watch the finale of True Detective within 24 hours of writing a review), there is something simpler at play as well. Raylan sees more of Arlo in himself than he would readily admit, and his greatest fear is to expose his child to any of that, especially since he can’t seem to see it well enough to understand it and therefore can’t escape or fix it. Everyone else, of course, can see that it is everything besides that inherited hard streak that makes Raylan who he truly is. I fear, though, that his better nature will forever remain the one part of his reflection always invisible to him. Sooner or later, who we think we are and what we think we want lead us precisely where we want to be. Two years ago, Raylan had his wife back and a baby on the way. One year ago, he lost his pregnant wife a second time and got played by a hot bartender. Two weeks ago, he had something promising going with an attractive social worker.

Right now, he’s sitting in a bar getting propositioned by an upper middle class hooker. You see my point.

At the end of last season, both Raylan and Boyd made hard choices that they thought were the best way to protect the futures of their families. Much like Raylan’s deepening problems, the fallout from Boyd’s choice to partner with Wynn Duffy in the heroin trade is getting more complex every week. Boyd seems understandably concerned about his ability to effectively control and deal with the rapidly compounding complications. His suspicions about the Crowes and their motivations have been on the nose all season, and this week was no exception. At this point, reading people and planning criminal activity is so easy and automatic for Boyd that it exasperates more than it excites him. Note the off-handed ease with which he dismisses the prison nurse’s concerns over the murder she just asked him to commit. Fittingly, it is Ava that comments on his obvious weariness, and there is no question that the look on his face when he sees her at the prison is the happiest we have seen him in quite some time. If he can ever free her, Boyd choosing a crime-free life in order to secure a future with Ava (even if that future involves coal mining and hairdressing) seems suddenly likely. That, friends, is a little something I like to call character growth.

Speaking of characters in need of growth, I think I have finally figured out the root of my issue with Michael Rapaport as Daryl. He struggles so heavily with the accent and inflection that I can’t detect any subtlety in his performance. Throughout the misadventure in Mexico, I think there was supposed to be genuine suspense over Daryl’s plans, and the same is true of this week’s scene in Boyd’s office. We are supposed to be in the same boat as Boyd, instinctively skeptical but wanting to be sold. Unfortunately, Rapaport’s delivery is so one-note that it is impossible to judge sincerity. Everything he says comes out sounding like a gag. It is difficult to see Daryl as a legitimate threat to Boyd’s criminal empire when I can’t even see Daryl as a legitimate threat to the sales leaderboard at a cut-rate used car lot. That isn’t a problem with the character as written; it’s a problem with the performance. Rapaport is still putting the effort in, but this was a mismatch from the beginning.

Rapaport’s roughshod delivery does manage to ring true once, and it comes at the best possible time.

The aforementioned meeting of the legion of doom around a table at Audrey’s should go down as an instant classic. It wasn’t enough to just get everyone back to Harlan, the creative team had to get everyone into the same damn room. The scene was a master class in how to build a scene. Stage one was the reorganization of the firm of Crowder, Duffy, Picker & Crowe. Rapaport’s lines are thankfully few lest they sabotage the scene. It was here that his weirdly earnest delivery actually worked to good effect, displaying all too clearly that Daryl’s depth should never get deeper than the swamp he crawled out of. This was the type of meeting that separates the boys from the men and the men from whatever the hell Boyd is.

Then Jay and Roscoe showed up.

Jay’s “negotiation” with Boyd kicked the whole proceeding into a new gear and began a two-part monologue that Jay would start and Roscoe would eventually finish that displayed beautifully what a tremendous win it was to get the Harris brothers on the show. The real question for me is figuring out at what point Boyd saw Raylan and Miller enter the room. Was Boyd really ready to just burn it all down or did he see the officers jump offsides and know he had a free play? I’ll be curious to see if that moment gets revisited down the road.

Then there was Raylan and Miller’s entrance and the ensuing standoff. Shakespeare! My God, they managed to work in a drug syndicate soldier breaking down King Lear without it seeming forced or out of character. That’s the benefit of planting seeds early and growing them slow. Every line of dialogue in this segment was a winner, and every actor delivered. On many levels, this entire chunk of the episode felt like an apology from the production team: “Yes, we know it’s been a rough go this season, and the last few episodes in particular have been a slog, but we knew everything would be forgiven because we had this coming.”

They’re probably right. I won’t look forward to the middle section of this season when I watch it over again later this year, but the anticipation of this episode will smooth over a lot of edges.

Lastly, I’ve been meaning to talk about Dewey. It’s a shame that despite his family being a major part of the season, Dewey has been lost in the background for most of our running time. Granted, Dewey doesn’t have the intelligence or the viciousness to be a credible threat or foil, so he was never going to be a regular part of the serious story arcs. That said, it’s wonderful to see Dewey taking his future into his own hands and attempting to control his own destiny. It still isn’t clear whether that destiny is headed toward the penitentiary or a better life, but I’m pulling for him either way, and I doubt I’m alone.

Only in Elmore Leonard’s universe would people be pulling for the weaselly, weak-minded gator poacher with the swastika tattoo. Harlan County, how I’ve missed you.

Some closing thoughts:
—Walton Goggins has a talent for taking random phrases and rolling them into verbal gold, but I cannot deny that among of my favorites will forever be three little words: Daryl. Crowe. Junior.
—Hot Rod Dunham (Mickey Jones) finally left us this week but not without one last gem of a scene, perhaps his finest. Of all the similarities drawn between Raylan and Miller, it was the least expected one that hit the hardest. Hot Rod was Miller’s informant and, very clearly, his friend. How many years until Raylan and Boyd duplicate that scene and which one will be bleeding out while the other speaks comfort? If nothing else, I don’t think that it had occurred to Raylan until that moment that being Boyd’s friend and enemy might not be mutually exclusive.
—“Miller, would you call this a herd, a gaggle, or a flock of assholes?”
—“Raylan, can I be excused from the table?”

Jack McKinney is a professional camera salesman by day and a freelance filmmaker,Pastecontributor, and amateur prestidigitator by night (and occasionally weekends). You can cyber-stalk him on Twitter.

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