This is a review. Thus, it is likely to contain spoilers. If you haven’t, as yet, found yourself at liberty to view this episode then consider yourself apprised of the potential jeopardy and proceed at your peril.
“Man, I did not see that coming.”—Nelson Dunlop
The difference between Law and Order and the other procedurals previous and since can be summed up in one word: pandering. If you think that your audience lacks the intelligence to understand even the most remedial concepts and you have to dedicate precious screen time in each and every episode to making sure no audience member is left behind, it simply isn’t possible to cultivate an ongoing sheen of believability. Try tuning into CSI without hearing the medical examiner explaining to a veteran forensic expert that Ketamine is a horse tranquilizer. Or, see if you can find an episode of Criminal Minds that doesn’t include either A.) a veteran profiler explaining that every serial killer has a “signature” to another veteran profiler, or B.) the same profilers explaining to each other that rape is about power, not sex. What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with Justified? Until recently, not much.
My point is that Justified has always been very smart about staying securely on the cleverer side of the pandering line. No one was ever going to confuse it for a documentary on life in Appalachia, but they created a believable world, set up the rules for that world, and have done a bang up job of coloring inside the lines. Until this week, that is. I can’t say that they’ve torn the curtain of believability down, but they are definitely stretching it thin, which is a shame because except for (or in spite of) a couple of small missteps, this week offered up a very enjoyable episode.
The show this week puts me in mind of Hannibal Lecter during his final meeting with Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. She chides him for making his riddles too easy to decipher, “Your anagrams are showing, Doctor.” What she hasn’t realized is why he has simplified his clues. He is running out of time to relay information to her and he wants to make sure she gets his message. Keep that in mind as we talk about an episode that quite literally ends with Raylan as an outlaw and Boyd in a policeman’s uniform.
Look, I get it. At some point, putting Raylan on the other side of his star was too attractive a scenario to pass up and I’m completely onboard with that. What I take some issue with is precisely how we get there, specifically how certain characters are involved.
My biggest gripe is with ADA Vasquez. I will grant you that he and Raylan have never seen eye to eye, but something about his certainty that Raylan was dirty didn’t work for me, given the history of the character. I give the writers full credit for laying the groundwork the best that they could. Vasquez has been increasingly angry and exasperated all season so I absolutely cannot claim that this came out of nowhere. I can follow them from A to B but I felt like we ended up at D instead of C. Does Vasquez harbor deep-seated resentment toward Raylan due to the countless cases that have been compromised, because of Raylan’s cowboy tendencies? No question—but that’s a far cry from putting Raylan in league with Ava (or possibly even Boyd), particularly when Vasquez is the only person in the building that would even consider the notion that Raylan could be bent. All that said, if the goal was to get Raylan out from behind his badge then perhaps a tiny contrivance was worth it.
If only that was the only contrivance of the night. The one that got Boyd into a policeman’s uniform was much larger.
I wish we could just pretend that the dopey Marshal character didn’t exist (I know his name is Nelson Dunlop, but for the purposes of my point, it’s better to downplay my familiarity with the character). He has been good for the occasional comic relief, like when he asked to hold Raylan’s daughter a few weeks ago, but overall I’ve just never understood why he was around. I guess it makes sense to populate the office with recognizable faces from week to week and there was an amusing bit of business with Raylan and Tim debating Nelson’s birthday a few seasons back, but if you aren’t going to develop these characters fully, then just leave them at the office. From the moment that Markham started his plan in motion to use Carl to get to Boyd, I started getting a little giddy anticipation going. After all, this is Avery Markham, the devil himself. He’s sure to have some sort of cunning, unexpected way to get a man into a well-guarded hospital room. Maybe he’ll dust off an old ruse he used when he was younger and needed to kill an informant. I mean, I know they aren’t just going to use a dirty cop and do the old “Hey, your superior officer whose name I happen to know needs you outside” bit, right?
Son of a bitch.
Well, that’s okay because this is Boyd Crowder that they’re guarding here, the crown prince of Kentucky crime. This is the man that they have a whole task force chasing, so there’s no way that they would have a single, itty bitty little solo Marshal guarding his room, right?
Well, if they’re only going to have one Marshal on the door, it will be their best and brightest. Probably Tim or maybe even Rachel, given the immense importance of the case and the fact that very, very dangerous people would have 10 million excellent reasons to want to get their hands on Boyd. One thing I know for absolute certain is that they wouldn’t send the guy whose sole reason for existence is giving the other Marshals someone to make fun of. No way they send that incompetent buffoon, right?
Honestly, I was genuinely surprised that this was in an episode written by Taylor Elmore and Keith Schreier, who have historically been gold every time out. Hell, they’re usually platinum. But this is a bit like what I would expect to see on a Dukes of Hazzard rerun. Thankfully, the bulk of the remainder of the episode is good enough to balance out the bizarre.
Ava and Zachariah get a teensy bit of screen time, but mostly they’re used to set up where our other characters are headed. My biggest complaint there is not getting a payoff on the phenomenal setup a few weeks back for the “Grubes” character. It wasn’t a big surprise that he turned out to be a corpse, but I had really hoped for a memorable guest star.
Poor Carl lived up to the high expectation of loyalty that I set for him last week and, not surprisingly, it was loyalty that ended up killing him. It was fun to see Boyd use his unmatchable charm one more time to get himself out of a tight spot, and he always saved his most heartfelt and earnest lies for his underlings. Unfortunately for Carl, he was always especially susceptible to Boyd’s desperate promises. It’s sad to see Justin Welborn go, but it was a fitting end for the character and natural end to Carl’s relationship with Boyd.
It’s impossible to discuss loyalty and tight spots without addressing the week’s other major losses, Katherine Hale and the honorable Michael Cosmatopolis. I think most viewers had figured that Katherine’s quest for vengeance would probably end badly one way or another, but I give full credit to the writers for doing everything they could to sell us on things turning out very differently. In the end, of course, these characters are who they are. Wynn Duffy is a self-obsessed opportunist; Katherine Hale is a morally vacant also-ran who is sick and tired of everyone else getting to do the dirty work. Mikey is an honorable guy who just happened to become a criminal. When you see them like that, it really couldn’t have gone any other way. The genius, I think, was putting the word ‘partner’ into Katherine’s pre-murder monologue. There have been a number of small moments that left Wynn Duffy’s sexual preference and his relationship with Mikey open to interpretation, but with some definite suggestion that their relationship went beyond the professional. In the end it took a moment that could have been played solely for a laugh, and makes it poignant; poor disillusioned Mikey finally not only held close by the man that he worships and admires, but respected by him as well.
My favorite conversation of the night is also the quietest. We’ve seen Boyd and Raylan dance around each other and fell each other out with carefully wrought sentences many times, but never have the two of them seemed to enjoy it less. Both are all too aware of where Ava’s actions are leading them but, ever wary of showing weakness, neither wants to show his hand too early. It’s a great scene.
Time will tell if Boon similarly allows his affection for a woman to compromise his future. He certainly hasn’t lacked for opportunities to harm Loretta, and I can’t help but wonder if increased familiarity will diminish his resolve. It has happened to better men than him on this show.
In the end, we’re headed precisely where we knew we would be. Everyone is desperate and on a collision course with nothing left to lose. It’s like a weird hillbilly version of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The show is moving on its own momentum as this point. All the groundwork has been laid and the creative team has gotten it into a high gear, and they’re letting it run. The trick is to not put obstacles in its way.
This week, a strong episode otherwise was marred by some suspect plotting choices. I enjoyed the episode greatly overall, but when all was said and done the lasting image in my mind was the one visual you never want a viewer to have: a roomful of writers who know where they want to go, but who can’t quite figure out how to get there.
Ending Prediction with two episodes remaining:
Fuelled by fury after Katherine’s death, Markham loses his patience and orders Boon to kill Loretta. Boon chooses love, proposes to Loretta and they have a western-themed wedding. Boyd, Raylan, Ava, and Art have a Mexican standoff inside an abandoned mine. Art attempts to shoot Ava, but Raylan takes the bullet and dies despite Boyd’s attempt to carry Raylan to safety. Boyd is sent to prison for life and convinces Ava to testify against him in order to guarantee her freedom. They have a prison wedding and are allowed conjugal visits. A few years later they have a baby boy and name him…….. Arlo.
Tune in next week for more predictions that will almost certainly be wrong.
Some closing thoughts:
I think I’ve covered everything I needed to this week, save for Boon’s cowboy outfit. The teaser standoff was good fun but I have to admit that I’m with Markham on the outfit; it’s a bit of an eye-roller and a little too on the nose in an episode that was already fighting with tone a bit.
I was really enjoying the extended vacation version of Art, but it was nice to see completely clean-shaven Art back on the job. Mostly though, having Art chase Raylan down dovetails nicely with Raylan’s new outlaw role, as it means that now Raylan, like Boyd, is being chased by someone he worked with years earlier (for those who don’t remember, Raylan and Art taught together at Glencoe years before Raylan came back to Kentucky).
And now for some of the week’s best dialogue:
“How bad it is.”
“Well, I shaved.”
“I’m gonna do you the goddamned common courtesy of pretending I didn’t hear that shit come out of your mouth.” (nice slight Full Metal Jacket reference there)
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.