Justified: “Noblesse Oblige”

TV Reviews
Justified: “Noblesse Oblige”

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.

“I am a weather vane, Mr. Crowder. I don’t make the wind blow.”—Ty Walker

The first two episodes of this young season started the show off at a cannonball’s speed and I had been curious as to how the creative team was going to manage such a breakneck pace. Thus, it is not surprising that episode three slows things down a notch. It isn’t a sudden wall-hitting pace change. It’s more like tapping the brakes, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It gives us time to get to know our new characters a bit better, and we get a much clearer picture of where we are headed and how everyone fits into the narrative.

If nothing else, this episode made it very, very clear that the thematic thrust of this final season is going to be “Children and the Next Generation.” Seriously, if you turned mentioning children into a drinking game, you’d be having your stomach pumped by the second commercial break. Also, I am more convinced than ever that the writers for this show have some kind of English-to-Hillbilly thesaurus that they use when they need to harp on a topic without sounding repetitive. Referring to children, I counted “tad” two, maybe three, times as well as “lump”, “gob”, “no bigger ‘n a minute,” and that’s just this week’s episode. My point is that where the first season, and most seasons in general, have been about fathers and sons and the damage and pain that can be passed down along with looks and genes, this season is about what those sons pass on to their children and how much say they have in the process. Obviously, there is considerable dialogue being spent on Raylan’s developing fatherhood but there is even more time being given to Ava and Boyd’s rekindled romance. They start out very drunk, very flirty and very, very cute—then Ava goes under cover at the pizza parlor and by episode’s end they’re finally back to both being under the covers where they belong. Those two have a very strange relationship. I haven’t even mentioned that they both get kidnapped and threatened by a psychotic, clean-shaven Colonel Sanders impersonator. This is all a very roundabout way to say that I think the show is building toward a pregnant Ava, and a Boyd that has to choose between his criminal legacy and his blood legacy. I say that with absolutely no advance knowledge or inside scoop. I just think it makes total thematic sense, and it would add a perfect wrinkle to any final conflict that may happen between Raylan and Boyd. Raylan may be more than willing to just find a way to justifiably shoot Boyd right now, but what if Boyd was an expecting father? I doubt Raylan would find it so cut and dry, when it would mean taking a father away from a child.

Enough prognosticating, let’s get back to the show at hand.

Ava and Boyd get scenes that bookend the night, but the meat of the episode is everything in between. Boyd and Walker finally get their face-to-face and it doesn’t disappoint. Garret Dillahunt is proving to be a wunderkind when it comes to Elmore Leonard-speak. The writers put some seriously difficult language on his plate for that bar battle of words and, Dillahunt delights on every morsel. Take the quote that started this review; not every actor can manage that type of dialogue and even approach naturalism. Better yet, try this gem:

“He is no weak sister, nor a man to be trifled with.”

Dillahunt chooses to blow past natural into the same hyper-realistic plane of speechifying that Boyd and Raylan usually inhabit alone. Not everyone fares so well.

The good guys are stuck with a plotline that seems straight out of Season One when most episodes were standalone affairs, with only occasional reference to the larger arc. It reminds me of The Dukes of Hazzard in a strange way. You almost expect to hear a narrator chime in with, “Meanwhile, back at the mine…”

It isn’t a terrible plotline, just a little mundane but it does offer redemption in the way of dialogue. In fact, the dialogue for the entire episode seems notched up a hair from its usual level, almost as if the creative team was trying to balance the slightly slowed plot with heavily skewed verbage. If so, I’m not complaining. Raylan, in particular, gets lines so laden with Appalachian anachronisms that they verge on lyrical. Unfortunately, two of his scene mates are not as successful, namely Patrick Carlyle (Tyler) and Ryan Dorsey (Earl). Both give it their best shot, but Leonard-speak just doesn’t come naturally to them, which is unfortunate since, as the subjects of Raylan and Rachel’s investigation, they get a good chunk of screen time. Dorsey is particularly disappointing since his character is the younger brother of Boyd’s right hand, Carl (Justin Welborn). Welborn has been a secret weapon on the show for a while now, sliding into the second chair at the bar after Cousin Johnny’s betrayal. Matching the high standard set by both David Meunier (Cousin Johnny) and Kevin Rankin (Devil) seemed unlikely, but Welborn has been more than up to the task. Dorsey doesn’t seem to have the natural ability to handle the syncopated dialogue rhythms that onscreen brother Welborn has shown, but he does seem to be improving, and since Raylan chose not to cart Earl off to jail, hopefully Dorsey will get better with practice, since he’s sticking around for a while.

On the opposite side of the coin, if there is a new actor who has taken to his role like new skin and who ekes every ounce of benefit from the limited screen time he has thus far been given, it is Sam Elliott. I expected nothing less, and last week’s brief intro suggested no worriment, but actually watching him stretch the character’s legs and fill out the role is a joy. The viciousness in Markham is palpable. Though possessed of a similar capacity for carnage and ruination, Boyd is a coiled ball of rage, unpredictable and erratic. One of Boyd’s best weapons is his fickle nature; it’s difficult to know when he will turn on you. Markham, on the other hand, is steadfast and uniform in his coldness. He leaves you no openings in which to strike at him, and you can count on the integrity of his awful response. Elliott plays Markham as mostly mouth and eyebrows, still exuding grandfatherly charm that can only deaden his ill intentions but never cover them entirely. Markham is, without question or peer, the most dangerous foe Boyd has ever encountered. He is also the most condescending. If Markham has a weakness, it is almost surely his pride. It is no great surprise that their encounter only makes Boyd more eager to take on Markham, not less.

I find it interesting that for the first time we have a season big bad that, at least for the moment, is set up as a nemesis for Boyd, not for Raylan. It’s a different dynamic than we are used to, and it opens up a range of unexpected possibilities for how everything is going to play out. Rather than the cleanly drawn battle lines that we are used to, we have a cocked triangle where it isn’t immediately clear who is allied with who and what pieces line up where when the chess board has three sides. Justified has long been a show more interested in gray areas than black and white, and that motif has never been clearer than it is right now.

While things took on a breezier pace this week, the overall quality is still quite strong. The creative team has assembled a murderer’s row of “that guy” character actors and turned them into an all-star ensemble. The big three leads are in top notch form. Three episodes in, and the last season is everything we could have hoped for and more.

Some closing thoughts:

—I didn’t realize until I looked, that this is Duke Davis Roberts’ first role. He is so good as Choo-Choo that I just assumed that I had seen him in something else, but it turns out that he only has three credits, and neither of the other two has been released yet. So, attention casting agents! Get this guy some roles because he’s fantastic. On a related note, anyone else expecting Choo-Choo to flip sides at key moment, because he has a sweet spot for Ava?

—Really excellent pre-credits sequence this week. Joelle Carter plays a good drunk and, even more, she’s also quite good at physical comedy. It’s the overcompensating gait and constant tugging at the top of her dress that really sells the character even when she isn’t speaking, and it lends the scene levity when it could have played too serious and grim. With all of her torn allegiances, Carter is playing a character that has to constantly be lying, while appearing to tell the truth and somehow convey that layering to the audience. Then add playing drunk on top of that. She’s having a great season so far (her confrontation with Markham tonight is a highlight) and it’s wonderful to see the creative team give her so much to do, after hanging her out to dry in prison for most of last season.

—Everything about Wynn Duffy and the tanning bed. I just can’t. There are no words.

—Choo-Choo’s real name is “Mundo”. I swear I rewound twice to make sure he didn’t say Mongo.

And here are some of my favorite lines of the night:

“You think we’re dealing with something…untoward?”

“Guns down, hands up. You first, mister ‘pussy badge’.”

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.

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