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Tuesday, 2 of March of 2021

Justified – “Hole in the Wall”

Justified TitlecardInstead of regular reviews for Justified, Cory Barker from TV Surveillance and This Was Television suggested doing a Justified roundtable, similiar to what he had done with Les Chappell and Andy Daglas during Mad Men, and I get to be included this time (though Andy is too busy to join in this week)! We’ll host the roundtable here at Monsters, so check back each week for thoughts on the latest episode from the fourth season of Justified.

Up first is the premiere of season four, “Hole in the Wall.” Raylan becomes a bounty hunter to make some quick cash (even though it’s against Kentucky law for him to do so), Boyd and Ava deal with the pains of growing a criminal enterprise but an old friend has arrived to help, and Rachel just sits at her desk. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT RACHEL DOES APPARENTLY.

NOEL: I really missed Justified, guys. Say what you will about the other, higher profile, “quality” dramas out there right now, but I find Justified to be the most satisfying on an episode-by-episode basis. And the season 4 premiere proves why in spades. Yes, a lot of it is setting the board for this season’s big arcs (the bag in the wall that Arlo is willing to coldly kill a guy just for seeing, Joseph Mazzello’s (HE WAS TIM IN JURASSIC PARK!) serpent handling preacher), but it does so with a very basic case — Raylan looking to make some cash on the side helping an old sex buddy with a bail jumper — and things spiraling out of control from there, as they are wont to do on Justified.

And that’s why the show is so satisfying for me: Each episode advances the larger plots a bit, but the case of the week is entertaining, mostly self-contained, and provides episodic resolution that always leaves me both happy for a week but hungry for the next episode.

LES: Seconded. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have this show back – there might be other shows that I’d call qualitatively better, but easily this is the show that I have the most fun watching. The Elmore Leonard-inspired dialogue is just a joy to listen to, especially delivered from the laconic drawl of Tim Olyphant or the various flavors of Walton Goggins intensity. And this was definitely a good start to the season with some of those ideal Justifiedmoments, opening with a perfect Raylan-outdraws-the-bad-guy scene and escalating from there into a hostage situation that’s equal parts good timing and bullshitting.

At the same time, it seems like this could be a slightly different season of the show than we’ve seen before with the D.B. Cooper-esque cold open and reveal of the bag in Arlo’s house. Previous seasons have had Big Bads set up early (Bo Crowder, the Bennett clan, Quarles and Limehouse) and we certainly could be heading that way with Preacher Billy, but this season seems like it’s setting up an overarching mystery as one of its season-long arcs. How do we feel about this direction? I’m personally fine with it as Justified is a show that’s never committed so heavily to its arcs that it takes away from the week-to-week enjoyment, and I’ll rarely criticize anything that gets me more of the rattlesnake-meanness that is Arlo Givens.

CORY: Don’t want to keep simply beating the drum of positivity here, but this show is absolutely one of my favorites and I think coming off what many considered a very minor letdown in season three is going to help Justified. Yost and company aren’t going to do a better “Big Bad”-type season than they did in season two–no offense to season three, which was quite good in its own right–so it’s smart that they’ve moved away from that narrative strategy and refocused on the things the show does so damn well: history (both familial- and location-based) and place. I’m happy Arlo isn’t out of the picture quite yet, especially because Raylan will soon be a father himself. The season is set up to tell some interesting stories about parenting, family history and the ways that those things shaped Raylan into who he is today and what kind of father he might be.

How did we feel about Raylan’s side gig as a bounty hunter?

NOEL: Well, I think I liked season threemore than most people since I saw it and season two as different sides of the same thematic coin: Mothers in season two and fathers in season three. Certainly season four seems primed to carry through with the latter’s concerns with fatherhood as Raylan inches closer to being a father and whatever the hell is going on with Arlo and that bag, but I think it’ll be more of a window dressing than it was last season.

Like the two of you, I’m sort of thrilled that Raylan doesn’t really have a Big Bad to deal with (at least not yet since it seems that Preacher Billy will be Boyd’s problem for a bit). I love the colder-than-cold case that he’s stumbled onto here as it’s a different sort of conflict for him, and one that, you rightly identify, Cory, as being both familial- and place-based.

The other reason I like it, and like it more than the bounty hunting aspect, is that it forces Raylan into a different position. He has zero problem dealing with criminals and riffraff even when things go a little off the rails. But investigating requires patience and chasing down leads, and while Raylan can be patient, this isn’t waiting for someone to screw up and take advantage of the situation. He’ll have to work and put in the hours to get it right. We know he can tug at threads, but let’s see what he can do when there’s only the thinnest of thin threads to grasp.

LES: Having just seen Django Unchained over the weekend, I’m in a state of mind where any storyline involving bounty hunting is going to appeal to me. (As a side note, if Christoph Waltz ever wanted to come to TV, he would make a phenomenal Big Bad on Justified. Or any show, really.) But more to the point, I like the fact that it pushes Raylan more into the outlaw camp as he’s trying to build a nest egg for his unborn child. Raylan’s become more and more of a mess as the series has gone on – to the point that Rachel doesn’t even bother trying to ask where he’s going with any seriousness – and now he’s putting himself in situations where he can’t even call on his badge as a line of defense. I do wonder if any sort of cleanup is in order for him this season once he becomes a father, or if we’ll just get more of Art yelling at Raylan. (Which gives me my one gripe about the premiere, no Art. Art livens up every episode he’s in.)

Noel, you mentioned that it looks like Boyd will be the one sparring with Preacher Billy for the season, which brings me to another point: it seems like the longer the show progresses, the further Raylan and Boyd move out of each other’s orbits. At present time, I’m not sure there’s any correlation between their stories, as Raylan’s dealing with his issues and Boyd’s trying to hold his criminal enterprise together. It’s almost like there’s two different shows going on at the same time. I don’t have an issue with it per se, especially if Boyd’s story remains as interesting as it does. Between Ava adopting an Al Swearengen tone in her dealings as Harlan madame, Johnny’s betrayal of Boyd from last season still unrevealed, and the addition of Boyd’s trigger-happy Army buddy Colton Rose (Ron Eldard), there’s a lot going on in Harlan County. I assume the show will draw their stories together before too long, though I wonder how organic it’s going to be when it happens.

CORY: I think the fact that these two big personalities have their own stories going on is a testament to the show’s world-building abilities. In three seasons, Yost and his team managed to create a world that is always expanding and always doing so organically. There’s enough going on to warrant the separation between Raylan and Boyd and yet, once the stories do come together, I have to imagine they’ll be quite satisfying. Despite the vast number of characters and expansive world, this area is also very suffocating, especially for Raylan. That will surely come up again.

On a similar note, what’d we think about Patton Oswalt’s character? I think he’s another example of the show’s ability to seamlessly bring someone new in so that it feels like they have been there all along. The first scene between Bob and Raylan is a little exposition-heavy, but it’s also damn funny; the second one is even better. Oswalt and Olyphant have wonderful chemistry with one another, as the former’s ability to play over-eager and out-matched blends perfectly with the latter’s calm, nearing cold sarcasm.

NOEL:  Raylan and Boyd will never escape each other. Ever. They are bound together, and while their orbits may not cross soon, they will cross. Like Cory, I think it speaks very highly of the show’s ability to essentially have two major story threads and be able to balance them, and make them each very compelling. I think it’s too early to know how it’ll happen, but it will have to happen because I think that Boyd still thinks he and Raylan are sort of friends, and that is, really, the root of their conflict.

I admit to being very hesitant about Oswalt. While I think he can be very funny, I wasn’t sure about how he’d play here. Turns out these were unfounded concerns as he does slide right as the out-of-his-depths cop who has his own “go bag” that he will never actually need in the course of his actual job, but will likely need if he keeps teaming up with Raylan. And he gives Raylan a way to enter that other side of the law that the rest of the Marshals can’t, and won’t, go to.

Speaking of those other Marshals, I’d really like it if Rachel and Tim had something to do this season. I know the show has a lot going on, but even some sort of “day in the limelight” episode that shows them having to deal with Raylan’s pain in the ass antics (I like to think that they, like the piano player in Glee, really hate the main characters) episode would be nice. On the other hand, I’m thrilled that Ellen May may have a larger role this season as that character, and Abby Miller’s performance, break my heart. What else would you two like to see from this season?

LES: I was torn about Oswalt personally – he’s a broader, more recognizable comedic persona than the show has had before, even with the twisted sense of humor Yost and company invest the action with. (Lest we forget, this is a show whose finale featured gory “piggy bank” and “disarmed” jokes.) On the other hand, he’s done enough serious work on both films (Big Fan, Young Adult) and television (Dollhouse) that I know he can be more than just the comic relief. I think they did a good job with him in the first episode, because his particular oddities and ideas about being a cop (practicing his knife trick, having a go-bag “when things go Road Warrior“) fit in with the Leonard tradition of characters who get ideas about their behavior from pop culture. I expect that once the “Hey, it’s Patton Oswalt!” shine falls off, he’ll segue more naturally into this world.

Noel, I’ll second your call for the other Marshals to do something. The Rachel-centric episode from season two was the only real back story she’s ever gotten save one or two scenes where she talks about being black in the often racist South, and Tim’s conflicted feelings about killing people and his own daddy issues pop up but keep getting pushed to the side. An episode in the style of Buffy‘s “The Zeppo” would be fantastic, with the two solving a case as the main story and Raylan and Boyd just occasionally pop up as their big plot happens at the same time.

In terms of other characters, I’d love to see Myketi Williamson come back for an arc as Noble’s Holler was one of the best things season three added to the Justified universe, and Limehouse was a terrific opportunist in manipulating Raylan, Boyd and Quarles. I was very pleased he survived the slaughterhouse showdown and the show can keep that character in its back pocket. And I’m always happy when Kaitlyn Dever pops up as Loretta, even for a brief appearance. I really did think she’d be key to Raylan’s salvation (for lack of a better word) after season two, but sadly Last Man Standing took her away from that. (Winona on the other hand, I really don’t need to see any more of – nothing against Natalie Zea, but she’s served her purpose on the show and I’m fine having her off to the side, incubating Raylan’s offspring and popping up for the occasional chat.)

Frankly though, as long as the show keeps doing what it’s doing, I’ll be happy regardless.

CORY: I think you guys might be in luck. Vulture did a nice interview with Yost where he suggested that Tim and Rachel are going to get a good amount to do this year. Though, if I recall correctly, he said that the previous two seasons as well. Also interesting in that piece: Quarles isn’t actually dead. While I don’t especially care whether or not he returns anytime soon, that decision just further reinforces what we’re saying here: The show’s world, while diegetically small, is so large and textured. Big productions like Game of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire might criss-cross more locations, but Justified is–and has been for a while–the best at world-building.

And I think that’s why I’m so excited about this season. The show no longer needs a Big Bad, or a slew of outside forces (even if those will still come in smaller doses this year). There is so much great stuff going on with the people who we already know; I’m excited to go deeper into the Raylan’s past, Arlo’s past and Harlan’s past. I imagine it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

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