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Saturday, 17 of April of 2021

Justified – “Truth and Consequences”

“I think a snake bit him.”

Justified TitlecardLES: It was another fun episode of Justified last night that saw a lot of characters in their elements—Raylan’s back to making “get out of town” ultimatums, Boyd’s calling out his rivals in grandstanding fashion, and Art got be alternatively supportive and patronizing of the fuck-ups who populate his office. We inched forward on the plot of Drew Thompson by learning the FBI has a vested interest in him as a material witness, a move that furthers my hope from last week that Stephen Toblowsky’s Agent Barkley will be back soon to bluster at Raylan’s antics. And the opening was probably the closest Justified has ever come to horror, as I was legitimately on edge both in the scene where Boyd tries to buy Cassie off and the follow-up where poor Jimmy is assaulted by the residents of Billy’s herpetarium. (The latter leading to some hauntingly hard to watch moments.)

However, I do think that this is the weakest episode of the season yet, for a couple of reasons. The first being that it felt like more of a place-setting episode as opposed to a dynamic one, where a lot of elements are set up that we know will pay off in the future. Johnny meets up with Wynn Duffy to discuss the possibility of betraying Boyd, but there’s no real movement and none of the moments that make Wynn such a special character to watch. There are a couple instances of Rachel showing job fatigue*, but they all are on the fringes of the action and (again) feel like giving the character something to do, rather than setting up a character arc. And of course, Lindsey runs off with Randall and Raylan’s bankroll for the closing scene, setting up an obvious showdown next week or the week after. Certainly every show needs to get the ball rolling, but this was one where I could very clearly see the strings and the “act one” trappings of events.

*How wonderful was that interaction between Rachel, Art and Raylan? “How many times has Wyatt Earp done the same thing?” “Well, he’s a lost cause.” Raylan looks offended.

My second issue is that I’m also a little concerned about one of the reveals, the fact that Drew Thompson is on the run for witnessing Theo Tonin murder a federal witness. It seems more than a little coincidental that the same man who sent Robert Quarles into Harlan last season to get him out of the way is also the same man who was tied to a body falling from the sky 30 years ago into the same county. I certainly don’t have a problem if the show wants to bring Adam Arkin back in some capacity because Adam Arkin is terrific both in front of and behind the camera, but to tie him into this case feels like a wholly inorganic way to do so. We set up in the final episodes of last season that Duffy was trying to pitch Tonin on taking over Quarles’ proposed Oxy operation, and I think it’s entirely reasonable he could take credit for Quarles’ death and become as much Detroit’s man as the Dixie Mafia’s, which would further draw Tonin into Raylan’s orbit. This reveal seems to be forcing him into the story, and—sadly—has killed some of my initial investment in the season’s mystery.


NOEL: I’d agree about “weakest,” but a weak episode of Justified is better than a good episode of many shows, if only for the show’s chatter. I must admit that I didn’t pick up on the Tonin-Quarrels-Thompson thing (I must also admit that, and perhaps this was just due to being tired, I didn’t realize Thompson was connected to the bag in the wall). I do agree that it feels a bit inorganically executed, and I’m not sure I really need the world of Harlan to expand in those sorts of ways. Despite Quarrles being a no-good carpetbagger, it was a pleasure watching him try to fit himself into a world that didn’t want him; this connection isn’t necessarily the most exciting or interesting of developments, but I’m happy to be patient.

I’m actually a touch annoyed with Art. You identifying him as patronizing, Les, but I feel like he’s only patronizing Rachel with the reprimand. I really don’t see Art sitting down with Tim in that situation either. I understand that Art’s coming from a position that he saw Rachel as a potential successor, but in a field office where’s the not only the only woman but also the person of color, it plays a differently, and excusing Raylan’s behavior as a “lost cause” doesn’t actually excuse it, it just shows that he’ll be allowed to get away with it until another agency gets annoyed enough to sniff him out (which they should be now considering that an FBI agent killed himself in front of Raylan, good grief!).

And about those snakes…Did you guys watch The Following on Monday? It’s as bad as you heard (well, not bad, per se, just boring, which is actually worse in my book), but I thought the snake bit served as a nice counterpoint to The Following‘s violence, which is mostly just there for shock value and little else. Sure, I have no attachment to Jimmy, but that scene builds to its insane violence, and its snakes are an established part of that setting, thus it earns its horrifying (and later semi-comedic when Jimmy has the snake’s head still attached to his face) eye-covering moment. The Following didn’t earn its violence, so it feels empty and rote. And it’s not like that scene couldn’t have played on broadcast TV, either. So, really, it’s a study in craftsmanship and understanding of violence on TV.

LES: Good grief indeed regarding the FBI agent shooting himself in the head. That may have contributed to some of my frustrations with the way the episode was structured, as his motivations were never clearly explained and he was only there for dramatically convenient death. Was he looking for the wife due to the threats of Tonin, the behest of Thompson himself, or pursuing some side agenda of his own? It was clumsily handled, especially for a character we’d only just met. I get that it’s supposed to raise the stakes of just how important the missing Mr. Thompson is to people, but I didn’t feel any of it. (And honestly, how many more times are we going to have a woman being held hostage in a hotel room, someone threatening her sadistically until Raylan and company break down the door? I think we’re up to about four or five at this point.)

Interesting take on the violence in the episode. Justified‘s always had a nice streak of the macabre running through it—the episode where Dewey thought his kidneys had been cut out, the “disarmed” incident that closed out last season—and one of the reasons it works so well is that Graham Yost and company know exactly when to deploy it and when it has the greatest efficacy. Its sister series on FX American Horror Story and Sons of Anarchy aren’t subtle in the least bit when they deploy their most brutal moments (and I haven’t seen The Following yet but I assume it’s in the same vein), but Justified plays its violent moments as unexpected rather than gratuitous, which makes them far stronger in the long run. And while I missed it when I watched the episode originally, it even had a plot point buried in the event, as the fact that Jimmy survived so many bites tipped Boyd off to the fact that Cassie was milking her brother’s pets.

Speaking of the snakes, I want to ask about Boyd’s story this episode, because while I didn’t have problems with it per se I was a little surprised by the speed at which it moved. Boyd calling Billy out in front of his congregation felt like the sort of confrontation they’d have after dancing around each other for a few more episodes—especially since they only had their initial confrontation last week—and while I assume Billy will survive this bite it makes him appear woefully outclassed by the Crowder empire in the first salvo. Yost and company have talked at length about how they want the season to contain smaller arcs as opposed to the Big Bad-driven action of Mags and Quarles, and I’m wondering if we’ll see Billy and Cassie departing from the show sooner rather than later to clear the way for Wynn and Johnny to go gunning for Boyd. Do you think I’m reading too much into it?

NOEL: I haven’t minded the speed at which Boyd’s confrontation with the church as moved, mainly because it allows for the for the Wynn and Johnny stuff to develop a bit before it completely launches. The church provides a distraction, of sorts, for Boyd to focus on, and that frees up Johnny to make the necessary mischief. And don’t forget that Wynn has feelers out about Arlo and the bag as well, so these plots will eventually merge somehow.

Also remember that even if the church clears out of town (which I really don’t think if it does happen, won’t be for another couple of episodes), there’s still Ellen May’s renewed spirit to provide trouble for the Crowder enterprise. If anything, the church has been a way to other aspects of the show forward while still giving Boyd something to do that can also be wrapped up so as to expand the scope of the Thompson/Waldo Truth case.

LES: Good point. I think I’ve just been left a little skeptical about the pacing because for the first time in a while, I’m not sure what the direction of the season is going to be. I knew going into it that Yost and company were trying new things, so I’m more sensitive to when I can see the seams of them trying to do so. It’s entirely possible I’ll have dismissed all my concerns by the end of the next episode, especially if the events of this episode start the ball rolling.

So I’ll try to dwell more on the scenes themselves as opposed to the big picture, and my favorite one this episode was the confrontation between Randall and Raylan. I mentioned this at the top of the discussion, but Raylan’s so much in his element by offering someone a time frame to get out of town, and you can tell just how satisfied he is when Randall rises to the challenge and throws down a gauntlet for the two to settle it in the ring, or as he puts it “put a limp in that Gary Cooper walk of yours.” Raylan’s a mess in a lot of ways, but he does have a very specific code of conduct he adheres to (“born a hundred years too late” is how Art identified it in the original “Fire in the Hole” short story) and you can always see the change in Olyphant’s stance when Raylan’s in a situation where all the parties are operating by that code. I think that’s one of the reasons why Raylan and Boyd identify so heavily with each other, in that both men understand they adhere to rules that it would be meaningless to put into words. (Sorry, one more gripe: those two have yet to have a scene together this season, which I hope gets remedied sooner rather than later.)

Speaking of Randall, what’s your theory on what’s transpired with Raylan’s apartment and bankroll? Has Randall taken Lindsey off and it’s another damsel in distress scenario for Raylan, or has she fallen back on old habits with her ex-husband and they both screwed Raylan over? Have we spent enough time with Lindsey to have any idea of her motivations?

NOEL: I love not having an idea where and when this might end, and I like that the show has the freedom to do something like that, to experiment with its format in a way. Last season itself was sort of an experiment as the longer, serialized arc felt for more intense across the season, like the first two seasons where their arcs didn’t really kick in too heavily until nearer the end of the season. And while we talked about this last week, the mystery allows for there to be mini-cases within the larger arc, creating a Russian–or in this case, Kentuckian–nesting doll of narrative pleasures.

(Boyd and Raylan don’t meet up until like Episode 5 or 6, according to an interview with Yost. Or at least I think that’s what he said. Sorry!)

The Raylan and Lindsey plot is probably the least interesting thing that’s happening for me. Yes, I do think he became a mark after he was flashing all that money from his side jobs. But that’s the only thing I can see as the motivation since, as you noted, Lindsey’s something of a non-entity beyond what she’s told us, and who knows how much we can trust that. It was a long con considering that Raylan’s been here for a while, but he’s also an easy enough of a mark considering that it takes this sort of an action for him to realize that a woman maybe not exactly the best thing for him. And that he’s such an easy mark sort of speaks to that confidence you mentioned, that Gary Cooper walk. He’s unable to fully contextualize potential threats, and assumed the little talking to was enough. This season may end up being about how much things can rattle Raylan’s sense of self, both as a professional and, depending on how much Winona is around, as a man.

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