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Tuesday, 2 of March of 2021

Justified – “This Bird Has Flown”

“There’s money in fightin’ chickens, Raylan. You think about it…”

Justified TitlecardCORY: Gentlemen, I’m doubly happy this week. Not only is good to be back involved in our Justified chats, but it’s good to be talking about what is the best episode of the season to-date. “The Bird Has Flown” is driven by two stories with very different emotional beats, but are about some of the same things. While Raylan and Rachel attempt to track Lindsay and her husband down in what amounts to one of the show’s best procedural chases in recent memory, Ava struggles with how to handle the aimless and desperate Ellen May. Raylan and Rachel’s pursuit result in a few nice scenes for the show’s most underused character and Ava’s conflicted feelings helped Ellen May seem quite sympathetic. And most impressively, Taylor Elmore’s script gave both stories the same thematic center, with Raylan and Ava learning how to let go of people (and in Raylan’s case, money) a little easier  — even if they’re forced to learn those lessons.

What are your opening thoughts about this week’s offering?

NOEL: Best episode to date…? Hm. Okay, I guess? I mean, I enjoyed it and all, but I don’t know that I can say “best” if only because I find Randall and Lindsay’s shenanigans sort of boring, even if I did like the climax with the beanbag shotgun and the chickens in the van. But I do agree that there’s a thematic core that certainly makes the episode feel tighter. I do think the show needs more Rachel. That woman does not take any guff. I loved it when she smacked that rooster-rasier with the baton. But it also demonstrates how pro-active she may feel she needs to be in certain situations as I’m not completely convinced that she wouldn’t have shot in him the foot had Raylan not been there as backup.

I will say that as soon as Ellen May walked into Audrey’s and Ava said that Colt was the one taking her to the bus station, I became very worried, fingers dug deep into blanket I was under. That entire sequence was riveting.

So I guess we’ve finished the mini-arcs of the season now between Billy’s death (sad) and Randall and Lindsay being taken care of? I mean, yes, Cassie’s still around, and likely primed to still cause trouble for Boyd (did she get her hands on Ellen May?), but it feels like the show’s ready to transition to the bag in the wall some more.

LES: I was really eager for “This Bird Has Flown” once I saw the credited writer was Taylor Elmore, who’s been behind some of the show’s best episodes—including one of my top TV episodes of 2011, season two’s “Brother’s Keeper.” He tends to write episodes that are heavy on literal explosive action—blowing up cars in season two’s “Cottonmouth” and season three’s “Coalition”—and he’s also been willing to pull the trigger on colorful supporting cast members like Coover and Devil.

And unfortunately, I wouldn’t put this on par with those outings. Not that it was a bad episode, as Justified‘s incapable of doing such a thing. There were a lot of fun moments in the Raylan/Rachel partnership—a well I’m glad to see the writers explore more as it’s done well for both characters the two or three times they’ve done it—and it had Jim Beaver soliloquizing about Boyd’s conscience, the most Ellsworthy I’ve seen him since Deadwood. And as you said Noel, the Ellen May closing scene was terrific, more than a few shades of The Sopranos‘ “Long Term Parking” as it’s not clear until the very end what orders Colton has and how aware Ellen May is of her precarious fate.

On the other hand, I’m still not at a point where I’m involved in any of the plots that are going on. Last week I mentioned my skepticism with the season’s pacing now that it’s opting for mini-arcs as opposed to a Big Bad, and those concerns have only amplified. Randall (and I assume Lindsey) are now both out of the picture, and Raylan’s learned a lesson from it, but I feel there wasn’t enough buildup for me to be invested in his respective rivalry or relationship. And on the other side of the tracks, we expected Billy to be a rival to Boyd after two tense preach-offs, and now he’s dead before the halfway point of the season—a death that happens off-screen no less, which I found quite insulting to the character after how much I liked Joe Mazello. It’s all still fun and well-done, but I admit I’m feeling a bit unmoored as we progress.

CORY: Hmm. Maybe I’m too optimistic about this one, but I don’t have much of an issue with anything that happened here or the season’s approach to storytelling. By the end of last season, I was burnt out on the show’s Big Bad storytelling process, and I’ve always liked the procedural episodes, so the beginning of this fourth season is right in my pleasure wheelhouse. It’s not like there isn’t an overarching story already in place, one that the show is going to return to next week if the previews are any indication, and it’s not like the show hasn’t backed away from larger concepts in early parts of previous seasons. This is a show the thing does, and these last two episodes feel more like a useful mini-arc than the straight-up procedural efforts we saw in the first few seasons.

Moreover, at this point, Justified is filled with so many colorful characters and great performances that I don’t mind stepping away for some lower-key shenanigans. Olyphant is on another level with his dry sarcasm this season (I especially loved his “I’ll have to download that” line) and it’s always nice to be in the part of the season where Yost and company remember Rachel and Tim exist (Rachel was great this week, but Tim had his moments last week too).

And I like that the show can still–and is still interested–in telling stories about Raylan that don’t necessarily involve his father, Winona, or Boyd. The sense of history and family permeates the show in the best of ways, but Raylan is more than his hat, his quips and his relationships with those people. So I liked this arc.

But, what about Ellen May running away? Do we actually think that she’ll try to fight back against Ava, Boyd and the rest of the gang? This is still going to end very, very poorly for her, right?

NOEL: I’m not down on procedural storytelling or episodes — I think everyone here knows how much I love a well-crafted procedural — it’s just I didn’t find this particular chase to be interesting. Raylan’s connection to Lindsey just never seemed very fleshed out to me beyond being sex buddies, so his apparent attachment to her, and vice versa, just wasn’t developed enough to be super-engaging on a character level. That, and Randall is the worst person to be a con man. If he can’t handle his wife and con partner flirting with the convenience store clerk so they can STEAL A BOTTLE OF BEER (What, they used all the money on the chickens? ALL OF IT?!), then goodness knows how he’s able to handle anything else they have to do.

If I did find anything interesting about the chase, it was an issue of masculinity, and I’m still sort of trying to hash out those issues between Raylan and Randall. I mean, their fist fight was completely absurd (and Raylan was completely outmatched), and this issue of dick measuring and over-compensating bean bag shotguns (IT’S A METAPHOR!) permeates the episode, but I’m not sure where it all went or what conclusions we could make.

But, yes, let’s talk Ellen May because I love Ellen May so much and I want her to be okay. I don’t think she ran off given that the pump was still in the car (otherwise she would’ve just taken the car, yes?), so I’m thinking that Cassie grabbed her. Here’s the nut for you two: Who do you think ordered Ellen May’s death? Was it Ava or Boyd? I lean toward Boyd, both given the episode’s focus on him just sitting back at Audrey’s, and those meaningful glances, but I also feel like it was foreshadowed by Parlow’s explanation to Cassie that Boyd does not like loose ends. But I can totally see Ava as the person who came up with the idea, and their brief little chat about how it’ll be easier for Ellen May, that’ll be happy this way, that Boyd made the arrangements.

LES: It was champagne, Noel. Know your convenience store alcohols. Randall’s looking to the future, he’s not going to celebrate with a forty of Pabst.

I’m glad you’ve steered things to Ellen May, because while I’ve been nitpicking some of the big-picture stuff, the smaller stuff has been quite solid. I’ve been enjoying Ellen May go through a crisis of faith on the periphery of the St. Cyrs’ challenge to Boyd’s empire, and it’s been a nice example of Justified knowing that it has these various characters and elements on the fringes that it can bring in to drive the plot as necessary. Plus, watching Ava’s gradual transformation into the Lady Macbeth of Harlan County has been a terrific slow burn of a narrative arc, and gave Joelle Carter a new lease on life as opposed to being part of the Raylan-Ava-Winona love triangle it seemed to be in the early episodes.

But much as she’s gained the Al Swearengen willingness to knock around one of her girls if they talk back one too many times, I’m not sure she’s yet at the point where she’d willingly send one of her girls to her death, especially one who (despite being privy to some very damaging intel) is so desperate for a place to come home to. Boyd’s far more of a “no more half-measures”* sort (or “unfettered by conscience” as Shelby put it) and I can see him reading into the situation and persuading her it’s the right decision. And I also don’t think Colton would take an order like that directly from Ava, it’d have to come straight from Boyd.

*Are we to the point where we all want Jonathan Banks to be on Justified? Because we need to be at that point.

As to where she is now, I honestly have no idea. I agree that if she’d run away it’d be more likely that she’d just take the truck while Colton was off taking a bump of heroin* in the bathroom, but I also don’t know if I think Cassie has the foresight or the steel to tail them from Audrey’s and pick the right moment, though certainly she’s the one who could convince Ellen May to go with her. I’d lean to a third possibility, of maybe Wynn Duffy’s people are keeping an eye on the Crowder muscle and decided this might come in handy at some point. It’s up in the air, which is clearly how they intended it.

*Certainly makes his comments about recognizing a junkie walk from his time in Afghanistan seem a little more meaningful. And I like the added detail that the drug is one of the Dixie Mafia bags they took off Duffy’s dealer.

I also want to acknowledge just how well shot so many of the scenes in that story were–the initial conversation between Boyd and Ellen May lit by those bar lights, the angles of Audrey’s for Ellen May’s goodbye scene having a very Godfather-esque overtone, and then the moments where Boyd tries to assuage Ava’s guilt for making the decision. Boyd’s base of operations has a very nice, enclosed feeling that keeps it both menacing but also shows the small-town environment his operation’s set up in.

CORY: I think my favorite part about the Ellen May story was the final scene between her and Ava. Although Ava was clearly ready to get Ellen May out of her hair, the speech about getting out of Harlan County and starting over, and how she (Ava) never really had a chance to do that felt entirely real to me. The show has made Ava into a much stronger person in the last few seasons, but it’s nice to be reminded that once upon a time, she didn’t want to be part of the Crowder crime family; in fact, she tried to shoot her way out of it. I know the show wants us to see how sad it is in some ways that she’s still part of this family–the good news being that she’s at the top, with some power–but I’ve always felt like the writers could have explored Ava’s desire to get away just a little bit more. But then again, I guess that’s sort of the point, right? No one ever gets out. And even when you do leave, like Raylan, you’re never really gone and this area sticks with you.

Colton’s reaction in that final sequence was fascinating. Just a few weeks ago, he was blowing a guy’s head off and shrugging at the miscommunication that led to that event, and yet here, we see him really struggle with the idea that he has to put Ellen May down (and by the way, I think Boyd probably ordered the hit, but he could tell that Ava kind of wanted to). That, coupled with the drug problem, adds another interesting layer to a character that is still in the process of definition. I’m very curious to see how Boyd reacts to these events, but also how Colton reacts to those reactions. This is certainly going to test their bond.

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