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Friday, 23 of April of 2021

Justified – “Decoy”

“Holy shit. They circled the wagons.”

Justified TitlecardLES: It was a highly anticipated episode of Justified this week, with many of our fellow critics who’d seen the episode in advance – Alan Sepinwall, Ryan McGee and James Poniewozik to name a few – excitedly trumpeting “Decoy” as the best installment of the season, if not the series. And for the most part, I would say that this was an episode that delivered what it promised, with the U.S. Marshals and the Detroit Mafia turning Harlan County into their playground for an hour in the race to claim Drew Thompson as their prize. This was yet another episode that played to my appreciation of the show’s ability to deliver scenes where a conversation takes place and at any moment, somebody could decide to draw a weapon and it all goes to hell. There’s the glorious state of limbo as the marshal caravan is trapped by Colton’s explosives, the emotional needling Drew sends Raylan’s way all episode, and the ruthless stream of dick-sucking references Nicky Augustine throws at Ava. So many good scenes, I could have watched an entire bottle/vignette episode set at any one of them.

LES (cont): What I loved about the episode in addition was how it also allowed a lot of things that have been percolating all season to finally come to, if not a final payoff, a very satisfying series of events. Constable Bob, after seeming like a kid playing dress-up all season, rises to the plate by taking a (very hard to watch) beating from Yolo (or Yoohoo if you prefer Raylan’s version), to the point that even Raylan’s impressed. (His comment to Pincher that “most people understimate Bob at their peril” was a delight.) The adversarial relationship between Tim and Colt plays out in a great phone call as the former gaugesjust what trouble the convoy’s in, and also to show how their feud has turned into the supporting cast’s version of the Raylan vs. Boyd dynamic. And poor Johnny finally lets the cat out of the bag by rising to Augustine’s jabs when Ava doesn’t, exposing both his treachery and his affection for Ava. Justified can be a sloppy show, but it’s also a show that’s very good at paying things off at the right time, and we had that in spades tonight.

GREG: I for one don’t think this is quite the best episode of the season (that would be “Outlaw”), but it was pretty great indeed. Conversations like the one between Colt and Tim are indeed one of the best aspects of the series. They’re at once tense and hilarious, with the two trading witty comments while the threat of violence hovers over the entire exchange. Speaking of which, I owe Colt an apology. This episode basically fixed every problem I’ve had with him by showing just why Boyd wanted him in his crew, and I’ll be curious to see whether shooting Mort was done on Boyd’s orders or not. Regardless, a very good episode for him, and I love your comparison of his and Tim’s dynamic to Raylan and Boyd’s. I never thought of it that way, but that whole sequence was indeed very reminiscent of countless back and forths between Mr. Givens and Mr. Crowder. Really, this episode was just on fire in terms of great dialogue, from Tim’s frustrated quip about no one having a cigarette and Bob’s Drew-related wordplay during the beating, which was indeed very hard to watch (and expertly filmed)

So while “Decoy” wasn’t packed with series-changing events the way “Outlaw” was, it was definitely among the most purely entertaining hours Justified has ever done. I’m not sure it pays as much off as you do (outside of Bob and Johnny, of course), as most of the main arcs are still very much up in the air. Just because Drew’s out of Harlan—if I had one nitpick, it’s that I find it slightly hard to believe hat no one thought to escape via the train until Bob got there—doesn’t mean he’s safe, and there’s still the small matter of who’s going to get to Ellen May first. Plus, it remains to be seen just what’s going to happen to Johnny, or if Boyd has some sort of plan up his sleeve. But they have to save some stuff for the last two installments, don’t they? And when an episode is this much of a treat in terms of both action and writing, I’m not complaining. Not every episode can feature both the death of Arlo and Boyd making a major move against the Clover Hill people, after all.

So yeah, this was pretty much as fantastic as everyone said it was going to be. Noel, do you concur?

NOEL: That was a damn fine piece of television.

Les, you may a want a bottle episode of each of the individual threads, but I just want a bottle episode of Boyd thinking. It’s a delight to watch Walton Goggins as Boyd mull over things. Or talk (his conversations with Augustine were plenty fun: “If you’ll allow contractions.”). I do not need an episode of Augustine goading Ava, trying to drag her down. The scene went on just too long, which may’ve been the point, and it really reinforced how utterly helpless Augustine is in Harlan, but it just felt over-extended for me. And while I enjoyed Bob staying frosty, I could’ve done without the Tarantino-inspired musical juxtaposition. It felt too cheeky for me.

But these are quibbles, really. Michael Watkins directs the episode to an inch of its life, if it’s visually showcasing how isolated Drew is in this world now, on the other side of that invisible line that Raylan has drawn or the really delightful shot-reverse shot cleverness on the stairs between Raylan, Boyd, and Pincher (which may’ve been my favorite sequence of the episode due to the sheer novelty of it all).

I want to circle back to planning, which we talked about last week. Colt shoots Augustine’s sharpshooter Mort for no clear reason. Augustine is left in the “care” of Ava and a duplicitous Johnny. Boyd’s happy to leave Augustine’s men to be killed by the Marshals. Aiming to pick them off and get into Tonin’s good graces, a nice long game in the process?

LES: Thank you for calling out the scene on the stairs. Those shots were so masterfully done. I don’t think we give Justified nearly enough credit for how well directed* it is and how much that helps establish it as a modern Western.

*Speaking of directors, I do wonder if Adam Arkin’s going to show up in the last two episodes – he’s not listed as the director on either according to Wikipedia but he is the established face of Theo Tonin. I can’t imagine they wouldn’t if they want to tie the story arc up completely, but I could also see value to him remaining in the shadows, only visible through his legion of button men.

As to the planning, I’m really not sure how much of that was intentional, given just how much shifting sand is under Boyd’s feet at the moment. Certainly Boyd has no reason to think that Tonin’s men have any regard or respect for him at this moment, and the only reason he’s able to stay alive is because he convinces them his connection with Raylan gives them an advantage. (Loved the callback to the pilot as Boyd explains this connection as “We dug coal together” and Augustine’s bemused reaction.) Certain parts of it do make sense – Boyd specifying that Augustine should send his best shooter with Colt seems like a shrewd move to remove one of Augustine’s advantages – but frankly when it comes to any member of the Crowder organization I can no longer tell the difference between strategic planning and desperate/impulsive gamble.

Which, frankly, I prefer because it keeps things interesting. I could very easily see this season ending with all four of them sitting around a pile of money as Boyd lights a cigar A-Team-style to talk about a plan coming together, or I can see it ending with the entire group either dead or bound for prison.

Far better in the world of planning this week are the marshals, who are able to generate the titular decoy caravan (complete with Raylan making the ultimate sacrifice by loaning an anonymous marshal his hat) and detect the ambush thanks to Tim’s sixth sense. Great episode for Jacob Pitts, who got to be both competent ex-sniper and smartass, even cracking wise at his own oft-speculated PTSD. As much as he’s typically the one frustrated by the way Raylan does business, I’ve been getting a Raylan 2.0 vibe from him this season, right down to the slicked-back hairstyle. (And while she wasn’t in the episode as much, some good scenes for Erica Tazel too as Rachel joins Raylan in cutting down Drew’s continual efforts to empathize and bond with Raylan. She even gets to name-drop the show’s tile at one point!)

In bringing the plans together, I loved the way the two groups managed to tie together with their shared memory of the astronaut who visited their high school as the best plan for getting a helicopter in and out. First Boyd, Johnny and Ava all have the same moment of realization, and then Raylan and Boyd share their own memories in the stairwell to the ongoing frustration of Picker. The culture clash between Detroit and Harlan never gets old for me.

GREG: I think that’s true of FX shows generally. With the exception of Louie, people rarely talk about how strong they are visually (likely due to the fact that HBO’s shows usually have better production values, while Breaking Bad and Mad Men are kind of on another plane on a purely cinematographic level). That’s definitely an oversight, as they—Justified included—are always terrifically filmed. Loved those stairwell scenes, but the cutting between closer shots of Tim and Art and distant shots from Colt’s point of view was just as magnificent at emphasizing the life or death chess match that the two groups are engaged in. And I’ve already briefly mentioned the brutal beating taken by Constable Bob, but that may have been the highlight of the episode (to me, at least) in terms of directing. Justified is a frequently tense show, but it’s rarely quite that visceral, and almost never legitimately terrifying. But when they want to, they can definitely ratchet up the intensity to almost unbearable levels. A very good job indeed by Watkins.

I too love the way Boyd is able to deduce Raylan’s plan thanks to their shared history. I imagine this has been said before about this show by many (including probably myself at one point or another), but it’s always worth mentioning that one of the very best things about Justified—maybe second to the always crackling dialogue—is just how intelligent its characters generally are (Dewey Crowe aside, of course). In particular, keeping Boyd around after the pilot gives us the joy of watching two equally smart people try to outmaneuver each other in episodes such as this and last week’s. So great.

LES: Speaking of Dewey Crowe, heartbroken he won’t be in this season according to both Yost and Leonard Chang, who said they couldn’t find the right place for him in the story and didn’t want to phone it in. I’ve grown used to getting at least one installment of his wacky hijinks per season. But I guess that means he’ll just be in the back pocket for season five, which FX needs to hurry up and order already.

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