SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear following a new episode of Justified. It is intended to be read after seeing the show’s latest installment as a source of recap and analysis. As such, all aspects of the series up to and including the episode discussed are fair game.
I praised last week’s episode, “Kin,” for returning to the formula most often employed when Justified is at its best: Boyd plus Raylan equals some captivating television. And while those two characters are the key ingredients, the same idea applies to the show in general—its greatest moments come from squeezing its wide array of colorful characters together and enjoying the results. All in all, “Kin” was going to be a hard act to follow, but I found this week’s offering especially disappointing because it quickly diverted away from that tried and true formula. “Foot Chase” seemed to set everyone off on their own individual adventures (and I do mean everyone). That’s not to say it wasn’t an exciting hour of television—as I’ve said repeatedly, if Boyd Crowder’s around count me in—but it certainly won’t be remembered as one of Justified’s best.
With so many characters off doing their own thing, most of the episode’s dialogue can be divided into two groups: First, conversations between members of the main cast who we see interacting all the time, and second, between a single regular and various one-off or rarely recurring characters. The one exception to this, and perhaps as a result the episode’s strongest plot line, was Raylan and Shelby joining forces in the hunt for Drew Thompson.
Early on, Raylan speaks with some local cops on the scene at Josiah Cairn’s house, and he acts like his usual jerk self. When one of them asks if there’s any particular reason he’s treating them, and I quote, “like a couple of bleached assholes,” Raylan considers it for a moment and responds, “not particularly.” We discover later that the disdain likely stems from his lack of respect for Sheriff Shelby, although I doubt Raylan is self-aware enough to make that connection himself. When Shelby asks if the reason Raylan doesn’t trust him is that he thinks he’s in Boyd’s pocket, Raylan quips back, “I think Lynyrd Skynrd’s overrated; I know you’re in Boyd’s pocket.” Shelby admits that he used Boyd to get elected, but that is allegiance is and always has been to the law. It’s interesting reversal of perspective, given that Boyd would say it was in fact he that was using Shelby.
Of course, the audience knows Shelby is done being used, because we know the details of Ellen May’s disappearance. But understandably, words aren’t enough to change Raylan’s mind. So Shelby sets out to prove it to him by putting Boyd in cuffs and bringing him in for questioning. Boyd warns him of the dangers of this decision, saying, “Son, you are turning a corner you can’t walk back around.” I found two things about that line intriguing: There’s what it says about Boyd (and Walton Goggins’ performance) that he can call Shelby “son,” in spite of their actual ages, and not sound silly. Because that’s just the kind of respect Boyd Crowder commands. And there’s the fact that Shelby, who reminds us himself that he was a supermarket greeter not too long ago, is tenacious enough to turn that corner so forcefully.
They release Boyd after his lawyer turns up. Raylan’s marshal sense starts tingling when he recognizes her as the same woman defending Arlo. He and Shelby trailer her home, where they find Josiah and the “two idiots” who carried him off in a panel van. Despite what the lawyer and her two idiots think, Josiah is not Drew Thompson. So all Shelby and Raylan get for their trouble is another “he went that-a-way” as Josiah points them to Hunter Moseley, the former sheriff of Harlan County who’s currently in jail for his involvement in an attempt on Raylan’s life all the way back in the first season. We’re only six episodes into the season after all, the big mystery isn’t anywhere close to getting wrapped up yet. Which means this episode wasn’t really about finding Drew Thompson, it was about bringing Raylan and Shelby together.
The real reason the characters got so split up on their own adventures this week was precisely because we’re no where close to finding Drew Thompson and they need something to do in the interim. That’s all well and good when it comes to an otherwise strong storyline like the one between Raylan and Shelby, which brought new partnerships and character development. It’s even decent when it’s as entertaining as Boyd’s, ahem, alternate path: Breaking into the homes of the area’s rich folk based on Raylan’s “hill person” cousin Mary’s hint that Drew enjoys hobnobbing with such types, justifying himself in the claim that nobody gets that wealthy “without ruining someone’s day.” It’s not a particularly efficient way of gathering information, however, and Ava is able to wrap things up in her own way. As was the case with Raylan and Shelby, she got her team in the scavenger hunt one step closer to Thompson by getting her and Boyd invited to a party at the home of another former sheriff of Harlan County, Tillman Napier.
Although Ava’s way of doing things made sense, I can’t say it was particularly captivating to watch, and that was the problem with most of this week’s little sidequests. There are some Justified fans who have been clamoring for more plots involving Tim and Rachel. I’m one of them, and as glad as I am we finally got to see Tim go off on his own (and how Raylan is rubbing off on the rest of the office), his story and the others like it came off as fractured and forced. There were way too many to talk about in depth, so I’m going to pick one, Colton’s.
Two weeks ago, at the end of “The Bird Has Flown,” Colton went into the gas station bathroom to snort heroin before killing Ellen May. It was at that very moment that I knew he would develop a drug problem which would drive his storyline moving forward. Back then, you could’ve tried to argue that Colt was no addict. Rather, he was simply uncomfortable with the task Boyd set before him and needed some powdered courage. Alright, I would’ve said, then why did the writers choose to show him using heroin, why not have him pull out a flask and take a big gulp?
You see, drug use only ends one way in the world of fiction: addiction and devastation, men turning to crime and women to prostitution so they can get a fix. Reality allows for shades of grey, like recreational use and functional addiction, while near every drug user on television is a walking time bomb. But the reason for that isn’t necessarily that the writers of Justified or any other show that’s utilized a similar scenario want to moralize or proliferate the idea that “drugs are bad, m’kay.” The thing is, anyone who’s ever written anything will tell you that the hardest part isn’t creating material but cutting it. In television especially, when writers are constricted to 22 or 44-minute installments, there is simply no time to spare for anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. So if someone, especially a side character like Colton, was entirely functional despite their drinking or drug use, why waste any screentime on it? It would be like showing Colton going home to feed his cat or any such thing that has absolutely no impact on the story. So the second any precious screentime is devoted to someone sneaking away to snort heroin, you know they’re going to milk it for all it’s worth.
We can see all this is manifesting in Colton. He’s gone from needing a few bumps to take the edge off to freebasing in the bathroom at Audrey’s to pulling a freaking gun on some poor guy who’s just trying to get clean (not to mention take a piss). I wonder if it’s a coincidence so many of his addiction-related shenanigans take place in bathrooms. Oh, and let’s not forget Colt slapping a hooker around (and making quite the mess in her trailer). This isn’t just any hooker either, but one who seems to have a (presumably very open) relationship with Johnny. It’s hard to say how much time has passed since Ellen May’s escape in the world of the show, but it can’t be more than a week or to, and Colton is completely unraveling. This being television, he has further still to fall before he hits rock bottom. I’d be surprised if he survives the season.
What’s more relevant, however, is how said shenanigans are affecting his work. He doesn’t pick up when Johnny calls because he’s too busy pointing a gun at some junkie’s privates. It’s a risky choice given what Boyd said last week about not responding to him: “Next time I reach out to you, I don’t care if it’s a smiley face you text me back.” But the point is that Colton’s an addict now and addicts make risky choices. Plus it’s Johnny, so who cares, right? Speaking of Johnny, he gets angry when he sees Teri’s bruised face and demands to know who hurt her. Teri knows she can’t say it was Colton, so she blames it on Max, her “Tuesday regular.” Which leads to another interesting side effect of Colton’s new drug problem: he nearly kills this completely innocent (of this particular crime, anyway) man as a way to vent his fury.
A Few More Things:
-It seems Johnny is still planning to kill Boyd once the Thompson mystery is solved. Johnny tells his cousin that “If it were me, I’d take Drew off your hands and then I’d try to kill you.” Of course, Boyd thinks Johnny’s just speaking in hypotheticals, and he a’int afraid of no Wynn Duffy, so he responds, “Well then lucky for me it a’int you.” Boyd, buddy, didn’t you used to be a preacher? Don’t you know the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist?
-Boyd and Ava are engaged, and the proposal was even a bit romantic in a Crowder sort of way. But I’m wondering if this wasn’t a tactical move, at least partially, to take advantage of spouses not being able to testify against one another. Once they’re married Boyd couldn’t be forced to talk if Ava ever gets pinched for killing Delroy, and the same goes for Ava if Boyd’s ever in trouble for, you know, being Boyd.
-“You’re a criminal, how do you get bloodstains out of upholstery?”
Check out the preview for next week’s episode below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.
Tags: Arlo Givens, Ava Crowder, Billy St. Cyr, Boyd Crowder, Colton Rose, Constable Bob Sweeney, Ellen May, Elmore Leonard, Erica Tazel, Jere Burns, Joelle Carter, Johnny Crowder, Justified, Justified Blog, Nate Kreichman, Rachel Brooks, Raylan Givens, Raymond J. Barry, Ron Eldard, Sheriff Shelby, Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, Wynn Duffy