Justified 4.09: The Hatchet Tour

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.


The season’s big mystery has officially been solved. The answer to the question of Drew Thompson’s identity has been answered: It’s Sheriff Shelby Parlow, hiding in plain sight this whole time. At first I was a little disappointed in this discovery. In part because I hoped all those hints last week were red herrings. It seemed silly to devote one episode to the audience figuring things out and another to having the characters do it. I felt like the writers were just serving up more delays to stretch out a storyline that really isn’t big enough to command a whole season, because it’s the best they could come up with. We know who Thompson is, all that’s left is to cuff him, and they’re going to drag out that out for four more episodes? I felt cheated.

Then, something occurred to me which put it all in perspective. This season wasn’t actually about figuring out who Drew Thompson was. Not really. As I’ve mentioned, one of the big themes has been Raylan’s preparing for fatherhood and Arlo’s influence on just what kind of Dad he’ll be. What I didn’t put together until this week, however, was how that was actually a smaller part of another, greater theme, perhaps the season’s most significant. And that’s how the history of Harlan, its people and their ancestors, impacts its future. The Arlo/Raylan/fatherhood idea is just a smaller piece of that greater puzzle.

The biggest sign pointing us in the direction of this idea was Raylan’s recollection of an old feud between the Givens and another Harlan clan. The way Raylan remembers it, Arlo got pinched for assault after he beat the crap out of a man named Johnson McClaren because his dog was shitting on their lawn. The thing escalated, the Givens are gearing up to go after the McClarens and calling on their allies, the Crowders, to go after the Sorensens, who were kin to the McClarens. That is, until Raylan’s mother Frances called a meeting for all the clans to get together and hash it out. Frances, who Raylan says had some French blood in her, once told her son that the term “hash it out” comes from the french word “hatchet,” like an axe, to “cut through the bullshit.”

Only, that old story didn’t really go down the way Raylan thinks it did, as Shelby points out. In truth, “the dog was incidental,” and Johnson McClaren had “verbally assaulted” his mother, making “implications around town as to her proclivities,” and pushed it too far. That’s when Arlo “saw fit to shove a pound of dog shit down his mouth.” But Frances “took the high road, called a truce, although she had every right to be affronted. Your daddy was protecting her honor.” Raylan looks at Shelby with a look of disbelief, saying “Arlo did that?” It goes against everything he believes his father to have been.

That old story is relevant in the present because Raylan spends the episode trying to do the same thing his mother did: He brings Hunter Mosley to Wynn Duffy, who might know why the former sheriff killed Arlo and also has skin in the finding Drew Thompson game, in the hopes that they can “cut through the bullshit.” Of course, things don’t turn out that way, and at the end of the episode Mosley says, “Raylan, you listen to your mama’s voice and not that old son of a bitch you may turn out alright. But I wouldn’t count on it. Because I think we both know whose voice it is makes you do what you do.” Raylan’s got his parents, the angel and the demon, sitting on his shoulders, whispering into his ears. But he’s only hearing one of them, which has ramifications far beyond whether or not he’ll make a good father.

But back to Drew Thompson. It’s Constable Bob Sweeney, of all people, who incidentally makes the light bulb go off in Raylan’s head when he casually discusses the way Shelby and Hunter helped him deal with the Ollie situation. Raylan returns to his car to find Shelby gone and Hunter uncuffed in the backseat, happy that despite everything he wasn’t the one who spilled the beans. There’s an infinite amount of Harlan history and feuds still weaving its way into happenings today, and one example is that Shelby, or Drew rather, helped Hunter get revenge on Henry Crowder, who raped, tortured, and murdered his niece. In return, Hunter kept his mouth shut. When Shelby told Raylan the truth behind that old feud and calling a truce, he was trying to make him understand that he can’t crack a case in Harlan, at least not one like “Who is Drew Thompson,” if you only look at the people and evidence in the present. You need all the secrets, all the history. As Hunter says, “Feud a’int done until it’s done. If you think I’d so much as piss on a Crowder if he was afire, you really are chasing your own dick.”

Speaking of Crowders, Boyd and Ava are less involved in the search for Drew this week. Instead, they’re dealing with the revelation that Colton has been lying, he never killed Ellen May. But before all that, they’re house hunting, and that’s where we see the theme of Harlan’s past influencing its future make its mark. They’re looking at a place in Clover Hill which is enough of a hint that they’re trying to stick it to the old money snobs who live there and say that a Crowder can too live in a place like this, and no, we don’t do your dirty work. But it gets even more specific when Ava recognizes the house from her childhood. She played there as a child while her mother worked as a maid. She describes how she envisions the house should be, which is how it was back then. Once again, we see that Harlan’s past, and its people’s parents and ancestors are snaking their way into goings on in the present. Ava only falls in love with the place because she sees the daughter living where the mother worked as a maid as poetic justice. Likewise, when the realtor makes implications as to what they can afford, offering to show them starter homes a little further down the hill, Boyd is quick to open his suitcase and let the bitch know that they do have money, and they’ll buy whatever house they damn well please, cash. Not exactly a wise move for a criminal mastermind to show off all his ill-gotten cash to someone they’re not even buying a house from. But he’s eager to show that he’s done better for the Crowder name than past generations. That’s just how things are in Harlan.

Check out the preview for next week’s episode below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.