Justified 4.11: Decoy

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. jst_411_Decoy_0173_595_slogo

Last week, I predicted the Crowders and the Marshals would forge a temporary alliance to fight, or rather survive, the onslaught of their common foe: the Tonin crime family, as personified by Nick Augustine (Mike O’Malley). The logic was simple: Despite having Drew Thompon in custody, the Marshals’ game was far from over. As Raylan put it, “We’re standing in a field, we haven’t done shit.” They needed to find a way to get both themselves and their prize catch out of Harlan alive. That left Boyd and company in a similar position. The Crowders had two options: “We make a case to Theo, or we run.”

As I watched the opening scene of “Decoy” for the first time, the apparent inaccuracy of my prediction had me disappointed. Although he remained plenty bold in sticking to his demand for $500,000, it appeared Boyd was simply going to aid the Tonins in finding Drew, and as a matter of course, Raylan. I can’t say for certain, because the writers took great care in ensuring the details behind the Crowders doublecrossing the Tonins were not made explicit (yet). But folks, I’m almost positive my original prognosis was correct.

Looking back, Boyd’s inclusion of Raylan as one his plan’s necessary casualties should’ve been my first hint. But hindsight is 20/20, or so they say. Boyd will never kill Raylan, directly or otherwise, nor will Raylan kill him. And that’s not just because the writers would be nowhere without their two main characters. These are men who have known each other for a long time, and they play by different rules than most archenemies. They’re Harlan County’s version of Batman and the Joker. Their’s is the game that never ends. No matter who or what enters the fold, be it northern carpetbaggers or Black Pike Coal. Deep down inside, being a “robber” would be a lot less fun for Boyd if Raylan wasn’t the “cop” (and, once again, vice-versa).

We’ve talked a lot this season about the ways Harlan seeps into its residents’ very souls. Last week, Boyd spoke at length about why Raylan should have become a criminal along with he and Arlo. Because to Boyd, being from Harlan and being an outlaw are one and the same. One of the major elements of Raylan’s character, however, has been trying to escape Harlan, both geographically and emotionally (I’m referring specifically to the little Arlo in the demon costume that’s always sitting on his shoulder). But the roots are so deep they always tear him back. Still, the desire to get away is what makes him scoff at Boyd’s comment, as well as get a little sheepish when he had to explain that he knew about some roads that weren’t on the map. In terms of action and plot events, the secret alliance came about because both sides needed to overcome a foe greater than themselves. But the real reason the Marshals, or Raylan rather, would make a deal with Boyd Crowder is because they are both Harlan County, Kentucky to the motherfucking bone. We see it as Boyd leads Tonin’s men into Raylan’s trap (the eponymous decoy, or one of many, at least). In what has become the classic Raylan move, he lets them walk so he can (legally) shoot them some other day, Boyd included. As Boyd walks away, Raylan reminds him of promise he’d just made, that they’ll “do this again sometime.” Boyd’s response? “You can count on it, Raylan.” The game goes on.

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Justified 4.06 Foot Chase

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.

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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.

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Justified 4.05: Kin

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.

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Almost every popular television drama has that character: the breakout, the one who isn’t the protagonist but becomes a fan favorite (and thus often a big part of the show’s advertising strategy). Boardwalk Empire has Richard Harrow, The Wire had Omar, The Walking Dead has Daryl Dixon, Sons of Anarchy has Chibbs, Breaking Bad has Jesse Pinkman, not to mention Mike Ehrmantraut. The list goes on. We often wish this character got more screentime, but understand that part of the draw is that we’re always left wanting more. That’s not the case in Justified (or Breaking Bad). Unlike those other shows, its story doesn’t follow one main character while the breakout badass ducks in and out. Instead, its version of the trope, Boyd Crowder, has become so vital that he’s every bit as much the protagonist as Raylan is (ok, he’s a deuteragonist if you really want to get technical about it, nerd). Pretty impressive considering Walton Goggins’ name wasn’t even in the opening credits until season two.

Those of you who know their Justified trivia know that Boyd was originally supposed to die from the bullet Raylan put in his stomach in the pilot episode, as he did in the Elmore Leonard short story on which it was based (“Fire in the Hole”). In fact, Goggins only agreed to be in the show to begin with as a favor to his friend Timothy Olyphant.  But after both creator Graham Yost and test audiences saw how electric the character (and the actor’s performance) was, it was decided Boyd would live to fight another day. The move was even approved by Leonard, who tends to get upset when adaptations of his work stray to far from the source material. It’s not unusual for this kind of character to have their death cancelled—Jesse Pinkman, for instance, was originally meant to die at the end of the first season of Breaking Bad.

So where am I going with all this? Here: As Boyd has slowly risen through the ranks from one-off to co-protagonist, the writers have generally woven him into the story pretty gracefully. He had his side adventures and independent activities, but the first three seasons each had a single decidedly main plot, and Boyd always played an important role in its events. That is, until this year, when they’ve had nary any interaction at all. Until this week.

Prior to “Kin,” the writers appeared to be floundering for both a reason and a method to keep Boyd around. Save an interaction here or there, you could’ve edited his and Raylan’s plotlines into two separate shows that happened to share a setting, assuming you already knew all the characters. It seemed the two were each along their respective merry ways, and despite Boyd having very little to do in what was meant to be “Raylan’s show,” he was simply too good a character to toss out the window for a reason as “trivial” as not having anything to do with the plot (not that I’m complaining, I’d watch a show that was only about Boyd). But Justified’s bread and butter was, is, and will always be the intersection of the two characters.Whether it’s Boyd versus Raylan or Boyd and Raylan forming a tenuous alliance to take down some common foe, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Boyd himself put it best (as usual) when he and Raylan found themselves locked in the hill people’s makeshift cell, “You wanna start a fight, Raylan? Nine times out of ten I’d be more than happy to accommodate. But right now I think we got more pressing concerns.” What made “Kin” such a special, exciting episode is that Boyd’s entrance into the rat race to find Drew Thompson delivered a return to that basic, ever-electric formula. We even got both versions of it: Boyd and Raylan have different reasons for wanting to find Thompson, but they work together against the aptly-named hill people.

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Justified 4.01: Hole in the Wall

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 show up to and including the episode discussed are fair game.

It’s that time of year, Justified is back. And now with 100% more Patton Oswalt! But we’ll get to that potentially controversial decision in a moment. Let’s start with the man himself, Raylan Givens.

“Hole in the Wall” eased us back into the saddle with a “crime of the week” scenario. Raylan gets a call from a Nashville bail-bonds(wo)man, Sharon Edmunds, who he “had a drink” with at a law enforcement convention a while back. Sharon offers him three grand to haul in a bail-jumping murderer, Jody Adair (played by Chris Chalk, who you may recognize as Tom Walker from Homeland and Gary Cooper in The Newsroom).

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Adair plot was the ways in which the character mirrored Raylan. Both men do as they please with little thought of the consequences, rationalizing their actions with claims that their motivations are pure and that they’re essentially good people at heart. The only difference is which side of the law they’re on. Adair killed two heroin dealers in a robbery gone awry, but says they deserved it and that the world is well rid of them. Plus, he only did the job because he needed money to see his kids. Now think about why Raylan sneaks away to catch Adair while on Uncle Sam’s clock: he wants to begin squirreling away money for his kid. Sound familiar? Not to mention, you know, the show’s basic premise: that Raylan is a lawman who plays by his own rules but is “justified” in doing so.

The irony reaches its peak when Raylan chastises Adair for refusing to take responsibility for his actions. “You run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. You run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.” Once again, sound familiar? It seems we’ve never heard a character on Justified own up to what they’ve done or who they are. It’s always someone else’s fault. But Raylan lacks self-awareness to such a degree that he can tell Adair “you got no self-awareness” with a straight face.

Meanwhile, the seeds of a serial storyline were planted beginning with a flashback to 1983, when a parachutist fell out of the sky in front of the Givens house, a few bricks of cocaine in tow. Couple that with the episode’s ending: Arlo killing a man who overheard he and Raylan speak about the remnants of the incident, a driver’s license and bag stashed inside a wall, and it’s not difficult to tell what the season’s big mystery will be.

The beginnings of that mystery were expertly woven into the episode’s A-story through the recurring theme of fatherhood. Adair and Raylan, two men engaging in varying levels of wrong in order to do right by their kids, served as a contrast to Raylan’s own father, who’s put his own needs in front of his son’s for as long as we’ve known him. The question raised by that contrast, then, is whether there was ever a time when Arlo put his child (or his wives) first, before he was the selfish criminal we see today. It’s a question that will be answered as the truth about Waldo Truth, the man who fell to Earth (the parachutist, not Bowie), is uncovered. Was that flashback the moment Arlo Givens “broke bad?”

Now onto the man who will always keep me coming back to drink at the Justified well: Boyd Crowder. Soon after his appearance he laments to Ava that “no one ever said running a criminal enterprise would be this hard.” She responds that “they left that part out on career day.” The chemistry between Boyd and Ava continues to be tremendous thanks to both the phenomenal work of Walton Goggins and Joelle Carter and the writers who put all that sharp dialogue in their mouths.

Boyd’s issue in the premiere is a drop off in his oxy sales. One of his former pushers, Hiram, has seen the light at the “Last Chance Holiness Church” by the snake-handling Pentecostal preacher Bill St. Cyr. Hiram claims people aren’t getting high anymore because they’re finding Jesus in a tent in the woods, and tells Boyd that he has neither the shipment of oxy or the money from selling it. Hiram says he flushed that “poison” down the toilet. Boyd is unmoved by the conversion, and insists that Hiram has one night to get him his money.

All this allows for the introduction of the newest player for Boyd’s team, Colton Rose, an old Gulf War buddy. Boyd brings Colton along to Hiram’s as a tryout for Team Crowder. It turns out Hiram did have the money from the oxy sales, but lied to Boyd so that he could donate it to preacher Billy and the church. Once they’ve got the cash, Boyd tells Colton to “take care” of Hiram, which his friend takes to mean putting a bullet in his skull. Boyd claims he simply wanted Colton to untie the man, but I think Harlan’s criminal mastermind was intentionally ambiguous in using the phrase “take care.” He wanted to see what his old friend would do, and got exactly the result he wanted. For the moment, the Boyd vs. preacher Billy plot seems disparate from the main Raylan plot, but I’m sure everything will come together as the season wears on. Even if it doesn’t, Boyd’s doings are sure to entertain. He’s one of the most captivating characters on television today.

As for that other major introduction, Patton Oswalt as Constable Bob, so far, I’m a fan. Sure, he’s over the top, but so is the show’s source material (the crime fiction of Elmore Leonard). Justified has always managed to blend in humor without straying too far from its roots, and I trust that the writers will use Oswalt as more than just comic relief and ultimately better the show. I mean, come on, don’t try and tell me “Hole in the Wall” didn’t benefit from the inclusion of Constable Bob’s “go bag” and his “when this shit goes Road Warrior, I’m ready” line.

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

  

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