Justified 4.08: Outlaw

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 criticized last week’s episode of Justified because it didn’t seem to bring us much closer to solving the season’s big mystery. It gave Raylan an unrelated one (alright, two) off storyline while Boyd inched towards finding Drew Thompson. Well, “Outlaw,” appears to be the writers’ forcing a collective foot in my mouth. It all but came out and said that the hard-working and dedicated Sheriff of Harlan County, Shelby Parlow, is in fact the man we’ve been looking for all along. And there he was, right under our noses.

For those that didn’t catch the hints, they came mostly during Shelby’s conversation with Ellen May about reinventing one’s self, starting over. He came home to find her digging through his ex-wife’s things, namely a necklace depicting St. Christopher, “patron saint of travelers, sailors, pilots, and bachelors.” Pilots, folks. Ellen May also happened to be wearing that ex-wife’s clothes, and remarked that they made her feel like a different person while also reminding her who she truly is. Shelby’s response? “Must’ve been a year after I first joined the sheriff’s department that I could put on my uniform without feeling like I was wearing a costume.” Now who would feel more like a fraud in a police uniform than an ex-criminal? He also says that “if you pretend to be something long enough, it’s not pretending.” In other words, at this point, he really is Shelby Parlow.

Only there’s a reason they did all that without coming out and saying it. And maybe that’s because the writers just want us to think that Shelby is Drew, just so they can pull the rug out from under us later on. Nobody greeted Shelby by saying “Hello, Drew.” I’m sure there will be a scene like that next week, whether or not it’ll be Shelby standing there when the camera flips around and fades to black remains to be seen. A couple things are holding me back from being positive Shelby’s our man. First of all, his would-be ex-wife, Eve Munro, tells Raylan she hasn’t seen Drew in 30 years, while Shelby tells Ellen May his wife left him 25 years ago. Secondly, look at all these people working so hard to protect Drew from being found out: They’re giving up deals to be moved to cushy prisons, not to mention risking (and often losing) their lives. At this point, if Shelby is Drew, what kind of power does he hold that people are willing to do so much for him? It’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s the last remaining piece of the puzzle.

Yet despite what I said last week about the downsides of the show dragging its feet with the main storyline, with all the other stuff that happened this week, the theoretical revelation of Drew Thompson’s identity almost seems like a sidenote. Because “Outlaw” gave us some great stuff.First of all, someone died. Not just some meaningless character who arrived on screen just in time to leave it, which is the style of most of the deaths in Justified. No, this was a real, major character: Arlo Givens. One of this season’s big themes has been Raylan’s preparations for fatherhood. Of course, Raylan’s relationship with his own father plays a large part in what he believes it means to be a father. If nothing else, Raylan’s got one play in his book: do the opposite of what Arlo did. But in spite of what a mean son-of-a-bitch Arlo was, fathers and sons are fathers and sons, so our badass marshal actually shed a tear! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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