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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Hidden Netflix Gems: Raising Arizona

It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday. 

This week’s Hidden Netflix Gem: Raising Arizona (1987)

Even if you haven’t heard of Joel and Ethan Coen, you’ve sure as hell heard of some of their films. The brothers have jointly written, directed, and produced such modern classics as Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit. Their work bounces around in time, space, and genre—the Coens never make the same movie twice—and they’ve been renowned for it over the past three decades, with 13 Academy Award nominations and four wins.

Before all those accolades, the Coen brothers made their debut with 1984′s Blood Simple, a neo-noir thriller. Not wanting to make a reputation as one-trick ponies, they avowed to make to their next project as different from their first as possible. Out of that desire, the one-of-a-kind screwball comedy Raising Arizona was born.

Our protagonist is Herbert I. “Hi” McDonnough, played by the polarizing Nicolas Cage, who can make or break a movie depending on whether or not he fits his character. Hi is the type of lovable nitwit that often fills Coen fare: an erudite idiot reminiscent of Lebowski’s Dude, if he’d been born in an Arizona trailer park and had a penchant (though not necessarily a skill) for robbing 24-hour convenience stores. Luckily, Cage slips into Hi’s skin masterfully, right down to the wacky hairdo and funny accent (“Temp-ee, Arizona”). The performance remains one of his best to date, although ultimately Adaptation takes the cake.

Opposite Cage is Holly Hunter as the tight-lipped policewoman, Edwina or “Ed,” who’s always taking the recidivist Hi’s mugshot photos. After one particularly fateful arrest, Hi finds Ed in tears and learns that her fiance has left her. He proposes after his latest release from prison, and the two get married and move into a tiny trailer in the Arizona desert, which Hi lovingly calls a “suburban starter home.” One of the film’s many sources of comedy is the contrast between the upbeat world of Hi’s narration and that of the more objective reality we see on screen.

Hi does his best to “stand up and fly straight” after settling into married life, getting a job in a machine shop, but finds it difficult “with that darned Reagan in the White House.” Nonetheless, as time passes, the couple want to take the logical next step and start a family. Unfortunately, “biology is against them,” as they receive the unhappy news that Edwina is “barren,” and they’re denied the chance to adopt because of Hi’s criminal record.

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Justified 4.04: The Bird Has Flown

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.

Justified has always walked the fine line between serial and episodic storytelling. There are times when a full episode that doesn’t add to the season’s overarching plot can seem like filler, no matter how much awesome dialogue there is. But some of the show’s best episodes have come in a “crime of the week” package. How could you forget season one’s “Long in the Tooth,” in which guest star Alan Ruck played a cartel accountant turned dentist for the downtrodden? Justified’s fourth season has continued to walk the tightrope between those two formats.

In the two episodes prior to this week’s installment, the more serialized Waldo Truth mystery featured prominently while Raylan’s various episodic(ish) comings and goings made their presence known but, for the most part, blended into the background. The reverse was true in the premiere as well as “The Bird Has Flown,” in which a situation that’s been developing in bits and pieces over the last three weeks—the Raylan-Lindsey-Randall love triangle—was finally given center stage.

“The Bird Has Flown” is thematically linked by the ideas of choices and consequences, cause and effect. First of all, there’s the question at the center of every love triangle: which one will she choose? Until last week’s closing scene, it seemed pretty clear Lindsey wanted nothing to do with her ex-con ex-husband. Or it did up until Raylan returned home to find his place ransacked, anyway. After that things seemed just as clear: we (and Raylan) had only been led to believe Lindsey was interested in Raylan because it was part of her and Randall’s scam. But when we returned this week, all clarity had gone from the situation. You could say Lindsey made a series of choices throughout the episode as her loyalties wavered back and forth between Raylan and Randall. You could also say that all that wavering wasn’t a series of choices but her failure to make just one. Either way, you’d be right.

As it turned out, nobody—including Lindsey—knew who she would choose until Rachel’s beanbag shotgun entered the equation. She shoots Raylan once, to Randall’s delight, only to turn to her ex and unload once, twice, and after being greeted by an empty click on the third pull, she decides to turn the gun into a melee weapon. The answer was just as murky as the question. Lindsey didn’t pick A) Raylan or B) Randall, but C) none of the above (or perhaps D) me, myself, and I). Nonetheless, when she tells Raylan where the money is—although she’s actually referring to what they bought with the money—he smiles and says “I knew you liked me.” And when Randall asks how many times Lindsey shot him, Raylan replies, “a couple more times than she shot me.” That’s Raylan for you, no woman could ever dislike him, Lindsey was just too smart to risk the legal consequences of being around when he came to.

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Justified 4.03: Truth and Consequences

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.

“Truth and Consequences” has a more literal title than most episodes of Justified (sure, they packed in a pun, but that’s almost cheating when the character central to the season’s big mystery has a name like “Waldo Truth”). It begins with Boyd paying a visit to the Last Chance Holiness Church, still struggling to figure out what game the preacher and his sister are playing. He’s sure there’s a game, though, there has to be. Boyd would never go to all the trouble the St. Cyrs have if he wasn’t getting something out of it, so he can’t believe anyone else would either. So what’s the truth he’s not seeing?

Half-jokingly, Boyd questions Cassie’s claims that she was merely “putting her brother to sleep,” implying the two are sexually involved and that the sibling act is merely part of their scheme (either that or it’s incest, after all, it’s Kentucky). But that isn’t it, and to his surprise, it isn’t that Cassie uses her brother’s faith and charisma to extort local criminals, either. Cassie turns down Boyd’s “donation,” insisting that what he’s smelling isn’t a con but the fact that “unlike the rest of these sorry souls, we’re not afraid of you.” Boyd quips back, “In that case, ma’am, I think we’ve misjudged each other,” words that turn out prophetic.

Having tried the carrot, Boyd decides to try the stick—sending his henchmen in to intimidate the St. Cyrs—which results in the one who isn’t Colton (apparently his name is Jimmy) being bitten to death by snakes, or so it seems. Given the severity of his injuries, Jimmy should’ve died hours before he got medical help. And just like that, a lightbulb goes off in Boyd’s head. So he heads back to the Last Chance Holiness with another gift, only this time, “it’s not to the church, it’s to the congregation. And it ain’t money, it’s knowledge.”

The main characters aren’t the only ones dealing with truths and consequences this week. Billy St. Cyr’s faith (and hubris) is cemented by the fact that he and his followers continue to survive snakebites without medical assistance. Seeing it as proof of divine intervention, he fearlessly handles snakes as a testament to his omnipotent and benevolent God. As it turns out, however, Boyd was right. There was a scheme afoot, and Cassie had the wool pulled over the eyes of her brother and his congregation both. She’d been “milking” the snakes of their venom to ensure their bites wouldn’t be fatal.

Ever the true believer, Billy insists on handling Boyd’s “gift” nonetheless, though his sister begs him not to. Having gotten what he came for, Boyd too tries to talk him out of it, saying, “You know what, son? I once stood where you’re standing now, mistaking my own hubris for God’s touch. That ain’t religion, son, that’s self-glorification. Best you leave this thing alone.” After that, things go about as you’d expect. Billy is bitten and, given his conviction, I’m willing to bet he’ll die as a result. The preacher was presented with the truth, refused to recognize it, and now he’ll face the consequences. For now, it seems the St. Cyrs weren’t out to get the Crowders. They were nothing but true believers in a place with no room for such. Boyd did what he did not because they were affecting his business interests, but to come to terms with the man he was, the man he saw reflected in Billy St. Cyr’s face.

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