Justified: Foot Chase

Let’s be completely honest: I had a really hard time following this episode of Justified. I wasn’t really sure whether the issue was with me or it or both – I was a little distracted while watching – so I checked out Alan Sepinwall’s review and was somewhat relieved to see that he thought it was a mess too. I agree with Sepinwall that a few episodes like this are the likely result of a more ambitious, ongoing mystery arc for the season, and it’s possible that this one will seem better, or at least make more sense, in retrospect.

There were two aspects of the episode that I did really like, though. One was Raylan’s return to witty one-liners. He’d been a bit dour recently, for obvious reasons, but I like snarky Raylan best. “I think Lynyrd Skynyrd’s overrated. I know you’re in Boyd’s pocket” was a classic, as was this exchange with a lawyer: “Which one’s your client?” “The dumb one.” “That don’t narrow it down.” Raylan also admitted that he hadn’t really shot many people recently, so maybe he needs to start doing that again in order to get back to his usual snark? That would be fine.

And the other thing I liked was Ava and Boyd’s story, ending with Boyd’s unconventional and yet perfectly in character proposal. It’s a testament to the skill of both the writers and the actors that this relationship, given that it’s so unlikely in some ways and doesn’t really get that much screen time, winds up being one of the most compelling elements of the show. I do like that Ava is questioning her new life of crime, though – I wouldn’t want her to fall into it without too much thought. The prospect of marriage and a house and babies has distracted her for now, but I look forward to her revisiting her doubts in the future.

Justified: Kin

My favorite thing about last night’s episode of Justified, “Kin,” was the way it finally got Raylan and Boyd in back in the same room – or makeshift prison cell, anyway – together. Boyd is one of my very favorite characters on TV right now, and so I am of course delighted that he has become a main character and gets storylines in his own right. But I miss the always compelling interactions between Raylan and Boyd, and the way this week’s story emphasized that the two of them are tied together whether they want to be or not – especially with reminders of the way their fathers worked together. “Your daddies took all that cocaine for themselves.” “Of course they did. That’s another reason we’re so proud of them.” As the interaction inevitably ends with Raylan handcuffing Boyd to a tree to put him out of commission – even briefly – they try to keep up the idea that they’re flat-out enemies. “I’ve come to a conclusion. I don’t like you, Raylan.” “Never liked you much neither, Boyd.” But it’s obviously much more complicated than that. I don’t think we’ll ever know exactly how they feel. I don’t think they’ll ever know.

When he’s captured by the hill people, Raylan tries to claim kinship; his claims are true but no one will take him seriously until he encounters the specific cousin who features in a picture he has of his mother. This was a neat encapsulation of Raylan’s internal struggles with his past and with Harlan County. In some ways, he has done everything he can to distance himself, to set himself apart from the criminal activities of his family and the people he grew up with. But, of course, he’s back there, and no longer really making any noises about trying to leave. And he’s certainly not above claiming kinship when it’s expedient for him, but the way he keeps a foot in each world means he is never entirely accepted in either of them.

And speaking of Raylan’s direct kin, of course, we finally got a little bit of time with Winona this episode. Raylan shows up for a doctor’s appointment – at the wrong time – and has a few adorable moments talking to the baby and feeling it kick, but then gets called to work – partially to deal with his father – before the appointment actually starts. That . . . seems pretty typical, really. Oh, Raylan.

Justified: The Bird Has Flown

Last night’s “The Bird Has Flown” was a bit of a slow episode of Justified. Just when I was really buying into the ongoing mystery format . . . they leave it out entirely for an episode. And there wasn’t exactly a case of the week, either.

Instead, the case of the week basically took place within Raylan’s personal life, as he tried to track down Lindsey and Randall. His motives here were never quite clear, even to himself: Was he trying to get his money back, or was he trying to “save” Lindsey? Probably both, to some extent. He and Rachel eventually track the couple down – I don’t think we ever really doubted that they would – but not before Randall has spent Raylan’s money on fighting gamecocks and almost killed a gas station clerk who showed interest in Lindsey while being conned. (Wouldn’t you think by now he would learn that he’d get caught less if he changed his con to something that didn’t result in people going to the hospital? Be more competent, criminals!) When Randall and Raylan finally fight, it’s different than most of the fights on this show because Raylan can’t just shoot and kill people: Rachel gives him a shotgun loaded with beanbag ammunition. “An associate of mine thought non-lethal force might come in handy. I figured what the hell, I’ll give it a shot.” Ha. By the end, Lindsey has run off and Randall is under arrest, and honestly, I never bought into the relationship between Raylan and Lindsey enough to really care about this plotline, so I’ll be happy enough if this is the end of it.

Elsewhere, Boyd Crowder continues being the most terrifying man on the planet in the wake of Billy the preacher’s death. I’d sort of forgotten last week that a large part of the reason why Boyd wanted Billy dead was not just because of the way his preaching was eroding the drug business, but because Boyd and Ava were worried Ellen May would tell Billy about the murder she witnessed. This week, Ellen May returns and makes a fairly heartbreaking case for the fact that as awful as her life at Ava’s brothel undoubtedly was in many ways, it was also basically all she had, and people form makeshift families wherever they can. “I just want to come home. Can I come home, please?” They sort of say yes, but then make plans to send her to Boyd’s relatives in Alabama to get her out of the way; Ava tries to convince Ellen May that this could be good, that it’s the chance to get out of Harlan County that she herself never had, and I don’t think she’s entirely lying. But while Colt is driving Ellen May to the bus station, he gets a call that he claims is from Ava, telling him to bring Ellen May home after all. The call was actually instructing him to murder the woman, though it’s a little unclear whether it was simply confirmation or a new instruction. And even if Ava technically made the call, she’s clearly less than thrilled about it; this is Boyd’s decision, but Ava seems to understand that it’s necessary. When Colt stops at a gas station to fiddle with his gun and do some drugs to shore up his courage, Ellen May runs. Good girl. I have a feeling she won’t be able to run from Boyd for long, but I hope she makes it.

Justified: Truth and Consequences

This week’s Justified, “Truth and Consequences,” continued this season’s tendency so far of making the “case of the week” in fact part of the overarching mystery of the season. I’m really enjoying that storytelling method, because it’s a good way to keep a long plotline going while a) keeping the action level up, since that’s what we expect from this show, and b) keeping the story from getting too convoluted. This week, Raylan and Tim go to find Drew Thompson’s supposed widow Eve, now remarried, divorced, and working as a psychic. When the FBI shows up while the marshals are at her house, she runs and promptly gets kidnapped – and Raylan realizes that the FBI agent is working with the kidnapper. Raylan uses his super-marshal powers to get the FBI agent to tell him where Eve is being held before he kills himself, and the marshals rescue Eve and convince her to cooperate. And so we finally get a bit more of the puzzle: Thompson witnessed Theo Tonin murder a government informant, and then told his wife that he was planning to fake his death, but didn’t tell her the details in order to ensure her safety.

Elsewhere, Boyd continues his battle with the St. Cyr siblings. (Are they really siblings? Are they sleeping together? This was sort of suggested. Hm.) He tries to bribe Cassie to get her brother to move his preaching elsewhere, but she refuses: “Unlike the rest of these sorry souls around here, I’m not afraid of you.” So Boyd sends one of his guys after Billy, but the would-be assassin (or was he just going to beat him up?) is bitten by one of the snakes Billy handles during his sermons/performances as proof of God’s protection. But when the bite victim doesn’t get as sick as he should, Boyd realizes that Cassie has been “milking” the snakes to take away the risk. He shows up with a new snake for another great showdown with Billy, and Walton Goggins is really magical in these scenes. Billy refuses to believe what his sister was doing, and ends up collapsing after the truly dangerous snake bites him. Well. That’s one way to get rid of your enemies.

On the home front, Lindsey finally admits to Raylan that her (ex? supposedly?) husband was in jail because they had been conning men together by having Lindsey get involved with them to get information on how Raymond could rob them, but Raymond wound up jealous and hurt one of the men. Raylan being Raylan, having that blind spot for people he wants to save, takes her at her word and threatens Raymond – and so, of course, by the end of the episode, Raylan’s place has been ransacked and Lindsey and Raymond are gone. The obvious suggestion, of course, was that Lindsey was continuing her con on Raylan, but I wouldn’t be surprised if things wind up more complicated than that.

There’s a quiet little subplot burbling along with Rachel this season. When Art calls her on her risky, not quite by-the-book behavior on the job, she points out that Raylan pulls this nonsense all the time and never gets punished for it, which is really quite a good point. The show occasionally showing that it’s aware of how ridiculous the whole Raylan situation is really makes me like it better. Art: “Well, he’s a lost cause. I still have some hope for you.” Heh. At the end of the episode, Raylan meets Rachel at the bar, and she confesses that she’s left her husband. “Is this where I’m supposed to ask if you want to talk about it? . . . Thank God. I thought you were gonna want to talk about it.” Oh, Raylan, never change.

Edgar Teleplay Nominations: 40% Holmes

The EdgarsThe Edgar Award nominations were announced by the Mystery Writers of American this week, and both current Sherlock Holmes adaptations were included in the TV Episode Teleplay category:

“Pilot” – Longmire, Teleplay by Hunt Baldwin & John Coveny (A&E/Warner Horizon Television)
“Child Predator” – elemeNtarY, Teleplay by Peter Blake (CBS Productions)
“Slaughterhouse” – Justified, Teleplay by Fred Golan (Sony Pictures Television/FX Productions)
“A Scandal in Belgravia” – Sherlock, Teleplay by Steven Moffat (BBC/Masterpiece)
“New Car Smell” – Homeland, Teleplay by Meredith Stiehm (Showtime/Fox21)

In addition, Justified is of course based on Elmore Leonard’s work, and Longmire is based on Craig Johnson’s mystery series that starts with The Cold Dish. (And off the top of my head, there are movies in the works based on at least two of the Best Novel nominees, Gone Girl and Live by Night.)

Justified: Where’s Waldo?

My favorite thing about this week’s episode of Justified, “Where’s Waldo?”, was probably its focus on Raylan’s boss Art. He’s usually a pretty understated character, and that works well, but it’s nice to see him come out of the background every once in a while. I loved the scene in which he broke down exactly how dysfunctional his office and agents are, because that’s one of those things that’s easy to forget about watching week to week. We love these characters, and obviously we’re basically on their side, but when you stop and think about it, they would not be easy to deal with in real life. It speaks to their talents (or, you know, the magic of TV) that the office is generally so successful in spite of everyone involved being so messed up.

It was also delightful to see Art out in the field – again, that’s something that I don’t think they should overuse, but I wouldn’t mind it happening slightly more frequently. The group’s trip to see the Truth (of course! what a name) family did a good job of being a one-off scenario that tied into the larger mystery we’re following this season; they didn’t find Waldo, exactly, but they got some much-needed information, and things are eking along. Hopefully the show’s tendency to play out a larger mystery through these small set pieces will save it from some of the inevitable fan objection to things being too drawn out. (Personally, I like the longer mysteries, in general, though I tend to adore this show’s cases of the week.) And the Truth family was so ridiculous and fun that I’m a bit sad we’re not likely to see them again. (Well, maybe. Who knows?)

On the other hand, Preacher Billy and his sister are characters we’re likely to see again, and I’m glad, because the use of religion on this show is always fascinating. Boyd and Billy’s confrontation was probably my favorite single scene of the episode; Boyd’s relationship with religion is so complex and compelling that I’m glad they’ve found a way to work it back into things without rehashing the “Boyd starts a church” story. I am, of course, suspicious of Billy and his sister, but that may be mostly just the show’s (and the actor’s) ability to put me firmly on Boyd’s side even though he’s objectively pretty terrible.

And oh, hey, I realized I’ve barely mentioned Raylan. I love him “working” in the bar; so far this season he seems to be quietly unspooling but somehow he’s lighter and happier than he’s been before at the same time. I don’t have much of an impression of Lindsey yet – she seems fine, I guess? – but of course she has a husband. I’m happy to see how that all plays out, but I also hope we see more about Winona and the baby soon.

Justified Season 4 Premiere: Hole in the Wall

Justified, based on Elmore Leonard’s character Raylan Givens, returned for its fourth season on FX last night. This show has an interesting relationship with Leonard’s work: It was based on one of his short stories, “Fire in the Hole,” and Raylan appears in a few of his novels.* And Leonard serves as an executive producer on the show, though I’m not sure of the extent of his day to day involvement. But after the show became a hit, he published the novel Raylan, with a picture of series star Timothy Olyphant on the cover. Elmore Leonard is obviously a great mystery writer in his own right, so this is no schlocky tie-in novel, but at the same time, he’s been marvelously upfront about the way the show has informed and evolved his thinking about his own characters. The book is even dedicated to Olyphant and showrunner Graham Yost.

One of the more novelistic aspects of the show is the complex nature and evolution of the central character; Raylan is somehow both understated and over-the-top all at once, and it’s thoroughly fascinating. “Hole in the Wall” sets up season four Raylan to struggle laconically with both his father’s betrayal and his child’s impending birth, all while dealing with his job, his new relationship, and everything else. (I kind of love that practically everyone on the show owns and/or works in bars now.) And this season, the show will also more closely resemble a novel in that it will be exploring one mystery almost all season. The mystery set up in last night’s premiere is, according to Yost, based on the Bluegrass Conspiracy, and it will be interesting to see how the characters all tie into this framework.

One more random bookish note: there was a fun shoutout to spy novelist Alan Furst at the end of the episode. There was also a hilarious and unexpected mention of furries as well as this delightful moment, as told by Vulture:

Boyd Crowder English Language Triumph of the Week: Boyd said this week that he’s been nonplussed by Johnny’s lack of motivation. YES! “Nonplussed”! Used correctly! Boyd Crowder, you can basically do whatever you want. You have our full support.

I’m going to try to check in on this show weekly, as I’d like to follow this larger mystery across the season, but if you’re looking for good weekly reviews I recommend Alan Sepinwall. Here’s his take on the premiere.

* Full disclosure: I’ve read the original short story but not the novels, yet. I should get on that.

(Image courtesy of FX.)

Justified Returns to FX Tonight

U.S. marshal drama Justified, based on the works of Elmore Leonard, has its season four premiere on FX tonight at 10/9c. Here’s a trailer for the intriguing new season:

And some pre-premiere reviews and coverage:

I’ll have some thoughts on the premiere tomorrow. Will you be tuning in?