Review: ‘Justified’: Holes in Harlan
“You run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. You run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.” – Raylan
There are several shows on TV right now that have prerequisite viewing. Take ‘Breaking Bad’ for example – you can’t just jump into that show right now and follow what’s going on. You have no idea who Walter White is, why he is doing what he is doing, the relationship between Walt and Jesse and you have no idea of the burden Walt’s placed on Skylar. You don’t know Hank’s history of chasing Heisenberg. You just don’t know and you won’t be able to figure it out from tuning in one day during season five.
But then you take a show like ‘Justified’, a serialized character driven show just like any other, and somehow it feels new every season in a way that invites new viewers to tune in. Obviously if you tuned in for the first time to last night’s fourth season premiere, you won’t know the complicated backstory of the Crowders (Boyd, Ava, Johnny) and you won’t know why Arlo is in prison or why he’d kill a man just for knowing about a seemingly harmless bag with an ID in it, but you would be able to understand that Raylan Givens is a US marshal who doesn’t exactly play by the books. You’d know that his relationship with his father is strained at best, and you’d know that Raylan has a child on the way – and it isn’t with the woman he’s currently sleeping with.
‘Justified’ constantly reinvents itself every season so that new viewers can jump right in to the Harlan action*, but by doing so it takes a lot of chances. After season one’s predominately stand alone procedural episode style, season two gave us a season long arc with Mags Bennett and her backwoods crime family. The second season was the kind of season TV dramas usually only dream about so when season three came around, everyone wondered if they could do it again.
*I don’t think the writers and producers intend for it to be seen this way, it’s just the natural progression for a show like ‘Justified’.
The third season introduced Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough) and Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) as two completely different but both intimidating and off-the-wall villains and although the show was consistently good, there didn’t seem to be an overarching theme the way there was in season two. But in the final two episodes of the season the puzzles pieces started to come together and the overarching theme about family became visible.
In last night’s fourth season premiere we were introduced to a new season long arc that focuses on a 30 year old mystery involving a parachutist landing in a cul de sac in a pile of blood and cocaine. Somehow, of course, Arlo Givens is involved and that means Raylan soon finds himself back in Harlan county after Arlo’s (who is incarcerated after confessing to killing Tom and taking the fall for Devil’s murder at the end of the third season) empty house is broken in to by two brace-faced teenagers looking for something stored in a wall of the house.
But the meat of the episode revolves around Raylan’s own impending fatherhood and his need to save up some cash before the baby arrives, because despite the fact Winona left him, he’s not the kind of man to desert his child. Raylan is a lot of things – angry, impulsive, unrepentant, showing obvious asshole tendencies – but he loved Winona and he’s going to do what he can to make things right, even if it’s not exactly what she wanted (last season I wrote two pieces defending Winona’s actions – they can be found here and here).
Raylan takes an off the books case involving a bail jumper named Jody Adair in order to squirrel away some cash, despite the fact he’s supposed to be on the clock for the federal government. After tracking down the man in Lexington (once again he outsmarts his foe by shooting the airbag so it’d deploy into the man’s face) Raylan receives the call that takes him to Harlan. Constable Bob (Patton Oswalt), whom Raylan has hired to watch Arlo’s house, calls him about the break in.
By this time Raylan’s had all he can handle of the smart-mouthed bail jumper and tells him the quote I used to start this piece. He says,”You run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. You run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.” The quote plays so well because Raylan is completely unaware that he’s the asshole in this situation. For all of his clever moves and intelligence, Raylan certainly lacks a certain self awareness at times which seems to always lead him in to more trouble. But I really enjoyed this moment, not so much for the irony, but because I love me some Raylanisms. My favorite from last season: “You know what they say; gettin’ old ain’t for pussies.”
Raylan eventually ends up putting the bail jumper in the trunk of his Lincoln Towncar (along with the bag of cheeseburgers he’d originally bought for his children – the reason he jumped bail and was in Lexington in the first place) and arrives in Harlan to find an old bag and a 1979 Kentucky driver’s license with the name Waldo Truth stashed in one of the walls in Arlo’s house.
Raylan visits Arlo in prison to ask about the bag and ID he found in the wall, but Arlo pretends he knows nothing about it. Which of course, no one in their right mind would ever believe knowing the kind of man Arlo is. Unfortunately, one of the trustees in the prison overheard Raylan and Arlo’s conversation and eventually confronts Arlo about it. And because he’s Arlo, he doesn’t react well to anyone else knowing about it and he kills the man with a homemade shiv, because of course he does. Arlo might be slipping into senility (as evidenced last season), but he’s still got his lucid moments. And I’m not sure which is scarier – an Arlo who thinks Raylan’s mother is still alive and is having conversations with dead people, or Arlo, the criminal who’ll kill a man in prison just to keep him quiet. Both are troublesome in their own right, but I imagine the dead guy might argue the latter.
After a trip to the hardware store (to buy supplies to fix the house, I assume) Raylan runs in to the brace-faced girl who broke in to the house and is sidetracked by her flashing her breasts at him, a decoy while her partner in crime, a teenage boy with terribly unfortunate hair, steals the Towncar with Adair still in the trunk.
Without anyone else to call, Raylan once again relies on Constable Bob for help. Constable Bob is one of the more comedic supporting characters the show has ever had. And that’s not to say the show doesn’t often veer into the dark comedy area, but most of the time the characters introduced are morally ambiguous and aren’t really seen as comedic players. Take Wynn Duffy for instance; he’s responsible for some incredibly funny lines, but he’s not himself a comedic character. He’s a villain of sorts and he’s played to be witty, but cunning. Constable Bob is a wanna be cop who has his own Go Bag with an AK-47 (at one point one of the characters steals the bag and says, “You should see the shit in this bag!”) and dares people to pull on him so he can stab them before they can pull the gun and pull trigger.
This works poorly for Constable Bob once he and Raylan track down his Towncar in a scrapyard that will basically crush any car for any reason (which reminds me of that episode of ‘Veronica Mars’ in which Veronica has Weevil steal Madison’s new car to have it crushed into a cube, only to change her mind at the last second). While Raylan goes after brace-face, her accomplice and Jody, Constable Bob is left with the sketchy scrapyard worker Henry, who’s too fast for Constable Bob and ends up with the Go Bag and its contents. At the end of it all, Constable Bob stabs brace-face, which causes Jody to stumble and for Raylan to gain the upper hand in the situation. Raylan receives his cut of the bail money and he stashes it in a drawer for later use.
Also squirreling money away is Boyd Crowder. The Crowder Crime Family is still up to no good, but Boyd still isn’t doing as well as he’d hoped, even after adding prostitution to his list of illegal activities, though that might have something to do with the fact Ellen May got high and shot her client when he was dressed in a bear suit. In her defense, “It was a good costume.” Ava was dispatched to deal with her, but all she did was yell at her and tell her she couldn’t have a gun at work. I hope she’s not going soft on us. Boyd’s oxy sales are also down on account of some wackjob preacher out in a tent in the woods who claims to be healing people. I saw this episode of ‘Supernatural’ and I’m pretty sure it was a demon.
The Crowder Crime Family is joined this season by Colton Rose, one of Boyd’s buddies from the Gulf War who has a real thing for killing people. He asks Boyd, “You kill people?” In typical Boyd Crowder fashion he answers in a way that doesn’t put him at fault: “People have been killed,” he says. Boyd is skilled in communication and oration in a way that most people could only dream of. He can twist words and make it out so that he’s either not at fault or he’s the savior (remember his own experience as a wackjob preacher out in the woods?). Both are incredibly dangerous. But I suppose Colton’s equally dangerous as he misunderstands Boyd’s directive of “take care of him” to mean he should kill Hiram, one of Boyd’s Oxy dealers. What Boyd meant was to untie him, but of course, “take care of him” is universal language for kill the dude and dispose of his body. Everyone knows that, so I can’t really fault Colton for not understanding. Plus, his drawn out, “Ohhhhh shit,” reaction was pretty funny.
This episode was a great setup for the rest of the season. We have the overarching mystery that affects both Raylan and Arlo, and I imagine that at some point Raylan and Boyd will cross paths, because obviously. I’m looking forward to seeing how Where’s Waldo turns out and how Constable Bob fits in to the world of Harlan. But most of all, Wynn Duffy’s coming back, y’all, so get ready for more fun times in the Wynnebago.
Some stray observations:
- Raylan’s wallet contains 12 bucks and a Piggly Wiggly card.
- “Ain’t gonna cover that up with the smell of bakin’ cookies.”
- I need to find a bar with a Come Get Fucked-Up Friday.
Note: Photo credit Prashant Gupta/FX. Gif credit: harlanroulette.tumblr.com
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