A review of tonight’s “Justified” just as soon as I plan to make it rain at the Lobster Box…
“Kiss my ass.” -Arlo Givens
This is a time for complicated parent/child relationships in cable drama. You have the Gallagher kids and Frank on “Shameless,” Tywin and Tyrion Lannister on “Game of Thrones,” Archie and Dick Whitman on “Mad Men,” and, of course, Arlo and Raylan Givens here, among others. (And that’s not even bringing in past shows like “The Sopranos.”) Though maybe the relationship between these two isn’t all that complicated, given that it largely boils down to bone-deep hatred, with the occasional moment where Raylan finds that, despite himself, he still thinks of this old sonuvabitch as his father.
And because Raylan’s feelings for Arlo are so outside the norm for what we expect between sons and fathers, it makes some sense that Arlo’s death would occur in something other than a Very Special Episode of “Justified” – like, say, season 2’s “Reckoning,” where Raylan was responding to the death of a parental figure he genuinely cared for.
So I get what Yost and company were going for with “Outlaw,” in which Raylan did his best to keep working the Drew Thompson case while lots of subplots and guest characters whizzed past. They were preparing us for that moment in the office near the end where Raylan casually mentions that Arlo died an hour ago so that we’d be as thrown by the news as Art, and so that we could then be sucker punched by that great moment from Timothy Olyphant where Raylan finally lets himself feel something as he stands at the elevator.
I get that, but I ultimately think the show did itself and its main character a disservice by having the death of Arlo – the man who made our hero what he is today, to the great irritation of both father and son – get swept up in the usual chaos of Drew Thompson, Theo Tonin, Shelby, Ellen May, strip-searching drug dealers, etc. “Reckoning” had a fair amount of plot movement for Mags and Dickie, but it was always primarily about Raylan’s reaction to the murder of Aunt Helen where this was… an episode of “Justified,” and one where it was very easy at times to forget that Arlo was circling the drain.
I have, for the most part, been in favor of the Drew Thompson/mystery spine to this season. It felt like the show needed to try something different this season, and it’s mostly worked. But the last couple of weeks have felt too busy, even compared to that point late last season where Quarles, Limehouse, Boyd, Dickie and Wynn Duffy all seemed to be pursuing separate villainous agendas. There can be such a thing as too much plot (it’s one of the more frequent missteps on “Sons of Anarchy”), even on a plot-driven show like this one, inspired by the writing of a man who loves juggling multiple characters and stories at the same time.
Not only did the rest of the material get in the way of Raylan processing Arlo’s impending death (even though he very clearly wanted to be distracted), but this business with Boyd, the local rich guys and a new Dairy Queen franchise is spinning away from the Drew story, even though it began with Boyd investigating these guys as possible Drews (see below), and even though Boyd’s new alliance with Theo Tonin advances Boyd’s own story arc. Maybe it’s just, as I said in my brief review last week, I don’t like the idea of some kind of hillbilly Illuminati who have secretly been running everything in Harlan while we and Boyd weren’t paying attention.
Olyphant gets some fantastic moments in this episode – in addition to Raylan at the elevator, there was that amazing grimace after Raylan realizes that even in his father’s last moments, all Arlo has for him is contempt – and though I didn’t need an hour of crying Raylan (which would have been wildly out of character), I wanted the moment to feel bigger than it did.
Then again, given that each episode this season seems to be taking place on the day after the previous one, maybe next week is all about Raylan taking the day off he promised Art and making funeral arrangements? “Justified”/”Six Feet Under” mash-up. Make it happen, people.
Some other thoughts:
* A few of you assumed my reference last week to the Sam Anderson character being Drew was a spoiler, when in fact it was inartfully-written speculation. I had only seen up through that episode at the time, and haven’t seen any past this one as yet. (In general, FX parcels out episodes one at a time, and I try to avoid jumping ahead this late in the season even when I get more.) I just liked the idea of Anderson (an actor I’ve always liked, going back at least to his days on “ER” as Susan Lewis-hating Dr. Kayson) turning out to be Drew, but we know nothing yet. And, frankly, at the moment my money would be on Shelby, whose interest in the case is starting to get really intense, and whose now-constant stories of his early career, failed marriage, etc., play like the words of a man who wants you think of him as someone with a real history and a real identity, and not someone who assumed that identity 30 years ago. A line like Shelby’s “I think if you pretend to be something long enough, it’s not pretending” in the middle of this particular story arc isn’t there by accident. (Though it could be there as a red herring.)
* Raylan’s interview with Hunter (played, as usual, by Brent Sexton, one of this show’s army of “Deadwood” veterans) not only featured yet another “Deadwood” reference – Raylan tells Hunter he might be able to transfer to the prison in Yankton, which was the Dakota city constantly causing trouble for Swearengen and Bullock – but offered one of the more succinct analyses of Raylan’s character: “You’re only a lawman when it suits you, Raylan. Gives you cover to do things you would’ve done anyway.”
* I wasn’t crazy about the previous appearance of Tim’s addict buddy Mark, but at least now things are going to more explicitly tie Tim and Colton together, since Colton appears to have left evidence (the cigarette butt and the bullet casing) to the murder of Mark and Blossom’s older brother.
* I’d like to think that the recent Raylan/Shelby conversation about how long it had been since Raylan killed anyone was put there to prime us for back-to-back episodes where Raylan puts many, many, many bullets into bad guys (first Jody, now the hitman from Detroit).
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org