‘Justified’ – ‘Debts and Accounts’: Corporate restructuring

A review of tonight’s “Justified” coming up just as soon as I call you from the landline in my office…

“You are who you are. Nothing I say has never made any difference. No punishment I can dream of will ever change you.” -Art

After last week’s series’ high point, “Justified” offers up a less exciting, albeit still very strong episode, the sort of bridging episode that’s necessary a few times a season on a drama with the kind of narrative ambition Graham Yost and company are demonstrating of late.

“Brother’s Keeper” was the crescendo of a bunch of storylines (Mags vs. the coal company, Coover’s jealousy of Loretta, Boyd’s search for an angle), and as “Debts and Accounts” open, nearly everyone is scrambling to figure out what to do next.

After an extremely candid conversation with Art(*), Raylan is more convinced than ever that he’s not long for this office, and begins talking to Winona (finally in the midst of divorce proceedings, as part of her own transition) about returning to Glynco to teach recruits how to shoot. Mags begins consolidating her post-crime life, cutting adrift a bitter, flabbergasted Dickie, who prepares to duel with a newly recriminalized Boyd, who embraces his DNA and recruits cousin Johnny (wounded and crippled but not dead from the violence at the end of last season) to rebuild Bo’s empire . Loretta struggles with the idea of a foster family, as well as the murder of her father. And Ava, who seemingly wanted out of the criminal world after killing her abusive husband, demonstrates that maybe she does have a weakness for those law-breaking Crowder men when she plants the kiss on Boyd we’ve all been waiting at least a few episodes for.

(*) I really appreciate that the show never turns Art into a villain in these exchanges. It would be so easy to make the authority figure who’s annoyed by Raylan’s cowboy ways into a buffoon or a jerk, but the series is always sympathetic to Art’s point of view. It allows him to note the seeming conundrum between Raylan being a good lawman and a lousy Marshal. (A Marshal who does the job well and without complaint or incident would make a lousy TV drama lead character.) I love watching Raylan’s adventures, but he’s a colossal screw-up at times. (Even if you can defend his behavior in most individual incidents, that they all keep happening to him is not a good thing.) The structure of the show often doesn’t give Nick Searcy much to do, but he always invests Art with so much warmth and wisdom that he makes his moments count. And that warmth also set us up for just how cold Art’s line about how “sooner or later, the problem will solve itself” seemed. That’s a damn cruel thing to say to Raylan, but after the events of the last couple of years, can you blame him for thinking it?

Episodes that are all about moving chess pieces can be tricky ones to make compelling in their own right, as opposed to when looked at as part of the entire season, but I actually think the way “Debts and Accounts” tied character to story made it click quite nicely. So nicely, in fact, that the climactic shootout between Raylan and the mystery gunmen – presumably put there to liven up a very talky episode – isn’t really necessary.

A lot of this episode’s conflicts come from characters trying to fight their basic natures. Raylan knows that his gunslinging gets him in trouble, but he can’t stop doing it. Boyd spent half a season trying to do good and/or be left alone, but he can’t resist being a Crowder any more than Ava can resist being attracted to a Crowder. Loretta doesn’t feel at home in the suburbs, even though it’s a safer place for her than Harlan. Dickie should leave well enough alone and just stick with the pot business Mags leaves him as a severance, but he’s too prideful (and just plain mean) to not try to prove himself a master criminal.

A commenter last week compared Mags’ move with the coal company to Michael Corleone’s plans to take the Family legitimate. (Here, she even paraphrases Michael’s warning to Fredo about going against the Family.) But just as Michael was always going to get pulled back into the bloodshed, I have to believe that Mags’ desire to go legit – or, at least, to seem more legit and respectable – will last only as long as it takes for Dickie, or Hobart, or Raylan, or someone else to arouse her ire so that her homicidal instincts overwhelm her plans for a bright and shiny future.

An awful lot of potentially exciting stuff happening as we head into season two’s homestretch, and that’s even without more movement on whatever the Dixie Mafia is up to – unless we’re assuming, not unreasonably, that the gunmen who went after Raylan and Winona were sent by Wynn Duffy on behalf of his new/old pal Gary.

Can’t wait to see what’s next.

Some other thoughts:

• I always love when Raylan takes the direct approach, Dirty Harry-style, with thugs who are used to people always lying and double-talking to them. He doesn’t try to get cute with the guys in the silver Caddy; he just gets out of his own car, walks back and tells them to get the hell away from him. And it works – temporarily.

• So what secret is it that Mags and Aunt Helen are keeping together? What could be so big that it would bring together a Bennett and a Givens (even a Givens by marriage)?

• Mags telling Dickie that Doyle and his family are the future, not him, was as cold in its own way as what Art says to Raylan. The difference is that Raylan possesses enough self-awareness to recognize the truth in what Art’s saying, whereas Dickie can’t fathom why others don’t see his great criminal genius.

• Kevin Rankin reprises his role from the series pilot as Boyd’s white supremacist pal Devil, now the new muscle for Boyd and Johnny’s fledgling operation. Rankin’s one of those actors who can do no wrong for me – he was Jason Street’s buddy Herc on “Friday Night Lights,” was pretty much the only redeemable part of the “Bionic Woman” remake, and had so much karma built up with me that I watched “Trauma” at least 3 or 4 episodes past when I should have stopped just for him – and I’m glad to have him back on one of TV’s best shows.

• Winona’s divorce lawyer is at the corner of Cameron and Chase, which I’m guessing was a “House” reference, but which instead made me think of an obscure but terrific ’90s DC Comics character, federal agent Cameron Chase, who was tasked with keeping an eye on the activity of superheroes and villains. 10 issues and out – sigh… And that’s one to geek on, boys and girls.

What did everybody else think?