‘Justified’ – ‘The Life Inside’: John, coal train

A review of tonight’s “Justified” coming up just as soon as I find a safe way to approach an armed man…

“Just by looking at your closet, one would think you’re a simple man.” -Winona

On the ongoing standalone vs. arc question of “Justified,” “The Life Inside” is a good example of what the show learned from its first season. The episode has an extended standalone case for Raylan and Tim to work, but it takes quite a while for us to get there, first giving us a chance to check in on Mags(*) and her boys, on Boyd, on Arlo and on the state of Raylan and Winona’s quasi-relationship before he even turns up at work for the new assignment. And even the kidnapping story wound up tying back into where Raylan and Winona find themselves, as he finally opens up to her about the horrible things he sees and does at the office.

(*) Not much screentime for Margo Martindale this week, but she sent the requisite chill up my spine with her delivery of, “I’m looking forward to our time together, Loretta.” Oy.

That’s a wise way to approach things. This wasn’t really an arc episode, but it spent enough time on ongoing concerns to give the hour weight whether or not the Case of the Week is interesting.

Fortunately, this was a good one, both for the things it said about Raylan and Tim (who again gets to show off his sniper skills by shooting the bad guy through the “apricot”) but the story it was telling about the pregnant con, the shady ex-EMT, the adulterous guard, etc.

There have been some stories about how FX had to nudge Graham Yost towards the idea of making the show more serialized, and that’s not necessarily a surprise to me. It’s not that Yost isn’t interested in ongoing stories, but that this particular show he viewed entirely through the lens of Elmore Leonard, and the show is always at its most Leonard-y in the standalone stories. Last year’s Alan Ruck episode would have easily worked as a Leonard short story, and many of the self-contained stories from last year, and tonight, have many of the same elements. There’s a group of criminals usually motivated by something more than simple greed, whose agendas overlap and conflict until they turn on each other even before Raylan shows up, etc.(**) Pregnant Jamie even paraphrases the title of the second Raylan novel when she says “I’m sure my baby shouldn’t have to ride my rap.” And Raylan’s reaction to Gary’s big speech – “You thought a lot about this moment, huh? You say everything you meant to say?” – is the sort of thing a Leonard hero (who is always on some level aware of his role as the hero in a story) will often say to a villain or supporting character.

(**) It’s in that way, I think, that the run of standalones was so problematic last season. Not only were most of them not up to the caliber of “Long in the Tooth,” but they tried to apply a formula that Leonard uses once or twice a year in his books to a TV show that was appearing weekly. The stories were too similar, too close together.

So the show feels most Leonard-y when it goes more self-contained – and this week was a good kind of Leonard-y, ala “Long in the Tooth” – yet the audience responds most strongly to the serialized episodes that feel more like a TV show that just happens to have a Leonard hero at the center. It’s an interesting creative conflict, and one I’ll be interested to see as this season moves forward and the Bennetts inevitably get more and more attention.

But as for the personal stories told here, I liked seeing Raylan both challenge Boyd’s alleged conversion to lawfulness (“The more you say it, the less I believe it”) and be challenged by Winona about his standoffishness. Boyd’s a man who insists he’s changing, but no one believes it – even though he’s changed 2 or 3 times already in the short life of the series – where Raylan’s a man extremely reluctant to change, even though he sees in Arlo evidence of how self-destructive that path can be.

All in all, a solid follow-up to last week’s terrific premiere. Any episode that puts Tim Olyphant in scenes with both Walton Goggins and Raymond Barry is almost automatically good, and this one had plenty beyond that.

What did everybody else think?

Editor’s note: Watch Timothy Olyphant discuss shooting “I Am Number Four” in between season one and two of “Justified.”