Review: ‘Justified’ – ‘Decoy’

A review of tonight’s “Justified” coming up just as soon as I would like a young Gerard Depardieu to play me in the movie…

“What is the coolest, most awesomest thing that ever happened to us in high school?” -Boyd

Cool as an astronaut landing a helicopter on the baseball diamond must have been to the teenage versions of Boyd, Ava, Johnny and Raylan, I would say the entirety of “Decoy” just topped it for me.

The Jewish holiday of Passover is less than a week away, so the timing was kind of perfect for “Decoy,” an episode that abundantly qualifies for my Dayeenu rule. For the gentiles among you, there’s a Passover folk song detailing all the miracles that God performed for the Jews during the story of the Exodus, and at the end of each line, you say that that individual thing would have been enough – or, “Dayeenu.” (Pronounced DIE-ay-new.)

So when I get an episode as overflowing with awesomeness, as consistently smile-inducing as “Decoy,” the only real way to respond to it is to get my Hebrew on and list all the miracles and wonders presented to us by Graham Yost and company:

* If “Decoy” had only featured Constable Bob proving himself to be one tough sonuvabitch while taking a beating from Yolo… Dayeenu.

* If “Decoy” had only featured Tim deciding to place a phone call to Colt in the middle of an ambush, and accidentally brought Lieutenant Dan from “Forrest Gump” into it… Dayeenu.

* If “Decoy” had only featured the marshals responding to the ambush by circling the wagons… Dayeenu.

* If “Decoy” had only featured Boyd, Ava and Johnny making the same mental connection Raylan did about the astronaut who visited them in high school… Dayeenu.

* If “Decoy” had only featured Nicky Augustine not being the least bit impressed by Boyd and his operation and taking pleasure in how easily he can wind everyone up… Dayeenu.

* If “Decoy” had only featured Ava figuring out a way out of the bar once Nicky outed Johnny’s change in allegiance… Dayeenu.

* If “Decoy” had only featured Shelby’s story about how he met Arlo in Vietnam… Dayeenu.

* If “Decoy” had only featured Raylan and Bob calmly facing off against an army of Tonin goons, plus Bob’s elegant solution to the Shelby problem… Dayeenu.

There have certainly been deeper episodes of “Justified” (most of them involving Mags Bennett in some way), but I would be hard-pressed to think of one that was more purely fun than “Decoy.” This might be an odd adjective to use in describing an episode that includes Patton Oswalt being beaten within an inch of his life, and yet even the Bob vs. Yolo sequence was happiness personified because it was Bob finally getting the chance to prove he’s exactly the badass he says he is, and because the Drew puns kept on coming and coming until they started to confuse Yolo, who must have not been paying attention in school the day they taught about the sinking of the Lusitania.

What made this one so great is the thing that so often powers the work of Elmore Leonard(*): watching smart, competent people get to be smart and competent. Colt’s plan to ambush the convoy is a fine one, but Tim has a sixth sense about this sort of thing, so it becomes a stalemate between two veterans. (And that phone conversation by itself retroactively increased my appreciation of the previous Tim/Colt episodes.) Boyd really does know how Raylan thinks, which is how he’s able to figure out that he’s at the high school. Nicky Augustine isn’t some clown from the city who’s going to be in over his head dealing with Boyd’s crew; he’s the left hand of God, and carries himself accordingly.

(*) And I should note that several scenes in this episode – Yolo putting “Love Train” on the stereo so he’d have a torture soundtrack, or Nicky’s monologue about what Ava must’ve had to do to make it to the top of the Harlan food chain – felt particularly Tarantino-ish, which makes sense, given how much Tarantino’s work has been inspired by Leonard’s writing (even before he did “Jackie Brown,” his crackling adaptation of Leonard’s “Rum Punch”).

And at the center of it are Raylan and Shelby, the former looking to build a career case on the latter, the latter insisting he’s ready to die and just wants to help, the former not believing anything he says. I really like how Yost and the writers (here sharing credit with Chris Provenzano) have turned Shelby into a surrogate for Arlo, so Raylan can work through his issues with his late father even as he’s in the midst of trying to outwit the Detroit mob. We’ve seen enough of Shelby on his own (particularly with Ellen May) to be more apt to believe him than Raylan is, but Raylan has a very good point about all of the people Shelby/Drew betrayed over the years to make it to this moment.

Now Shelby’s on the freight train out of Harlan, but there are enough conflicting agendas at work right now to fill the season’s final two episodes with action, betrayals and, hopefully, much more awesomeness involving colorful characters being very, very smart and capable around one another.

Some other thoughts:

* I’m not familiar with Bobby Campo, who played Yolo, but he really impressed me, giving off an almost Joseph Gordon-Levitt vibe. That’s the kind of scene that doesn’t work at all if the actor doing the torture – whether it’s Michael Madsen in “Reservoir Dogs” or James Gandolfini in “True Romance” –  doesn’t have the charisma to keep it interesting beyond the violence being done.

* Less surprising at this point is the quality of Mike O’Malley’s performance. He’s done great dramatic work, after all, on “Glee,” and he convincingly played a tough guy on the short-lived “My Own Worst Enemy.” Still, it’s a pleasure to watch him in this role, absolutely nailing the amount of confidence a man like Nicky would have in dealing with these people. His presence made the absence of gone-to-Canada Wynn Duffy easier to take. (And the lack of Jere Burns this week makes the creation of the “Wynn Duffy Reacts to Surprising Things” – I’m open to better name suggestions – web series even more essential.)

* Yost was one of the producers of the great HBO miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon,”
which included episodes featuring both the astronaut who used the golf club (Alan Shepard) and the many who drive the lunar rover. It doesn’t really matter who it was supposed to be, but my money would be on Apollo 15 commander Dave Scott, who drove the first rover and was one of the consultants on the miniseries.

* Do you reckon Colt was acting on his own when he took out Mort, or had Boyd already broached the idea of a divide-and-conquer strategy with Nicky and his men? Given how powerful Theo Tonin is, and how many guys he has, I would think war with the Detroit mob isn’t one Boyd could possibly win.

* This was a pretty great Tim episode all around, not just with the phone call, but his earlier sardonic joke about how frequently he suffers from PTSD, and the later rant about the lack of available ignition sources now that everyone uses their cigarette lighters to charge their phones.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at