A review of tonight's “Justified” coming up just as soon as I confuse Occam's Razor with Thor's hammer…
“Didn't your momma ever tell you that there's always another snake?” -Art
With “The Trash and the Snake,” I'm tempted to bust out the old dayenu gimmick (last applied to this show with season 4's “Decoy”) and be done with it, because this episode was oveflowing with moments and character interactions that on their own would have been enough to make a memorable episode. This one was so much fun – so full of all the people, things and events that have made “Justified” such a blast for so long – that it feels like it went past the legal limits for entertainment on a Tuesday night. Or, it did until Avery Markham and his people pay enough money to get an episode this good legalized right along with marijuana in the fine state of Kentucky.
What made this one feel so special, though, wasn't just that it loaded up on so many events that the creative team (here represented by Chris Provenzano & Ingrid Escajeda's script, and ace direction by Adam Arkin) knew would excite. I mean, yes, if the episode had only offered us Wynn and Boyd's stunned reaction to the Wiz blowing up real good, or only brought back Loretta and/or Dickie, or only placed Raylan and Markham in the same room for the first time, then I would have turned the thing off with my best Sam Elliott grin on my face. But “The Trash and the Snake” had more than just fun on its mind. It was also dark when needed, and scary, and best of all introspective, following a through line of where all these colorful characters came from and how they ended up in this mess where so few of them are guaranteed to make it out alive.
So we got Ava and Katherine's very strange day together, which was tense as hell because it was never clear exactly what Katherine's agenda was, or whether she would simply put a bullet in the back of Ava's head at a convenient moment. (If the hotel was willing to clean up Picker's exploded corpse, a simple gunshot victim wouldn't be much worse than getting the puke out of the carpet from a prom after-party.) But the whole thing was laced with discussion of who they used to be and what they've become now: Ava the cheerleader now just trying to stay alive in a situation where no one trusts her and she trusts no one, Katherine the former power behind Lexington's criminal throne, now reduced to pulling off petty thefts for fun, all because of Avery Markham's betrayal of Grady.
And so we got Wynn Duffy recalling his childhood days surfing in Hawaii (and developing a love of tanning that would lead him to use artificial means), which might ordinarily play as a throwaway line to distract us before the Wiz exploded, but fit nicely into this backstory-laden episode. (Given Wynn's cockroach-style ability to survive anything, I wouldn't be surprised if one of the final shots of the series was Wynn paddling out into the Maui surf at sunrise.)
We keep talking about Raylan's past, more than we have at any point since the series' early days, here with him recalling a contentious relationship with the teacher Ty Walker murdered, and once again playing surrogate father – practice for if he ever makes it back to Florida? – to Loretta, who remains too eager to grow up too quickly. Buying up the Bennett land through a dummy corporation – and taking advantage of Dickie being too much of a dummy himself to realize – was a nice move, and a good final piece of vengeance against the people who killed her actual father(*), but Loretta still seems in way over her head against the likes of Markham, who has clearly bet a ton on the idea of legalization coming to Kentucky just as it did to his previous home in Colorado(**). The last son of Mags Bennett is a crippled moron suffering from incipient diabetes, while her surrogate daughter's eyes have perhaps grown bigger than her stomach, especially when a predator like Markham is ready to gobble up anyone in his way.
(*) Recently, while packing and unpacking as I moved offices, I put on the last handful of episodes of season 2, and boy howdy, do they hold up. The Raylan/Loretta/Mags confrontation from the climax of that season's finale is a particular corker.
(**) I also appreciated how this very busy episode managed to very quickly and clearly explain what Markham is actually up to, when the scheme seemed very opaque as recently as last week.
So we're getting biographical details, but also callbacks to earlier events in the series, reminding us that all of Raylan's big investigations had repercussions beyond what happened in a given season, and that all of these characters have pasts they can't quite shake.
And in the present? Boy, oh, boy is the present exciting and unpredictable and ridiculous. At first, I was simply amused by the introduction of the Wiz (played, however briefly, by Jake Busey) because of the idea that Boyd would have to learn from someone better at his chosen area of expertise, but the idea of the Wiz getting blown up by a rogue cell phone signal was a black comic gem in the tradition of both this show (say, the death of Danny Crowe) and the larger Elmore Leonard canon. Raylan and Markham's first sit-down was every bit as crackling as I might have hoped, but the dialogue in every Raylan scene was fantastic, whether he was getting lectured by a concerned Art or trying to maneuver through the layers of crazy, stupid, defiant armor Dickie has covered himself in.
And if the setup for Ava's current circumstance felt laborious, the payoff has been wonderful, particularly in this episode as she went through so many emotional highs and lows during that day with Katherine: besties and partners in crime one minute, terrified half to death by the mention of Albert's name the next.
In fact, the only concern of any kind I have after an episode this great is that the stories seem to be building to a head so quickly that I wonder how they're going to get 9 more episodes out of them all. But the season has been so good so far that I'll just trust these folks to keep doing what Elmore Leonard would do. Because I think Mr. Leonard would greatly approve of all the mayhem being perpetrated in his name of late.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com