Justified "Whistle Past the Graveyard" Review: We're in a Slump
I don't know about you, but I'd say Justified is in a bit of a slump, with "Whistle Past the Graveyard" making three sub-par episodes in a row. And most of what ails this sagging middle of Season 5 was just as evident this week as it was in last week's "Raw Deal": Raylan's got nothing to do, so he's taking care of odd jobs while the other ongoing stories take place on different planets. Justified's current separation of its characters has unfortunately shackled the season to a two-ton weight, which it's slowly dragging along behind it. There's nothing terribly exciting happening anywhere.
After saving Harlan from the county's most dangerous one-legged online-backgammon internet pirate last week, Raylan canceled his spontaneous vacation to Florida after Wendy Crowe called to tell him that Kendal had been abducted by his Uncle Jack. But there were two lies in that sentence: 1.) He wasn't really abducted because he went with Jack willingly, and 2.) Jack wasn't his uncle at all—Jack was his dad. And while that truth came out, we also learned that Wendy was his mother. That made a lot more sense than what we'd been led to believe, which was that the unseen Grandpa or Grandma Crowe (or both) got busy at the ripe old age of "too old to have kids" and had Kendal when the rest of his siblings were in their 20s. I kind of feel stupid for not suspecting that Wendy was Kendal's mom in the first place, but it did seem like Wendy wasn't always around for Kendal back in Florida, so I'll just blame her horrible job as a mother for throwing me off the scent.
It turned out that Jack was a bit of scumbag himself and had ripped a guy off to the tune of about $35,000 from some cash poker and craps games (a step up from online backgammon!). And when Michael, the ripped-off dude's mean old dad, came to collect, Jack took off, leaving Kendal to be kidnapped for the second time that day. Eventually Raylan caught up to everyone, punched Michael, and arrested both Michael and Jack. It really wasn't that eventful or tricky.
What did give this week's story a little gas (as in petrol, not bean-and-cheese burrito) was Raylan's reason for deciding to help Wendy: She agreed to give Raylan dirt on what her brothers were up to so he could proceed to kick 'em out of the county. It was one of those "They're in Mexico, and I'll tell you the rest when we get Kendal back" kind of deals, except Wendy didn't have any more details to share and she promised Raylan she did just to string him along. So when Raylan—who canceled a trip to the Sunshine State with a bikini blonde to help Wendy out—came asking for intel and Wendy kind of shrugged her shoulders, Raylan let out an audible sigh of disappointment. I know how you feel, bro. This Kendal-napping was looking like an in to the overall story, but instead it fizzled out into another standalone adventure (assuming that nothing comes out of it in next week's episode).
Things were only slightly better for Boyd. Slightly. At least he and the Crowes' set out to return to the United States with those dead bodies that weren't supposed to be dead. Boyd hit a bit of a snag when some Mexican cops demanded payment for the safe passage of Boyd's heroin truck and then ended up taking the truck anyway, but that was easily solved when Boyd snuck all the heroin into the accompanying car the Crowes picked up. Problem solved! There was a lot of trust talk going on between Daryl and Boyd, but if you believed any of that, I have a bridge to sell you. Daryl had a guy he knew who could help them get the heroin across the border, but Jimmy found out that Daryl had always planned on using this guy before they even got into trouble. Meaning the Crowes' itchy trigger fingers at the end of "Raw Deal" were no accident at all, and Daryl was probably setting Boyd up for a grand old rip-off.
Finally, Ava's jailhouse blues continued as she pursued new avenues to get heroin into jail and appease her protectors. The scam was to end up in the infirmary to get some facetime with a crooked nurse, but things got rocky when Ava had no idea how to be subtle about arranging a deal to smuggle in heroin. Great, now what was Ava going to do? Well, Ava was in luck because at the end of the episode, the nurse approached her in private and set things up after chastising her for her lack of discretion. Why a nurse would risk working with a woman who doesn't know how to keep her mouth shut, I'll never know.
Ava's story is a good example of how all three of this week's stories felt flat. They all had a goal, they all had a problem, but in the end, the desired outcomes just sorta happened. For Ava it was a nurse who didn't want to listen, for Boyd it was Mexican cops, and for Raylan it was his whole dang story. I'm guessing that a casting shakeup earlier in the season may have forced the writers to throw this season's story into quick-fix mode; if you weren't aware, Edi Gathegi, who played Baptiste the Haitian gator farmer, asked to be released from the show, so Justified got rid of him quickly by having Danny blast him in "Shot All to Hell" instead of telling whatever story they had planned for him. Not coincidentally, that was the last good episode of the season and the last time the Crowes felt like a threat and not just Boyd's lapdogs.
I hope that's indeed the case, and that we're in stall mode as Justified repositions itself for whatever it initially had planned. But there's still work to be done. Ava needs to get out of jail or the season needs to leave her alone completely, because her storyline feels like it's part of a separate show. Boyd and the Crowes need to get back to Kentucky ASAP because they're not doing any good down in Mexico (and what fun is Boyd if he's nowhere near Raylan?). And Raylan and Art need to be put in a confined space, because that's the only thing that's interesting about Raylan at the moment. But I don't see all that happening in the next episode, or maybe even the next two episodes. Justified has enough charm on its own to get through a few bumps here and there, but not for three episodes in a row. We're in a slump!
POSTCARDS FROM HARLAN COUNTY
– I'm 'shipping Wendy and Raylan now. They're great together.
– That was Kyle Bornheimer as Uncle Jack. You might remember Bornheimer from a slew of failed sitcoms, including Worst Week, Romantically Challenged, and Perfect Couples. One of these days, he'll find a role that sticks. And seeing him play sleazy suits him. Let's stop casting him in rom-coms, okay networks?
– Raylan STILL hasn't gone to see his daughter. I thought this guy was cool.
– Milkin' that "caller number seven" joke, are we, Justified?
HEARD 'ROUND HARLAN
Boyd: "I don't care if it's up your ass or on your back, you're responsible for getting my dope across the border."
Jack: "How is Danny?"
Wendy: "He still wants to cut off your dick."
Raylan: "You know that T-shirt, I think you've mistaken
me for— "
Wendy: "You are obsessed with my family after
Raylan: "Oh no, I think of them as cancer, and I'm just
a doctor working on a cure."
Wendy: "He's my son. Jack is his father. I just thought
you should understand."
Raylan: "Good lord, why?"
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