Those of us waiting for Justified's Season 4 bad guy to show his or her face (with or without teeth) have been disappointed so far. Billy the snake hugger is dead. Randall is halfway to a Florida prison right now. Limehouse has been minding his own BBQ business back at the holler. And unless Herbert West is living in Harlan County, it doesn't look like Mags Bennett or Robert Quarles will be back anytime soon.
A friend of mine is totally bummed about this, and I suspect he's the voice of a growing segment of Justified fans. He says Raylan is at his best when he has a formidable nemesis to toss wisecracks at while he strains against his personal version of the Marshal code, especially when the baddie is full of enough twisted personality to fill a whole season of Criminal Minds. It's a trusted formula that Justififed has moseyed away from this season, opting instead to focus on a cold case that Raylan's dad Arlo is somehow mixed up with. But is it working?
I say yes. But then again, I'm probably in a minority of those who think Justified would actually work as a by-the-numbers procedural, provided the show's setting and personalities all remained intact. NCIS: Harlan County? I'd watch the shit out of that. But "Kin" did give us at least some sort of nemesis, though maybe not in the fashion we're used to on Justified. Hello again, Boyd Crowder.
Boyd and Raylan have an interesting relationship, to say the least. In a real-world situation, Raylan would be a pretty terrible Marshal to let Boyd continue to operate whore-housing and drug-selling operations in his backyard. And in the television world, Boyd and Raylan have to happily coexist, with neither of them being the last hand on the baseball bat, since they're both integral to the show. It's a difficult task to keep their relationship believable, and I suspect a lot of us gloss over any problems that might arise because we prefer to see Boyd ruffling stuff up. Remember when he was in prison? We don't want that again. The solution for Justified since Season 1 has been to intertwine Boyd and Raylan's stories here and there, with the biggest connection being Boyd's employ of Arlo, Raylan's dad.
But "Kin" may turn that intertwining into knotting and tangling, what with the twist that both Raylan and Boyd are now looking for Drew Thompson, the mystery man at the center of the cold case. Boyd wants Drew because he'll get half of the heroin trade in Harlan County from Wynn Duffy if he can bring Drew in (except when Wynn says LOL JK). Raylan wants Drew a teensy bit because he's a Marshal and that's his job and mostly, I suspect, because Raylan is six-feet-some-inches of daddy issues who wants Arlo to stay caged. (Interestingly enough, both Raylan and Boyd, arguably Arlo's biological and adopted sons, respectively, want Arlo to stay in prison, probably reasoning that he can't screw their lives up if he's safe behind bars.)
Hot darn I'm looking forward to this, because any scene featuring both Raylan and Boyd is gold. Maybe it will be a match of wits and country connections, as we saw when they both ended up in the same hill-people pen after talking to Josiah (guest-star Gerald McRaney). Maybe it will be like a mini version of Cannonball Run as the two race each other from station to station in pursuit of Drew's fresh tracks. Justified certainly can do both. And though Boyd and Raylan's opposition isn't direct (it isn't a "him or me" situation), the consequences of either of them failing is substantial enough to give this scenario plenty of weight.
Drew isn't the only subject of a manhunt now. Ellen May is still out on the wild somewhere, as far as Colton is concerned, and holed up in Sheriff Shelby's place eating pizza and taters like they're having a children's sleepover party, as far as we're concerned. Justified creator Graham Yost promises that Ellen May is an integral part of the story this season, and now that Shelby is getting involved, her importance has quadrupled. We still don't know how much she's told Shelby, but we do know that Shelby is aware that Boyd wants her dead. Given that Shelby clearly is not happy with his own relationship with Boyd, I'd expect him to hook up with Raylan somehow and use Ellen May and her knowledge of Delroy the Pimp's murder to his advantage. That'll teach Ava to throw a druggie hooker out in the cold.
After last week's enjoyable and largely conclusive episode, "Kin" pulled back the slingshot to load a set-up episode that swept another layer of dust from the case. But we're five episodes into the season and only have guesses as to where things are headed. Some viewers might have trouble with the lack of a big bad, but that allows Justified to tell more of the smaller stories it's so good at.
POSTCARDS FROM HARLAN COUNTY
– Guest-star city! It was like a super-reunion tonight, with a whole buncha recurring characters and guest-stars showing up. Sheriff Shelby (Jim Beaver), Constable Bob (Patton Oswalt), Daniel the Hill Boy (Sons of Anarchy's Christopher Reed), Nick Augustine (Mike O'Malley), Agent Barkley (Stephen Toblowsky), Josiah (Gerald McRaney), that teen troublemaker from the season premiere, AND the big return of Winona (Natalie Zea).
– Regarding the return of Winona, I'm not sure why she came back other than to remind us that Raylan's baby problem is very real and that he's not ignoring it.
– There is the possibility that Theo Tonin could end up being the big bad guy this season, but we haven't even seen his face, so I'd consider him more of an unseen threat. I think we just have to accept that this is the big mystery season.
– The Hill People thing only sorta worked for me. I loved the idea, but the threat never seemed palpable, even when they were walking Boyd and Raylan to the mineshaft. Justified has definitely done more with characters who didn't come pre-packaged with cannibalistic backstories. And all I could think of was "Lothar of the Hill People," which isn't a bad thing.
– So far, one person's been stabbed, an FBI agent committed suicide, another FBI agent was murdered, a woman was kidnapped, teens stole, and a guy cut off his own foot over this mystery bag. This is one important bag.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom