Last week, I wrote about the chasing-your-tail nature of serialized mystery television, and its inherent problems, in reference to Raylan's chase for clues in Justified's latest installment of Drew Thompson's Super Bag Mystery Hour. In each escapade, Raylan chases one lead, shakes that lead down, and learns the identity of the new lead he'll shake down the following week. Granted, these shakedowns have been a lot of fun, but you can't help but realize that they're just stops rather than destinations, which leads to questions of their real importance, what they mean in the long run, and other TV-related existential quandaries.
But there's also been another pattern forming, and I don't know if it's an acknowledgement from the writers that the errands required to crack the mystery that's central to Season 4 can feel, I don't know, let's say empty in the best way possible, or if it's just how things worked out, but it's a pattern that's best for everyone. Taking the pattern idea literally, every third episode has given us some sort of breather from the case in the form of a predominantly standalone episode. Justified's Season 4 premiere certainly fit the "singular" bill, introducing us to the case with Raylan chasing down Jody the fugitive as the central focus. Two case-centric episodes followed, and then we were handed "This Bird Has Flown," which wrapped up the Lindsey-Raylan arc tighter than Lindsey used to wrap her legs around Raylan. Then came two more case episodes, which brings us to tonight's "Money Trap," an hour that shared a lot, structure-wise, with the season premiere (and not just because fugitive Jody came back to finish business).
So far, these "breather" episodes are standing out as my favorites of the season, and "Money Trap" might even be the best of the ones we've seen so far (given the outstanding quality of Justified overall, I don't think it's nice to play favorites). It reminded me a lot of "Hole in the Wall," with Raylan mostly occupied with a tricky fugitive while still picking up smaller details about the cold case. And it was that slight taste of a procedural, where something was definitively wrapped up to provide a sense of completion by the end of the episode, that made the hour more satisfying than it would've been if we'd simply gotten the name of the next backwoods hillbilly who may or may not know where Drew is.
Our standalone portion of the program came in the form of Jody, the freshly sprung fugitive from "Hole in the Wall" who just wanted to see his kids. Oh, and steal a bunch of money from his wife. Jody is played by Chris Chalk, who you should recognize as Tom Walker from Homeland, and he's perfect for the role, equally potent as a menacing maniac or a charismatic troublemaker. This guy needs to be on television more often, because he's fantastic. In the thrilling opening scene, we ventured back six days to the unseen end of "Hole in the Wall" when Raylan turned Jody in to a sexy authority in exchange for some cash. But Jody did not go quietly, and things got brutally violent even for a show that cut a man's foot off not too long ago. One strangulation and one bullet-to-the-neck later, and Jody was a free man with a bone to pick.
That real-deal setup set the stage for the episode: There was a dangerous man on the loose looking to make Raylan bleed. Though lots of crooks hate Raylan and his hat, most of them choose to steer clear of his path until his path leads him to them. Not Jody, though. Tonight he stepped in Raylan's path, and it was a welcome change for a show where most of the bad guys wet their pants when Marshal Givens shows up. Raylan's talks with Jackie Nevada about the uneasiness of when to expect Jody only added to the imminent threat of a spontaneous showdown, even if Raylan dispatched of Jody rather easily once Jody came looking for Raylan at his usual haunt. Why people still think they can draw on Raylan makes no sense to me. Even if you aren't aware of his legendary quick hands, my granpappy taught me that if a guy looks good in Stetson, it's probably because he's badass.
But what really made this story work so well was its tone. Jody and his regretful partner Kenneth the Filmmaker were a hoot to follow, and their antics reminded me of another one of Elmore Leonard's adaptations, the excellent George Clooney film Out of Sight. Jody has more than a little of Don Cheadle's Snoop in him, and Kenneth was partly his White Boy Bob. This is when I'd say they'd make a great spin-off, but given how Jody ended up, such a project would have to borrow elements from Weekend at Bernie's.
Boyd and Ava's quest for Drew put them on the guest list of Harlan's swankiest sex party, where the rich and elite drank crappy margaritas (the only acceptable fruit in a margarita is lime and this is indisputable) and formed some sort of Harlan Illuminati in between spit-roasting their friends' and neighbors' wives. Even with half the party stripped down to their sexin' clothes, Boyd and Ava got no closer to finding Drew, but Boyd did get a business proposition. See, a few of the sexed-up Kentucy bourgeois had history with Boyd's dad Bo, and in that pecking order, they told Bo to do something and he did it. They—Lee Paxton (played by Lost's Bernard), Gerald Johns, and one more unidentified man—expected the same of Boyd, and they weren't starting with no simple game of fetch. All they're asking is that Boyd kill one of their own, a man by the name of Franklin who's preventing them from exploiting the government's need to protect the environment with cash crops in the form of grants.
It's a defining situation for Boyd, who has no problem dealing with lowlives but who hasn't tangled with men like these. Will Boyd settle into being their little errand boy or will he take them down himself? He certainly can't match them for resources, but I guar-an-tee you Boyd's the smartest man at that table, and that's going to count for a lot when all is said and done.
But Boyd's problems go beyond swinging oldies. Johnny Crowder was sniffing around Colton's Ellen May mess, poking Colton about the magically disappearing whore as soon as he found out that Ellen May was in the wind instead of in the ground. All this time I had figured Colton would get into it with Boyd for losing Ellen May, but now it's looking like Johnny might be able to leverage Colton's situation to his own advantage, since he's trying to oust Boyd and take over the business. It's the perfect situation of who knows what and who's got a motive, with Johnny in a position of power while Colton and Boyd remain oblivious. Now, I'd never take Johnny over Boyd, but one of the thrills of Justified is putting Boyd in no-win situations and marveling at how he's able to make them Boyd-wins situations, so let's give Johnny as much ammo as he can hold before Boyd puts him in his place.
But the episode saved its best scene for last, when Raylan finally took Art's advice and went to see his dad in prison. Those two getting together always makes for uncomfortable yet fantastic television; the stubborn tree and the stubborn apple that fell from it can't stand each other, but here, with Arlo's final days on the line, their talk was downright nasty. The effort Raylan put in to try to work out a deal with his dad and let him die in a nicer joint was pithy at best, and Arlo's mulish attitude toward cooperating with his son in any way was just depressing. It's one of television's most fascinating father-son relationships, and Raylan and Arlo are no closer to reconciling than a Hatfield and a McCoy. At one point, Raylan knew he'd irked Arlo because he didn't get a reaction. And when you realize that Raylan knows his father so well and still wants him to die as soon as possible, you can't help but feel sorry for everyone involved.
We crossed the midway point of Season 4 in "Money Trap," and the second half is off to a great start with the development of new stories and the repositioning of old ones. Boyd's in an interesting space right now, and the Johnny-Colton feud just went from simmering to boiling over.
– To clarify, I don't think the cold case is boring, not at all. I just think it's tough to stretch it out over the course of a season and make it feel as though every step is important. But now that we're in the back half of Season 4 and closer to solving the mystery, every detail about it is going to be more and more substantial. This is when Justified can switch gears and really make the case a top priority.
– Is the snake-handling church done and over already? Is Cassie going to fit into the story in some way? It'd be odd if they were included for just a few episodes and then abandoned.
– I don't know about you, but even though I liked Winona and Raylan together, I'm enjoying watching Raylan be a SINGLE guy who makes bad choices with women. His latest, the grad student from U.K., is definitely some bachelor pickings. Nice work, Raylan. And she's a poker player. Their chat about reading people and picking up on tells even carried over a little bit to Raylan's final scene with his dad.
– Wow did Tim make the best use of his limited screen time or what!? He was on camera for about four seconds and had two of the best lines of the episode: "Go get him, tiger!" and "Jesus Christ, Nelson, sorry I forgot your birthday." Love this guy so much.
– Such a nice touch to have Raylan eating an ice cream cone while driving when he got the news about Sharon Edmunds dying. Fun time is over, throw the ice cream out the window and go fugitive hunting.
– I'm a big fan of Jody jumping out the window and landing on top of Kenneth's car. Nice little action sequence there.
– Big laugh from Ava telling Boyd that HE could be the one giving out all the handjobs at the sex party. The scene is even better when you picture a whole bunch of pantsless dudes with their backs to the camera while Boyd is moving his arm back and forth with a look of disgust on his face.