Justified S04E08: "Outlaw"
Goodness gracious, people of Harlan County. It seems like the more you try to fix problems, the more those problems try to fix you. And in a lot of those cases, fixing problems means shooting someone or something, so some of those problems decide to shoot back. It all becomes a big mess and before you know it, bodies are dropping like fly balls in a Little League outfield. In tonight's episode of Justified, the equal parts violent and emotional "Outlaw," it was problem after problem and you know what? Solving one just created a whole new batch.
We'll start with Raylan, as we always should. But Raylan's story starts with his daddy Arlo, who didn't even make it to the opening credits before he got the worst haircut of his life. The younger Givens did what he promised and had a lovely Justifiedian chat with former sheriff/current prisoner Hunter about giving Arlo a nicer place to live out his imprisoned days in exchange for giving up the whereabouts and whoabouts of Drew Thompson, and in doing so Raylan may have inadvertently put his daddy in a box. I'm assuming Hunter stabbed Arlo in the heart area with a pair of barber scissors to guarantee his chance at the deal as well as settle an old score, but Arlo's death hangs around Raylan's neck like a bolo necktie.
We've always been led to believe that Raylan doesn't give a squat about his daddy and for the most part not only is that true, but the feeling is mutual. Example: While Arlo lay on his deathbed, Raylan continued to badger him about Drew instead of "Sorry you're dyin'" and Arlo's last words to Raylan were "Kiss my ass." Not exactly the heartfelt father-son moment you'd expect when the younger generation suddenly becomes the oldest generation. But even though the two have repeatedly wished a quick, painful death on each other over the last few seasons, a father-son bond is something so strong that you just know Arlo's relatively sudden ticket-punching to the Afterlife had to be putting cracks in the foundation of even the proudest man.
And when we saw Raylan approach the elevator after Art demanded that he take two days off (bargained down from a week by Raylan) to grieve the death of his father, we finally saw some weakness. Well, weakness Raylan-style. Brief. Alone. Created by anger. Where no one could see. It was a blink of a moment, but it was also the most vulnerable and raw we've seen Raylan since his aunt/stepmother Helen died, and it was a showcase for Timothy Olyphant's Emmy reel. Yet it wasn't a moment that asked for sorrow from the audience; it came off as more of a shocking revelation. It was like seeing Superman cower from Kryptonite or witnessing your father cry for the first time—powerful enough to knock the wind out of you, and all the more devastating knowing how hard Raylan has fought to keep Arlo out of his life. Justified obviously gets praise for its volleys of crackling dialogue, but it can also absolutely kill it on an emotional level when it needs to. But what was so beautiful about the whole thing was that Justified got Raylan's reaction so spot on.
But as sharp as that scene was, it wasn't even my favorite part of "Outlaw." I might be alone in saying this, but that honor belongs to the incredible minutes spent with Shelby (Jim Beaver) and Ellen May in Shelby's office as the two connected through past loss (Ellen May's mother who walked out on her; Shelby's wife Abby who left him 25 years ago) and moving on. It was a quiet scene, but the connection between the two characters went beyond the screen. Ellen May wore Abby's clothes, and Shelby, recognizing the physical similarity between Ellen May and Abby, looked as though he'd just seen the ghost of his wife. For a moment, she had never left and he was 25 years in the past. Ellen May wondered if she'd ever be the type of woman who "belonged" (a heartbreaking use of the word) in clothes like Abby's instead of the whore rags she's used to, and while Shelby stared at her as though she was the daughter he never had, the past she's been trying so hard to escape disappeared. It's even more emotional once you consider that Jim Beaver's wife passed away in real life and he wrote a book as an ode to her, and that the actress who plays Ellen May is actually named Abby (Miller). This was a scene where two actors were doing a lot more than just getting paid to pretend.
"Outlaw" wasn't all sniffling and heart-wringing, though. Those Kleenex-heavy moments were countered by what Justified does best, which is test your ability to keep your underwear clean through tension and violence. Of course Boyd was at the center, and the way he played the jerky rich folks like a tamborine was awesome. Boyd was caught between the rock of Wynn Duffy (by way of Theo Tonin) wanting him to deliver Drew Thompson and the hard place of Lee Paxton and Gerald Johns ordering him to kill Frank. But Boyd saw an opportunity when Theo sent down a robotic assassin to speed up the Drew Thompson-finding, and cleverly gave Theo's hitman the names of Frank and one of Lee and Gerald's cohorts. After two grisly execution-style murders, Lee and Gerald thought Boyd had killed them both, increasing Boyd's legend and threat level. Then Boyd leveraged his new deal with Theo to weaken Lee and Gerald's power by threatening the judges and other powerful men they work with. At least, I think that's how it went. I suppose Boyd could have had the hitman kill everyone, but then Boyd wouldn't be able to look the men he just fucked over in the eyes (and extort them for a hundred large each and use their power to get himself a Dairy Queen franchise), and that's how Boyd gets his kicks.
The only problem with Boyd's plan is that it might involve telling his new fiancée Ava a few stretched truths and it doesn't take into account the two snakes in the grass—Johnny and Colton—that are crawling around his lawn. Following Boyd's chicanery, Wynn promised Johnny that Boyd was now a goner and sent the hitman after him; only a chance visit from Raylan saved Boyd's ass. What's Theo going to do when he finds out that Boyd had his prize hitman killed? Or is Boyd reasoning that he should be Theo's man instead of Wynn because Wynn got himself played? And when will Boyd find out that Ellen May is very much alive and telling Shelby all of Ava's dirty secrets? Ava and Boyd think they've picked a winner who will keep their grandkids rich and fat, but it's so obviously about to come back down on them. What, did you think they'd just get married and live happily ever after?
We're no longer skipping around from point to point finding the next person to tell us they think they know who Drew Thompson is, and the show is better for it. Instead, the approach to keeping the case interesting involves raising the stakes for finding Drew and adding more interested parties to the hunt. We're teetering on all the action and motivations and almost tipping over into overly complex, but things are currently balanced just so, and damn entertaining. Justified is in a groove right now as it heads towards the Season 4 finale.