You know what's getting a little tired? Me saying how GREAT Justified is, yet here we are on another Tuesday evening, and yes, Justified is still great. Tonight's "Truth and Consequences" was dialogue dynamo even by Justified's lofty standards of loquaciousness, with everyone sharpening their tongues to a fine point before spitting out the words. But "Truth and Consequences" needed all that slick talk because it had the difficult task of moving things forward only ever so slightly while still keeping the audience's interest. The episode was a balancing act of keeping things interesting while not giving away too much, and boy howdy did it succeed with the help of snakes, psychics, and suicidal FBI men to thicken both of the season's major plots.
The bulk of "Truth and Consequences" followed that cold case Raylan picked up in the season premiere, leading Raylan, Art, and Tim to fake-dead Drew Thompson's fake-widow Eve Monroe, a sneaky psychic who was holding back more information than a science teacher in a Catholic high school in Kentucky. And it looks like that's how things are going to continue playing out, at least early on. So far, the Marshal department's investigation has led to people who aren't so forthcoming with details, as the mystery of Arlo's bag gets deeper with each step. The big chunk of info the guys got from Eve after she finally succumbed to their prying was that Drew saw Theo Tonin, Season 3's Detroit-based mobster played by Adam Arkin, murder a government informant. It sets up a situation where not only do Raylan and Art have to find Drew to figure out what the fuss over the bag is all about, if they don't get to him first, Tonin's going to have Drew put in a box.
Drawing out a mystery for 13 episodes, let alone 22, isn't easy as there are only so many details to go around and viewers only have so much patience (I have like zero). Personally, I've never been a big fan of televised mysteries for that reason. Mysteries are faceless adversaries, metaphorical obstacles that heroes have to overcome. And because television mysteries are only compelling when the audience is left wondering whodunit or whatdunwho, major details (and often the culprits) remain unknown and hidden until late in the game, taking away the fun of an audience trying to solve the mystery alongside the hero. That's why the ride along to those major details has to be a ton of fun, otherwise you get The Killing. Or the climaxes better be toe-curling and final, otherwise you get the multiple near-misses of The Mentalist or Pretty Little Liars or even How I Met Your Mother. TV mysteries have a tendency to hang on longer than that creepy guy at a party with a suspicious bottle of pills in his jacket pocket.
But so far, Justified's Season 4 mystery is working. Presumably it'll be contained within this season and have a solid end date (sometime in early April as the season closes), meaning questions will be answered wholly and completely before we lose interest. The case itself is directly tied to Raylan by virtue of Arlo's involvement, and Art has a vested interest in it as well. And though the details we excavate in each episode play that TV-mystery game of being largely tangential (for example, the first clue involving Waldo Truth was revealed us only because we needed to learn that Waldo Truth wasn't actually a part of it), Justified makes these otherwise tire-spinning treks interesting via characters we enjoy stopping by for visits, be they angsty hillbilly families or skittish "certified spiritualists." It also looks like many of the standalone case-of-the-week stories will give way to Raylan's cold case, serving as a substitute to self-contained episodes but still having beginnings and ends within their given hour. It doesn't matter that we're just moving from Point A to Point B and we won't get close to knowing the truth until somewhere around Point Z because we're having a blast along the way. Justified has done a fantastic job not trying to do much with its first mystery, keeping it simple and letting the folks of Harlan County add the color.
The mystery also has the benefit of not carrying the entire weight of the season, because we've got ourselves a heck of a B-story with Billy and Boyd. Following last week's fantastic encounter between the two, the back-and-forth continued with Boyd taking multiple approaches to kindly asking Harlan's newest residents to get the F out. His bribe was rebuffed by sister Cassie. His threat of violence was thwarted when henchmen Colton and Jimmy walked into Billy's Well of Souls (Snakes! Why'd it have to be snakes!?) and Jimmy got gangfanged by a rhumba of rattlesnakes. However, Jimmy didn't die from his punctures, so either he's part mongoose or them serpents been milked of their venom. So Boyd did what any man looking to sully the reputation of a traveling con would do, and he asked Billy to handle his snake (not like that, perv). And wouldn't you know it? In front of the whole congregation, God looked the other way while Boyd's rattler sunk his teeth into Billy's arm.
It was a fascinating game of chicken as Billy pressed on with the challenge even though Cassie told him not to. It also answered our questions about who is in on the con and who isn't, because Billy seemed to think that God would intervene and give him the strength to overcome one of nature's most potent poisons. Even Boyd tried to tell Billy to let the snake be, and I may be mistaken, but he even looked a bit remorseful as he left the tent while Cassie wailed for an ambulance and Billy kicked on the floor. Boyd's just trying to run a couple of cons out of town; he didn't actually want to kill anyone. But this is exactly what takes Billy to the next level and makes him one of Justified's most unpredictable enemies. If he isn't in on the con with his sister, and if he actually believes in his snake sermon, he's a lot more dangerous than a traveling charlatan.
But what about the teen drama of Raylan's personal life? Lindsey's ex Randall isn't pleased with Raylan's presence around Lindsey's private area, as he made it known during their excellent encounter in the gym locker room. That was just two pissed-off guys going at each other without losing their cool, and their back-and-forth was beautiful. It turned out Raylan was a little overconfident in Lindsey's love for him, because at the end of the episode, Lindsey was nowhere to be found and Raylan's room had been turned over like a... ummm... like an apple turnover! Now either Lindsey, who admitted she was part of a two-person criminal enterprise with Randall, pulled a fast one on Raylan and took his unborn baby's nest egg, or she's being bullied by Randall to steal from Raylan. Given that I've never trusted Lindsey (Team Winona!) and Raylan shouldn't be tied down to any one woman, I'm hoping she's about to learn what happens when you mess with Mr. Givens.
"Truth and Consequences" continued to show off this season's early strength: balance. With a cold case, some new unwanted Harlan residents, and short stories spanning an episode or two, Justified is keeping every facet interesting without making it too complex or repetitive. This show is on fire right now.
POSTCARDS FROM HARLAN COUNTY
– That whole bit with the snakes snappin' onto Jimmy was terrifying, and the dismembered snake hanging onto Jimmy's cheek was awesome.
– Colton: "I think a snake bit him." Thank you, Dr. Sarcastic.
– Raylan and Rachel together are fantastic. Almost as good as Raylan and Art. Which is almost as good as Raylan and Tim. But no combo is better than Raylan and Tim. NONE!
– Art's Marshal Stiffy has lasted much longer than eight hours. Time to get that checked out, Art. Or find yourself a brothel.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom