Just like a smooth-talking Marshal can get away with being an asshole simply by flashing some charm (Raylan, you scoundrel!), Justified's mastery of dialogue and character depth often allows it to go slightly off the rails of television's well-worn tracks with little to harp about. Last week's season premiere was an intoxicating cocktail of "Welcome back to Justified!," a standalone story of a man in Raylan's trunk, AND a foundation-laying introduction to a season-long snake-juggling adversary and a frigid cold case linked to Arlo. That structure, to me, was great in that the takeaway was 1) Raylan caught a bad guy and 2) we're in for a wild ride this season. It was a perfect combo of satisfaction as one short story ended and a much bigger one began. Tonight's "Where's Waldo?" turned out to be more of a puzzle before we even knew we were handed a puzzle, and had all the closure of an incomplete sentence.
But once again, it was the charm of Harlan County and the characters that populate it that made "Where's Waldo?" and all of its what-the-fuck-is-going-on-ness so enjoyable. There was a trio of concurrent stories going on: Raylan, Art, and Tim searching for the mysterious Waldo Truth, Boyd and his gang colliding with Billy the Preacher, and some totally random dude bare-knuckle fighting and harassing Raylan. The third story made the hour truly unique, and depending on your level of patience, confusing. Halfway through the episode, my cat and I were all, "Excuse me but could someone please tell me what is going on because this guy walked into the bar in the opening and now he's punching guys in front of frat boys and I still don't even know who he is." By the very end of the episode we found out that he's Randall, the blonde bartender's (edit: Her name is Lindsey but I barely knew that because sorry I'm Team Winona when it comes to Raylan's love life) husband, and if my wife looked like that in a tank top I might just do something incredibly stupid like take on Raylan to get her back, too.
The Randall reveal was an interesting choice because it appears to be going in the opposite direction as the other two stories. Randall's story worked backwards, giving us a whole bunch of extraneous details (he's an adult version of a party clown for douche rich kids) before getting to the most basic info (how he relates to our friends Raylan and Lindsey), while Raylan and Boyd were on adventures of clear forward progress. It set up an odd herky-jerky pacing, as if we'd just sat down on a bar stool and started conversing with the gentleman next to us only to find out he was there to meet the same people we were. And when you think about it, that's a fascinating way to meet someone. In their own context, without any reference. It was, in a sense, exactly the same way you might go about meeting someone new in Harlan County if you just strolled down Main Street. And being such a tight-knit community, it wouldn't be surprising to later say to Boyd or Dewey or Ellen May, "Oh, you know him too?" Sheesh I can feel myself waist-deep in the rabbit hole on this one, but I only overanalyze it because I'm still trying to decide if I loved it or only liked it.
I probably won't have an answer to that no matter how hard I rattle the old noodle (brain noodle, not crotch noodle), because more than anything, Randall's story felt like part one of a two-parter and we'll have to see what he's really back for—besides cockblocking Raylan, of course. I'm also curious to find out whether the dipshit kids who hosted the bare-knuckle boxing match will be connected to more of the story. They were a drug-dealing-and-using-looking bunch that could supplement their fight take with selling heroin, or vice versa. I don't know, but I'd pay a million dollars to see Boyd kick 'em in the crotch so hard that their sagging pants got knocked back by five decades in terms in fashion sense, riding up high like grandfather's.
My favorite scenes of the episode were the talks between Ellen May and Ava and Ellen May and Billy. As I've said before, I love Ellen May, everything about her. I love the actress (Abby Miller), I love her doofusness. I love the way she can look like a crack whore with herpes in one scene and a beauty in the next (Justified's makeup and hair departments did a wonderful job with the physical transformation between lost Ellen May and saved Ellen May). I love that she's a wayward soul in a county full of predators yet still manages to stay eternally positive. She's the Bubbles (from The Wire) of Justified, minus any wisdom. This woman should be hanging from a loop in a necktie but she still perseveres and looks for her place. We want to see her saved but we know she won't stay saved for long, as her life has already been written in the chapter entitled "Pushover Whores." But it's those rare moments where things seem to be going well for Ellen May that are her victories, and we share in them when we see her soul-exposing eyes light up at the thought of Billy's blessing.
Of course, Billy is just a rattlesnake choking down a rodent when he promises such salvation, and Ellen May is just the perfect mouse for him to swallow up. Her connection to Boyd is just close enough to make it personal, and when Boyd finally strolled into Billy's tent (such anticipated meet-ups are never dull) it appeared to be con man versus drug dealer, man of faith versus man who lost it, venomous snake versus rabid mongoose. But is Billy's sister Cassie the real serpent, as Boyd suggested? Does Billy really believe in his teachings, or is he just filling the collection plate until the cash flow slows down and he's forced to move to the next town of empty souls? If anything, putting the blame on Cassie stretches out the mystery of Billy, and that's a good thing with 11 episodes to go.
As for Raylan and the case of the Bag That's Worth Murdering Someone Over, only minor headway was made. But it was a great way to bring Art and Tim into the season and introduce Harlan's ballsiest hillbilly clan. The Truths are fiercely angry and protective, not to mention so stupid that it's a wonder many of them are old enough to inbreed. I mean, look at the face of the little girl in the picture above! She looks like she's ready to rip out someone's throat, and she's still got baby teeth. Thankfully mom had enough common sense to tell her family to holster it, and thankfully the man they hired to pose as Waldo Truth was stupid enough to not be able to cover up the lie that Waldo died a long, long time ago. And yes, Raylan's takedown of 13-year-old Milo Truth was awesome. Now Raylan is on the hunt for the man who pretended to be Waldo—one Drew Thompson, a man who caused some sparks way back in the day when Art had hair.
When I brought up the odd pacing of "Where's Waldo?" I didn't mean it to sound like a bad thing. Justified, like many great serialized dramas today, jumps back and forth between rewarding the dedicated viewer with drawn-out, series-long arcs and bringing in new eyes with more standalone stories like the one we saw in "Hole in the Wall." And correct me if I'm wrong, but Justified has a history of front-loading its seasons with more standalone stories. It makes total business sense, and hopefully those who tuned into the show for the first time last week found satisfaction in Raylan turning in the fugitive and invested in the show for another week. I'm just thinking out loud here, but the lack of any beginning-middle-and-end story in tonight's episode may mean that Season 4 will be more for the patient. That's fine with me, because as long as the show delivers sizzling dialogue, fantastic characters and performances, and a setting so alive that it continues to exist when we turn off our TVs, I don't care what the show does with its pacing, or anything else for that matter.
– The return of Wynn! And he seems a bit more badass and confident this time around, taking out one of his street slingers because he creeped on Boyd's territory, much to the surprise of Boyd (Boyd's stunned reaction was great).
– Do bars in Shit Creek, Kentucky actually have Dos Equis, Newcastle, and Sierra Nevada on tap?
– Art: "Marshal stiffy."
– Wynn: "But I don't even trust the way you said, 'You can trust me.'"