Tone is a crucial thing for a TV series to master, and a show that can successfully shift between a few different tones operates at a distinct advantage. Justified has always been that way, with its Elmore Leonard roots and winking jokes about Raylan’s hat and Boyd hamming it up at every turn. I know everybody wasn’t the biggest fan of the Dewey Crowe kidney-hunt episode last season, but I thought it was a perfect example of the elasticity of the show’s tone.
“This Bird Has Flown” had that same multiplicity of tones, with the gravity of the Ellen May stuff, and even Raylan’s semisweet sadness over Lindsey’s betrayal, undercut by the essential silliness of the fact that in the end, Randall and Lindsey’s crime spree was all about chickens. The drawback, unfortunately, was that I was having a real hard time buying Randall from one scene to the next. Robert Baker’s not a bad actor, but his shifts from “badass” to “chicken-eyed dreamer” and back again felt more like inconsistency than elasticity.
Anyway, first things first: We pick up right where we left off, with Randall and an apparently willing Lindsay having made off with Raylan’s stashed-away money. How much? “A goodly sum” is all he’ll tell Rachel, who is more than game to follow him down this rabbit hole, at least until she’s gotta be at work. There’s been a lot of chatter about beefing up Tim’s and Rachel’s respective presences on the show this season. Personally, while I really enjoy both characters and actors, their limited presence on the show was always a little bit admirable to me since the show was resisting the impulse to shoehorn them into Harlan business that would not realistically involve them. But this episode was a smart way to write Rachel into the story in a way that didn’t feel like we were taking a Rachel Break.
So, like I said, it looks like Randall and Lindsey rolled Raylan in order to get the cash to promote backyard prize fights … which I guess is technically true, but what Raylan finds out when he follows a trail to Scumbag Joe the Fight Promoter’s Den of Squalor is that the fights are cockfights. That’s gotta hurt a little more for Raylan, knowing that he got turned on by his lady for cockfighting money. Lindsey, we see, is a bit ambivalent about it all, in that grand tradition of faithless hussies who have the nerve to look sad about it afterward. When Randall slips back into old habits and beats the shit out of a pervy gas station clerk for hitting on Lindsey (while SHE hit on HIM so you could steal Champagne because that’s how your dumb short cons work, RANDALL), Lindsey places a hesitant call to Raylan. She hangs up, but it’s enough for him to go on, and soon, he’s tracked the Bonnie and Clyde of American Cockfighting down. Rachel’s back in the office by this point, but her gift to Raylan — a beanbag-shooting shotgun — comes in mighty handy. He beans Randall in the gut, which doesn’t stop Randall from punching the crap out of him (it’s weird and unsettling watching Raylan so physically dominated), and Lindsey ends it by beanbagging the both of them and leaving Randall to the mercy of the authorities and Raylan a van full of chickens. “Still,” Randall says to Raylan at the end of the ordeal, “she’s kinda worth it, though, isn’t she?” Raylan kind of nods at this, except … no? She’s not? At all?
Meanwhile, there are darker things brewing, especially in the troubled soul of Ava Crowder. It’s funny, in this season already so thick with evangelical themes, Ava has kept far away from the revival tent, even though she’s probably the one character who could benefit the most from a little spiritual counseling. Ellen May comes back early on this week — Preacher Billy has well and truly died, to my genuine surprise — and to Ava, she is a walking, talking reminder that she murdered Delroy last year. It’s mostly about Ava wanting to cover her ass and make sure she’ll never get caught for the crime, but I also think, deep down, Ava just can’t deal with the reminder. And so she spends the better part of the hour finding different ways to get Boyd to say that killing Ellen May is the only option.
Ellen May, it should be said, has become absolutely insufferable. Wasn’t she at least a little sympathetic last season? Now she’s twitchy and nervous and dumb. Just abashed enough at returning to the Crowder fold that you can’t hold it against her, but unabashed enough to even try to come back in the first place. It gets really tough to blame Ava for wanting to be rid of her. And after some fancy misdirection by Shelby (see below) that seems to confirm that Ellen May didn’t tell Cassie about Ava’s crime, it seems like they’ll be able to simply ship her off to work for Boyd’s legless preacher cousin in Alabama. Ellen May, OF COURSE, has to make a big ol’ deal about how she doesn’t want to leave and would rather hang around Harlan and suck the dicks of meth heads for the rest of her life. She’s the living worst. But it’s a great scene, because we get what is either (a) Ava having the last openly warmhearted conversation of her life, as she tries to convince Ellen May to take the chance she never had and start her life over; or (b) Ava completely feigning warmhearted concern in order to more efficiently manipulate Ellen May. Either way, “Next time, you give a blow job because you want to” is one of my favorite lines of the season, vulgar and kind at once.
Still, Ellen May cannot leave well enough alone, and after she noisily approaches Ava in the middle of the bar and is like, “HEY I FIGURED OUT WHY YOU WANT ME SHIPPED OUT BUT I AIN’T GONNA TELL NO ONE ABOUT HOW YOU MURDERED DELROY SO IT’S COOL RIGHT?” Ava gets her to shut up, but clearly, her concerns about Ellen May’s instability were well founded. Right? So on their ride to the bus station, Colton Rhodes gets a call from Ava. He tells Ellen May that the message is that she can come back home, but we know better. Colton’s been used for one thing only this season. Well, two, if you count shooting snakes and shooting people as two different things. Interestingly, the heretofore enthusiastic killer needs to psych himself up in the bathroom with some coke before he can kill the poor girl. Since when did he grow a conscience?
When Colton emerges from the loo, however, he finds that Ellen May is gone. Now … there is just no way that I will accept that Ellen May figured out what was going to happen and then made a run for it. That girl never figured anything out in her whole life. Which leaves the possibility of abduction. Who did it? Wynn Duffy? Cassie? This would be a wonderful excuse to reintroduce Limehouse to the story, not that I’m holding my breath. Maybe Johnny Crowder saw his opportunity to get some serious leverage on his cousin.
Daytime Television Society of Greater Harlan County
While Ava tries to upsell Ellen May on the virtues of starting her life over in Alabama, she tells her she can “tell it all to Whoopi Goldberg one day on The View.” Oh, man. Whoopi might be the one person who’d have less patience for Ellen May than I would.
Raylan Givens Hat Update
Roller coaster of emotions for the Hat this week. First, Raylan throws it down on the bedpost in frustration after having been looted. Then it gets knocked off his head during the brawl with Randall. How can it help Raylan out if it keeps getting cast aside?
Chino-Harlan Exchange Program Update
My keen-eyed friend John pointed out to me that Gina, the endearing ladyfighter from Gross Joe’s Den of Iniquity, was played by Navi Rawat, a.k.a. Theresa from The O.C. I never had any use for her on that show, but she had a sparkle here that I hope to see return in future episodes.
Improv Exercise of the Week
How about that Shelby, huh? Being so good at playing the Boyd-rejecting fatherly figure to grieving Cassie that he got her to admit that, beyond the whoring, drug-pushing, and bribery, she can’t pin any other criminal activity on Boyd. Which is good news to Boyd (and Ava) who are listening in on the meeting. “Well played, Shelby,” indeed. Though I also appreciated the brusqueness with which Shelby hung up on Boyd. Mid-smartass remark! Guess Shelby is still working under protest.
Snake in the Grass of the Week
Cassie is down, but don’t expect her to be out. Here’s hoping she brings “the wrathful judgment of Almighty God” when she does.