On several levels, Justified fits in perfectly with the other antihero-heavy, blood-soaked TV shows that currently serve as Great American Television Programs. Your Breaking Bads, your Homelands, your Games of Thrones. But what struck me as I sat down to kick off yet another season in the holler was that on a structural level, Justified reminds me of no show so much as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (It reminds our TV critic, Matt Zoller Seitz, of Cheers. So we all see things in our own way.)
While the binary among TV dramas has always been the "episodic" shows versus the novelistic ones, Justified, like Buffy before it, tells its stories season by season. Call it novella television, I guess, with each season running one complete story straight through and sending Raylan out the next year to tell the next one. Obviously, story threads carry over — Raylan's going to be a dad, Arlo's in jail now, Ava's been evolving into quite the criminal operator over three seasons — but at the end of season three, Quarles was squared away, Limehouse was left to lord over his holler, and things managed to settle into some kind of normalcy for Raylan. With "Hole in the Wall," it's time for some new arcs to emerge.
Of course, if you were worried that the soul-searching that accompanies impending fatherhood and a father's incarceration would have dulled Raylan's sense of maverick justice, this episode put those fears to rest. In fact, the baby on the way means Raylan's even more eager to mix it up, particularly if it's going to let him add to his secret cash pile. After a quick flashback to nakeder times in Miami, Raylan agrees to help bail bondswoman Sharon Emmonds track down bond-jumper Jody Adair. We've been around Raylan long enough to know that this will be no problem, and the show is smart enough to let the actual catching of Jody be brisk and exhilarating. Sometimes it's just fun to watch Raylan shoot the airbag open in order to foil a crook.
The fun really starts when Raylan gets word from Constable Bob (Patton Oswalt, fitting into this universe better than I expected him to) that two teens were caught breaking into Arlo's abandoned house. Raylan's been paying for upkeep and surveillance on the house since Arlo got sent upriver, and now he's got to deal with these punks, who not only steal Arlo's copper wire but also swipe Raylan's car after the brace-faced female half of this master criminal duo flashes her boobies at Raylan to distract him. This is a problem for Raylan because he stashed Jody in the trunk while he dealt with his Harlan problems, and it's a REAL problem when he learns that the kids took the car to the junkyard to be crushed.
The good news is that Jody doesn't get crushed. The bad news is that Jody, the two kids, the underhanded junkyard proprietor, Constable Bob, and Raylan all end up converging in a six-way standoff. Jody tries to get the teens to either free him or kill Raylan. Bob gets jumped by the junkyard operator. Raylan is smart enough to play Peter against Paul long enough to get the jump, but it's Constable Bob who bumbles his way into saving the day, stabbing the girl instead of Jody but giving Raylan the upper hand either way.
Things never stay simple for long on this show, so it turns out the teens weren't stealing copper wires but were retrieving a bag from inside the walls at Arlo's request. Inside the bag? A 1979 Kentucky I.D. for one Waldo Truth. Arlo won't elaborate, but you have to figure this has something to do with the flashback at the beginning of the episode. In 1983, a parachutist crashed in a bloody splat, spilling his bricks of drugs all over some cul-de-sac. That's all we know so far, but it won't stay that way for long. At the very least, we know the I.D. is important to Arlo, since he slashes the throat of a fellow inmate who spied on his conversation with Raylan and wanted to horn in on whatever action Arlo was into. Good to see the old man's still spry.
Of course, Raylan's only half the story in Harlan County. You want to know what's up with Boyd, don't you? Well, Boyd's having trouble unloading his oxy supply, and he finds out that it's because one Preacher Billy is saving souls and getting folk "hooked on Jesus." But it turns out that Preacher Billy's revivalist church appears to be selling some newfangled drug instead. We find this out via Ellen May, which makes sense, since she's the show's stand-in for how the criminal underworld victimizes the poor and stupid. Not only does Ellen May get a taste of the new drug via a John (a John she later ends up shooting in a drug haze because his furry fetish costume freaked her out so much — like, thanks for bleeding yourself out onto your network neighbors, American Horror Story), but by episode's end, she seeks out Preacher Billy's Snake-Handling Tent Revival.
Boyd picks up a new ally this week — new to us, at least. Ron Eldard joins the cast as Colton Rhodes, an ex-Army friend of Boyd's who was discharged for shooting a fellow soldier. Boyd takes him on as muscle, basically. I'm not sure if Boyd is aware that his cousin Johnny isn't to be trusted (we viewers found out last season that Johnny has a backroom deal with Limehouse), but he at least knows the value of having an ally all to yourself. Rhodes may well prove to be too much for Boyd to handle, as he ends up blowing the head off of an underling that Boyd simply wanted ushered out the door.
So Boyd's set up against the drug-dealing preacher boy. Raylan's got Arlo Givens Mystery Adventure to solve. And Ava's going to have to keep Ellen May from fucking it all up for everybody. Welcome to season four!
Harlan Financial Planning Update: It also turns out that Boyd is stashing some money away himself, without telling even Ava. He and Raylan always were shadow brothers. It makes sense they would both be hiding cash in similar ways.
Film Society of Greater Harlan County: Raylan on The Big Lebowski: "Netflix it, you can be one of the cool kids."
Raylan Givens on Selling in a Buyer's Market: When faced with the gaping hole in the wall that the teens left in Arlo's place, Raylan's reaction: "Well, I ain't gonna cover that up with the smell of baking cookies."
Boyd Crowder English Language Triumph of the Week: Boyd said this week that he's been nonplussed by Johnny's lack of motivation. YES! "Nonplussed"! Used correctly! Boyd Crowder, you can basically do whatever you want. You have our full support.
Harlan County Comedy Corner: I'm always wary of characters in dramas who are only there for comic relief but I'm going to give Constable Bob a little bit of rope. He's got a go-bag in case "shit goes Road Warrior"! It's going to take a few more shots to the balls before I end up getting sick of him.
Unsubtle Foreshadowing of the Week: I'm asking the question now: Who gets killed by a rattlesnake bite first?
* This recap previously referred to Constable Bob as Sheriff Bob. Constables and sheriffs are different and we know this and we apologize for the error.