Is there a contest in the Justified writers' room to see who can pack the most plot into an episode? Season five makes it seem as though there is; it's just one damn thing after another after another, the upside of which is there's never a dull moment; the downside being that it sometimes feels like motion for motion's sake.
Last night's episode, "Kill the Messenger" — which was written by Ingrid Escejeda and directed by series coproducer Don Kurt — was busy, busy, busy. We saw Boyd try to protect Ava against prison violence by hiring protection from the incarcerated sister of a former white supremacist buddy, Gunnar Swift. Turns out Gunnar took Boyd's money and let his imprisoned sister Gretchen humiliate Ava as long-delayed payback for the former white supremacist Boyd becoming a "race traitor." We saw Dewey and Danny Crowe move against Boyd, then kidnap and torture one of his associates, Carl, when Boyd wasn't around; somehow by the end of all this mess, Boyd and the biggest Crowe brother Darryl were in cahoots, with Darryl administering a beatdown to Gunnar. There was also a scene establishing that Boyd and Duffy were hustling their way out of Boyd's distribution problem via a Korean-Mexican drug alliance.
Some of this was thrilling, some was very funny. Danny's two attacks on Allison — first by threatening her with his pit bull, then by running her off the road and baying like a dog — were appropriately terrifying, and gave you a sense of what life might be like if you had to do the job that Allison does. And I laughed hard at Carl improvising his way out of Rachel and Raylan finding him all trussed up by claiming that he and Danny were lovers (Danny: "Yeah, we share some things in common"), as well as Duffy explaining to Boyd's new drug connection that in the past they'd had "some problems with the 'pay up front' business model."
But more so than in other seasons, I'm getting the sense that the show is feeling its way through the plot without necessarily knowing where things are headed, and there have been a lot of plot developments that felt like wheel-spinning or failed experiments. Showrunner Graham Yost revealed in an Entertainment Weekly interview last week that the Hatian Jean-Baptist's sudden exit came at the behest of actor Edi Gathegi, who didn't like the role, so don't expect the vagueness and overall silliness of Danny's explanation for his departure to be elaborated upon; it's just one of those "wave your hand and it's done" type of things.
And I'm still waiting for the stuff with the Crowe clan to feel menacing, or urgent, or otherwise central to the season; they're good for a laugh and occasionally a cringe or a horror movie jump (all the dog stuff has been unnerving), but they're just not on the level of the antagonists in other seasons, and I breathed a sigh of relief once the show maneuvered Darryl into a wingman position in relation to Boyd, who's more exciting doing nothing than any of the Crowes are at full tizzy.
The most fascinating material all has to do with Raylan, who really is seeming like a big old roost waiting for some chickens to come perch on him. The nearly wordless opening sequence was more powerful than anything else in the episode, maybe the season: Art drinking alone as the rain spattered outside; Raylan pulling up and walking inside, his body briefly silhouetted in the doorway like a film noir twist on the famous closing image of The Searchers; him saying just one word to his boss and then getting popped in the face by Art, who shook off the pain in his punching hand and walked out. It was painful and felt very real. Raylan's extra-legal improvisations over the years have put Art in one awkward position after another, and I have the sinking feeling that we haven't heard the last of this Nicky Augustine stuff — and that it might in fact carry past the end of this season and into the final one next year.