How do you know you're watching a Justified episode that's action-packed even by Justified's standards? When a supporting character sums up everything that's happened — at the halfway point.
"The dominoes have fallen," says Ava Crowder's lawyer, in the presence of Ava and Boyd. He predicts that the judge in Ava's case is "ready to dismiss" because the "suicide" of Lee Paxton (actually a murder by Boyd) and the shooting of the corrupt cop Mooney in a diner in plain view of the widow Paxton (a hired hit by Boyd) have "made a shambles of this case."
There are many more shambles where those came from.
Boyd's machinations in "Shot All to Hell" included screwing over Mrs. Paxton by giving her coveted $300,000 to Mooney's assassin, a young miner dying of black lung disease; dumping the bodies generated by Hot Rod Dunham and cousin Johnny Crowder's drug-jackings in Lee Paxton's funeral homes, then dropping a dime to create a cover story for Paxton's "suicide"; facing off with Darryl Crowe at Johnny's old bar and telling him he could stick his concern about inflated real estate prices where the neon beer signs don't shine; and heading off future drug-jackings by trying to make Hot Rod a partner. Johnny once again proved that he's smarter and tougher than we thought; turns out he bought the loyalty of Hot Rod's button men by splitting his half of the last hijacking take three ways. (Is Hot Rod gone? Surely, and in one of the rare Justified killings that occurs offscreen. Interesting development, given all the talk of bloodlines and legacies this season, plus the lead-up scene between Hot Rod and Boyd, talking about Hot Rod's memories of Boyd's late daddy.)
Elsewhere in the episode, Detroit mobster Picker, the murderer of Sammy Tonin, identifies FBI agent Barkley as the Kentucky-based federal lawman who was on the tarmac when Nicky Augustine got killed. (Barkley is another character murdered by Picker.) This false "disclosure" might have spared our hero Raylan Givens the necessity of confessing that he was actually the fed at the airport that night, but for whatever combination of reasons — friendship, guilt, professional loyalty — he decides to 'fess up anyway, putting Art in a legally and morally untenable position.
Ava finishes the episode in way worse shape than when she started, thanks to the sexually harassing prison guard shanking himself and claiming Ava did it. Ava gets transferred to a maximum security lockup; when Boyd finds out, he wails in agony and has to be dragged off by jail guards. And Art and Raylan shoot it out with a Detroit assassin named Marcos (Alan Tudyk), who's been sent to kill Picker; after Marcos catches one of Raylan's bullets (in the back; not a terribly code-of-the-West way to shoot a guy, but hey), the feds find the much discussed, presumably absent Detroit top boss Theo Tonin in a shipping container.
Oh yeah: One of season five's most striking new characters, the gator-raising Jean-Baptiste, got shotgunned in the chest after a confrontation with the preening brute Danny Crowe, who might want to bring it down a notch, considering big brother Darryl's track record of dealing with male relatives who're more trouble than they're worth.
There was so much intrigue in "Shot All to Hell" that I'm sure I left something out. By the end, I wouldn't have been surprised if the filmmakers had thrown in Bach's "Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor" and footage of Moe Green getting a rubdown.
"Shot All to Hell" was written by Justified MVP Chris Provenzano. It was helmed by actor-filmmaker Adam Arkin, a.k.a. Theo Tonin. Arkin has a knack for staging scenes that mix dread and disappointment (he directed the two best season-one episodes of The Americans, "Gregory" and "Only You"). This was such a plot-driven episode that at certain points I found myself wishing there were more laid-back moments of reflection and conversation, like Boyd and Hot Rod's trip down memory lane at the outdoor burger shack that used to be a nightclub, and the Raylan-Art-Vasquez conversation post-shipping container (Art: "That was lovely, sir; you can kiss my ass any time you like"), and the now-murderous Dewey's own version of "To be or not to be," the whorehouse monologue whose peak was, "You do a thing that you never done one day, shit changes." (Love the two hookers considering a gift swap after Dewey left the room; that's what you get for being sweet, Dewey.)
There were several great sustained moments of oration in this episode, the best being Boyd's hateful incantation after materializing at Lee Paxton's bedside like that evil clown doll in Poltergeist. If enough people want a complete copy of it I might add a transcript later today.
Considering the episode's intricate plotting and expertly judged moments of rising tension and violent release (the best of which was the coffee shop face-off between Marcos and Art, including Marcos's hilariously Elmore Leonard–ian "Hey, shitfingers, I see you") the lack of laid-back character building seems a small price to pay, and I'm sure will get more of that sort of thing later on — particularly with regards to Raylan and Art, whose relationship was already in tatters and seems bound to disintegrate in time.
I'm also now wondering if Justified will end with a reversal of the usual outcome in tales driven by an outlaw and a lawman: with the lawman a disgraced victim of his worst impulses, and the outlaw somehow redeemed or transformed.
I say that because everything Boyd has done this season, however vile or murderous, has been motivated by his love for Ava and his desire to build a long-lasting and stable business, while his opposite Raylan seems to be finally paying the price for his extra-legal improvisations and watching in dread as his past sins come back to haunt him. Will Boyd ultimately escape the traumas of his past while Raylan is swallowed by them? I'm not placing any bets, but one recurring behavior pattern of Raylan's keeps jumping out at me: his obsession with saving at-risk children. Every time he tries to move heaven and earth to protect a minor, it's as if he's saving some young stand-in for himself, and trying (often in a half-assed and surely unconscious way) to be the good father he never had.