Figures. On the same night I went on Twitter and moaned about Justified's lack of oomph, the show delivered one of its better season-five episodes, "Wrong Roads." There still seems to be a lot of motion for motion's sake (how many characters have they killed off in ten episodes? And how many of them were actually full-fledged characters?), but a sense of urgency has settled in. Are we finally getting somewhere?
Ava and Boyd were reunited, briefly. The fact that their plot lines were connected gave each character's actions more weight. Rowena, the infirmary nurse from last week's episode, made good on her promise to draw Boyd into Ava's scheme to smuggle 100 grams of heroin into the prison every week. She asked Boyd to kill a man in a nursing home to avenge the man's arson-murder of Rowena's partner. Here Justified pulled a textbook violent cable drama mercy-fakeout, making us think that maybe, just maybe, Boyd would spare the man's life ("Killing an old man in a nursing home ain't high on my bucket list"), then having the poor bastard strangled on a back road anyway. This barter killing served as a reminder, in case we needed one, that Boyd doesn't get sentimental about folks he doesn't know. In fact, Boyd doesn't get sentimental about anyone or anything. Except Ava. And that's not sentimentality, my friends. That's love.
Boyd has no love for any of the Crowes, of course, By this point hardly anyone does, including two members of the Crowe clan, Wendy and her boy Kendal. Neither does the audience. Me, anyway.
By the end of the episode, mother and son looked like they were about to split Harlan County. Daryl didn't make their situation feel any more hospitable when he stole the money that Raylan gave Kendal at the end of last week's episode and bullied Wendy when she dared object. Could there be a Janice Soprano/Richie Aprile-style premature snuffing in store for Daryl next week? I can dream.
Dewey, meanwhile, got fed up with suffering nonstop teasing and abuse by cohorts on the way home from Mexico, and lashed out at Danny by driving the drug-packed truck into him during a police stop. Danny survived and looked righteously pissed. Could there be a Janice Soprano-Richie Aprile-style premature snuffing in store for him next week, too? I can dream, oh yes. While they're at it, could Justified kill all the Crowes except Dewey, the original Crowe, and Kendal, who's just a dumb kid, and give all that freed-up screen time to Boyd and Ava and Raylan and maybe Jay, the surviving member of the Jay and Roscoe mind-melding-brothers duo?
That Justified killed Roscoe* while leaving all the Florida Crowes untouched (save that cousin who got iced early in season five) seems symptomatic of the show's puzzling loss of common sense. Couldn't the writers see that Jay and Roscoe were simply more colorful, dynamic, and altogether fascinating than the Crowes? Or were Steve and Wood Harris's dance cards so full that it was impossible to schedule them? Whatever the explanation, their presence this week gave us a frustrating hint of what the season could have been. Like the other brutal games they've played, the hammer-and-anvil routine and the jukebox improvisation ("Song ain't over yet") gave us a sense of what they might have been like as hell-raising kids. And Roscoe's King Lear speech was the kind of tangent that an Elmore Leonard character might've gone on. "The reason, not the need," Roscoe says. "Here we go," Jay interjects, signaling that this is not the first time Roscoe has brought Shakespeare into a Mexican standoff.
These two guys brought the writing alive in a way it never came alive for the Crowes, whose de facto patriarch, Daryl, still hasn't coalesced as a plausible challenger for Boyd's kingdom, or even an amusing irritant, and who is played by an actor who, despite his excellence in various East Coast indie movies, just can't nail Daryl's Florida accent, or even a Hollywood-generic southern accent (a task that star Timothy Olyphant, who was born in Honolulu and raised in Modesto, California, manages just fine). It's not the iffy vowels and dropped gs; it's the miscalculated rhythms of Michael Rapaport's delivery. When, in his first scene, Daryl declares "It's gonna be a good ass morning," it sounds like he's predicting a good morning for ass. Neither Daryl nor any of the other Florida Crowes feel 100 percent lived-in and thought-out, except the junkyard puppy Kendal (Arkansas native Jacob Lofland, whose underplaying puts many of the older actors' huffing and puffing to shame). Everything involving this extended family has been disappointing, except the bits involving Dewey, whose every frown and double-take remains comic gold. And the fact that they're all so petty and stupid makes other characters who aren't petty and stupid seem lessened by association. I don't believe that Daryl could win a game of rock-paper-scissors against Boyd Crowder, let alone misdirect him during an international drug deal, and he's apparently done at various points this season.
The doppelgänger relationship between Raylan and Memphis DEA agent Miller (guest star Eric Roberts), the hero's partner in the search for "Hot Rod" Dunham, was engaging but ultimately pointless. After all the prior examples of the personal disasters that Raylan could have stumbled into and all the wasted lives he could have had, I'm not sure it added anything to team him up with Miller, a neglectful father and flask-toting drunk who still makes Bill Clinton jokes in 2014. At least Roberts, a great actor who's rarely asked to do anything these days but gnaw scenery, was just right as Miller: convincing as both an aging badass and an office prima donna.
Hot Rod's death was touching and nasty (I like how they kept the exact mechanics of the pencil gambit offscreen), but it still struck me as another example of Justified burning through characters and plot in lieu of telling a truly involving story, as they did in seasons two and four and stretches of seasons one and three. The stuff involving Boyd's drug shipments and the Detroit mob, the Orange Is the New Black scenes with Ava in the clink, and pretty much everything involving the Crowes and Raylan feels played out already, and we're only two-thirds of the way through the season.
I don't particularly care how Ava kills the prison spiritual leader-crime boss Judith. And because we have no particular feeling for Judith, a Sons of Anarchy-style hard-case grotesque parachuted into Justified, that's really all there is to care about: the how. Allison is gone from the show and I don't miss her at all. I don't miss any of the new characters Justified introduced and/or brought back and then killed off this year, and I find myself wishing that a lot of the remaining new characters would get the axe so I could not miss them, too. Yes, there are still marvelous moments: the newly single Raylan not realizing he's being propositioned rather than flirted with; Raylan's bitter verbal throwdown with Art; Miller mocking Raylan's Memphis ribs line by drawling, "Have some ree-ubs, yeah"; anything involving Wynn Duffy and his angry owl eyebrows. But it's no fun to grade on a curve.
* Is Roscoe dead, though? It sure looked like it to me. But Justified's showrunner Graham Yost said in an interview that although we won't see either brother again this season, there is a "possibility" that Roscoe survived the shooting.