Justified Recap: The Karen Sisco That Dare Not Speak Its Name

JUSTIFIED: Episode 2: CUT TIES (Airs January 24, 10:00 pm e/p). Carla Gugino (standing, L) and Timothy Olyphant (seated, R).
Photo: Prashant Gupta/FX

So I should probably get this out of the way right now: I never watched Karen Sisco during its short run on ABC. I’m sorry! I was part of the problem! I loved Out of Sight, though, and I have loved Carla Gugino in such terrible movies as Sucker Punch and Snake Eyes and Son in Law … No, you’re right, Son in Law was not terrible. But the point remains: I don’t need to be sold on the idea that adding Gugino’s Karen Sisco — sorry, Karen Goodall, wink-wink — to the Justified universe is a good idea. After just one episode, I’ll go so far as to say it’s a great idea.

Obviously, Karen is a beloved character from Elmore Leonard’s fiction. The mainstream loves her because Jennifer Lopez played her in Out of Sight and was amazing. TV critics love her because Karen Sisco was their baby. And even though silly legal considerations keep Justified from actually calling her “Sisco,” she’s a badass U.S. Marshal by any name.

When Karen shows up in Raylan’s corner of Lexington after a Marshal pal of Art’s has been gunned down while working a Witness Protection (WitSec) detail. Clearly, Karen and Raylan have a past, as both their conversation and chemistry indicate. She’s an assistant director on the Marshals Service now, and she’s been married and divorced since she last saw Raylan (hence the “Goodall”), but you get the sense that she and Raylan are somewhat picking up where they left off.

So in the wake of Art’s pal’s Bill Nichols’s death, Rachel gets dispatched to protect Mary, the woman Nichols was protecting, while other agents head out to find Nichols’s other WitSec charges. Karen and Raylan follow the lead of one Little Joe Dillahunt, a Boston criminal who’s set himself up in Lexington, so they take a little trip in the Rear-Screen Projection Machine to go see him.

Meanwhile, Art gets dispatched to another one of Nichols’s protectees, a weaselly hoodlum named Walter Poe, who we already know is the guy who killed Nichols. Still, armed with that knowledge, it’s greatly exciting watching Art put it all together while making disarming small talk to Poe about pet reptiles and such. Once Art does confirm, via the GPS on Poe’s car, that he was at the scene of the crime, old affable, folksy Art goes out the window. Before Nichols kicked the bucket, we got a great scene with him and art chitchatting about what it must’ve been like to be a Marshall in the Old West/Wyatt Earp days. Well, with Poe tied up in his cabin, and Art armed with a gun, a desire for vengeance, and the righteous excuse that he needs Poe to talk so they can keep Mary safe from Little Joe’s gang, he certainly gets to mete out some Old West justice. We’ve seen this exploration of Old Dog Art before, and it’s effective again this week. It’s smart that the show knows Art’s primary role is to be the guy whose life is constantly inconvenienced by Raylan going off-book and gunslinging, but we’re always being reminded that Art’s a person, too, and sometimes he’d rather be the one gunslinging.

So while Art is playing Dirty Harry with Poe in the cabin, Raylan and Karen are squeezing Little Joe for information at his fancy hotel penthouse. This involves one hell of a tussle with Little Joe’s bodyguards — a brilliant combination of action and banter that I’ve got to think sold Justified viewers on Karen even if they were utterly unfamiliar with her from previous incarnations.

Art manages to get the information out of Poe by going right up to the line of actually killing him. Raylan and Karen show up in time to learn that it’s indeed Mary who is the target, and then they show up at Mary’s just in time for Rachel to have taken out a would-be assassin from her perch in Mary’s attic. I’ve been happy that Rachel and Tim have each gotten things to do in the last few episodes, but I do wonder if the show is getting its money’s worth out of having them as regular cast members. That scene at the end when Raylan spends all of fifteen seconds helping Rachel cope with having killed her second man on the job felt pretty perfunctory.

In Holler news, Boyd’s plan to shank Dickie Bennett gets thwarted at the last possible moment by a visit for Boyd from Raylan, who has great news! He’s had a change of heart about their little misunderstanding last week, so he’s getting Boyd sprung from jail! Isn’t that just the sweetest?

Of course, Boyd quickly realizes that Raylan wants him out because he’s caught wise to his plan to murder Dickie. Nice touch that Raylan hatched this plan offscreen, just like how Boyd hatched his get-into-prison scheme last week. By this point, we’re starting to know the methods of these two almost as well as they seem to know each other. Don’t need a whole lot of explanation to know why Raylan’s going out of his way to put Boyd back out on the streets. But Boyd is a quick thinker, and in the one day he’s got before he gets sprung, Boyd bribes a guard (again, offscreen), gets his ass intentionally throttled (ditto) after flashing his swastika tattoo in front of the wrong folks out in the yard, and ultimately thrown into solitary … in a cell right next to Dickie. And it’s then that Boyd Crowder’s multitudinous nature once again threw us a curveball. Rather than simply shank Dickie as payback for Ava, Boyd means business. He wants the stash of money that he knows Mags was sitting on. Dickie snivels and begs and ultimately reveals that the Bennetts don’t even have the money anymore. It’s being held by Limehouse. Who’s Limehouse?

Time to meet yet another prospective villain for season three! (If you’re counting, Limehouse makes four, along with Boyd, Dickie, and Neal McDonough. Arlo, you fucking WISH you were good enough to make that list.) We get a brief but effective introduction to Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), who runs things in a holler seemingly adjacent to the Bennetts’. While he butchers a hog (and intimidating men often do, right, Boardwalk Empire’s Manny?), he manages to subtly (and then not-at-all subtly) intimidate one of his younger subordinates. Usually, the parable-spouting talking villain runs the risk of becoming tedious. But I have faith in Limehouse. He’s such a large, threatening presence that his words start mattering a whole lot less. I mean, obviously I know what happens with a lye burn — I’ve seen Fight Club. Threatening to melt the skin off this kid’s hands means a whole lot less without the physical presence behind it. Doesn’t hurt that Limehouse’s other subordinate is also sporting a lye burn on his hand. This guy is going to be a handful.

Timothy Olyphant Sex Rating: He’s already got blazing chemistry with Winona — now he’s gotta add some sparky interactions with Karen. This is real bad timing for Winona, boy. I have always liked her, but she is at the nadir of her goodwill with the audience, and the show doesn’t seem to know what to do with her. Enter Karen, with history beyond the show, history with Raylan, and an ass-kicking manner of carrying out her Marshal duties (“And if you still don’t come out, then I’m gonna get mean … “)? This seems unfair.

Shark-Jumping Baby Update: Raylan thinks the sonogram photo of the baby looks like the creature from Alien. That is one way to freshen up the new-baby trope.

Brick-Laying for Future Episodes Update: Art relays to Raylan that Arnett’s assistant, Yvette, has gone missing since Raylan met with her. Not to mention Arnett’s office carpet was pulled up and the floors bleached. Something tells me Wynn Duffy is going to be receiving another “this ain’t a meeting” meetings with Raylan.

Early-Nineties SNL Homage Update: Seriously, that rear-screen projection during all the driving scenes. Very Toonces.

Justified Recap: The Karen Sisco That Dare Not Speak Its Name