This week’s Justified is about secrets and fake-outs. We’re entering that typically busy middle period of a season. The subplots have begun to intertwine.
Last week, we learned that Boyd Crowder’s estranged cousin Johnny was behind the serial theft of his drug shipments. Johnny shows up this week, answering Boyd’s invitation to stop by the county jail where Ava is staying and subject himself to a bit of old-fashioned huffing and puffing, but it turns out he’s a cooler cat than when we saw him last and goes on about his business; said business, witnessed by Boyd, involves collaborating with Rodney “Hot Rod” Dunham, the redneck boss of the interracial drug gang we glimpsed a few episodes back. Boyd tries to broker an alliance by playing the kin card, but Johnny isn’t interested. “You should have done right by me, cousin,” he tells Boyd before leaving.
Ava gets harassed in prison by a too-short-for-a-stormtrooper male guard, who seems on track to do worse until a tall female guard name Crane intervenes. “Can’t tell which way she swings, though; matter of time,” he says during a smoke break. She sap-slaps him like an old-time beat cop, then says something that sounds like “She’s protected, you piece of shit” — though it’s hard to make out her precise words because she’s growling through teeth clenched around a cig.
We also watched as Boyd collaborated with Mara, the fat-cat Lee Paxton’s femme fatale wife, to make it seem as though the crooked cop Mooney that Lee hired to kill Boyd finished his mission. The hospitalized Paxton received the gift of a hacked-off limb with a plausibly Boydian prison tat — a prop acquired from Paxton’s own funeral home. But the purloined hand had no effect on Paxton’s testimony against Ava, which Boyd hoped the old man would recant after learning of his untimely “death.” “That trash deserves every second she gets inside,” Paxton muttered, his bandages perched atop his face like a fez. “She already killed her own husband and walked on that. Good riddance.”
On the Crowe end of the tale, Darryl Crowe of the Florida Crowes told his nitwit brother Dewey that his bartender Wade Messer had been skimming the take at Audreys, the whorehouse Dickie bought off Boyd at jacked-up prices. Although Darryl and his men administered a preliminary beatdown, Darryl pressed Dewey to take Wade out in the woods and shoot him. Of course Dewey, being Dewey, couldn’t manage this. After forcing Wade to dig his own grave with a trowel unsuited to the task (a souvenir from the Webelos, he said; “they ran me off, but I kept my shovel”), Dewey beat Wade seemingly to death, breaking the implement. Then he went back up the hill to see if there was a better shovel in the trunk and returned to find Wade gone, like the husband in Blood Simple or the Russian in “Pine Barrens.” What followed could be described as a “chase” if it hadn’t moved at a tortoise-like amble, pausing to watch Wade groan and bleed and Dewey beg Jesus for help in killing a bartender.
Turns out there’s a better reason for killing Wade, although none of the Crowes were aware of it: After leaving prison at the start of this season, Wade turned snitch. At the time of his death, he was a criminal informant for the federal government and (if Boyd’s being honest with Raylan) a double-agent. Raylan’s bewilderment at not being told about Wade likely mirrored the bewilderment of some audience members; this felt like an out-of-nowhere plot flourish by the writers. To be fair, though, this drama’s so densely plotted that you could probably find predictive factoids buried hither and yon if you were willing to dig, which I’m not, having left my Webelo trowel in my other sandbox.
Be that as it may, Raylan and Tim try to find Wade using the GPS signal on his snitch phone, last fixed at Audrey’s. But by the time they finally catch up with Wade, he’s a stiff, thanks to Darryl, who belatedly swooped in to finish what Dewey couldn’t. Raylan is sure somebody in the Crowe gang did the deed, citing Danny (the dog owner) or the gator-loving Haitian Jean-Baptiste as likely suspects. The feds prefer a simpler story, and would be perfectly happy with the narrative of the “crime boss” Boyd unmasking Wade as an informant and whacking him as punishment. Boyd could see the logic in that sort of story. That’s why he acquiesced and gave Raylan the number of Wade’s private burner phone, which ultimately led the lawmen to Wade’s corpse.
My favorite scene in this episode was that long, tense encounter between Raylan and the Crowes at Audrey’s, mainly because the youngest Crowe, cousin Kendal, is a terrific new character played by a rare child actor who seems to inhabit him completely: Jacob Lofland, who played Neckbone in 2012’s Mud, a film you should see immediately. “You know we mighta shot you,” Tim told the boy, on realizing his “.410 shotgun” was just a baseball bat. “Shoot a kid holding a baseball bat? Doesn’t look too good,” Kendal replies, in the blank tones of a boy doesn’t scare easily. When Raylan asks if he’s seen Dewey, he deadpans, “Best get your eyes checked if you have to ask.”
I’m still not sure how to read Raylan’s new squeeze, the social worker Allison — intensions-wise, that is — but her postcoital conversation with Raylan was fascinating, because it reaffirmed the hero’s Galahad complex (gallant protector of women and children) while awarding him a decisive victory over the Crowes. As Allison tells the story of an abused boy she couldn’t save, Raylan realizes that Kendal’s felonious circumstances are all the pretext he needs to wrest the boy away from Darryl. The kid is, after all, “a minor behind a bar in a house of ill-repute.” He goes with Raylan of his own volition, a smart move that defuses a standoff. Now he’s in Raylan’s orbit — and would it be all that surprising if he ended up in Loretta’s as well?
I’m more intimidated by Kendal than by Darryl at this point, partly because Michael Rapaport’s performance has thrown off a couple of sparks but has yet to catch fire, but mostly because the character is more fun to think about than he is to watch. You understand and appreciate the familial and professional bind that Darryl is in, but somehow, none of that translates into audience investment. When he goes scowl-to-scowl with Raylan, you never get the sense that Raylan is underestimating him, probably because it doesn’t seem all that hard to bully schmos like Dewey and Wade and the late Crowe cousin Dilley. Compared to Mags Bennett, Robert Quarls, Ellstin Limehouse, Colton Rhodes, and the assorted hotheads of the Memphis and Detroit mobs, this year’s big bad seems distressingly ordinary. Of course, being an optimist, I still hold out hope that both the character and the performer will wow me — or that Art’s Detroit trip will refocus the criminal spotlight on Picker or some other northern troublemaker.
Art’s Detroit trip was the most tantalizing aspect of “Over the Mountain.” Most shows about maverick lawmen watch them bend and break laws all season long, then forget about the consequences. Justified has an elephant’s memory for that sort of thing. It’s clear that Raylan’s unorthodox and often cozy methods are going to have repercussions — but what kind? Right now Art knows that the late Detroit interim boss Sammy Tonin had a “Kentucky lawman” in his pocket and that this cop “was there the night that [Sammy] took out Nicky Augustine.” Picker, who was Sammy’s right-hand man up until the moment that he put a bullet in Sammy’s brain, might know more, and as it turns out he’s in Kentucky, “laying low” in the company of Wynn Duffy. As some commenters here have speculated, we might be headed toward a more melancholy wrap-up in season six, one in which a lawman who never played by the rules gets punished for breaking them.
Odds and Ends
* Both Dewey’s initial losing of Wade and the scene in which he feigns heatstroke while looming over Wade’s injured body were great bits of physical comedy, in the spirit of Elmore Leonard’s bone-dry slapstick disasters.
* I like that Art’s palpable distrust and dislike for Raylan hasn’t disappeared just because the show would be more enjoyable if they were chummy again. Justified treats Raylan the way a boss would treat a brilliant but unpredictable and sometimes undependable employee: with tempered skepticism and annoyance with grudging appreciation when he makes a big save (which very often he wouldn’t have had to make if his own judgment had been sharper going into the season). In that first scene between Art and Raylan, Art says he’s sending Tim along to make sure Raylan doesn’t blunder into a mess that Art would have to clean up later. That turned out to be a good call. There were two, maybe three moments that might have turned nasty, or turned nasty more quickly, had Raylan gone unaccompanied.
* “Your use of the past tense gives me a sense of foreboding.” A great line by Boyd, verging on Deadwood ornateness, as Boyd’s lines often do.
* This episode was written by Taylor Elmore, who penned some of Justified’s most satisfying episodes, including season four’s “Peace of Mind” — which, like tonight’s episode, was directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton. A good team, these two.