By Josh Logue
Over the seasons, as the show’s central characters and conflicts have matured, “Justified” lightened up on the mystery-a-week, procedural episodes that primarily comprised its first season or two. That could be a good thing when the formula began to feel stale and season-long arches featured an interesting villain (i.e. Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett), but those slightly more autonomous episodes also exemplified some of “Justified’s” greatest strengths: Deft plotting and compelling (and fun!) side characters.
The procedure is back this week, as good or even better than it’s ever been, but familiar characters mostly foreground the episode in a mashed up style that certainly worked this week and may signal something about the show’s final season sensibility. Specifically, an interest in closure for all its central characters in concert with a return to an earlier narrative style.
If that’s where we’re headed this season, I’m on board because this week’s episode was great. It’s procedural, following Raylan’s investigation of last week’s bank robbery, but it avoids by-the-bookness by proficiently weaving together the troubles of Boyd, Ava and a handful of newcomers.
First, Raylan tracks down a local real estate tycoon named Calhoun, whose deeds and ledger Boyd stole last week, and immediately stumbles across the Mystery Man newcomer who offered to buy Raylan’s, and now some other people’s, property. Boyd meanwhile sets out to squeeze some blackmail money out of that haul, so he can keep Wynn Duffy and his sinister partner off his back. And Ava is still juggling her allegiance to Boyd and desire to stay out of jail. By the end of the episode, she’s both betrayed him by bringing the ledger briefly to Raylan and aided him by pointing out a connection between one of the deeds and Mystery Man’s new outfit.
The Mystery Man, by the way, turns out to be Tye Walker (played by the always wonderful Garret Dillahunt), still mysterious but no longer anonymous. His posse has set up shop in a pizza place that, Ava reveals, Calhoun acquired for Tye. The threads of this lot probably sound confusing on the page, but the episode manages to keep everything brisk and coherent. Raylan’s after Boyd, Boyd wants to leverage Calhoun’s ledger into some real money, Ava does and doesn’t want to help both Raylan and Boyd, and Calhoun is buying up Harlan County real estate for the enigmatic Tye Walker, whose motives are still a mystery.
Along the way, we’re introduced to another one of the minor characters “Justified” handles so well. In this case, it’s the towering former soldier known as Choo-choo, who lost some brain function after taking shrapnel to the head. Why Choo-choo?
“It’s when I hit you and it comes hard and it comes fast. Like a choo-choo train.”
He has some of the best lines and scenes in the episode, and he contributes to the peculiar off-kilter atmosphere that makes “Justified” feel unique.
The Boyd and Ava characters are both wrestling with serious predicaments. Tim is present throughout the episode, which is never a bad thing. And even Raylan, who often feels a little too static as the central character, gets a couple scenes nodding at evolution (in particular, that brief pause after his conversation with Boyd and that baby-cam).
If “Justified” can keep up the taught storytelling, there’s no question it’ll go out on a high note. I’m excited for next week’s episode.