While Justified never ceased being one of the best shows on television, it entered into a third season slump. After a near-perfect second season, featuring one of the greatest TV villains, Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), it couldn’t help but underwhelm in its junior year, replacing her with a slew of uninteresting baddies. Season four, however, is proof positive that a show can redeem itself. It has remained Harlan-centric villain-wise, with the exception of Mike O’Malley’s Detroit mobster Nicky Augustine, who is a vast improvement over who he replaced, Adam Arkin. No offense, Arkin… but O’Malley is killing it.
Villains aside, the reasons why Justified continues to triumph this season is because of the consistently amazing writing and direction. The dialogue is nearly poetry, with Boyd turning phrases that sound as if they come out of Shakespeare’s notebook – Nicky even tells him this week, “I’m going to need Google Translate on my phone if I’m going to keep talking to you.”
This week’s episode, “Peace of Mind,” co-written by Taylor Elmore and Leonard Chang and directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton, is no exception. While perhaps less action-packed than last week, it features snappy dialogue, macho encounters, and a fluidity in the transport of people and places as the law and the criminals both chase after Ellen May (an excellent Abby Miller) who is also on the move – from Noble’s Holler, to her former pimp’s house, to the church, to Lexington.
Oh hey, everybody – it’s Winona! She and Raylan have a phone conversation and we find her more pregnant than ever. Apparently, it’s going to be a girl, which is somewhat inconvenient, since Raylan “doesn’t know shit about girls.” Raylan gets the news as he walks into the office to a slow, reverent clap from his coworkers, as seen in many movies. Given that Raylan is better than that cheesy shit, he tells them to shut up so he can finish his conversation. Yes, Raylan is a marshallin’ hero for getting Drew Thompson… but Art still suspends him.
Drew/Shelby insists that the Marshals find Ellen May and bring her to safety before he gives them anything – he knows she is in grave danger. So Raylan talks Art into pushing back the suspension so that he can finish what he started and retrieve Ellen May. I do think, however, that Raylan and Art calling Ellen May “the whore” all the time is just a bit indelicate, even though she was a prostitute. Nevertheless… Raylan goes with both Tim and Rachel to Noble’s Holler to find Limehouse and no Ellen May (because Limehouse let her free). Erica Tazel as Rachel finally gets something to do in this episode as she riffs back and forth with Limehouse, who pigeonholes her as “little sister.” No, she is packing… not a “little sister” at all.
Did you all catch Rachel’s comment about Raylan getting a haircut? Rachel, I’ve gotta tell you, I might just agree… though I’ll take Raylan any way I can get him.
Of course, Boyd and Ava also need to get Ellen May… but as insurance that Ava isn’t pegged for that little murder she committed. Boyd has the initial plan of taking out Limehouse to get to the former prostitute, when he articulates ever-so-well, “A man who speaks out of both sides of his mouth deserves to have it permanently shut.” Thankfully, Nicky has a mutually beneficial plan of offering up Johnny to Boyd and giving him the money for Ellen May. He is obviously up to something. And how amazing is O’Malley this season? His Nicky has the uncanny ability to call out Boyd on the issues we have all been thinking about since the show began (the giant teeth, all the buttons buttoned, the verbose-ness) and he and Walton Goggins have such a wonderful chemistry. He also can somehow be threatening and magnanimous at the same time – though it was such a low blow that he gave up Johnny with such abandon.
Poor Johnny. While he’s a slippery character, he is tortured by the fact that Boyd not only usurped him in the family crime syndicate, but is also engaged to the woman he loves. So tragic! I would imagine he has to be killed by either Boyd or Ava by the season finale next week, right? Unless he’s just considered so useless that he gets killed in the slammer… which I think would likely be too mean of an outcome for the crippled Crowder. Maybe the Marshals will help a brother out, as Johnny pleads for them to do when they find him handcuffed to a chair in his own bar, but given Raylan’s hatred of the Crowders, I am doubtful that that will happen. While I don’t want Johnny to die, I do think that it would be a significantly more powerful moment if he dies at the hand of Boyd. I’m sure the sadness would be lightened by some brilliant monologues between the two cousins.
Of course when Ava goes to Limehouse for Ellen May, she’s not there either – and both Ava/Colton and the Marshals make their way to Cassie’s church to find her. Though the Marshals, of course, bring Ellen May to Drew/Shelby. But more importantly – in my heart, but not to the show – there’s the Tim/Colton face off I have been yammering on about for weeks! I do think that it could have been slightly more epic, so to speak, but it definitely delivered on many, many fronts. My goodness, our boys were so goddamn macho, weren’t they? Colton lit up his cigarette at the end of Tim’s gun as if it were a face-off in the Old West. And he never put down his gun. Colton knew that he was a dead man from the moment Johnny ratted on him to Boyd, so not standing down to Tim is certainly a suicide mission on his part. Sure, Tim had to kill him anyway, since he didn’t disarm. But Tim knows he killed his friend Mark – and being a sniper, shoots him down with three exacting shots to the chest. Bravo, Jacob Pitts, as usual, for enacting so many layers of emotion here as Tim shoots Colton. And Ron Eldard’s performance this season was such a feat of lumbering physicality and skewed mentality – while, yes, he was a dead man, it’s going to be sad to see Colton absent in the season finale.
The ending of the episode, however, did leave a lot to be desired. We’re back with Winona (wherever she is) as she is talking to an off-camera delivery man about a chair for the nursery, sent by an anonymous party. A reveal: it’s Nicky’s elderly henchman, Picker! Daaaammnnnnn.
So, is Winona going to be held hostage? Will something happen to the baby? Justified, I know Raylan isn’t a real person, but please don’t kill his baby! Things are finally going well at work… he’s up for that promotion… but don’t kill his baby! I will also be disappointed in the show if this entire, otherwise very strong, season culminates in a “woman in peril” melodrama. Justified is better than that, and I sincerely hope the show continues to bring it next week, rather than fall into a cheesy trap.
The Upside: The episode maintained a consistent, quick pace, characters again all got their moment in the sun, and the season finale is shaping up nicely.
The Downside: The Winona “twist” at the end might have been a little heavy-handed. Also, ideally the Tim/Colton face-off would have lasted just a little bit longer.
On the Side: I’ve mentioned it before, but everyone remembers Mike O’Malley as the effervescent host of Nickelodeon’s Guts, right? Were we ever that young?
Top Moments of Badassery: Raylan disarming Boyd’s flunky like it’s complete cakewalk, Colton casually smoking a cigarette at the end of Tim’s gun… and Tim shooting Colton precisely (as well as a sniper should) in the chest and subsequently taking his sunglasses.