When we last left Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and company, his father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) confessed to killing Devil, thereby letting Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) free to be the diminutive crime lord he was born to be; Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) lopped off Quarles’ (Neil McDonough) arm with a cleaver; and a pregnant Winona (Natalie Zea) wouldn’t take Raylan back.
In only the first episode of Season 4, entitled “Hole in the Wall,” the wrongs of Season 3 are already righted. While thoroughly enjoyable, last season was plagued by having too many villains, and none of them possessed the incredible, Emmy-winning fortitude of Margo Martindale‘s Harlan County crime boss Mags Bennett. Two seasons later, we will never forget you and your Apple Pie.
This season, Boyd is still the big bad it seems, and he’s going to be rivaled by a young preacher from a new fundamentalist church, Billy (former child star from Jurassic Park, Joseph Mazzello). Plus, Boyd is joined by his former buddy from Kuwait, Colton Rhodes (Ron Eldard), who is quite the loose cannon.
Did you catch all that? Let’s dive in.
We open in a flashback from 1983 — a parachuter crashes in front of a Harlan home with bags of drugs on him. Hmm…this should eventually tie in somehow…
We’re jolted back into the present by a Henley-wearing Raylan waking up to a phone call from an old flame asking him to bring a fugitive in for some extra cash. Per US Marshall Tim (Jacob Pitts) in seasons past, Raylan “likes this shit, this shit gets him hard.” That, and he’s got a baby on the way, so an extra $3,000 definitely wouldn’t hurt.
Boyd and Ava (Joelle Carter) continue to be the lord and lady of the Harlan County crime world with his cousin Johnny (David Meunier) running things at the bar. A slight hiccup happens when brain-dead prostitute Ellen May (Abby Miller) shoots a furry client — which is understandable since she was on drugs and the bear suit he had was pretty realistic. The real hiccup? The drugs didn’t come from Boyd; they came from a new competitor.
We’re set up quite nicely right out of the gate here. We have the prerequisite mission of the week, so to speak, and the mystery that will probably carry throughout the entire season. We also get a flash of a Raylan sex scene within the first few minutes…which, hey, bring it! Writer Graham Yost knows there are ladies in the crowd.
Where Yost also consistently excels is in striking the perfect watchable balance between humor, action and drama — peppering the blend with the all-important dashes of romance and Raylan being a total stud. This episode is framed around a madcap concept — Raylan’s car is stolen with fugitive Jody (Chris Chalk, aka Tom Walker from Homeland) in the trunk — but never once veers into “stupid” territory. It instead zigs and zags around the expected in clever ways, maintaining interest throughout with a few surprises. Jody is briefly in cahoots with his inadvertent captors — teenage hicks Roz (Alexandra Kyle) and Benny (Casey Brown) — but obviously Raylan and his new sidekick Constable Bob Sweeney (Patton Oswalt) diffuse the situation and Raylan takes Jody back. Yost cleverly ties the two idiotic teens into the main mystery, though, as well as the parachuter from earlier.
With those teen hick scenes alone, Yost and frequent episode director Michael Dinner demonstrate that great tonal balance. For example, Roz attempts to distract Raylan in a hardware store by “flashing her tittes,” and dropping a box of nails amid many dryly delivered Raylan zingers. Later on, during the shootout, there are high stakes drama and action — Constable Bob even stabs Roz in the foot. Yet there are many layers always lurking beneath.
Arlo’s incarceration also brings us further into interesting narrative territory. Namely, the prison. Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies) may or may not be lurking around somewhere! Maybe? Arlo acted like he was a bit muddled last season, but here he’s a sharp, hardened criminal, complete with a scheme going with bag and ID from the parachuter, and in an amazing scene, he shanks a prisoner who overhears him talking about it with Raylan. Barry was always a bright spot on the show as Arlo, and it’s entertaining to watch him be a badass while inflicting some cold-blooded prison violence. His frequent betrayal of Raylan also provides some excellent, nuanced performances from Olyphant as he battles his deep hurt with a confident veneer.
But one of the best improvements over last season is that the new characters are extensions of established characters so they fit into the universe much, much better. Constable Bob — an old high school buddy of Raylan — seems to be subservient, but he gets to reveal his own dark side. Oswalt is a very capable actor, which he demonstrated in Big Fan and Young Adult, so it’s thrilling to anticipate what he’ll be bringing to Harlan County.
The unhinged Colton and Preacher Billy are both extensions of Boyd. Colton is clearly an old friend who seems all too willing to kill people. In a great character moment, he mucks up Boyd’s elaborate dynamite-in-the-crotch death by blithely shooting that certain someone. Thankfully. The other side of the coin is Preacher Billy, who directly echoes Boyd’s evangelical days as head of Crowder’s Commandos. Remember his incredibly magnetic sermonizing back in the day? Mazzello does a rather impressive job of out-crazying Boyd here (even evoking some of that clog dancing), preaching with a giant snake while saving people while the crowd speaks in tongues. Preacher Billy is a villain that can potentially uphold the backwoods hypocritical zealotry that Boyd explored some time ago, but how will Boyd react to a cause that he once perpetrated to be his truth?
Hopefully we get a Boyd/Preacher Billy face off soon, a violent falling out between all the alliances…and when’s baby Givens a-comin’? The possibilities are endless, so thankfully, this first episode bodes very well for a strong fourth season.
The Upside: Most things, really. Perfect tonal balance, great humor and action, fewer villains who seem better defined, and more Raylan ass-kicking with a side of clogging preachers
The Downside: No Marshal Tim!
Top Moments of Bad-Assery: Raylan breaks Jody’s car window then cockily shoots the airbag to incapacitate him. Boyd dynamites some hick’s front lawn and, later, his crotch. Ava gets out her giant shotgun. But the winner this week is Arlo shanking some inmate like a mother fucker.