I’ve had a problem recently with shows trying to cram in too many side stories and ending up not telling any of them well. I call this the “True Blood Effect.” True Blood started out tightly focused on Sookie and her immediate circle, and as time went on became a vortex of peripheral characters with peripheral, uninteresting stories (werepanther ring a bell?). Because this seems like a pervasive problem, I am extremely thankful for a show like Justified. It manages to have tight, strong side stories, but not so many of them that they become distracting. The dichotomy of Raylan and Boyd allows the show to present the lighter and darker sides of Harlan County in a cohesive manner.
Last night’s episode seamlessly flipped between Raylan’s and Boyd’s diverse worlds. Raylan’s boss, Chief Deputy Art Mullen, called Raylan on his erratic behavior and also told him Arlo had murdered a fellow prisoner. Raylan decided to come clean about the bag he found in Arlo’s house. This is a perfect example of where the writers made the right choice. If Raylan investigated the bag on his own, his work at the Marshal’s office would have branched in a different direction and there would have been two storylines. Instead, by bringing them together, the writers cut down potential story clutter and gave Raylan’s investigation legitimacy (which we want for a hero – even a scruffy one).
The Marshals stormed the house of Waldo Truth, whose id card they located in Arlo’s mysterious bag. The showdown with Truth’s family was a well-crafted scene. It was the kind of classic showdown straight out of a Western. Whoever blinked first was going down. I enjoy these types of scenes because based on past conduct – you know Raylan could shoot first. He’s not a predictable good guy in that he’s not going to lower his weapon. But, he’s also not trigger happy.
In the darker side of Harlan, Ava and Boyd powwowed about ways to fend off threats to their criminal enterprises. Ava worried that Ellen May finding religion could lead to her disclosing details about Ava and Boyd. When Ellen May came to her, Ava was particularly cruel and told her she had no future other than being a whore. Even though Ava has been on Boyd’s side for a long time, it is shocking to watch her be completely callous. I still think back to season one when she was emotionally vulnerable and desperate for Raylan’s love. Now, there is very little about her that is redeemable.
Meanwhile, Boyd had a thorn in his side named Preacher Billy. It’s bad for Boyd’s business to have anyone leading Harlan’s ne’er-do-wells away from drugs and down the path of righteousness. It’s unclear how much the newly baptized Ellen May has divulged about Boyd and his business. It’s also unclear if the new preacher is what he seems. One thing is certain, though, after Boyd visits Preacher Billy’s tent revival – Billy’s sister is running the show. It will be interesting to see Boyd go toe to toe with a woman.
Less clear is the role that Raylan’s girlfriend’s husband, Randall, is going to play this season. Why do I have the feeling he’ll end up helping Boyd? No doubt, he will also end up kicking Raylan’s ass at some point. I really want Raylan to toughen up and put the smackdown on someone this season. Randall would be an ideal choice.