I’m on record saying Justified is the second best Elmore Leonard adaptation of all time, a close second to one of my all-time favorite movies, Out of Sight. Even though Graham Yost and his crew do a great job of getting the Elmorian tone just right, it’s always a pleasure when the master himself lends a hand.
It was with great pleasure that the opening credits gave Mr. Leonard a Story By credit. This episode had some great, great Leonard flourishes. The bad guys are just barely smart enough to be dangerous, and there were attractive women with very cool names (Jackie Nevada is a classic crime fiction moniker).
We also reached the halfway point of the season tonight, and so far I’m really glad the show has pulled back from the yearly Big Bad structure of past seasons and built this year’s story arc around the search for fugitive Drew Thompson, a fugitive who has eluded the feds for nearly 30 years but seems to be hiding out somewhere in Harlan County. Justified has created such a rich sense of place with such a spectacular array of recurring characters; there’s really no need to be brining anybody else into play.
We know that Raylan wants to find Drew, because Drew clearly has some vague connection to Arlo. And, we know Boyd and Wynn Duffy are colluding to find Drew for Detroit mob boss Theo Tonin. What Boyd doesn’t know is his cousin Johnny is colluding with Wynn Duffy to give Boyd a dirt nap. That’s a lot of collusion going on, and it’s going to be a massive amount of fun watching all these plot lines threaded together.
We basically have two main stories playing out tonight. First, we have Raylan chasing down bad guy Jody, the fugitive Raylan was dealing with a few weeks ago in the season opener. I loved the cold open’s flashback from six days previous (It’s weird to think all of what’s taken place so far has happened in less than a week – TV characters live very, very busy lives.) to set up Jody wanting to take some form or revenge against Raylan. Timothy Olyphant does unflappable cool as well as anybody in the business. Raylan is so preternaturally instinctive as a lawman that poor Jody doesn’t stand much of a chance. We also scored Raylan’s first kill of the season.
The second and even stronger part involved Boyd and Ava attending former sheriff Tillman Napier’s sex party, Harlan County’s version of Eyes Wide Shut. Of course, Boyd and Ava are at the party thinking one of the older attendees might be Drew Thompson, but we end up with men from a few towns over telling Boyd they allow Boyd’s criminal enterprise to exist and ordering him to do their bidding. These guys seem like great villains for Boyd. Despite being on the wrong side of the law, Boyd is a ridiculously likeable character, so it’s very nice to see the show give him antagonists worse than he is. It was also great to see Sam Anderson in this bunch as he was both TV’s all-time greatest dentist (Bernard on Lost) and one of the more sinister residents of the Jossverse (Holland Manners on Angel). It will be a lot of fun if Anderson actually turns out to be Drew Thompson.
The cherry on top was Raylan meeting Arlo in prison. Olyphant and Raymond J. Berry are so great together, brining so much bitterness and resentment to the surface. It’s weird to derive this much pleasure from watching characters who so profoundly hate each other.