Justified Outlaw

How stuffed was Justified this week? So stuffed that the death of one of its major characters — Raylan’s dad, Arlo — didn’t dominate the episode, instead just serving as part of the proceedings. That’s not to say it wasn’t treated like an important part. The decision to have the audio fade to a whisper when Art tells Raylan that Arlo had been shivved by imprisoned former Sheriff Hunter Mosley and likely wouldn’t last through the night was a nice stylistic choice underlying that the paternal albatross around Raylan’s neck was finally about to be removed. And the goodbye scene in the hospital, with Raylan visiting his father’s side, effectively summed up everything you needed to know about this father and son. Raylan obviously has a lot of emotional baggage tied to the hard, wicked man dying in front of him, but at the end, he pushes it down to ask about Drew Thompson instead. With Raylan, it’s always about getting the bad guy. And Arlo gives him the only reply that could be expected: “Kiss my ass.”

It’s a great scene in an episode positively overflowing with great scenes, as “Outlaw” takes various plot-lines that Justified has been kicking around and smashes them all together like a kid playing with with his Hot Wheels. You know that drug dealer Tim visited two weeks ago who makes everyone strip naked? Colton robs and kills him this week to help pay off somebody who’s blackmailing him over the fact that Ellen May is still alive. (Turns out that somebody is Johnny, having some fun while also confirming that Colt didn’t murder her like he was supposed to.) Meanwhile, Boyd enacts an elaborate plan that has him pulling a fast one on pretty much every scumbag in his orbit. He gives Wynn Duffy the names of two possible Drew Thompsons and recommends that Theo Tonin kill both of them. Tonin sends an assassin — one who’s “killed more people than malaria” — to do just that, but the problem is neither of these guys is Drew Thompson. One was the mine owner that the Clover Hill fat cats wanted Boyd to kill, the other was their buddy who flirted with Ava at the sex party last week. Then, circumventing the fact that he knows Wynn won’t be happy about being used like that, Boyd goes over his head, calling up Nick Augustine (a returning Mike O’Malley, who I get the feeling is standing in for a busy Adam Arkin) and offering to serve as Wynn’s replacement. Also, he somehow finagles himself a Dairy Queen franchise, which he sees as the first step in restoring the Crowder name.

And then there’s Raylan, moving in and out of the episode, but chasing all these threads at once. “Outlaw” is Timothy Olyphant’s highlight episode thus far this year. He shows real emotional depth in the scenes with Arlo and then gets to pile on the badass charm in an accidental showdown with Tonin’s hitman. He goes to see Boyd and Ava, but they’re already in the custody of the hitman, who’s disguised himself as a Harlan sheriff’s deputy. Raylan knows something’s wrong, as he had just minutes before parted ways with Sheriff Parlow, who hadn’t mentioned the Crowders at all. But before the shooting starts, Raylan finds time to notice the rock on Ava’s finger. “Okay, hold up,” he says, momentarily defusing a tense scene for great comic effect. “Is that an engagement ring? You know the definition of crazy, right? Keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting it to come out different?”

And then, just as fast, the mood shifts again. The hitman threatens Raylan, who responds, “Maybe I’m crazy. I’m having a hell of a day. Did you just give me an order?” Pistols are drawn, with Raylan, of course, proving to be faster. “Jesus, I hope I got that right,” he mutters, as the hitman’s body crumples to the floor. It’s such a great scene for Olyphant, who can move from aloof to intimidating and back as quick as a blink. Justified‘s supporting cast is one of TV’s best, and sometimes it takes an episode like this to remind you what a perfect match of character and actor sits at its center.

Okay, now it’s time for some guesswork that might be considered spoilerish, if you care about such things. At the end of “Outlaw,” Drew Thompson’s identity is still a mystery to those searching for him, but to those watching at home, the show seems to be heavily hinting that Sheriff Shelby Parlow is in fact the missing fugitive in question. Consider his curiosity over where the cops have stashed Drew’s psychic ex-wife. Or the speech he gives Ellen May about how if you pretend to be something for long enough, you eventually aren’t pretending anymore. The clues are laid on so thick this week that it can’t be an accident, so the question becomes: Is all this a bit of misdirection on the writers’ part to distract the viewer from the real Drew Thompson? Or are they just laying the proper groundwork for a Shelby-is-Thompson reveal that will be sure to make sense in the end, even if some of us at home figured it out in advance? My money’s on the latter, and my guess is we’ll find out one way or another next week.

A few more thoughts on “Outlaw” …

— As great as Olyphant was this episode, Walt Goggins nearly equaled him. The scene where he puts the Clover Hill fat cats in their place — “I am the outlaw, and this is my world” — was fantastic. Although, truth be told, I find myself worrying more and more about Boyd’s health. He seems awfully invested in cleaning up the Crowder family name, which would be an appropriate end-game story for Boyd. And now he owes a favor to Theo Tonin, which rarely turns out well for anyone. Plus, there’s the fact that Goggins is getting more and more big-screen work, having appeared in two of last year’s Best Picture nominees. I’m just saying — things are a bit ominous, no?

— Brent Sexton returns as Mosley for the first time since season one. After surviving two seasons of “The Killing,” I can only assume that, on his first day of shooting, Sexton dropped to his knees and kissed the floor of the set.

— Quotes of the night: I listed a bunch of good ones in the review proper, but Boyd’s declaration that he feels “like a seat cushion for two fat people at a football game” made me laugh. I also enjoyed Art telling Raylan, “I just wanted you to know I was almost certain you weren’t a cop killer.”

— Come on, Boyd. I know Colton’s been a little unreliable as of late but do him a favor and upgrade his cellphone. You don’t want high-ranking members of your crew carrying around a flip-phone from 2004.