Justified Decoy

Well, you knew that Justified would, at some point, need to deliver unto us the redemption of Constable Bob. Patton Oswalt’s self-loathing, fidgety, wannabe crime-fighter was bound to get a win at some point, especially after the embarrassing episode with the assault rifle two episodes ago. In “Decoy,” one of this season’s best episodes, Bob finally proves his worth. Too bad for him it comes only after a brutal beatdown at the hands of Yolo, one of Theo Tonin’s string of never-ending goons. Among Oswalt’s many talents, kindly add the ability to convincingly make a fake TV punch look like the most painful thing in the world. Oswalt sells the hell out of Bob’s misery, making it all the more satisfying when Bob refuses to give up Raylan and Drew’s current location, ultimately killing poor Yolo instead. Raylan later puts it best: “People underestimate Bob at their peril.”

Bob’s beating was gratuitous and unflinching, so consider it a surprise that it wasn’t even the most uncomfortable scene of the episode. No, that honor goes to Nicky Augustine’s verbal takedown of Ava. While Boyd and Theo’s men are out frantically searching for Drew, Nicky hangs back at the bar with Ava and Johnny. After she starts mindlessly yapping away about smokes and liquor (presumably as prep for a little escape plan she’s brewing), Nicky goes on an extended rant speculating how Ava managed to find herself at Boyd’s right hand. “How many dicks you gotta suck to get to the top of the food chain around here?” he asks her. “It’s gotta be a ton of dicks.”

And he doesn’t stop there. Nick goes on and on about the sexual favors Ava must have performed to work her way up to queen of the Harlan criminal world, with Mike O’Malley happily diving into the profaneness of it all. Ava keeps a strong face through the whole thing … clear up until Nick lets the truth slip about Johnny’s side-deal with the Dixie Mafia. That’s when she’s finally shaken, though she still gets the upper hand on Nick by throwing a glass of whiskey in his face and threatening to light it on fire.

So the highlights of this episode were two great extended scenes anchored by supporting players. That doesn’t mean everyone else got to take the night off though. While Bob and Ava do the heavy lifting, the rest of the cast is having a ball in a pair of tense standoffs. In one, Raylan, Rachel and Drew/Shelby are holed up at Arlo’s house — where they finally (sorta) tie up the loose end of what Arlo was doing with Waldo Truth’s driver’s license stashed in his wall — waiting for back-up from Lexington. With Tonin’s forces bearing down, however, they’re forced to relocate to Raylan and Boyd’s old high school, where they’ll soon be outnumbered. Meanwhile Art and Tim are sent off to run a fake prisoner-transfer convoy, hoping that will effectively divide Tonin and Boyd’s forces. When eagle-eye Tim spots a potential ambush point (there aren’t that many abandoned cars in Kentucky), the group finds themselves trapped on the highway with Colt and a Tonin sniper hiding in the woods nearby.

I liked the highway ambush better than the high school stuff, mostly because the show has so expertly built up the rivalry between Tim and Colt. Their little phone conversation where Tim coyly tells a hypothetical “story” mirroring their current situation likely would have come off as too cutesy on another show, but not here, where Jacob Pitts and Ron Eldard sell the shit out of it. (Colt: “I’d like a young Gerard Depardieu to play me in the movie.”) It’s also another sequence that shows how great Tim is at his job, which I never get tired of. You get the feeling that Tim’s like a younger, less trigger-happy Raylan — all the skills, half the hassle.

Raylan’s side of the story starts out a little sluggish. There’s a bit of bickering between him and Drew that doesn’t really go anywhere. (Raylan: “All of this, trail of the dead included, is because you wouldn’t turn yourself in.”) But things pick up once a roughed-up Bob joins the group and they barricade themselves in the high school. Boyd, under constant life-or-death pressure from Nick, figures out that’s where the helicopter from Lexington is headed and shows up with another group of Tonin thugs. Once they arrive, there’s some solid Raylan/Boyd repartee, though we learn that — surprise! — Drew has been secreted away by Rachel. The two are on a train headed out of Harlan. And so the chase no doubt continues next week. Can’t wait.

A few more thoughts on “Decoy” …

— Art went to a Guns ‘N’ Roses concert once?! That’s hard to picture.

— Yet another movie reference from cinephile Raylan. This time it’s The Wild Bunch, which Art’s seen even if Rachel hasn’t.

— Has there ever been a more perfect description of Boyd than Nick telling him, “I love the way you talk, using 40 words when four will do.”

— As big a part as Theo Tonin’s played this year, Adam Arkin must show up in one of the remaining two episodes, right?!

Follow Bob on Twitter: @robertbtaylor