As I suspected in last week’s write-up, the final three episodes of Justified’s first season are unfolding as a complete narrative in and of themselves, with “Veterans” as Act One, tonight’s hour as Act Two, and next week’s promisingly titled “Bulletville” as the grand finale. I was a little disappointed that some of the table-setting last week didn’t cohere into an especially satisfying standalone episode, but I have no such complaints about “Fathers And Sons,” which gives its thematic agenda away in the title. Not only did the stakes increase, as they should at this point in the season, but the show has sharpened focus on a host of contentious relationships at its core.
The fathers and sons squaring off are, of course, Raylan and Arlo, who are forced into a reluctant alliance, and Boyd and Bo, who are more overtly at odds over spiritual and criminal matters. In both cases, there’s immense disappointment among the fathers over how far the apple has fallen from the tree: Arlo, ticked that his son makes more stringent demands in exchange for his cooperation than his fellow Marshals, lashes out at Raylan by telling him he should be “glad [his] mother didn’t live to see how you turned out.” For his part, Bo can barely bring himself to treat Boyd like a son; if Boyd’s religious calling has him dealing with his father like one of the money-changers at the temple, Bo intends to treat him like any other man getting in the way of his business. The Crowder family blood ties run thinner than we might have assumed.
Let’s start with the Givens family: With Arlo in trouble with Bo for screwing up (or ripping off) his collections racket in prison, the Marshals see an opportunity to infiltrate Bo’s business, which is ramping up to a big-time meth operation. (As Alan Sepinwall noted on his Twitter feed, between this and Breaking Bad, we’re learning quite a lot about the crystal meth business.) Art seeks to make Arlo a partner—a snitch, maybe, but someone who’s plenty motivated already to make amends with Bo or see him sent off to jail again. Raylan sees a crafty opportunist, always looking for an angle and capable of great deception. That fantastic showdown at the Veterans bar is a perfect illustration: Show of hands, how many were certain that Arlo’s Vietnam story was a lie? It’s immediately obvious to Raylan—which Arlo acknowledges by saying, “you know that story was complete bullshit, right?”—but it’s such an expertly woven tale that you can’t blame the troubled soldier from buying into it. So too Art and the other Marshalls, who think they have Arlo cornered, but don’t know how slippery he is. Even under Raylan’s insistence that Arlo wear a wire, he still finds a way to get what he wants. The tantalizing question is why: Is it self-preservation? A business opportunity? A chance to get back at his son?
(Aside: How great was the wire scene between Bo and Arlo? Those two dads have raised some smart, resentful sons, but they’re not intimidated by them… or each other. It’s clever enough for Arlo to tip Bo off to the Feds via notebook messages, but what gave the scene an extra kick is Bo’s steadfast resistance to Arlo, who he’s unwilling to let off the hook so easily. Beautifully played by Raymond J. Berry and M.C. Gainey, who are both given their best showcase in this episode.)
On the Crowder front, I’ll admit to short-changing the possibility that Boyd really has had a conversion experience of some sort—as some commenters have suggested—but the show is still withholding Boyd’s master plan, which I still suspect to be as self-serving and nefarious as the days he was a neo-Nazi. Whatever the case, whether it’s business or personal, Boyd takes out his aggression on his father—first in a bravura sermon about Jesus in the temple (“like Jesus, we must never be afraid to strike out against those who practice evil”) and later when he and his trusty rocket launcher take out a massive shipment of ephedrine for Bo’s meth business. The interesting wrinkle in this situation is that it’s different than Boyd and his disciples destroying the meth trailer; Boyd has to know that some very dangerous people could potentially come down on his head. And that clouds his motives all the more.
Fathers and sons may be the title and theme of the episode, but that’s not all that’s going down. The women in Raylan’s life are providing their own complications, with Winona following through on their earlier flirtation with a surprise booty call and Ava refusing to leave Harlan, despite the wishes of Raylan, Bo, and just about every other resident in the county. The contrast between the two is evident when Ava stays the night at Winona’s place, waking up the next morning asking her prim, bourgeois host to spike her coffee with bourbon. I doubt Winona wants to follow through on her one-night stand with Raylan—at least not for now, anyway—but Ava has dug in her heels for a showdown that even someone as tough as she isn’t likely to survive. Her willingness to stand and fight, over common sense and the protestations of those around her, is rather Raylan-esque, no?
Overall, a superb episode, easily one of the best so far. And indication that the groundwork laid carefully throughout the season—even in mostly episodic hours—is starting to bear fruit. That’s good writing.
• Have to like Bo standing up to his big-shot supplier: “I may not own a private plane or a fancy car, and when you look at me, you probably see some dumb redneck who likes to eat roadkill for breakfast and have sex with his cousins. I don’t eat roadkill and I don’t screw my relatives and I didn’t just get off of no shortbus.” Southerners tend to be underestimated by non-Southerners; Bo made it clear he’s no amateur.
• Winona: “It’s kinda hard to stay mad at Raylan.” Ava: “I wouldn’t know. I’m just getting started.”
• What an ending! Can’t wait for next week. (Or whenever I decide to pop in the screener, which… um… later.)