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Justified: "Blowback"

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Justified

"Blowback"

Season 1, Episode 8

Well hello. This is Keith Phipps, filling in for Scott Tobias, who’s stopping for some spicy fried chicken on the way to his new SuperMax home. So, the trailers for this episode suggested it would deal primarily on the overarching story of Raylan’s ever-intensifying (yet pleasantry filled) confrontation with the Crowder clan. That plot advanced considerably, as did the investigation into Raylan’s shooting of Boyd Crowder, and Gary’s mounting problems with some unsavory characters. Yet the focus fell squarely on the story of the week, a hostage drama set within the U.S. Marshal’s office. Does anyone feel cheated?

I don’t. “Blowback” was another rock solid episode and one that got at what makes it work. Yes, hostage situations and the tense negotiations that accompany them are a staple for any cop show, but the episode kept finding ways to play against expectations. For one, it acknowledged that, on TV shows as in life, there are rules to the game. Raylan knows it. The SWAT team that shows up to put the situation to bed knows it. Even Wallace the hostage-taking prisoner knows it, describing Raylan’s strategy to him before he can put it into action and even nailing the timeline of what would go down when. Stuck in a situation headed to a sure-to-be-bloody conclusion—the only question is how bloody—what hope does anyone have of getting what they want?

Mostly, both Raylan and Wallace try to sidestep the process. Raylan attempts to win his trust not through some phony display of empathy but through his usual laconic attitude, an absence of bullshit, and the threat that, hey, maybe he could take him down on a quick draw door or no door. Wallace, who’s played by the steadily employed W. Earl Brown, mostly wants to use the situation to act out. He’s tired of being treated like an animal and he uses his keistered shiv to get… Well, I’m not sure he knew what he wanted to get beyond a moment that demanded those around him treat him with respect. He gets that. And some fried chicken and bourbon—even if it is just Jim Beam—which is more than he had when he pulled the blade out of his ass.

Brown’s a native Kentuckian, by the way. You might remember as one of the victims in the first Scream movie and as Mary’s developmentally disabled brother in There’s Something About Mary. For the show to work, it has to continually find worthwhile antagonists for Raylan, and actors who can hold their own against Olyphant’s gift for coiled understatement. Brown does well, and his character reflects some of Raylan’s problems with authority back at him. They’re not mirror images, but they shoot the shit well, to borrow Raylan’s phrase, and clearly have more in common than a fondness for chicken and bourbon.

Big picture stuff: So far I’ve found the Raylan’s relationship with his ex-wife Winona the least compelling aspect of the show. That’s nothing against Natalie Zea, who’s fine, but things keep getting in the way of me caring too much about her character. For one, the Marhshall’s office has developed into an interesting place. I like Raylan’s co-workers quite a bit and would rather spend time with them. More damagingly, Olyphant and Joelle Carter, who plays Ava, have so much chemistry I find myself doubting he’s pining for the former Mrs. Raylan that much. Still, Gary’s troubles with the Dixie Mafia are heating up nicely, giving us a chilling confrontation with a visiting “security expert” (played by Jere Burns, probably still best known for his work on Dear John, but worlds away from sitcom territory here and fitting in comfortably.)

Then there’s the Crowders. Thanks to Raylan’s trigger finger, and his inability to keep his pants on around witnesses, Boyd ends the episode released from jail and reunited with his father, who opens the episode with some nasty veiled threats involving a slice of “nice, warm, sticky piece of homemade.” I think what I enjoy most about Walton Goggins’ performance as Boyd is that I’m not sure where the bullshit ends and the earnestness begins. Sure, he’s an unrepentant criminal, but he can also quote the Bible chapter and verse, which takes some efforts. Does he know where the bullshit ends? If we ever find out, I doubt it will be the easy way.

Stray observations:

Once more: That pie business was nasty.

• I’m continually impressed by the series’ ability to fake Kentucky in Los Angeles. It’s not totally right, but it’s close.

• Joe’s Stone Crab is a real place in Miami. There’s one here in Chicago, too. But I’ve never been for chicken or crab. Any good?

• Actually “That’s mighty white of you” is a pretty racist expression.