A-

Justified: "Hatless"

Nine episodes into its first season, Justified has amassed one of the most formidable line-ups of character actors on television—outside of Treme, anyway—and it’s been especially effective in casting many of them against type. First there was David Eigenberg, best known as Miranda’s on-again/off-again mate in Sex And The City, modifying his New York nebbish to become a transplanted bookie who’s wilier than he seems. Then there was Alan Ruck, forever Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, as an outlaw dentist who’s first seen going Marathon Man on a patient in the parking lot. Now we have Jere Burns, who TV watchers in the late ‘80s surely remember as the wacky breakout character on Dear John, turning up in an absolutely chilling turn as Duffy, a quietly unhinged gangster.

In last week’s stellar episode—thanks, incidentally, to Keith Phipps for covering it for me—Burns got perhaps the juiciest scene as a “security expert” who intimidates Winona over her husband’s real estate debts. And he’s the MVP again in “Hatless,” turning the screws on Gary for an unpaid loan on a shopping mall project gone bust. The most interesting revelation about Duffy is that he isn’t necessarily good at his job: He knows how to instill fear in deadbeat debtors, but he doesn’t care if they actually make good on the loan. He’s a sociopath who wants to torture and kill people, and he doesn’t have the temperament for business. (Eigenberg’s bookie talks of Duffy killing the brother of a guy who wouldn’t pay and “sewing his face to a soccer ball.”) When Gary finally makes good with Duffy’s boss by selling off what he’s certain will be a valuable piece of property, it’s not the result Duffy wanted and the scene goes south in a way we don’t expect.

After weeks of hinting at serious problems in Gary’s business dealings, with Raylan running names for Winona and issuing a stern warning to Gary in his office, “Hatless” finally brings some clarity to his shady dealings and suggests what a woman as seemingly together as Winona could possibly see in him. Turns out—for the time being, anyway—that Gary is more foolhardy than diabolical, someone willing to stake his livelihood and life on a great entrepreneurial vision. Winona tells Raylan that she’s attracted to Gary as a “dreamer,” but what she’s mainly saying is that Gary is the anti-Raylan—he may be a putz, but he’s a forward-thinking, ambitious putz who doesn’t stew in anger and isn’t mired in a past that keeps dragging him down. I doubt this is the last we’ll hear of Gary’s screwed-up ventures and maybe he’ll turn out to be more sinister than we think, but in the world of Justified, he’s about as safe a spouse as a woman like Winona can expect to find.

As for Raylan, “Hatless” finds him on an unwanted “vacation” from the job, which of course gives him all kinds of time for extracurricular activities like bailing his ex-wife and her husband out of a jam. And just a week after he peacefully resolved the hostage standoff at the Marshalls office, the episode was also a reminder that Raylan, for all his self-assurance, is capable of losing control, too. There’s a nobility to Raylan standing up to a couple of drunken, sexist louts—he loves women and is fiercely protective of them—but he’s also spoiling for a fight, too. When Winona finds him in the lot behind the bar, lying in a bloody heap, she looks like a mother needing to scold an unruly child.

But the episode belonged to Burns as the sadistic Duffy—and to no small extent, his sidekick Billy, a former pugilist who makes swift work of Toby, the former NFL bruiser Gary employs as his muscle. It may be stunt casting to plug one of the zanier supporting players in ‘80s sitcoms into the role of a remorseless killer, but those of us who even remember him from Dear John have to appreciate how far he plays against type here. Hidden behind a beard and speaking in measured tones, Burns’ Duffy projects a sense of calm and absolute control over every situation. Until, you know, he gets shot.

Stray observations:

• The pleasures of Justified are usually in the sum of quirky bits of casting or flourishes in the dialogue. Hence hilarious offhand stuff like Duffy concluding a phone call with his boss by asking, “Are you getting a blow job in your office right now?”

• Raylan to Billy: “You gonna bob and weave out of the path of a bullet?”

• Very satisfying end to Raylan’s search for his missing hat: “Mister, that’s a 10-gallon hat on a 20-gallon head.”


 

More TV Club