Early in Justified’s fourth season premiere episode, “Hole In The Wall,” Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens gets fed up with the string of excuses he’s hearing from his prisoner: bail-jumping thief/murderer Jody Adair. “You run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole,” Raylan explains to Adair. “You run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.” And this comes after Raylan—one of the most unrepentant assholes in the state of Kentucky—has the gall to tell Adair, “You got no self-awareness.”
Justified is coming off of a very good third season that suffered mainly in comparison to the show’s even better second season, and it’s continuing what I found to be one of the strongest elements of last season: the willingness to show Raylan as an entitled, exploitative son of a bitch. There are no shortage of anti-heroes on television these days: crooks with a conscience, mostly, joined by the occasional broody cop who doesn’t play by the rules. Raylan Givens is different than both of these types. He’s pleased with himself—and troublesome to his colleagues—in ways that should make him unappealing, but he’s just so much fun to watch as a laid back man of action, with failings that are mainly petty and personal. Ultimately, Raylan’s one of the good guys. He doesn’t appear to be playing out an arc of redemption, nor is he “breaking bad.” He’s doing a job he believes in, just in a way that makes the life of everyone around him more difficult (and not always for good reasons, either).
If there’s any hope for Raylan as a man—presuming that he needs “hope,” which is debatable—it’s that he’s about to be a father, and given how lousy his own relationship with his father has been, there’s a chance that Raylan will temper his selfishness in the light of impending paternal responsibility. This appears to be what this fourth Justified season is going to be about to some extent, given that one of the two big storylines introduced in “Hole In The Wall” involves a robbery at the now-incarcerated Arlo Givens’ house. Raylan’s about to be drawn back into the world of his father, via an old mystery that might teach our hero a little more about his pop, just before Raylan becomes a dad.
Though frankly, if Raylan’s planning on learning any lessons about the dos and don’ts of fatherhood this season, he’s getting off to a bad start. Before he gets involved with the robbery at his dad’s house—which involves a dusty old bag and a 1979 Kentucky drivers license sporting the name Waldo Truth—Raylan takes a call from a Knoxville bail-bondsman named Sharon Edmunds, whom he met and bedded at a law enforcement expo a few years back. She offers him three grand to help bring in Adair, and he takes the job, even though he’s technically supposed to be on the clock for the federal government, because he wants to start putting money away for his kid.
What Raylan doesn’t expect (or even notice) is that he’s transporting a criminal version of himself: a guy who does what he wants, and then explains it away by arguing that he’s still basically a good dude, who only robs and kills people who deserve it. Nor does Raylan expect that while working one off-the-books job, he’ll get sidetracked by another. Once he gets the call that Arlo’s house has been compromised, Raylan throws Adair into his trunk—“Just be cool and go with it,” he says, brooking no argument—and before long finds himself entangled with well-endowed, brace-faced teenager Roz and her sullen adolescent accomplice Benny, who steal his car with Adair still in the trunk.
“Hole In The Wall” is a great re-introduction to the world of Justified, in that it starts so small, and so funny—with Raylan outwitting Adair by shooting his airbag—and then builds out piece-by-piece, suggesting a larger and heavier shape to the season. Although technically I suppose the episode reveals its ambitions right at the start, with a flashback to the winter of 1983, back when newspaper delivery boys blasted ZZ Top, and parachutists dropped right out of the sky with sacks of cocaine, like Santa Claus carrying his own special snow. That opening scene sets the tone for what’s to follow: something curious, darkly comic, and at times even inexplicable, connecting seemingly unrelated characters and eras.
This episode also introduces a number of new characters, the most divisive of whom is likely to be Constable Bob Sweeney, played by Patton Oswalt as a more broadly comic type than Justified’s usual. (Not that the show has never shied away from cartooniness, given its origins in Elmore Leonard’s oft-over-the-top crime fiction). I’m going to go on the record now: I love Constable Bob. I’m a fan of Oswalt as an actor in general—I thought he was excellent in Big Fan, and in the underrated Young Adult—and I think he understands this character, and strikes an interesting balance between self-delusion and self-awareness. Constable Bob knows he’s pathetic, but he also has pride, and like Raylan and Jody Adair, it’s not too hard for Bob to come up with reasons why he works a crappy job in a dinky town. He thinks of himself as an underestimated, dangerous dude, who once went “berserker red” when Ollie Kemp tried to fuck with him down in Florida when they were kids, and who’s trained himself to stab people who draw a gun on him in close quarters. (Bob also keeps a well-stocked “go bag,” so that “when this shit goes Road Warrior, I’m ready.”)
Whether or not Justified fans think Constable Bob is too goofy, I do hope they’ll appreciate how Bob’s character is established in the first half of “Hole In The Wall” in ways that pay off in spades once he and Raylan arrive at the junkyard to try and find Raylan’s vehicle. (“I got shit in the car I don’t want to be crushed,” Raylan says, speaking rather uncharitably about Adair.) Bob blusters in, shouting, “Crusherman, crusherman, stop the thing!” while threatening said crusherman, Henry, with the prospect of government helicopters hovering overhead. (Then when Raylan punches Henry, Bob cackles, “Oh! That looks federal.”) But while Raylan is off confronting Jody, Roz, and Benny in Henry’s office, Bob—offscreen—apparently asks Henry to “pull on him,” except that his stabbing trick doesn’t work this time because Henry “did it wrong.” So Henry takes Bob hostage, commandeers his emergency supplies, and walks into his office proclaiming, “You should see the shit in this bag!” That, friends, is the essence of comedy: patiently set up the dominoes, then sweep them off the table all at once.
There are two other major new players in “Hole In The Wall,” both associated with Boyd Crowder. Ron Eldard plays Colton Rose, an old buddy of Boyd’s from the Gulf War, who arrives in Harlan right when Boyd is realizing that running a massive criminal enterprise is damnably complicated. (“They left that out on career day,” Ava sympathizes.) Colt only has one question about Boyd’s business: “You kill people?” And Boyd’s answer is both honest and slippery: “People have been killed.” (Remember: Nothing that happens on Justified is ever anybody’s fault.) So when Boyd takes Colt with him on a mission to extract some money from a drug dealer named Hiram who’s found Jesus, Colt misunderstands what Boyd means by “take care of him,” and shoots poor Hiram dead. When he learns his mistake, Colt winces, like a guy who’s just realized he forgot to pick up his kids from soccer practice: “Oooh…. Shit.”
And then there’s the man who helped Hiram find Jesus: the leader of the pentecostal “Last Chance Holiness Church,” Preacher Billy St. Cyr (played by Jurassic Park/The Pacific babyface Joe Mazzello). Preacher Billy arrives in this episode’s closing minutes, healing the afflicted at a tent revival while handling a poisonous snake. He’s a loaded but powerful symbol, this Preacher Billy, with his “get bit or get saved” rhetoric and his fake million-dollar bills. He makes a powerful contrast to the former evangelist Boyd Crowder, who now seems to have lost any faith he once had, as he talks about oxycontin as the modern equivalent of Jesus turning water into wine.
I’m hopeful that the arrival of Preacher Billy will bring more of a purpose to Boyd, who’s a terrific character that often feels shoehorned into the show, just because Walton Goggins is too good to let go. For a time Boyd served as a counterpoint to Raylan: the wayward brother he never had, who grew up in Harlan but followed a different path. But at look how both Boyd and Raylan end this episode: stashing away cash that they’d rather certain people didn’t know about, in their own fiscal version of a “go bag.” Meanwhile, Preacher Billy is just passing out money willy-nilly: only it's fake money, for people to buy their way to salvation.
- I enjoy nudity as much as anyone, but I have to say, the brief flash of Sharon’s hindquarters and flank at the start of this episode lingered in the mind in a way that argues on behalf of basic cable prudery.
- Raylan, staring at the hole in the wall at Arlo’s house: “Ain’t gonna cover that up with the smell of bakin’ cookies.”
- I watched this episode twice, and am still a little confused about one thing. When Jody has a gun at Roz’s head, Bob pulls out his knife and stabs Roz in the foot, which gives Raylan an opening to regain control of the situation. Was this intentional on Bob’s part, or did he mean to stab Jody? Because if he stabbed Roz on purpose, that was really clever, since if he’d stabbed Jody, he might’ve pulled the trigger. What do y’all think?
- Raylan’s wallet contains 12 bucks and a Piggly Wiggly card.
- A lot of pre-murder literary chatter in this episode. Book-wheeling trustee Sam at Arlo’s prison—God rest his soul—recommends the spy novels of Alan Furst, right before Arlo cuts the con’s throat. And Boyd entertains Hiram during the doomed dealer’s last minutes on Earth with some none-too-reassuring quotes from Isaac Asimov (“I expect death to be nothingness”) and John Maynard Keynes (“In the long run, we’ll all be dead”).
- Raylan shrugs off Rachel’s nagging with a smart-ass, “Thank you, Donnie.” (“It’s from Lebowski. Nit-flix it, you can be one of the cool kids.”)
- More examples of Raylan’s casual dickishness: When he slept with Sharon in Miami, he raided her minibar and ate a $20 tin of macadamia nuts. (Which he now calls “the most overrated of the nuts.” Fucker’s not even appreciative.)
- The bar Raylan’s still living it has a “Come get f’ed-up Friday.” That’s my kind of dive.
- The courts may disagree, but I’ve always said that if you provide cocaine to an already-jittery gun-toting prostitute and then come at her dressed as a bear, that’s tantamount to suicide-by-trollop. (Ella May certainly thinks that her shooting a client was, if you’ll pardon the term, justified. “I was on drugs, and it was a good costume.”)
- I’d like to thank Scott for his three fine years of service covering this show, and thank our TV Club overlords for letting me take over this assignment. Hope I can keep the conversation going as well as Scott did. Help me out, Justified fans.