“I think we both know whose voice it is makes you do what you do.”—former Sheriff Hunter Mosley, to Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens
“The Hatchet Tour” is a putting-together-the-pieces episode, and thus a step down from last week’s excellent Justified. But not a big step. It mainly suffers from some logical inconsistencies (perhaps), and from its necessary but none-too-exciting function of giving the characters information that we viewers have either already been told or had figured out on our own. Thankfully, while all of that’s going on, “The Hatchet Tour” is also digging deeper into what this season is really about: not the identity of Drew Thompson, but how the tangled history of Harlan’s many family feuds continues to influence the lives of Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder. At the center of this week’s episode are two versions of an old Givens family legend, about how Raylan’s late mother Frances once defused an escalating multi-clan standoff by encouraging everyone involved to talk it out face-to-face. It’s that story that prompts Hunter Mosley to say what he says to Raylan at the end of the episode, about how Raylan hears the voices of both Frances and Arlo whispering in his ear, but only one is whispering loud enough to get through.
Of course, Hunter’s biased. He’s only had a few extended encounters with Raylan, and none of them have been pleasant. “The Hatchet Tour” takes its name from something Frances Givens once told her son about how “hashing it out” comes from the French word for “hatchet,” and it’s Raylan’s intention this week to use that hatchet to cut through the bullshit, by taking Hunter Mosley back to Harlan to sit down with the people who might know something about why Hunter killed Arlo, and about who Drew Thompson is. The problem is that Hunter was looking forward to a pleasant two-hour bus ride to the SuperMax prison in Leoville—“It’s a like a Carnival Cruise,” he gushes to Deputy Dunlop—and when he sees Raylan waiting for him, he’s righteously annoyed. Then when he gets fed up with Raylan’s veiled threats, Hunter throws himself out of Raylan’s moving car, intending to get his fool self splattered by an oncoming truck. After Raylan saves Hunter (kicking him around some in the process), he reiterates the terms of the government’s deal: Give up Drew Thompson and get an easy ride through the rest of his life in prison. “In the words of Arlo Givens,” Raylan spits. “I’m tryin’ to knock some goddamn sense into ya.”
I don’t want to rush past that line, because I think it’s essential to understanding Raylan’s relationship with his late father, and to how Hunter perceives Raylan. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I heard decades of pent-up anger behind Timothy Olyphant’s hesitant reading of the “in the words of Arlo Givens” line—an anger born of abuse, and half-hearted excuses from Arlo for being an utter shit. Hunter knew Arlo well, and Hunter believes that it’s in the blood of Harlanites to bear grudges and stick stubbornly onto a single, unchanging path. So of course he believes that Raylan is just Arlo redux, badge or no. And maybe he’s right. That seems to be the question that this season is looking to resolve, at least to some degree.
This episode, though, offers plenty of examples of Raylan being more Frances-like. When he stops off at Wynn Duffy’s RV, for example, and Wynn offers his sincere condolences for Arlo’s death but insists he had nothing to do with it, Raylan pats Wynn on the leg (out of frame, but audibly), and says, “Thank you, Wynn. Whatever your other failings, I believe that’s true.” It’s a sweet moment, and typical of the way that Justified’s enemies have a “Sam and Ralph”-like ability to “clock out” when the situation isn’t requiring them to draw on each other. Similarly, when Raylan comes upon Constable Bob exchanging fire with Clover Hill assholes Paxton and Johns, he strides into the crossfire and gets everyone to lower their weapons. Then, when the Clover Hillers try to defend their treatment of Constable Bob, Raylan does what he always does, which is to ignore any crime that might be happening at the moment (“Save it. Don’t give a shit.”) so that he can get straight to what he actually wants.
So it is that here at Paxton’s hunting lodge, after a long, frustrating day of “hashing it out,” Raylan finally learns who Drew Thompson is, thanks to Constable Bob’s casually mentioning that Hunter and Shelby helped him recover from “the Ollie situation” back in Florida, and even got him a shot at the Academy. (“Of course they gypped me on the physical, had me run that goddamn obstacle course in the spring, with the pollen.”) By the time Raylan gets back to the car where he left Shelby and Hunter, the former has fled, while the latter is sitting in the backseat, unshackled, content that at least he never spilled the “Shelby is Drew” secret himself. There’s undoubtedly more backstory to come, but for now we know that Shelby (with his Drew-related Tonin family connections) helped Hunter with his vendetta against Henry Crowder, and that Hunter has been repaying the favor by keeping his mouth shut, to protect Shelby/Drew.
I’m not entirely convinced that in as tight-knit and incestuous community as Harlan that all of this could’ve gone on without Raylan knowing about it, even given that Raylan fled his home for a good long stretch. (I’ll gripe further about this below, in the stray observations.) But Shelby’s previously insignificant connection to the Givens/Crowder/Mosley/Sorensen/McClaren entanglements does allow him to provide an outsider’s perspective on Raylan’s presumptions about Harlan’s past. When Raylan visits with Wynn, he tells the story of how Frances Givens resolved a tense situation involving a dog that was shitting on the Givens’ lawn. (Wynn, impatient: “I had a yorkie growin’ up. May I ask…?”) Shelby though tells him the real story: that Johnson McClaren insulted Frances, and Arlo shoved dogshit down his mouth. He and Hunter are trying to make Raylan understand that he can’t crack a case in Harlan just based on what people say and what evidence is in front of him. There are tendrils—and secrets—reaching back decades. “Feud ain’t done ’til it’s done,” Hunter reminds Raylan, and even gives him a case-in-point: “If you think I’d so much as piss on a Crowder if he was afire, you really are chasin’ your own dick.”
As for those Crowders, they’re less involved with the Drew-chase this week because they’re in crisis mode after Cassie St. Cyr shows up at Audrey’s looking for Ellen May, saying that Ellen May had been in touch with the church after the time that she was supposed to be dead. Boyd suspects that Cassie might be on the grift, because he can’t yet accept that Colt failed to do his job, so he sends Colt to check Cassie out, unaware that Marshal Tim—newly informed of his buddy Mark’s death, likely at Colt’s hands—is on Colt’s tail. Tim prevents Colt from choking Cassie to death, and then a late-arriving Boyd prevents Tim from shooting Colt, saying, “Need I remind you that you are an officer of the peace?”
This was another moment I found unconvincing actually: Tim letting Colt leave Last Chance Holiness with Boyd, rather than detaining Colt for the police. I suppose it could be argued that Tim is waiting for an excuse to kill Colt himself, which is something he can only do if he lets Colt go free to get into trouble again. But if so, that wasn’t clear in any way from Tim’s behavior or dialogue. [UPDATE: Many, many, many of you have pointed out in the comments that Tim does explain his actions in a later scene, in which he essentially tells Cassie that he prefers to take Colt down when the vet is sober.]
That said, I loved Colt doing his little fake “Bagram lung” cough as he walks past Tim. And if Colt hadn’t been released to Boyd, we wouldn’t have gotten the terrific scene where Boyd asks him to walk him through the shooting of Ellen May detail by detail, while he holds a gun in his hand to help Colt reconstruct it. So much of Justified relies on people posturing for each other, which is why it’s so easy for them to shift gears and pretend to be friendly when the job requires. But there does come a time when these people have to wield Frances Givens’ hatchet. Or as Boyd tells Colt, “Lyin’ stops right now.”
But the Crowder scene in “The Hatchet Tour” that best fits the season’s larger themes is a quieter one, in which Ava and Boyd go house-hunting, and find a lovely Clover Hill home that’s “like a storybook,” with its garden and big windows. The Crowders get annoyed at their realtor, who none-too-subtly suggests that they might be happier with a “starter home” that’s “a little further down the hill,” and Boyd lets the realtor know that they have enough money to buy whatever goddamn house they want outright, with cash (while Ava just smiles and tells her, “Thank you. Very much. But we don’t need your shit. You have a nice day.”).
It’s not insignificant though that the house the Crowders fall in love with is one that Ava played in as a girl, when her mother cleaned it, as a maid. Ava surely thinks of this as her revenge on Clover Hill, and a step-up in station—but it’s still another example of a Harlanite letting her destiny be determined by what her parents did. It’s also not insignificant that when Ava is wandering wide-eyed through this house, she trips an alarm. Sometimes warnings come as a whisper; sometimes a shout.
- Tim not following through on detaining Colt isn’t the only part of “The Hatchet Tour” that I found a little confounding. Did anybody else notice that Colt had his gun down the front of his pants, one episode after “gun down the pants” was the detail that told him Drug Dealer Who Used To The Brother On Blossom was holding a weapon that wasn’t ready to fire. Was this a failure of character-continuity? Or were we supposed to notice this disconnect? Maybe this was a cue that Colt’s weapon was unloaded (or locked), and that Colt was hoping Tim would just shoot him and end his misery.
- Here however is one bit of sloppy plotting that can’t be explained away (I don’t think): Ava convinces the pervy Arnold to return to Audrey’s—“I believe my sufferin’s earned me many, many free visits,” Arnold insists—in order to get him to talk to Boyd. But before Boyd and Arnold really get started, Cassie St. Cyr arrives, and Ava interrupts Boyd and Arnold’s meeting. Now, I know that there was some urgency to Boyd finding out whether or not Cassie was lying about Ellen May, but how much time was Boyd planning to spend with Arnold, anyway? Couldn’t he have at least asked a couple of questions before he cut the conversation short? Nothing seems to come of that scene, beyond giving Boyd a reason not to be in the bar when Cassie shows up.
- And here’s another question: Did Shelby—the sheriff of Harlan, mind you—really not know who Dixie Mafia honcho Wynn Duffy is, or was he just trying to keep Raylan talking, to find out what the Marshal knows? See, this is why I’ve been a little uncertain about the elevation of Shelby from marginal character to mysterious behind-the-scenes criminal. It’s not that I don’t like Shelby—I do—but his addition to decades of Harlan mythology seems out-of-synch with the show’s continuity to this point. At some point after this season is done, I’d like to go back to the season two and three episodes that involved Shelby Parlow, just to see if him being Drew Thompson fits with everything else we’ve learned about him. Is he plugged into what’s really going on in Harlan, or is he just a guy who made a mistake 25 years ago and has been trying to downplay it ever since? How is it that Shelby knows so much about the Givens family, but Raylan only seems to know Shelby as “that guy that Boyd got elected?” It’s not a major problem with this season—and there’s a good chance that the last four episodes will make everything clearer—but it is kind of a head-scratcher at the moment.
- Okay, enough nitpicking. Let’s get back to the many, many things that “The Hatchet Tour” gets right. Like: How fun is it to see Art put aside his jovially cranky persona and just get pissed? (To Deputy Dunlop: “Get used to purging case-files until I figure out how to like you again.”) Art doesn’t even give Tim any slack when the Marshal responds to Art’s angry rant toward the absent Raylan by saying, “Want me to write that down or paraphrase?”
- Another well-written character moment: Tim stalls Art on Raylan’s behalf, but also because he needs an excuse to head up to Harlan and investigate Colt. That’s another recurring Justified trait, pinpointed by Hunter last week when he met with Raylan: people doing what they really want to do, while pretending it’s for a higher purpose. (Note though that when Tim’s trying to play the part of the helpful colleague, Raylan doesn’t notice, because Raylan is an asshole.)
- I’ve also gotta say once again how much I love the way Constable Bob’s character is written and played. I like how Lee Paxton chases Bob away, telling him to go play lawman in the mirror, and after Bob takes a few steps away from the door, he stops and returns because he finally thinks of what he should’ve said as a comeback. (“You go play asshole in the mirror, Lee!”) And later, when Raylan tells Bob to keep an eye on Hunter, Bob begins to reach for his gun before Raylan—who’s seen this movie before—cautions, “Just keep an eye on him.”
- After Raylan picks him up at the prison, Hunter asks if the Marshal’s steely silence is supposed to scare him. “I’m supposed to be back here shitttin’ myself?” he asks. Raylan’s reply: “Lord I hope not.”
- Raylan, admiring Hunter’s decision not to take on the lam after Shelby frees him: “That’s an e-volved pers-pec-tive.”
- I praised the direction of John Dahl last week, and I should also nod to this week’s director, Lesli Linka Glatter, who’s one of the best there is at these tough-guy cable shows. She uses a lot of close-ups on faces during the dialogue scenes, but begins and ends those scenes really strikingly, with a focus on small details: Colt poking at Cassie’s piano when he walks into her tent, Drew/Shelby fingering his holster as he gets in the car with Raylan, et cetera. One thing that’s consistently great about the direction of Justified: these men and women know the right angles.