In the weeks since the pilot, we’ve had to chance to reconcile ourselves to appreciate Justified for what it is: A really entertaining procedural that takes its own sweet time on the serialization front. I’ll admit to putting up a resistance—there’s an argument to be made about whether a modern TV drama can be truly great without forward movement, but I won’t get into it here—but the gradual uptick in quality over the last few weeks, culminating in the wonderful Alan Ruck “crazy dentist” episode, finally won me over. If this show wants to spin its wheels a little bit on crime-of-the-week stories, I’m perfectly happy if they can be that good.
On the other hand, “The Lord Of War And Thunder,” which features the long-awaited introduction of Raylan’s troubled father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry, a fine character actor in a cast loaded with them), shows how effective a good show can be when there’s some forward movement. The ghoulish presence of tombstones lining the Givens family home, played for a dark joke early in the episode, reveals something profoundly sad about Raylan in the end. Here’s a man who’s done everything he can to run away from his past, and now, compounding the headache of him being sent back to Kentucky, he comes face to face with his final resting place. He hasn’t gone anywhere. And ultimately, he can’t escape who he is.
Much of the conflict between Raylan and Arlo plays out in the sort of cat-and-mouse game we expect from a show like this, but it’s all very well-orchestrated. The underlying message throughout all their interaction together is that they’re not as far apart as Raylan would like to think; just as Arlo probably bears some resemblance to the domineering preacher dad he rebelled against, so too does Raylan to his sour, sneaky, yet not altogether irredeemable father. With due credit to Olyphant and Barry’s performances, and the fine script, their scenes together feel wonderfully lived-in, with some family history uncovered, but plenty more that goes unspoken. They resent each other—Raylan’s bitterness helps explain his much talked-about angry side—but let’s face it: They are each other, too.
The episode finds Raylan dragged back into father’s life when his “Aunt” Helen (Linda Gehringer, also solid) begs him to get Arlo out of jail. It would seem that Arlo has busted up the personal property of a deadbeat tenant named Perkins (a squirrely Eddie Jemison, of Ocean’s Eleven fame) and kneed him in the sack for good measure. Raylan suspects his father is running a rent scam on Perkins, but the complications run deeper than he originally imagined. Turns out Perkins is a drug-runner (selling “hillbilly heroin” a.k.a. Oxycontin) posing as a kitchen-and-bath man, and he’s got the muscle to back up his business. So Raylan has the tricky assignment of protecting a family he despises in many respects while getting to the bottom of what really happened the night Arlo broke into his tenant’s home.
In a comparatively breezy subplot, Raylan again deals with an outlaw father and his fiercely protective wife when he and Rachel stake out a home in which they believe a fugitive is hiding. There’s not much suspense over whether their instincts are correct, but it was fun to see Raylan breaching the distance of the usual stakeout by offering up his services to the lady of the house—and putting in “an honest day’s work” in the bargain. It also nicely echoed the A-plot, in which a troubled but basically good woman (Aunt Helen) remains loyal to a scoundrel.
Though engaging all the way through, “The Lord Of War And Thunder” didn’t really get its hooks into me until the final 15 minutes or so, with Raylan and Arlo finally got to mix it up at the hospital and Raylan figured out Arlo’s elaborate (and fiendishly clever) plan to deceive his son and walk away $75,000 richer. But my favorite scene was Raylan’s questioning of Perkins in the rented house, where he slipped in a rather sad anecdote about his childhood while getting to the bottom of the case. In miniature, the scene proved Justified could do two things at once: Add new depths to its characters and still tell a gripping yarn. Here’s hoping it continues moving forward, even in baby steps.
• Arlo’s emergence doesn’t take away all the shadows hanging over Raylan. It would seem that Boyd’s family is pretty extensive and naturally displeased over Ava shooting her husband. Look for more quickdraw when Bo, Ava’s late husband’s father, gets out of the slammer.
• Sparkling dialogue, as ever, from the show tonight. My favorite exchange: Arlo: “Where were you woman?” Helen: “Down in the parking lot, giving blowjobs for cash.” Arlo: “Were you paying or were they?”
• Raylan still can’t help himself with Ava. Who can blame him?
• Love Helen’s toughness when Perkins and his goons invade her house. She threatens Perkins with a butcher knife, he calls her bluff, and she swipes it right across his neck, missing him by inches.