The vast majority of Justified episodes to date have integrated serialized material around a crime-of-the-week A-plot, though sometimes, as with Gary and Winona’s run-in with Jere Burns’ sadistic gangster, they’re one and the same. In any case, tonight’s middling episode made me realize how much I’d been taking those strong A-plots for granted; without a clear narrative through-line and structure to write around, the show wound up juggling a lot of different subplots without paying off any one of them.
In other words, “Veterans” was a classic place-setter, which is appropriate given we’re heading into the home stretch, with only two episodes to come. Now marks the time when all rampaging dentists and Hitler-collecting black marketers will be set aside, and we’ll focus more intently on the showdown between Raylan and Boyd, and the various other hangers-on in the Givens and Crowder clans. And therein lies the peril of writing about a show like this week to week: As a standalone episode, “Veterans” covers a lot of narrative business without cohering like Justified has in previous weeks, especially lately, when it’s been on fire; but it’s entirely possible (probable, really) that much of the storytelling legwork here will pay off handsomely in the end. So take my grumbling with that major qualification.
Through a combination of timing and human error, “Veterans” finds all the bad seeds in Kentucky out of prison and coalescing into criminal bands of one sort or another. Following his fire-bombing of a meth lab last week—all in the Lord’s righteous name, of course—Boyd and his merry men (called “The Church of the Last Chance Salvation,” or some such nonsense) are getting heat from the authorities, but Boyd has coached them in advance not to rat him out. (“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered,” they say. Or, in Dewey’s case, “words to that effect.”) The incident has also firmed up Boyd’s standing as a feared enforcer, with other potential victims of his wrath coughing up protection money to his more blatantly wicked father Bo. (Ever the faux-Man of God, Boyd makes a show of refusing his father’s dirty kickback money without actually doing it.) We also discover that calling Johnny Crowder “the good Crowder” was a little premature, too, as he aids into killing the two men left over from the meth lab explosion. And then there’s the possibility that Bowman Crowder ran collections for his father while he was alive and Ava might have known about it.
Meanwhile, Raylan’s father Arlo is in serious trouble with Bo Crowder for his failure to continue Crowder’s operations inside the prison. He blames the “young punks” for not respecting him—and claims to be too old to impose his will over them—but Arlo owes a lot of money and Bo isn’t sympathetic to his plight. Though we get a little payoff in the shots fired through Arlo and Helen’s window—in a sharp bit of irony, it comes right after the line, “That money was going to buy us some time”—the episode sets up something of a clan war between the Givens family and the Crowders, which puts Raylan in an awkward spot. Bo claims “I got control over my boy,” but in a fine scene between he and Arlo, it’s clear that neither of them have much of an influence over their sons—and have, in terms of power, been eclipsed by them.
As for the ladies of Justified, Winona’s gratitude over Raylan’s role in getting her husband out of trouble has segued into low-level flirtation between the two. (Loved Natalie Zea suggestive “Are you?” when Raylan says he’s happy at the way thing turned out. Yowza.) Raylan’s thawed relations with his ex-wife seems to hasten his anxiousness to get Ava out of town, as if the twin burdens of protecting her from the Crowders and protecting himself from career implosion weren’t enough. It takes a certain kind of woman to marry someone like Bowman, and Raylan is starting to realize it.
All in all, a fine enough episode, with a few standout moments—the Arlo/Bo scene, the chilling way the two loose ends from the meth lab explosion are dispatched, and the great running joke about Dewey’s “onanism”—and the usual sparkling dialogue. But it mostly feels like throat-clearing for the two episodes to comes. Stay tuned…
• Damon Herriman’s Dewey has become a favorite supporting player. He hasn’t appeared since the first two episodes, but his buffoonishness consistently trumps his ill intentions and Raylan enjoys kicking him around.
• And speaking of fine character work, I can’t say enough about Nick Searcy as Art, who is so amiably low-key much of the time that when he goes off—like the scene where he castigates Boyd for giving Christians a bad name—it’s all the more effective.
• Art also gets the line of the night, on the snails infiltrating Helen’s garden: “I tried crushing them and stringing them on a line as a lesson to the other snails, but they don’t seem to care.”