“It’s gonna rain tomorrow. You might want to bring an umbrella.”
There’s a difference between being a dirty cop and being a cop who gets his hands dirty, and though Raylan Givens falls squarely on the latter side of that equation, it can be hard for outsiders to parse these things out. When Agent Barkley (played by the great Stephen Tobolowsky) comes into the marshals’ office blowing smoke about indications of “a broad pervasive pattern of corruption” in Raylan’s files—all supporting a tip that Raylan was working in cahoots with Boyd Crowder—it’s not that outrageous. Raylan is out there getting his hands dirty: When criminals are setting up shop in Harlan, he’s the one marshal who gets targeted as a threat to business, and his unconventional way of navigating the terrain often strays into the extra-legal. And that’s to say nothing of his effort to cover up his girlfriend’s criminal blunders.
Tonight’s vastly entertaining episode, “Watching The Detectives,” makes a joke of the heat that follows Raylan wherever he goes. From Season One, Episode One, Raylan has been the subject of one sort of official investigation or another, so it seems natural that multiple investigations would converge at the same time. In a season with so many players scrambling to fill the power gap left by Mags Bennett, it was great to see an episode centered on Raylan and the Whack-A-Mole game that constitutes his life. “Watching The Detectives” played like a comic twist on a typical episode of The Shield, where Vic Mackey would spend much of his time improvising dodges around Internal Affairs or hostile police captains. Of course, Vic actually was a dirty cop where Raylan wriggles around standard procedure to achieve a just end. What they share is a sharp instinct for self-preservation.
The most overtly comic of the two investigations has Barkley and his FBI friends storming into the office with a corruption charges against Raylan. And the big reason it’s so funny—besides the hilarious interplay between a blustering Tobolowsky and Nick Searcy’s rankled Art—is the immense distance between Barkley righteous accusations against Raylan and his understanding of just what in the hell is really going on. (In a way, he’s like a viewer who casually drops in on an episode or two of Justified and starts making pronouncements on it sans context.) Normally, Art would attack Raylan for bringing more trouble into the office, but as soon as Barkley implies that Raylan’s problems are indicative of Art’s deficiencies in running the office, their oft-tenuous allegiance firms up considerably. Ultimately, through all the hullabaloo about Raylan’s alleged corruption, it’s Art’s question that matters: “Just out of curiosity, what gave you the idea to look into Raylan and Boyd Crowder in the first place?”
And for more on that, we have Investigation #2, on the death of one Mr. Gary Hawkins. After leaving us to wonder for a week what possible role Gary could play in his return to Harlan, the writers give a startling answer pre-credits: He’s a dead body on Winona’s doorstep. This “message,” orchestrated by Quarles and Duffy, is an attempt to frame Raylan, who has motive to harm Gary and whose fingerprints are found on the bullet casing at the scene. The homicide guys have to pester Raylan about the murder—and search his car, which has been tampered with—but it seems likely that Quarles doesn’t believe the frame-up will ultimately work. The “message” is that Quarles is ruthless and capable enough to bring grievous harm to Raylan and the people in his life, including Winona, should he interfere with business. Frame-up or no, leaving Gary’s body on Winona’s doorstep was the equivalent of the horse’s head in Jack Woltz’s bed in The Godfather; the enduring threat for Raylan is Quarles.
After last week’s good but relatively soupy episode—which Noel Murray liked more than I did—“Watching The Detectives” brings back some of the focus of “Thick As Mud,” which is still the best episode of the season. The plotting for Season Three has gotten so complicated that the most satisfying episodes have been ones that are built around solid, self-contained hour-long conceits—Dewey Crowe and his missing kidneys, the convergence to two separate investigations of Raylan—rather than those that merely volley between ongoing plot threads. While “Watching The Detectives” does its share of juggling, with bits about Limehouse’s shadowy machinations and Tanner’s attempt to return to the fold (Quarles: “[Raylan] saw you, which is why you chose this public place to meet, so I don’t chop your balls off right now”) and Sheriff Napier’s explosive reelection campaign, but it happens within a satisfying structure and the payoffs are many.
• After his introduction as a larger-than-life villain, Limehouse’s emergence as a pragmatist has been refreshing. More than once this episode, we hear talk of him liking to “back the winning side,” and that seems to be where he’s positioning himself, as someone who stands to profit no matter who wins the war between Boyd and Quarles.
• A great episode for Nick Searcy, who’s always at his best when Art is dealing with an affront to his person.
• Exchange of the night, on Raylan throwing the bullet at Duffy. Raylan: “I said, ‘The next one might be coming a little faster.” Detective: “Deputy, that might be the coolest thing I’ve ever laid ears on.” Very meta.
• Some fine suspense with the homicide investigator looking to open the “stuck” door that Duffy hasn’t cleaned out, though the shot of Quarles casually eating noodles out of a Tupperware container is another example of the show trying too hard for super-villain status.
• A welcome, purposeful return for Winona, who now has more to worry about than Raylan’s attentiveness as a boyfriend and future father. She also gets in a nice, frisky retort when Raylan asks if she touched the likely murder weapon: “What am I, an asshole?!"