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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Justified: "Good Intentions"

Illustration for article titled Justified: "Good Intentions"

Raylan Givens can be a smart man when he wants to be, but he wouldn’t have survived for as long as he has if he deeply considered every situation that he encounters. Tonight’s pre-credits sequence is a case in the point. When a barefoot Raylan steps out of Charles Monroe’s mansion to confront a baseball bat-wielding, car alarm-triggering goon, he has to know that he’s entering a potentially life-or-death situation—maybe not for himself, given his nigh-perfect marksmanship, but certainly for the anonymous goon and possibly for the stoned and undressed social worker somewhere inside the house. Under such circumstances, Raylan doesn’t have the luxury of earnestly questioning the man to find out just who his business is with and whether he might have legitimate grievances with said person. The man has made an implicit but unmistakable threat, and so Raylan’s most sensible recourse is to match aggression with aggression. To further assert dominance, Raylan reveals just how well he understands what is going on, explaining that he knows the batsman is there on Monroe’s behalf.

Never mind that the man actually seems confused by the news that that the car and the house don’t belong to Raylan, and he shows zero recognition of Monroe’s name. Raylan knows from bitter experience just how quickly these situations can escalate; he could be mere moments away from drawing, so the priority here must be on maintaining his tenuous position of control. He’s great at dealing with immediate crises, but he’s lousy at figuring out their true root causes once the danger has passed. He’s obstinate enough to stick by his initial gut reaction, even when there’s plenty of evidence to suggest another explanation, and he’s too damn incurious to wonder about any grander design. It’s left playfully ambiguous as to just what is going on with Allison, as at one point in the final scene she notes Raylan’s longstanding weakness for beautiful women who run afoul of the law. When asked what he thinks of that trend, Raylan replies that, left to his own devices, he probably would never think about it, and that’s likely the most honest thing Raylan has said this season. He’s so good at surviving disasters—and that includes just about every romantic relationship he’s pursued over the past five seasons—that he puts no effort into preventing them.

If anything, as “Good Intentions” demonstrates, Raylan is far too good at provoking such crises. After all, Charles Monroe only takes increasingly insane steps to retrieve his gold once Raylan tells him about Henry. Sure, Raylan is acting to protect himself by warning Monroe about the possibility of a felony murder conviction, but that doesn’t feel like a good enough reason for the marshal to make that trip to the courthouse. In theory, he might be intentionally baiting Monroe into further incriminating himself—which is precisely what happens—but it feels so much more like Raylan to assume he was just being a dick for the sheer bloody sake of it. As Rachel observes, Raylan excels at bringing out the asshole in people. That scene also sees Rachel try to get Raylan to think of Allison as a criminal, following Henry’s claims that she planted meth in his home so that she could place his son in foster care. Raylan proves incapable of considering the hypothetical, which Rachel—who is far more a thinker and detective than her colleague has ever been—takes as a sign of Raylan lying to either her or himself. But it might just be a sign of the limitations of Raylan’s worldview.

After all, Raylan has long separated good guys and bad guys in fairly absolute terms—most profoundly when he refused to give a gun to Drew Thompson in last year’s “Decoy”—and what he says to Henry in that earlier scene reveals plenty about how Raylan understands the lawman’s mindset. As he tells Henry, even if Allison did in fact plant drugs, there was nothing personal about it: “Whatever she did, she didn’t do it to you. She did it because she thought it was the best way to do her job.” As far as Raylan is concerned, the true mark of a hero is complete indifference to the villain; it’s only corruption when an authority uses his or her position to exact petty vengeance. That’s why Raylan is fine with goading Monroe into a fresh set of crimes, but he does feel compelled to intercede before the guy actually kills Wynn Duffy, even though such a result might be quite satisfying to Raylan on a personal level.

This is a messy episode of Justified, one in which nobody seems to have any clear idea what they are doing, and that character uncertainty bleeds over just a little too much to the storytelling itself. The choking scene between Monroe and his maid feels particularly strange, as though the show doesn’t know quite what tone that moment should have. The subsequent scene in which Monroe is shot outside of Wynn Duffy’s trailer also feels off, perhaps because so much of the vital action occurs offscreen. Allison’s sudden departure after Raylan returns from dealing with Henry is also a bit bizarre, though that at least lends itself to some fairly obvious explanations, starting with the fact that, well, she is stoned. On some level, “Good Intentions” is just following the lead of its protagonist. It’s not that Raylan believes that the ends justify the means, but rather that the right ends mean that Raylan doesn’t have to care much about how he gets to them. Even so, to use a term that a women’s tennis fan like Wynn Duffy would surely approve of, Raylan makes a hell of a lot of unforced errors tonight in pursuit of those ends.

The same could be said of Boyd, who is still trying to clean up the six or seven messes he has created for himself. Boyd may be an outlaw, but he’s made much the same mistake as Raylan: Just because Boyd rarely does anything out of personal animus, that doesn’t mean that the people he screws over won’t take it personally. The final moment of the episode hammers that point home, as the frequently forgotten Cousin Johnny is revealed as the man behind the massacre. Boyd’s greatest cruelty to Johnny has always simply been indifference, but that’s enough to motivate a broken, terminally insecure man like Johnny to take horrific actions to get himself noticed. There’s even a glimmer of this in how Boyd treats Dewey Crowe. This might just be a reflection of Walton Goggins’ prodigious gifts as an actor, but it’s possible to hear genuine, almost fatherly pride in the motivational speech that Boyd delivers to Dewey, even though it’s abundantly clear that Boyd only sold Audrey’s because Dewey is the ultimate easy mark. He never considered that anyone cleverer than Dewey or Wade would ever pay attention to the books, and that oversight is likely to bring him into direct conflict with the manipulative, ruthless Daryl Jr. sooner rather than later. This just is not a good week for Boyd and people’s cousins, basically.


In the midst of these relatively standard Harlan County antics, there’s the scene at the bar between Mara and Boyd. It’s been so long since we’ve last seen his swastika tattoo that it’s become all too easy to forget that his fondness for long-sleeved, fully-buttoned shirts isn’t just a fashion choice. Boyd doesn’t quite apologize for the tattoo, but he does say it was from a long time ago, which segues into Mara’s discussion of the constant, tiny sacrifices that a cold Latvian woman makes in the name of survival. Like so much else in tonight’s episode, this is a strange sequence, particularly since any plan that rests on convincing Lee Paxton that Boyd is dead for an extended period seems kind of cockamamie. And yet the oddness here feels more deliberate, as though Justified is delighting in confounding our expectations of just what is going on between Mara and Boyd. The tattoo on Boyd’s arm is just the most visceral possible reminder that some decisions cannot be unmade, some parts of the past cannot be outrun. That swastika is the ultimate emblem of short-term thinking, as Boyd was forced to become something horrendous in order to survive a place like Elkton. Both he and Raylan could stand to think more about the consequences of their actions, particularly in how their choices impact others and how that can then reflect back on them. As it stands, “Good Intentions” feels like a bitterly ironic title for what unfolds tonight, but I wouldn’t have Justified any other way.

Stray observations:

  • “Jesus, man! You almost took out my eye.” “Yeah, I know, I missed.” Now that’s the Wynn Duffy I remember.
  • Meanwhile, these are dire times for Dewey Crowe. Will the world’s most sweet and innocent neo-Nazi—nope, can’t see how I could possibly come to regret that phrasing—kill his bartender and maybe best friend? It’s hard to see what possible way out of this predicament there could be, but never underestimate the man with four kidneys.
  • I haven’t talked much at all about Ava this season, but both the writers and Joelle Carter are doing some good stuff with her limited screen time. Her complaints about Boyd’s handling of the situation seem entirely legitimate, yet it also has to be said that this is the one mess that Boyd is barely responsible for, if at all. She’s positioned on the show right where you might expect a wrongfully accused person to be, except she’s completely guilty—she angrily asks if  all this is supposed to be her fault, to which Boyd rightly responds that he didn’t kill Delroy—and most of the mistakes that led her to that jail cell were hers and hers alone. Even so, it would be good to get her story out of that meeting room sooner rather than later.