This is what I’ve been waiting for. Critiquing smaller, newer, weaker shows is always fun, but the true joy of this whole “TV critic” thing is being able to pour my analysis over something powerful and unique- something that’s miles ahead of everything else on TV. Something that’s special to me. This is the big leagues, baby.
Oh and one more thing before I dive in- if you’re not watching Justified, but you happen to be reading this in a blurb on the front page of my blog, then I beg of you: watch Justified. It is, without a doubt, one of all-around smartest and most engaging things you can see on TV today. That’s all.
I broke this episode up into some basic ideas, so to keep everything separate I’m gonna employ a bullet point system. Hopefully it works as well as I think it’s gonna work.
- The big thing that stood out to me in “The Gunfighter” is that this is very much a part of a larger, season-long arc. Back in seasons one and two, Justified would start us off with a standalone story of some kind, whether it be a feud with Boyd or Raylan tracking down a sex offender that kidnapped a young girl. Both of those stories tied into the season in one way or another, but they were very much self-contained ideas. Not anymore. There’s a little bit of a one-episode story in Raylan going toe-to-toe with Dixie Mafia thug Fletcher Nix (Dexter’s Desmond Harrington), but other than that everything we’re seeing here is building off the events from last year. Clearly Graham Yost and everyone else running this show saw what’s worked (season-long story arcs) and what hasn’t (police procedural crime-of-the-week type episodes) and have made the necessary adjustments. This, everyone, is what smart TV shows do.
- A quick note on how Raylan as a character- with a baby on the way (and having been shot in last season’s finale), we’re starting to see a more grown-up Raylan Givens. He’s thinking of baby names and mortgages and stopping Winona from having just that one beer like a responsible dad would. A lot of characters can go this route (see Dexter for a prime example), but unlike Dexter becoming a father figure, this doesn’t drastically change who Raylan is. It feels like something that stems naturally from what he’s gone through the past two seasons.
- And oh, what he’ll go through this season. We’ve got two new baddies being introduced here- first off is Neal McDonough as Robert Quarles, an aggressive Detroit mobster with an icy demeanor. Quarles is the guy driving the story (for the most part) in this episode- by setting up Raylan against the Dixie Mafia, he kick-starts all the action we see here and gets himself a top spot in the Harlan crime syndicate. After two seasons of down-and-dirty backwoods villains, it’s nice to see someone from a verrrrry different world introduced into the fold. Also check out those spring-loaded sleeve guns- somewhere down the line he’s gonna draw those on Raylan. This show has far too many quick-draw scenes to not try that one out.
- But don’t forget villain #2: Fletcher Nix. I’m not sure if he survived this one (we’ve seen Boyd take a gunshot wound to the chest and keep on going, so you never know) but I’d like him to stay. He’s almost like some evil alternate universe version of Raylan. He’s got a signature hat. He speaks with just a little bit of dry wit. And even though Harrington’s not the strongest actor alive, he does just fine with a character that’s built up to a perfect climax. We see him outsmart his victims and the police throughout the episode, and that climactic scene in Raylan’s hotel room had just the right amount of tension. We know Nix’s icepick trick, and we know Raylan’s not gonna lose, but the speed of Raylan yanking the tablecloth (and the gun with it) and that tiny little ‘oh shit’ moment before Raylan fires was a perfect finisher to that scene.
- One last note about that shootout- the whole gunfight-while-sitting-down thing was a big ‘ole parallel to the opening (and closing) gunfights of Justified’s very first episode. And just as I was realizing that, Nix brings the onscreen conversation over to the events of that first episode. Well played, Justified. Well played.
- So I’ve got two quick points to make before I wrap this up. First, let’s get to Boyd and Ava. Boyd, for the first time in this series, has really got himself a position of power here and his first move’s a doozy. He gets himself thrown in jail (Boyd’s far too smart to have hit Raylan in the Marshall headquarters without knowing the repercussions), allowing Ava to lead in his stead while he gets closer to the now-incarcerated Dickie Bennet. I don’t know what he’s planning. But I kinda like it that way. I also like that Ava has a chance to shine as she gets farther and farther onto the wrong side of the law.
- Finally, I’d just like to mention something notably absent from “The Gunfighter,” and that’s any sign of Mykelti Williamson, the other major baddie being added this season. Justified’s got a great track record of unique and fascinating bad guys, and having already gotten a glimpse at Major Villain #1, I can’t wait to finally meet Major Villain #2.
Maybe we’ll see him next week. I know I’ll be watching. Will you?