Whenever an FBI agent swoops in and steals the big case from our locally-grown hero cop, I shudder a little bit inside.
Not for the hero’s sake, but because that exact moment has occurred so often and in so many different places that you’d think writers all across the world would just retire the idea. But Justified, at its essence, is still a cop show, and even the most magnificent of cop shows must occasionally toss out a well-worn cliche now and then. So yes, the Drew Thompson case will be co-opted by a square-jawed, big government bigwig in a neatly pressed suit. And yes, he will turn out to be working for the bad guys. And yes, he will draw his gun on our hero, only to end up turning it on himself when he realizes just how dire his situation is.
But not all cliches need to be followed by extreme bouts of eye-rolling. The FBI man (whose character was so fleeting I can’t even remember his name) wasn’t the only cliched element of “Truth and Consequences,” but was simply the only cliche that wasn’t cleverly subverted in one form or another. Take Preacher Billy and his sister Cassie. They come to town as innocent church folk to make a name for themselves and to spread the good word, but once they play hardball with the local drug syndicate it’s clear their motives are less godly then previously thought. This is typical- those who seem perfectly innocent except for that one fleeting inkling that says otherwise are sure to be just as ruthless and nasty as any other villain.
So it’s refreshing that those not-so-pious church folk are, in fact, alarmingly out of their depth when it comes to dealing with hardened criminals. Cassie may talk a good game, but when Boyd looks her in the eye and warns her that they’ve misjudged each other, he’s only half right: Cassie is, ultimately, the small-timer Boyd makes her out to be. She’s keen enough to expect retribution and to set in motion some of the most cringe-inducing material this series has seen, but her forward thinking stopped right at the point the snakes hit the floor. Surely, she should have known a pitch-black tent full of serpents would incur some bites, and that after enough time a group of people vicious enough to sneak into her tent at night with several loaded weapons would deduce her secret and use it against her. Strategic giants like Boyd Crowder or Mags Bennett (and potentially a traitorous Johnny Crowder) are the norm for Justified villains; Cassie and her brother just can’t compare to that kind of criminal mind. And while it’s not clear what’s next for these two (or even if Billy survived the bite), but if they’re signed on for future episodes to come, it’s most likely in a very different and potentially diminished capacity than what we’ve already seen.
Another cliche that’s freshened up for “Truth and Consequences” is the classic Western ultimatum Raylan gives to Randall. Randall’s got until six o’clock PM to get out of dodge, or Raylan comes gunning after him, and surprisingly enough, Randall actually skips town. Granted, he’s doing so with Lyndsey, plus Raylan’s nest egg all in tow, but that just adds an extra layer to the suspense, and to the ambiguity growing around Lyndsey’s character (those who caught the preview for next week’s episode saw some evidence that Lyndsey might be back to her old, thieving ways).
Cliches come in good and bad varieties, but even the bad still serve their purpose. They might elicit the occasional groan, but a well-worn cliche is still instantly understandable and can act as a fast-track to an important plot point. Hearing FBI man (a quick Google search confirms his name is Barnes), exclaim “you don’t know these people” when Raylan suggests putting his family into witness protection might be a little laughable, but in the end it’s a quick way to establish that Drew Thompson is still lurking around as a villain and that he is a very serious one at that. Putting Thompson into the center of a season-long case and building him up as some kind of vicious ubercriminal does seem to conflict with what Graham Yost has previously said about this season, however. Presumably, season four won’t feature any kind of “big bad,” so what exactly is Thompson’s role here? Perhaps the case goes deeper than Thompson’s involvement, or perhaps Thompson gets offed earlier than expected, or perhaps something else entirely happens. Again, like with Billy and Cassie, we may be seeing some new variation on the traditional, season-long TV villain.
The mystery continues to move forward, but the character development continues to move inward. Like last week’s outing, the there’s a renewed emphasis on building up those characters that have been present on this show for years but aren’t quite on the same tier as Raylan or Boyd, and in doing so the show feels more fully realized and more human. Art (in a reprise of last week’s goofy stakeout banter) continues to be a strong source of comic relief, but Art has never really wanted for time in the spotlight the way that Tim, or especially Rachel has. Episodes like season two’s “Blaze of Glory,” wherein Art chases down an elderly gang member with an oxygen tank, allow Art to stand out as a memorable character despite his general lack of screen time. Tim functions in a similar manner, getting off plenty of good lines at Raylan’s expense, but unlike Art he doesn’t have a whole lot of depth. He’s essentially two things- an Army Ranger sniper and a more subdued foil to Raylan’s over the top cowboy swagger. Examine the scene where the two first confront Barnes- Raylan makes a big show of reaching for his pistol in its slick leather holster while cracking wise and wearing a cowboy hat. Tim doesn’t do anything remarkable outside of holding his gun. In a way, Tim is doomed to continually fall short of being a truly fascinating character, as a big part of his purpose on the show is just being the regular guy that Raylan is not. But seeing a little more of Tim (and perhaps getting him in scenes with recurring characters that exist outside the Kentucky Marshal’s office) might not be a bad idea. Rachel, however, just needs more of everything. The foundation is there, as shown in the moment at the tail end of the hour where she and Raylan share a little quality time at the bar, but while these two have a natural chemistry together (note the little tap he gives her on the opposite shoulder when he sits down), Raylan and Rachel genuinely seem like two people who are friendly enough, but would still classify each other as coworkers rather than friends. Rachel’s divorce and her reprimand from Art do help make her feel a little more genuine, but they’re still incidental little plot threads that can’t compete with the real narratives on Justified. What Rachel might need is to be put in the spotlight for a story that really matters in the scope of the show. Still, as long as she keeps getting more and more screen time, it’s harder to complain about these types of things.
With “Truth and Consequences,” we’re roughly a quarter of the way into Justified‘s fourth season, and while things grow more compelling by the episode, there’s still too much separation between what Boyd and what Raylan are doing. Emergency snake head removals will always be a gory thrill, but there’s an odd, meandering feeling in watching two separate tales that, despite both being some of the best things on television at the moment, have absolutely nothing to do with each other. One can hope that will change in the near future. And even if it doesn’t, it’s certainly no reason not to be tuning in every Tuesday at ten.