Justified: “Money Trap”

Obviously, when revisiting a character that was first introduced six episodes ago and hasn’t been seen since, it’s important to reintroduce that character within the context he/she was last seen in. So it makes perfect sense to start this week with a flashback of Jody’s return to custody after being captured by Raylan in the premiere. It’s somewhat off-putting, however, that according to the text that kicks off the hour, Jody was captured only six days previous to tonight’s episode. When dealing with the subject of twenty-four hour manhunts, it’s natural that the timeline of a TV season would be a little shorter, but six days feels much, much too brief. For one, this episode is the first time that season four has been laid out in a concrete number of days, so the words “six days later” don’t immediately call to mind the premiere, but rather confusion over what exactly happened six days ago. Second, this means that there were six days between episode one and “Money Trap,” and also six episodes between those same two episodes (as long as you count the premiere as its own self-contained day). Thus, the seven episodes we’ve seen so far have been seven days crammed into one incredibly productive week, and not a single character on this show has had any downtime whatsoever between episodes.

Establishing this kind of strict timeline after we’ve passed the halfway point of the season is bizarre and off-putting. Reasonably, one would either set up the idea of “one episode equals one day” in the beginning of the season or do away with the idea entirely and just have the regular fluid fictional timeline that most TV shows have (where plenty of imagined events happen each week while the viewers are out living their own lives). And it’s a shame, because the rest of “Money Trap” is some of the best material Justified has put out all season. Elmore Leonard, as he typically does once or twice per season, shares a story credit on this episode, and his personal touches are everywhere. Jody and Kenneth (Michael Gladis, last seen on Mad Men) share the vicious yet bumbling rapport of criminal pairings from Get Shorty and Rum Punch. Kenneth, like so many of Leonard’s other characters, idolizes film culture and wants to be a big-shot Hollywood type. And a character coming home to find a thug (in this case, Jody) already perched comfortably in a lounge chair is one of Leonard’s trademark visual motifs.

It takes a little bit of time for this particular story to get moving- the somewhat heavy-handed attitude with the opening flashback leaves the next twenty or so minutes with an odd taste, and spending an episode almost entirely away from the Drew Thompson storyline this late in the season and after so many episodes pushing it forward gives the impression that part two of Jody’s story might have felt less out of place a few episodes ago. Thankfully, Leonard’s involvement pushes it out of that rut, and the ending is pure dynamite. Rarely does Raylan ever duel someone in an old-fashioned, one-on-one cowboy draw, but even in this excess of classic Western machismo he goes completely overboard and empties a good four or five shots into Jody. It could be that Raylan still considered Jody to be a potential threat until he was Swiss cheese. But it’s far more likely that Raylan, having spent the better part of a season trying to pacify himself for his child’s sake, was pushed over the edge by Jody’s continual assaults on his masculinity. It’s not enough that Jody killed two people, then broke out of custody and murdered someone Raylan was fond of. Jody went to the trouble of recording a personalized challenge to Raylan’s manhood and his competence as a Marshal, and created a situation where Raylan would have no choice but to clear out the bar and face Jody one-on-one. He even draws while telling Raylan he doesn’t have the guts to shoot. Eventually, Raylan could only take so much.

What’s telling, though is that Raylan doesn’t let this lapse in his newfound straight-and-narrow persona pull him all the way under. It looks that way, when Raylan is mere minutes away from bedding a charmingly-named Jackie Nevada, but what changes his mind is hearing Art casually (and correctly) assume that Raylan gave into the twin temptations of violence and lust once again. These two hooking up would be the easiest thing in the world. She’s a cowboy hat and a sex change away from being Raylan’s twin, she’s got the same cash-swiping tendencies that Lindsey and Winona both shared, and she almost seems aroused watching Raylan gun another man down. Jackie is the human embodiment of every temptation Raylan faces, and in walking out on her he proves that deep down, there’s a part of him that does want to grow up.

Bolstered by the adrenaline rush of asserting his dominance over Jody and over Art’s expectations, Raylan finally has the nerve to confront his father in prison, and the scene that follows is a knockout for Raymond J. Barry, despite delivering only a few lines of dialogue. That ugly snarl is met with a Raylan that’s much fiercer than usual, enough to state outright that he’ll be delighted to hear the news of Arlo’s death and that he hopes it comes as soon as possible. While “Money Trap” might not advance the story that far, moments like that up the emotional stakes considerably.

But that’s enough about Raylan. Boyd’s half of the episode might not have any cowboy duels or men leaping out of windows, but it’s got the same amount of depth. Last week, Boyd announced his intentions to take Ava and himself out of the world of crime and into the world of civilian life, and now they face their first test as average schmoes- an upscale dinner party (technically it’s a swingers party, but the implications are the same). Boyd gets bounced around the room quite a bit here. First, it seems as though he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the crowd, not because of class differences but because many of the partygoers have been on the receiving end of some Crowder criminal activity. When he’s accepted by the wealthier, VIP-esque patrons, it seems as though money conquers any class distinctions, but that’s ultimately not the case. The head honchos put Boyd’s trepidations into clear, blunt statements. To them, Boyd is nothing but a hick who cost them money by driving up the price of the Black Pike coal deal back in season two, and his only use to them is as a goon that can commit homicide in an area of town they wouldn’t be caught dead in. But the ultimate offense (as shown in a marvelous closeup of Walton Goggins’ eyes) is comparing Boyd to his father, who was the right kind of hick: one who knew his place in the pecking order. Frankly, I can’t see a  single outcome for this group of characters that doesn’t end with dying at the hands of Boyd Crowder. At this point, all we can do is play the waiting game.

Ava fares better socially, as she’s easily able to outmaneuver inebriated, horny party guests in a social setting, but once she wanders to the seedier areas of the house in search of Boyd, things go horribly wrong. Ava’s confronted not only by a much more hostile breed of drunk, but by a vision of her future self in the woman who acts as hostess downstairs and pimp upstairs. While Ava’s convictions seem as true as Boyd’s (as demonstrated in the heartfelt way Boyd comforts her after removing her attacker), but the swingers party is living proof of the unbalance that comes in balancing a normal life and a criminal empire.

And the one final aspect of “Money Trap” that needs attending to is the continuing story of Colton and Johnny, which was, frankly a non-starter. Johnny deducing all of Colton’s secrets reaffirms how dangerous he really is and also moves the plot forward, but failing to add anything else besides a rather weak confrontation feels a little weak. Hopefully, as things move towards the grand finish (which they should be doing, seeing as how there’s only five episodes left), the greatness that is the rest of Justified will make up for these few minor flaws.

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