Another week gone by, another Justified that fits perfectly into the same pattern the previous season fell prey to- alternating between strong and weak episodes. Last week’s “Outlaw” was a bit on the slow side, so naturally “The Hatchet Tour” is a gem, even though it’s become more than a little frustrating to see this start/stop motion play out over and over again. But this is where the final act of the season has to kick in, and luckily this week’s Justified gives us a firm push into the end of the Drew Thompson mystery.
Going into “The Hatchet Tour,” the biggest question outside of Drew Thompson’s identity was how Arlo’s death was going to factor into the episode. As far as the actual story’s concerned, Raylan’s father only enters into things for the first few minutes of the episode. Then things start to take off and the spotlight shifts securely back onto Thompson. Yet while moving forward on the Thompson case, everyone seems eager to talk about Raylan’s dear departed dad , and through these conversations Timothy Olyphant does some incredible work. Raylan is stretched painfully thin, desperate to hide his emotions behind the chase for Drew Thompson, and his true feelings reveal themselves in the ugliest way possible. He makes uncomfortable jokes about his father’s death and beats the tar out of Hunter. Thankfully, this episode smartly cuts in enough humor (mostly through Patton Oswalt, but there are a few yuks to be had in Wynn Duffy’s trailer) that the hour never feels bogged down in too much death and darkness.
But the big debate for Raylan is this: now that Arlo is dead, will he do the one thing everyone dreads and finally become his father? The moments of “The Hatchet Tour” that slow down to savor the conversation between Hunter, Shelby and Raylan all lead back to this question. Hunter’s big speech about feuds and family and making a decision and sticking to it is a subtle pledge of silence to Shelby, but it’s also the core of Raylan’s dilemma. The Arlo side of him longs to spill blood for blood, to kill Hunter outright and be swept up in the same righteous justice that overtook both Givens men after Helen was killed back in season two. The good side wants to hold back, but not just because it’s his duty as a human being and a Marshal not to commit cold-blooded murder. Wanting revenge for Arlo implies that Raylan is upset over his death, which implies that some secret part of him actually cared about his father. Hunter says the Arlo side of Raylan will win out in the end, but it’s almost as though Arlo’s parenting has tainted both options. Either Raylan gives in to his baser animal instincts, or he bottles up every last speck of emotion and becomes as bitter as his dad was.
“The Hatchet Tour” also pays its respects to Arlo through two quick memories of him as a younger man. After assaulting Hunter, Raylan quotes his dad in a way clearly implies the older Givens used to beat his son on a regular basis. However, Hunter’s version of Arlo (from the story about the dog) is someone who may have been a bad person but had at least some semblance of honor, if only for his wife and not his son. It’s rare to see a version of Arlo that isn’t told from Raylan’s perspective, and this contrast adds a nice layer of ambiguity to both the memory of his character and to Raylan’s already fragile mental state.
And now, the Crowder clan. For Boyd, the great chasm between his and Raylan’s ongoing stories has sadly rebuilt itself, but at least several of the stalled plot elements on his side of town (Colt and Johnny and, to some extent, Tim) have all been kicked into overdrive. The frustrating feeling of “When is everyone finally going to find out each other’s secrets” is alleviated and sends all the major players (plus Cassie) into a showdown that’s genuinely tense and exciting. Colton also gets a big boost this week, as his behavior when faced with Cassie and then Tim is vastly different from his normal self and almost resembles a silent, drug-addled horror movie creature. However, Boyd simply taking Colt back to the bar for a stern talking to (which in its own right is wonderfully creepy and features some terrific darkly-lit closeups of Walton Goggins) feels like a bit of a cop-out, both on Boyd’s part and on the writers’.
But of course the biggest moment of “The Hatchet Tour” is the reveal of Drew Thompson. It’s a little on the predictable side, but the actual circumstances of the reveal suggest that the twist itself isn’t what’s important, but rather what this twist means for the character of Sheriff Shelby. There’s no big “gotcha” when Shelby admits to being Thompson. From the beginning of Shelby and Hunter’s conversation to the moment of the actual reveal, it slowly becomes clearer and clearer that Shelby is the man everyone’s been looking for. There’s also four more episodes to go before the season is over, so there’s plenty of time to highlight Shelby himself and not simply the secret identity at the end of the mystery. It’s great news in the short term, as the next four weeks are sure to be jam-packed with solid moments from a solid actor like Jim Beaver (who already started to show off his villainous side in the cruiser with Hunter), but terrible in the long term. A reveal like this means that it’s all but a certainty that Shelby won’t be showing up for season five, and it’s a testament to how talented Jim Beaver is that losing him is such an upsetting thought.