It’s no secret that Justified‘s been suffering from some issues in pacing, loose plotting and the occasional meandering story. It’s always tough to see a show of this caliber hit a slump (even if it’s a fairly small one by slump standards). So as we barrel on through to the big finish of season four, both the highs and lows of this season become even more pronounced. The Drew Thompson mystery needs to be tightest here, yet it suffers because so much of the buildup is being held back by the flaws of earlier episodes. Yet Justified‘s strengths shine through, and “Get Drew” manages to stand tall through camera work, chemistry and a madcap Elmore Leonard-esque rush of twisting alliances.
Raylan’s both our lead character and the man who’s been chasing Drew Thompson from the start, yet as the stakes keep rising, Raylan’s impact on the story keeps falling. For the past few episodes, his father’s death has been the big issue- not Drew- but now the rest of the show has dived right back into the mystery. Here, Arlo is only mentioned in a handful of short conversations, which focus on Boyd and Arlo’s relationship more than Raylan’s. All the big narrative weight comes elsewhere, from the pairings of Boyd and Ava or Shelby/Drew and Ellen May (the latter also rekindles that Elmore Leonard-style criminal pairing last seen in “Money Trap”). With each passing episode, Raylan seems like he’s chasing Drew solely because it’s his job to do so- that, and Art’s concept of the “Marshal stiffy.” Art’s apparent infatuation with Drew inspires the best monologue of the night (Johnny’s is just more of the same, while Limehouse’s speechifying feels like an odd last-minute addition), but at this point, Art seems more motivated to catch Drew than Raylan does.
Rachel also speaks of Drew Thompson as this holy grail of Marshaling, and the buzz around the office points toward Raylan receiving a hefty promotion if he can bring Drew in. This material feels like a last-ditch effort to give Raylan some heavy motivation to close the case, but it’s far too little being played far too late. Raylan’s not a man who cares about promotions or salaries (even if his child-to-be might benefit), and even if he did, that still can’t compare to the freedom from a criminal life that Boyd, Ava, Shelby/Drew and Ellen May are all fighting for. It bears repeating, however, that Raylan’s not the man to go after a promotion, and were Drew to end up a captive of the Marshals rather than Theo Tonin (which seems likely, given that so much of this season has been building Drew up as a sympathetic, lovable character), then I have the feeling Raylan might simply let him go. All this talk of a better career for Raylan may be nothing but a bit of foreshadowing towards Drew’s eventual fate.
And as we move into the final three episodes, Justified‘s begun playing into its biggest strength- corkscrewing the story in a thousand different ways through the shifting loyalties of every criminal in Harlan. There’s always an electric thrill in how a good episode of Justified can carry through one betrayal to the next until everyone with a pulse is playing several sides against each other, but the strength of those twists lies in the characters and not so much in the setup. When Johnny (albeit, flanked by Colt and Jimmy) shows up to cart Drew away, it sets off an immediate twinge of dread. Does Johnny have some ulterior motive for Drew? Can he pull it off with Boyd’s muscle in tow? The answer to both, of course, is yes, but that sequence would have had the same weight if Johnny had only turned traitor at the beginning of this week’s hour. Seeing him dawdle through an awkward romance with a prostitute, blackmail Colt (which seemingly had no consequences whatsoever), and spend week after week proclaiming how, one of these days, Johnny’s gonna get rid of mean ol’ Boyd just feels like dead air in hindsight. Yet the moment where Johnny comes to take Drew away is thrilling nonetheless- a testament to the strength of these characters (and the actors portraying them), even if the plotting occasionally goes off the rails.
There is, in reality, plenty of good to be found in “Get Drew,” especially in the more filmic aspects of television- in cinematography and subtler themes. Some clever lighting and camera work illustrate the broken bonds of the Crowder clan- as Boyd relays some info over the phone to Ava, the interior of the bar is shot in cold, sterile blue light (whereas most indoor lights are typically a warmer orange, as seen on Ava’s side of the conversation), and Boyd is framed at the very edge of a vast empty space, the rest of the crew huddled over a table on the other side of the room. It’s smart visual reinforcement of the distance between everyone in the room- among Boyd, Johnny and Colt, there isn’t a single genuine feeling of trust. Ellen May is also given the artistic bent this week. Shelby sympathizes with her, seeing her as a stray dog in need of care (thanks to a handy visual metaphor), yet Boyd speaks of her as a wild animal that needs to be put down. Either way, those who go out of their way to help out Harlan’s most doe-eyed prostitute end up considerably worse for wear, time and time again.
So yes, “Get Drew” would be a remarkable episode of Justified if you were to view it solely on its own. Yet as a piece of a larger whole, it only draws attention to the weak points of the previous nine episodes. And as a final point, I’ve noticed that this week’s outing picks up right where last week left off, and that the next episode (which looks like an enormous amount of fun) seems to do the same. I can’t help but think- would this season have gelled more if it was one continuous span of time? “Money Trap” implied the first seven episodes of the season were seven consecutive days without stating so outright, so perhaps a more overt ticking clock (think 24, but less rigid in its hour-an-episode structure) could have added some much-needed cohesion to this season. Even so, I’m still counting down the hours until the next episode airs. I’m assuming a lot of you are too.