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'Justified' recap: Storm clouds on the horizon

April 21, 2011 |  9:00 am

JUS-ep211_20110210_PG-0519

Well, that’s not good.

When Dickie Bennett turns up in the home of Arlo and Helen, rummaging around in the fridge, then shoots Helen, there's pretty much no way it can end well. Raylan's aunt has been one of the few tethers to his old life that he's allowed to stick around, and she's been something of a moral compass for many of the characters on the show -– or as much of a moral compass as someone who willingly consorts with Arlo Givens can be. Is she dead? I don't know (though it seems unlikely Dickie and his friends would miss at that range). But whatever has happened to her, Dickie is going to have two generations of Givens men after him, and that may be just what he wants.

What's great about this season of "Justified" is that it just keeps multiplying the threats. Those men who tried to kill Raylan and Winona last week? When Raylan begins his own investigation into the crime (despite repeated entreaties from Art not to investigate on his own), he has plenty of rocks to look under. Could it be Mags, wanting revenge for the death of Coover? Could it be Dickie? Could it possibly even be Boyd? Or the Dixie Mafia?

No, as it turns out. The man behind all of this is ... Gary, who hoped to exact his revenge on Raylan for stealing his wife away and to collect on an insurance policy if Winona died. (I'm a little unclear on how all of this would work, but Gary seems to think it would.) He's doing this with Wynn Duffy, who is barely in the episode but gets a few choice lines. It feels a little strange that Gary would so abruptly decide to do this, and I'm almost certain that he is going to turn up as a thorn in Raylan's side next season, but I was impressed with how unexpected this twist was. When we saw Gary and Wynn talking about the racehorse a few weeks ago, I never thought to extend their partnership to other, fouler ventures, and I liked the way all of this paid off.

But the main thing that this accomplishes is to distract Raylan from what's going on back in Harlan. Boyd is consolidating his criminal operations (with the help of many others, including Arlo), and he walks into the barn where Dickie keeps his marijuana and says he's going to take that over too. (Boyd and Ava also seem happy and frisky together, in a way that suggests whatever qualms Ava ever had about getting involved with someone of the criminal persuasion, she's willing to set them aside now.) Dickie, thoroughly marginalized by his own family and by the other criminal elements in Harlan, lashes out, which is how Helen ends up on the wrong end of his gun at episode's end. And there's no way this doesn't reopen the Bennett/Givens feud.

The rest of the hour, then, was taken up with the attempts to figure out just who wanted Winona and Raylan dead. And for an episode that packed such a wallop of an ending, this stuff was surprisingly funny and almost lighthearted (well, as lighthearted as a story line can be when it involves a man trying to find the people who tried to kill him). In particular, I enjoyed the pairing of Raylan and Tim, who was assigned to keep Raylan from investigating then had to listen to Raylan constantly talk about how he was going to give Tim the slip. Tim was surprisingly good at keeping Raylan from going off on his own, but Raylan finally lost him while going to a store to buy ice cream. (That scene in itself was a hoot.)

I also liked the scene at Winona's and Gary’s house, where the various characters, including Rachel (assigned to Winona detail) attempt to puzzle out just what was going on. Tim and Rachel have been oft-underused in the course of the series, and that’s too bad, because Jacob Pitts and Erica Tazel are fine actors. This scene suggested that there could be a way to incorporate those characters more fully in the next season, should the writers want to do so. 

But the show has also effectively closed off Raylan from just about everyone. The tensions between him and Winona seem to grow by the week, and pretty much everybody he works with wants less and less to do with him (especially Art). The events in Harlan of the last few weeks have also closed him off from people he might have been able to rely on before, and if Helen really is dead, that's another lifeline he'll have cut. Ava wants nothing to do with him. Boyd is no longer even pretending to be good. Everything is falling apart around him, and he doesn't have much of a safety net.

I was worried a few weeks ago about how "Justified" would head into its final episodes after closing off so much of its story line back in the ninth episode. But "Full Commitment" shows in the best way possible that this season hasn't just been about Raylan versus the Bennetts or Raylan versus Boyd or anything like that. This season has been all about the man versus himself and the ways that he's found himself more and more isolated as the weeks have gone on. And as we head into the final two episodes of the season, with Raylan facing his tightest corner yet, there's a growing sense that everything here could be leading to his doom.

Photo: Art (Nick Searcy) forbids Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) to investigate who made an attempt on his and Winona's (Natalie Zea) lives. Credit: FX

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-- Todd VanDerWerff
twitter.com/@tvoti

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