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'Justified' recap: Ava takes charge

March 14, 2012 |  6:30 am

"Justified's" Walton Goggins

If nothing else, “Justified” has a fine appreciation for the sorts of rusted-out ways that one might die in an old, abandoned junkyard. When Tanner dies because the chair he stands on to get at an old man’s stash triggers a land mine, there’s an eerie justice to it. The man who blew up the sheriff’s car last week (granted, at the sheriff’s behest) now finds himself about to be blown up, thanks to blundering right into somebody else’s trap. And when Limehouse’s right-hand man shoots the old man, leaving Tanner stranded on that chair, because that’s the best way to clear up this particular loose end, well, there’s something about it that makes a lot of sense.

I like that “Justified” is never satisfied with just having people die from getting shot. Oh, sure, there’s plenty of that, but the criminals and other bottom-feeders on this show are always more clever than that. A land mine here, an icepick through the hand there, and you’ve got the sorts of folks who make Harlan such a colorful place.

Of course, sometimes, a shotgun blast through the torso will do the trick just as readily, as Delroy finds out when he comes to take back the prostitute who turned to Ava for protection. Just staying alive in Harlan requires all the cleverness anyone -- even someone as clever as Boyd Crowder or Limehouse -- can muster. Is it any wonder that death has just as many contortions?

I must confess that the plotting on this season of “Justified” is becoming so tangled that I’m less invested in some of the strands than I might be. This isn’t a complaint against the show, which continues to be one of TV’s best. It’s more a sense that all of the business going on around the characters is often less interesting than the choices the characters make when confronted with that insanity.

I’m still not entirely sure who’s playing whom in the Limehouse-Quarles relationship, since both are almost certainly trying to play each other, but I vastly enjoy their scenes together anyway, particularly the way that Limehouse just barely grins and bears it through Quarles’ not-so-veiled condescension.

Or take the way the show picks up the thread of Delroy again. After his story was established earlier this season, the show seemed to mostly forget about it, in favor of doing other things, but here, he returns with a vengeance. After one of the girls is shot in an attempt to rob a payday loan center, he drives her off into the countryside with the other two girls to dump her body. He then turns the gun on the other two, but one -- Ella Mae -- escapes just ahead of his blasts. She turns to the only person she can think of who might protect her, who just happens to be Ava, someone who at first seems to be entirely sympathetic to the poor woman’s plight, then seems just about ready to turn her in, simply because it might cut down on business for the bar and inconvenience Boyd, who really doesn’t need to be inconvenienced right now.

Yet we know there’s no way Ava would simply go along with turning the woman over to Delroy, since she knows that would certainly lead to Ella Mae’s death. Instead, she concocts a scheme to get Delroy to the bar -- complete with an extra $2,000 -- then fires away, leaving his body bleeding on the floor. She seems remarkably unfazed by this decision as well, and when Boyd seems to be asking her to justify her actions, she realizes she doesn’t need to beyond thinking it the right thing to do at the time. (To his credit, Boyd seems to mostly go along with this line of reasoning.) And so the life of Delroy comes to an end.

At the same time, Boyd’s trying to figure out a way out from under his Quarles problem. Currently locked up in jail on charges of trying to murder Sheriff Napier, he gets out thanks to the intervention of Raylan (something that will surely look suspicious to the FBI, when that shoe inevitably drops), then sets about making Napier look like a fool at a town hall meeting, launching into a bit of rhetoric skillfully tuned to turn the pro-Napier crowd against him and in favor of Shelby, who, let’s be honest, isn’t the best at this whole “public speaking” thing.

The speech pitches Napier as yet another coal company stooge, out to keep the common Harlan man down, and it’s a smart bit of talk, getting Boyd out from suspicion for the explosion that took out Napier’s cop car with one quip about how if he’d been behind the crime, he’d have at least messed up Napier’s hair a little. (It’s a great joke that everybody seems sort of impressed with Napier’s goofy hairstyle.)

It’s Raylan who, yet again, ends up just a step or two behind everybody else, leaving our hero more than frustrated. He figures out that Tanner’s wrapped up in everything, and he bluffs the sheriff so that he gets the man to lead him to Tanner, but he’s still too slow to get Tanner to confess everything that’s up and all of the different sides that have tried to play Tanner against each other. (Hey, if you’re going to go to that old cliché of the cop not getting the information he needs in time, might as well do so via a land mine.)

Raylan’s growing frustration about his situation and his powerlessness is making for some interesting TV, but I hope it pays off in a way that situates him back at the center of the story and has him figure out all of the intersecting threads running through Harlan. He takes a good first step toward that very thing in Tuesday night’s final scene, when he warns Limehouse that there’s a war coming and gets the man to finally drop his backwoods bumpkin act to talk business, but Raylan’s still backed into a corner and not yet sure how to get out of it.

That’s where we want him, sure, but it’d be nice to have some sense of what his next move is.


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-- Todd VanDerWerff

Photo: Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) agitates in favor of his preferred candidate for sheriff at a town hall meeting in "Justified." Credit: FX