In general (and I think this is an opinion a lot of people share), I’ve never loved the case of the week episodes that Justified tends to begin its seasons with. I like them just fine, but in looking back on the first two seasons I’d say most of them were B/B+ efforts at best: solid and entertaining, but lacking the richness and depth of, say, Loretta’s storyline in season two. Certainly this show has never had an episode that is even close to bad (or even average, for that matter), but its procedural installments have always struck me as kind of marking time until the serialized arc is ready to really get going. And “Cut Ties” definitely fits that bill, although it does devote substantial time to Boyd’s attempts to get to Dickie in prison as well. However, I’d also say this is about as good as any case of the week episode the show has ever done, perhaps even better than season one’s “Blowback”.
Why is that? Well to begin with, the self-contained storyline is incredibly well-constructed and effective. It uses the old trick of letting us in on who the villain is almost immediately, allowing for some incredibly suspenseful moments as we wait for Art to catch on and/or Walter to make a move. And then there’s the superb dialogue between Raylan and Carla Gugino’s Goodall (I don’t recall the episode ever telling us her first name), who it’s hinted share some sort of a romantic history. Nothing related to this plot is particularly inventive or complex, but it’s all done incredibly well: culminating (as these things often do on Justified) with a rapid burst of gunfire and the bad guys all successfully thwarted. And there’s something to be said for that, even if part of me will always wish the show would just go all in on the serialized story from the start and forget the single-episode cases altogether. But then again, this series has always felt kind of old-fashioned, which allows the simple elegance of some of its procedural plots to work better than it would on many other shows. In any case, it’s difficult to mind too much when the result is an episode this good.
And while Neal McDonough’s character is nowhere to be seen this week, it’s not as if the other aspects of Justified’s magnificent storytelling tapestry are completely neglected. At the end of last week’s outstanding premiere (which I regretfully missed reviewing), Boyd had intentionally landed himself in prison in an effort to get his revenge on Dickie. As we learn in this hour, that wasn’t the only reason. After spending much of the episode trying to get access to Dickie, it’s revealed that his motive was not simple vengeance but a desire to get his hands on Mags’s lost money, which Dickie says is in the possession of Ellstin Limehouse. This gives Boyd and Ava pause, for reasons that become quickly apparent after the episode’s conclusion.
That chilling conclusion introduces Mykelti Williamson as Limehouse, and suggests that he may become every bit as memorable an antagonist as Mags Bennett was last season. Though the scene lasts for about five minutes tops and doesn’t really tell us an enormous amount about him, it paints a picture of an utterly ruthless human being in much the same way that Mags poisoning Walt in “The Moonshine War” did. When he lays out the two options to Bernard, there’s no doubt he’s willing to follow through on the first. Like Mags, I’m sure we’ll get to know him a lot better in subsequent weeks, but for now this sequence serves to establish him as someone to be feared by friends and enemies (and Boyd seems destined to fall into that latter category) alike. Last week, I thought McDonough’s thus far unnamed man from Detroit was going to be the season’s most compelling new addition. That may still prove true, but I’m not so certain anymore. Which is a good thing, of course.
- The Raylan-Boyd scenes have always been a highlight of this show, and their prison visiting room conversation was one of the best yet. Great dialogue, and brilliantly acted. But what else is new?
- Almost no mention at all of the murders that took place in Arnett’s office last week, aside from Raylan’s “that’s never good” (delivered in perfect deadpan style by Timothy Olyphant) at the news that the carpet had been removed and the floor bleached. I’d expect more on that pretty soon.
- Anything else? Not really, although due to limited writing time this week I doubtless left a lot of stuff out in the interest of simply getting my general thoughts on the episode down. Still, this wasn’t nearly as eventful an episode as the premiere. It also wasn’t quite as good, but that’s not surprising. Given that Justified seasons have a tendency to get better and better as they go on, the high quality of an early case of the week style episode like this is a very good sign.