My biggest problem with “The Devil You Know” is how little time is spent with the show’s most interesting characters and storylines, which for the record currently are and involve Raylan, Boyd, Ava, the man from Detroit, and Limehouse. Let’s focus on those first two characters for a second as a means of explaining why this wasn’t one of Justified’s strongest outings, even if it was still a pretty good episode of television. Both of them immediately (although Boyd didn’t truly become a major part of the series until a bit later on) took their places among the greatest characters on TV and have remained there pretty much throughout the show’s entire run. Certainly they’ve been terrific this season. And predictably, most of the best scenes in this week’s episode are centered around them.
I’m speaking of course of Raylan’s conversation with Loretta (who I’m glad to see the show hasn’t forgotten about), his and Rachel’s questioning of Limehouse, and of course Boyd’s murder of Devil in the episode’s closing moments, among other things. Perhaps none of this is quite as memorable as Boyd’s speech in “Harlan Roulette” or Raylan’s defeat of Fletcher Nix using a tablecloth in the season premiere, but it’s still pretty superb stuff. Walton Goggins in particular continues to amaze even more than usual this season, his face showing a true sense of pain as he shoots Devil after first giving the man several chances to opt out of his ill-advised power play. Raylan doesn’t get any moments quite that impactful, but his account to Boyd of Limehouse’s beating of his father is a brilliant scene that adds even more depth to the history of the world Justified’s characters inhabit. In short, there are plenty of moments here that represent this series at its best, all of which involve either these two characters or one of the others mentioned above in one way or another. But there are also plenty of scenes that don’t quite measure up.
Now, I’m not saying that this (or any other) series can’t be successful when it’s focusing on a seemingly less compelling story. Oftentimes such stories start out weak and get better and better as they go on, but the main storyline of “The Devil You Know” is unfortunately not one of those occasions. Instead, it’s a fairly uninvolving plot involving Dickie and Dewey being kidnapped from prison by Ash and the rest of his small crew that stays fairly uninvolving from start to finish. Before we get to the negatives, I’d like to note that I do appreciate certain things about this story: among them the way it was set up over the last few weeks and the fact it isn’t completely resolved by the end of the episode (with Dewey now in danger from a man who wants to harvest and sell his organs) Both of these are suggestions of the show’s increased focus on weaving a cohesive serialized narrative from one episode to the next, which is something I love and hope continues.
I only wish the actual story had been better. Its failings (which are truthfully relatively mild) stem from a couple of key thing. Most notable among them is the fact that Ash and his group are among the least interesting villains the show’s ever had: especially when compared to the excellent bad guys – both recurring and nonrecurring - that have been featured during the first three weeks. They’re just incredibly boring as they go about their fairly straightforward scheme, which is to force Dickie to get Mags’s money from Limehouse. And while Dickie and Dewey are both excellent characters and important members of Justified’s universe, they lack the charisma needed to elevate this rather unmemorable plot to something more. Even though it’s doing a few more interesting things with the long-term narrative than something like “Riverbrook” or “Long in the Tooth” did, this still feels for the most part like a storyline from an early season one episode of Justified.
Of course, this show being as good as it is means that it’s also not completely devoid of strong individual sequences. The concluding scenes at Mags’s store are particularly effective, from the debate over whether Dickie or someone else should open the box to Limehouse and one of his subordinates bursting in after shooting the two guys with Dickie, and finally to Dickie’s refusal of the small remnants of Mags’s fortune. I’m not entirely sure what his reasoning behind this refusal is, although their conversation leading up to it suggests that it may have something to do with Limehouse and Mags’s agreement and the fact that Limehouse now still hasn’t completely upheld his end of it, which might mean that he might still be asked to help Dickie in the future. Or perhaps it’s simply that Dickie wants to keep the illusion of the large fortune intact in order to keep himself alive until he can work out a better plan. It’s not a bad idea on his part, unless someone finds out the truth. Then all bets are off. Because as Devil found out this week, Boyd Crowder is a terrifying man to have as your enemy.
- Shows dropping the ball on continuity from one week to the next is something that always frustrates me, so I was incredibly annoyed by the lack of a follow-up to Raylan’s first meeting with McDonough’s character in “Harlan Roulette”. We don’t get even one glimpse of Raylan trying to figure out who the guy is, and he doesn’t seem at all bothered by the man’s thinly veiled threat.
- Lots of characters absent again this week. Rachel’s back, but in addition to Art and Tim being gone for the second straight episode, Winona and Ava also don’t appear at all. As I said in last week’s review, this isn’t something I necessarily mind, but it’s still a bit odd to see so many familiar faces missing.
- One final note: there will be no Justified write-up next week, as I’ll be checking in on Revenge instead, and I only have time right now to write about one show a week. So see you in two weeks, Justified fans.