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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Justified," Season 3, Episode 2

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2012 at 10:12 AM

The world of Elmore Leonard characters — the Elmore Leonardoverse, if you will — is a malleable, ever-expanding place. Michael Keaton’s ATF Agent Ray Nicollette appears in both Jackie Brown and Out of Sight. U.S. Marshall Karen Sisco was played by Jennifer Lopez in Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight and Carla Cugino in the short-lived ABC series “Karen Sisco.” Here’s the credits for that show:

This week’s “Justified” introduces Cugino assistant director Karen Gooddall, who seems to be kinda sorta the same character, only after a brief marriage and a promotion. She visits Kentucky to sort out the murder of a Marshall involved with witness protection, and hints at a past history with Raylan in Miami. They share a slick bit of teamwork when they dupe some low-level mobsters, and she kneecaps one of them with a collapsible baton. Her appearance doesn’t have a lot of payoff, although the way she gives Significant Looks to Raylan and Winona. (Apparently she’s not available to return later this season, though.)

This week the spotlight turns to Raylan’s superior Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), who always struck me as the most “Elmore Leonardy” of the show’s characters. The books are full of folksy tough guys in midlife, like Art or Robert Forster’s bail bondsman in Jackie Brown, quietly macho guys who carry a lot of life experience. Early on, Art chats with his old colleague Bill, and they wonder how if they live up to the example of Wild West lawmen like Wyatt Earp. Bill has an avuncular relationship with informants in the Witness Protection program — one’s daughter calls him “Uncle Bill.” He’s also being stalked by a mysterious figure who guns Bill down before the credits.

Upon the discovery of Bill’s body the Marshalls mobilize to confirm the safety of the witnesses. Art visits a lowlife named Poe, whom we immediately recognize as the guy who shot Bill. Between Art’s detective work involving Poe’s GPS, and information Raylan and Karen draw from other mobsters, Art realizes that Poe was the shooter, just before Poe can blast Art. Art ties Poe to a chair and calmly informs him “We were using the new book. Now we’re using the old book,” before beating and threatening to kill him. Art can be kind of scary. The scene evokes “24” and the kind of “ticking clock” scenarios that justify torture dramatically, even though they seldom happen in real life.

At the house of the witness with the daughter, Rachel takes a cell phone call the minute a sinister car pulls up before house. The narrative tensely crosscuts between Raylan and company racing to the house, and the gun thugs stalking Rachel and others. But the bad guys get killed and the good guys are OK. Raylan bonds with Rachel a little bit over shooting another person, and tempts to do so with Art: “You OK?” Art doesn’t betray any feelings: “Sure, why wouldn’t I be?” Maybe “Justified” will continue to explore Art’s dark side, but I doubt it’s a priority.

Last week, we figured out that Boyd picked a fight with Raylan just so he could get into the same prison as Dickie Bennett. Early on in the prison cafeteria, Boyd glides towards Dickie with a shank in his hand. Before he reaches Dickie, he gets a visitor. Raylan figured out what we did, and do prevent further bloodshed, declares their fight a misunderstanding between old friends, securing Dickie’s release for the next day. And the guards put Dickie out of his reach in solitary confinement. What’ll Boyd do?

Well, first he seeks out which guard can get him a cell phone, then he strolls over to African-Americans lifting weights in yard and flashes that huge swastika tattoo we often forget he has. Next time we see Boyd, he’s getting patched up in the infirmary, clearly having had the crap beaten out of him. For picking a fight, gets put in solitary — right next to Dickie. Later, guard opens both cells, and Boyd holds a knife to his throat. Is this the end of Dickie Bennett? Maybe not: Boyd explains that he wants Mags’ hidden cache of money, which Dickie explains was given to "Limehouse" for safekeeping.

Who is Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson)? He appears to be the African-American counterpart to Mags Bennett — or maybe a contemporary, Southern Chalky White — a crimelord with apparently deep roots in rural Kentucky culture. Williamson gives an intriguing performance in a somewhat awkward introduction, as Limehouse makes a long speech while slicing a cut of meat. The device of making bad guys butchers should be retired after Twyin Lannister on “Game of Thrones” and Manny Horowitz on “Boardwalk Empire." Limehouse talks about how to train a dog and disciplines a junior employee who effed up, who gets a choice of burning his hand with lye Fight Club style or swearing loyalty. He goes for loyalty, but one of Limehouse's assistants has a scarred hand that suggests he took the lye.

This episode reminded me of the time last season, when Art faced off with an elderly bank robber (who plays Herschel on “The Walking Dead”), and was briefly reminiscent of the old guys fighting in Up.

I’m a little confused about Raylan and Winona’s long-term goals. Near the end of last season, they seemed to consider that Raylan would take a safer teaching job and presumably leave Kentucky. With Winona pregnant, I can see why they’re talking about buying a house, but wouldn't that increase the pressure on recently-shot Raylan to find a safer line of work?

There’s a fun shot early on of Walton Goggins’ spike-haired noggin sticking out conspicuously among the orange jump-suited prisoners.

The Marshalls allude to the disappearance of Arnett and his assistant, who were murdered last week, and will presumably pursue the case next week.

So did Boyd kill Dickie or not? Perhaps Boyd only wanted to get the information from him. But if he’d successfully shanked Dickie in the cafeteria, how would that have helped Boyd?

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