9
Jan
2013
Justified: Season 4, Episode 1
Hole in the Wall
Jordan
From a structural perspective, Justified is one of the most interesting shows on television. In many ways, it is an example of an evolving form of semi-serialization that has overtaken any number of cable dramas, and a few of the better network ones (like The Good Wife). Yet, for my money, it nails this format better than almost anything else on television currently. It manages to tell noir stories with a southern tinge on arguably three levels, often doing so simultaneously. At its most traditional, its a case-of-the-week procedural, spinning out stand-alone stories that are very satisfying, even for occasional viewers. It also manages to tell season long stories, arcs that are introduced and wrapped up within its thirteen episode seasons. Finally, though, Justified has a series-spanning meta-narrative at work. It builds the world of Harlan and the characters that populate it over time in ways that satisfy long term viewers.

At its best, the show is a little bit of all of these things in the early part of its seasons. "Hole in the Wall" is a very good premiere for the series, in that it tells a very satisfying story about Raylan working as a bounty hunter to make some extra cash, begins to develop some storylines for a season long arc or two, and catches us up on how things have developed in the show's longer game since last we saw our characters. While each of these elements is at play here, it is obviously difficult to evaluate how effective the show is at establishing its season long arc at this early juncture. So, for the most part, "Hole in the Wall" is a crackling good noir stand-alone, funny in parts, tense in others, and a whole lot of fun throughout.

The premiere is also successful in that it reminds us what makes Raylan Givens such a great television character. Raylan is an unrepentant son of a bitch, an entitled rulebreaker with the sort of laid back attitude that should make him all the more insufferable. He's a man who gets by, but just barely, and seems all too satisfied with his modest successes, no matter how much they are driven by luck. In short, he's an asshole, of the type he accuses bail-jumper Jody Adair of being early in the episode. He's the type of guy that would be unlikeable to anyone in his life, but is just so much fun to watch he is the perfect center of a series like this. He's a sarcastic man of action, breaking all the rules we as viewers want him to, and skating in ways that mostly make us laugh and keep us from getting too mired in the consequences. Raylan isn't an anti-hero, like so many other television protagonists. He's a good man with flaws. He drinks too much, is too quick on the trigger, and he's a prick. He's, at his core, a lawman who does his job the best way he can, even if that way makes the lives of everyone around him a lot harder as a result.

It gets pretty much paved over in favor of fun this week, but keep in mind that Raylan takes the job that sets the episode's plot in motion to make some extra cash before his child is born. His relationship with Winona may be over (for the moment, at least), but Raylan knows all-too-well what it's like to have a bad father (more on Arlo in a bit), and I imagine he is determined to be a better one as a result. It would not surprise me if much of this fourth season of Justified is devoted to Raylan figuring out how to be a good father without having to become a better person. I don't particularly see Raylan going on a redemptive arc and trying to become a better man, and he arguably doesn't need to, but he does have some kinks to work out if he hopes to raise his child in tandem with Winona, and watching him walk the line between being the fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants Raylan we know and love and the more grounded father he probably hopes to be could make for some good television.

It seems the show is also going to have Raylan deal with his feelings about fatherhood by continuing to delve into the relationship he has with Arlo. Tonight, Arlo's house is robbed, and the driver's license that he hires the burglars to steal is important enough for Arlo to kill a man to keep the secret. It isn't clear yet what the elder Givens was up to, nor whether he is still in a position to pull off a master plan, what with his increasing dementia, but Justified is often at its best when it deals with the Raylan-Arlo relationship, so I look forward to finding out what he has cooking.

Raylan takes the side job to track Adair, who he has more in common with than he would like to admit, and then quickly makes the rash decision to bring him in himself. This would be fine, if he didn't get immediately side-tracked by the robbery at Arlo's, which brings him into contact with Constable Bob Sweeney (Patton Oswalt, who is broad here, but capable of more, so I am withholding judgment for the moment), a semi-law man who is not nearly as deadly as he likes to think. Then his car gets stolen, with Adair still in the trunk, and we're off to the races.

"Hole in the Wall" is a solid reintroduction to the series: a well-crafted noir short-story (recalling the structure where the character of Raylan Givens made his debut) that starts with a small job, and quickly becomes increasingly complicated until it all ends in bloodshed. It is meditative enough, with Raylan obliviously giving Adair advice he ignores himself, and with Constable Bob balancing his delusional view of himself and a creeping knowledge that he's a little pathetic quite well. The character is cartoonish, and in lesser hands I would worry about Bob in the long term (Oswalt has commented that he will be around throughout the season). But Patton Oswalt has shown, through incredible performances in Big Fan and Young Adult that he has dramatic heft when necessary, and I imagine that, in the long term, Bob will be a character worth getting invested in.

On the criminal side of things, Boyd Crowder seems primed to engage in another struggle for power in his continued quest to gain control over the underworld of Harlan. Boyd's old war buddy Colton Rose (Ron Eldard) appears and seems willing to help Boyd out of the variety of jams that seem to arise when one runs a criminal enterprise, but Rose quickly reveals an itchy trigger finger when he misunderstands Boyd and kills a dealer. Whether Rose is set up to be a retread of last season's Devil plot or something more interesting remains to be seen, but I am hoping for the latter.

We also meet Preacher Billy St. Cyr (Joe Mazzello), the head of the Last Chance Holiness Church, and a threat to Boyd's oxy sales. Billy gets the Limehouse treatment, appearing in the closing minutes of the pilot to deliver a colorful monologue that leaves his role in all that's to come unclear, but certainly does enough to pique my interest. Boyd has strayed further and further from his former days as an evangelist, walking a darker and darker path, and Billy seems a colorful enough potential threat to him for the moment, what with his poisonous snakes, fake million dollar bills, and rapturous followers. Whether Billy is the real deal or another grifter cloaking himself in the words of God like Boyd remains to be seen, but in either case he's interesting enough now that I look forward to seeing more of what he's up to.

"Hole in the Wall" throws a lot of balls in the air, as every season premiere of Justified must. All of that is interesting enough, but mostly falls into a "Wait and see" box for me. Each of these stories could combust in future weeks, and there's not enough to any of them for me to get a good feel yet which are strong and which less so. But the stand-alone story is so good this week, it almost doesn't matter. It's smart, fast-paced, funny and tense. In other words, it's a damn good episode of Justified, a solid premiere to what I hope will be a stellar year for the show.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-"I also recall you polished off a $20 container of macadamia nuts." "Yes, the most overrated of the nuts."

-"You think this is the first time I've had a gun pointed at me?" "No. Could be the last, though."

-"You see your old man, you tell him...aw hell, I have no idea what you should say to him." "That's ok, Mike. I don't plan on seein' him."

-"Patience is a virtue."

-"Stepped up? I stabbed a teenaged girl in the foot." "And because of that, I'm alive. And your alive. And we live to see another day."

-"What the hell'd you do that for?" "You said take care of him!" "I meant cut him loose! Well, I guess I have to be more careful with my words..."

-"How do you define soon?" "Loosely."
Tags: Justified
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