29
Jan
2013
Justified: Season 4, Episode 4
This Bird Has Flown
Jordan
This Bird Has Flown is one of the best femme fatale stories Justified has ever done, and this is a show with its fair share of lethal ladies. Part of the episode's appeal is just how unknowable Lindsay Salazar is; we know very little about her motivations throughout the evening, and that makes her less predictable, and thus more interesting. But I think the biggest thing the episode does well is center us in Raylan's head as he tries to figure out what's going on with the woman who has bruised his pride and taken his cash. Raylan is a prideful guy, even though he pretends not to be, and a lot of the psychology of this episode is tied up in his emotional connection to Lindsay. He liked her, and he thought she liked him, so this betrayal stings. Combine Raylan's emotional vulnerability with Lindsay's unpredictable motivations, and you have a crackerjack noir story, elevated by our prior investment in the man in the white hat.

Though this episode is tied up in what's come before--Raylan's relationship with Lindsay and where he obtained his ill-gotten gains-- it is largely a stand alone story, leaving the masterplot of Waldo Truth on the sidelines in favor of exploring the way choice effects these characters, both in terms of the often questionable choices they've made, and in terms of the choices that are being made for them. From the smaller scale (think of Randall's decision to decline the very expensive tequila and ask for Mountain Dew) to the broader (Boyd and Ava's decision to kill Ellen May), these characters make choices, and those choices have consequences they can't always see in advance. This is underlined quite well when Ellen May first turns up asking for her job back, and talks with Boyd about Billy's death. Boyd admits to some culpability, as "the tempter," but ultimately places the onus for Billy's death on the preacher himself: "It was a choice he made."

The dilemma Boyd and Ava face this evening is one we've seen on shows of this type a lot before. Ellen May is a bit flaky, and causes some trouble, but she's generally a loyal worker, and she's made them a lot of money. On the other hand, she has been privy to a lot of information about how the Crowder Empire is run, and there's a decent chance that the naive girl spilled the goods to the St. Cyrs. Boyd wants to send her away to work at a sleazy motel, and Ava likes this because it keeps her from making a tougher choice: risk Ellen May's mouth, or kill her. But then Ellen May promises she won't talk about any of the seedier aspects of the business...in a crowded public room. This girl is more trouble than she's worth to the Crowder's, and even if she's loyal, she isn't smart enough to be truly trustworthy.

In a sweetly tragic scene, Ellen May is driven out of Harlan, believing she's on her way to a new life. Then, Colt gets a call, and she believes she's being welcomed back into the fold. But, of course, that call signs her death warrant, and a stop for gas is the pretext for an execution that will allow the girl to die with her happiness, if not her innocence, intact. But then she disappears. More on this later, I'm sure.

The heart of the episode, and its greater achievement, is the Raylan/Lindsay/Randall triangle. This show could easily have never told this story--if this week started off with Raylan, less his cash and his lady, just moving on, I would have bought it and probably not thought twice. But in hindsight, I'm very happy the show gave into this detour, which enlightens us as much about Raylan's current mindset as it gives us a pretty great noir tale. The pacing here is quick by nature: Lindsay and Randall need to ditch the cash before the Marshall catches up, and Raylan is handling personal business on company time yet again. Both have every incentive to move as quickly as possible, and this gives the episode a propulsive nature that heightens the already substantial stakes.

Tracking the two proves pretty straightforward. For one thing, Lindsay is leaving Raylan a trail of breadcrumbs to follow, and for another, Hoppus, the cockfighting impressario, is about as easy to extract information from as anyone we've seen on this show. Just a threat about prosecution and a tug on his hair, and he is spilling the beans. "This Bird Has Flown" isn't an episode focused on the procedure of tracking the two, nor with any of Raylan's particular investigative skills that need employing. Its more about the man doing the tracking than how he does it. As Hoppus tells Raylan, any man who didn't see what he was getting with Lindsay has larger concerns than the loss of a few dollars. Raylan tells Rachel that this whole thing was the universe telling him he deserves to be broke and lonely, but we all know that's not true. Raylan is a little more like Billy St. Cyr than he'll ever get to realize. He picked up a serpent, convinced he wouldn't get bitten, through faith or arrogance, and he found out just how wrong he was. And Raylan doesn't learn the lesson he might have from what he goes through here. That is never clearer than when he looks up at Lindsay,who has just shot him with a beanbag bullet, and who has stolen his money and is about to abandon him, smiles, and says, "I knew you liked me."

This is the key moment of the episode, for me, and the reason I loved it as much as I did. Raylan has needs he isn't always great at assessing, and predilections he would rather deny. He also has pride that contributes a lot to that willful blindness. What he gets out of his experience with Lindsay is not that she is a type of woman he shouldn't be involved with, but that she did like him after all, that he's just as charming (and yes, just as charmed) as he always thought. He may have lost this time around, but that's just the universe sending him a sign. He's a winner at heart, and he remains convinced everything will work out in his favor in the end. A lot of the time, this confidence gets him through situations that might fell more hesitant men. But sometimes, it means the snake bites you, and you find yourself shocked you were ever in danger.

"This Bird Has Flown" works as a stand-alone noir story (and I think would make a fine introduction to Justified for new viewers) very well, telling the tale of a femme fatale and the US Marshall she gets one up on, with enough local color and a thematically related subplot to make it all more interesting that the story might otherwise be. But it soars as an episode that leaves the masterplot aside to foreground the characters. No matter how excellent your plot, a TV show lives and dies with its characters (which is why I find Homeland both better, and worse, than some others seem to). And in a season that is building a complex and interconnected masterplot, it is nice, and smart, for the show to take some time to look at these characters and how their choices effect them. As for how these lessons will effect the larger narrative, well, we'll get to that.

Grade: A

Notes:

-"You gonna tell me how much money it is or not?" "I did. A goodly sum."

-"How's that song go? Look for that rainbow in every storm?" "I'll have to download that."

-"An associate of mine thought nonlethal force might come in handy. I figure, what the hell, I'd give it a shot."

-"This ain't a fight. Its an execution."

-The line is worth repeating: "I knew you liked me."
Tags: Justified
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