Justified: Season 4, Episode 7
Money Trap
One of the things we keep returning to in our discussion of this season of Justified is the show's skillful world-building. Sometimes Justified is an intricate plot machine, and sometimes its a character study of shocking skill and subtlety. But a lot of the time, its a gussied up procedural, and in those moments, the thing that makes this show stand apart from anything you might find on CBS is how well it has built, and continues to build, the world in which any given story takes place. This show draws great power from the intimate knowledge of Harlan county, and Kentucky generally, it has provided us over the past several seasons, and it rewards loyalty by paying off that knowledge, even when it is telling a fairly stand-alone episode. "Money Trap" would work for a new viewer (the "previously on" segment probably told them all they would need to make it through the episode without large scale confusion), but the fact that it is even more rewarding for long-time fans shows us the skill it takes to make a show like this work.

Look, we all know "Money Trap" is a stall tactic. Its a midseason episode where the show basically just throws its hands up in the air and admits it has put a lot of pieces in play, but is not ready to move into the end game yet. This can be frustrating on a heavily serialized show, where stalling episodes are mostly just filler (or, on an excellent example of the form like Breaking Bad, often an excuse for the show to wax philosophical for 45 minutes without having to do much plot work), but on Justified I think the more accurate word is "color." This is a show where the sense of place and the consistency of tone are as important as the characters and the plot, and this show generally uses its filler episodes to tell fun, moody stories that have little relevance to its masterplot, but can do some heavy lifting from a tonal perspective.

Raylan has marching orders from Art that would actually move the Thompson case forward, but like in any good noir, no mistake stays buried all that long, and he is quickly drawn back into the bloody aftermath of his actions in this season's premiere. Raylan's friend/ex/side-employer Sharon is dead, and his prey from that episode, Jody Adair, is on the loose once again. Jody, and his buddy Kenny (Michael Gladis, aka Paul Kinsey from Mad Men) are on the run, and Raylan feels duty-bound to track them down.

The episode doesn't really have much to do on this front, which is probably good. I enjoy the idea that Raylan's mistakes may come back to haunt him, but I'm not sure I care enough about Jody for the character to be given a second episode. Luckily, Jody is mostly a side-character here, and the real star of the episode is Raylan's banter with Jackie Nevada. The daughter of a man actually named Reno Nevada, Jackie is the type of colorful character with a fascinating backstory this show does incredibly well, and watching her ping off of Raylan throughout the episode added so much to the episode, there were moments that I was nearly brimming with excitement at their interactions.

Jody does come back strong, though, after being side-lined for much of the episode, and while the basic contours of this are a giant Justified cliche, I never get tired of watching a magician perform his greatest trick. This show is full to the brim of assholes who think they are bad-asses, of men who make themselves outside legends in their own mind only to discover they can't live up to the hype when push comes to shove. We've seen many a character aim to take down Raylan Givens before, and like all of them, Jody fails. But where all of this could feel rote (it isn't exactly surprising "guest character of the week" didn't kill "main character"), it is instead imbued with a world-weariness Justified wears quite well. Raylan knows he will beat Jody in the draw, because of course he will. He does this sort of thing all the time, and Jody is in over his head. But while our hero may easily win the day, that doesn't change the fact that there are three dead bodies where once there were people, and Raylan feels all of their blood on his hands.

That's something this show has gotten better at over its run. For its first few seasons, Raylan laughed his way through the slaughterhouse, mowing down assailants and adversaries with little more than a quip and a cock of his weapon. But for the last two years, Justified has slowed its hero down, has kept him from killing even nearly as often, and thus has given each and every death at his hands a dramatic weight they lacked in seasons one and two. Raylan doesn't want to be a mass-murderer anymore (even if his murders are mostly sanctioned by the law). He is tired of the killing, and tired of the waves of death that surround him. And that makes him much more compelling to watch as he navigates a situation where death is almost inevitable. Raylan would have killed Jody at any point in this show's run, but only because of the last season's worth of development does his death appear to matter.

Boyd and Ava are an afterthought here, and it shows. Part of this show's efforts at serialization involve stopping by our main players at least once an episode, and at least feigning plot progression, but as I said above, we can all kind of admit that at this point in the season, not a whole lot is happening with the Drew Thompson story. This subplot wants to play with the nature of real power in Harlan, with Boyd thinking he has access to serious players and Ava being told women really run things here, and its all fine without ever crossing the line into exceptional. Walton Goggins is always a blast to watch, so even at its least essential a Boyd Crowder story will be fun, but this was thin indeed. Had the show wanted to, it could have packed this with the color of the A-plot, or at least given Boyd a meaty monologue about the whole thing, but instead, the plot line mostly lies there, wondering when it will matter again (my bet is pretty soon). If anything, Boyd's meeting with Lee, Arnold, and Gerald, three men who used to boss his father around and plan to keep the tradition going, ties into the season's fascination with the way its characters' fathers influence their sons, but for now this feels like something that may be important later, but isn't doing much work now.

The episode ends when Raylan finally goes to visit his father, and as always, the scene between the two is electric. Raylan comes clean to his dad, telling him he just wants to see the bloodshed stop. He wants this whole Drew Thompson mess cleaned up before anyone else has to die for Arlo's old secrets. Raylan hates Arlo, and he has every reason to. But he comes to his father with a clear heart and honest intentions. He just wants to clean this whole thing up before it gets any worse. But Arlo responds in typical Arlo fashion, ignoring the deal, deflecting Raylan's evidence that Boyd, "the son you never had," is working against his intentions, and tells his actual son to just eat shit. Raylan is working to use logic to trump ego, and policework to beat rage. He is trying to turn against his demons and follow his better angels. But his father doesn't have the same impetus to change. And the darkness in both Givens men is likely to mean there is a whole lot more violence ahead of us before this Drew Thompson mess is resolved.

Grade: B+


-"We're goin' to a rich folks' sex party. Who'da thought?"

-"Let me consider it." "For once in our lives, let's work together, huh?" "I've considered it. Eat shit."
Tags: Justified
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