Justified: Season 4, Episode 9
The Hatchet Tour
This season of Justified isn't about the hunt for Drew Thompson, at least not in the way season two was about Raylan facing off against the Bennett's or season three was about the race to fill the vacuum left behind when Mags Bennett died. At some level Thompson has always been a bit of a MacGuffin, allowing the show to have a central arc in place, but mostly giving it room to stretch its legs thematicall. Season four of Justified is about family. Its about the way that family ties bind us even when we try our best not to be bound; its about the stories we tell ourselves, even when they don't tell the whole truth, and its about the way we all, to some extent, become a product of our parenting. Its about the choices Raylan has made in his life, and the ones he may have made without realizing it. Even after death, the specter of Arlo Givens hangs strong over this episode, and I expect will continue to over the course of the season. Its too early for me to make this call, and it will remain so until the season wraps, but though season four is less focused than the incredible season two, it may be the greatest season Justified has yet produced.

At the center of "The Hatchet Tour" is an old Givens family legend. Raylan remembers it one way, but his version of the events is flawed. In Raylan's recollection, Arlo, tired of a dog barking and shitting on his lawn, started a feud that threatened to boil into all-out Civil War until Frances called the many families of Harlan together to talk out their problems. In Raylan's version of the story, his father is a miserable bastard out to cause trouble, and his mother is the reasoned saint that averts catastrophe. Except that isn't really how it happened. Mosley and Shelby correct Raylan, telling him that in fact, the feud was started when the dog's owner said impolite things about Frances around town. Arlo wasn't causing trouble, but defending his wife's honor. And while Raylan's version of the story makes his mother a saint, the truth makes Arlo much more of a man of honor than Raylan is willing to see. It also sounds like exactly how Raylan would handle a similar situation. This is what prompts Mosley's delivery of the episode's final line, and the best distillation of one of this season's larger themes yet: He tells Raylan that both Frances and Arlo are whispering in his ear, but only one voice is loud enough to get through. And like it or not, Raylan has to recognize whose voice it is.

Raylan virtually kidnaps Mosley, under the guise of a prison transfer, to take him on the titular "Hatchet Tour" (derived from the origin of the term "hashing it out") to figure out who ordered the hit on Arlo, and whether that person knows anything about the identity of Drew Thompson. This plot is another bit of piece moving, but this time out, its largely beside the point: The episode isn't concerned with revealing the identity of Drew Thompson, and in the reveal it seems clear the writers knew most of us would have already figured that part out. What "The Hatchet Tour" is really about is the way Raylan's parents have effected their son, and which one of them actually has the greater effect.

We see a fair deal of Frances in Raylan tonight. When he takes Mosley to see Wynn Duffy, he isn't blustering like he normally might. He just wants to have a conversation, and he hopes that both he and Duffy can get something out of it. One of my favorite things about the world of Justified is the way bitter enemies can set their grudges aside, from time to time, and speak as two people who respect each other. Wynn has openly tried to kill Raylan before, and Raylan has threatened to return the favor multiple times. But their discussion this week is completely civil. When they are not at odds, when they are not forced to do battle with one another, they are capable of being perfectly civil and even kind, and that makes them all the more fascinating. For all the talk we hear about how people in Harlan hold grudges (and they do), they also seem perfectly willing to set those grudges aside, from time to time. When Wynn offers his condolences to Raylan, its clear he means it, and its actually a pretty sweet moment between two characters who have beaten up on each other before and likely will again. "Thank you Wynn. Whatever your other failings, I believe that's true," Raylan responds. And in that moment, we see his mother in our Marshall. We see in him a willingness to set aside differences and try to solve the problem without violence. Of course, thirty seconds earlier he had knocked Mosley to the ground, so its not like Arlo is far from the surface.

We also see Frances when Raylan shows up at the shoot out between Constable Bob and the Clover Hill boys. Raylan could, in theory, arrest them for firing on an officer with no trouble, but he doesn't. He knows Bob was as much an instigator as anyone (and the way Oswalt plays his wounded pride is near-perfect), and he isn't interested in the crime at hand. He wants to track down Drew Thompson, and he's willing to look the other way at a lot of activities that might otherwise draw his attention. This is a large part of how Raylan approaches his job, and why one of my favorite Art lines in the entire series is when he tells Raylan (I'm paraphrasing from memory) "You're an excellent lawman, but a terrible Marshall." Raylan is interested in a more innate sense of justice. The law only matters to him when it coincides with his view of how things should work, and he is willing to overlook some transgressions he sees to get at larger wrongs being perpetrated behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, the Crowder clan is caught up in the drama surrounding Ellen May, when Casie St. Cyr shows up saying she just got word from her yesterday. This plotline needs to go somewhere, and fairly quickly. As it stands, Ellen May has been off-screen too long for me to really care about her whereabouts (she is sort of like that little girl in season two of The Walking Dead, with only slightly more plot-relevance), and the St. Cyr plotline feels less and less relevant by the week, to the point that when Cassie showed up last night, my reaction was "Oh right! She is a character!" Both of these stories may very well become crucial to the endgame, and may look better in hindsight as a result, but as it stands both seem like placeholders to distract Boyd until his real story comes along. At its best, this season has forced both Boyd and Raylan to contend with their families' legacies and the way they have shaped their current position; both of these storylines seem ancillary to that goal, though again, I'm willing to be proven wrong.

The scene that does contribute to the season's larger theme is the one in which Boyd and Ava go house hunting. The realtor thinks they are better off buying a "starter home" further down the hill; she judges them based on their past associations, or their unwillingness to put on airs. But even more significant is the revelation that Ava's mother used to clean the house when Ava was a child. It's obvious that Ava sees buying a house her mother cleaned as stepping up in the world, a chance to change her station and improve her life. But its another example of a citizen of Harlan letting their destiny be decided by the actions of their parents and the legacy they left behind.

Grade: A-


-"You want me to write that down, or paraphrase?" "Don't be a smart ass."

-"What the hell are you doin'?" "In the words of Arlo Givens, I'm tryin' to knock some god damn sense into you." Raylan's bursts of violence are tied closer and closer to Arlo as this season progresses, while his moments of pacifism reflect on Frances.

-And, because it was a great way to end the episode, let's end our review ruminating on this gem: "I think we both know whose voice it is, makes you do what you do."
Tags: Justified
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