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Justified, Ep. 3.02: “Cut Ties” follows season protocol, with added complications

Justified, Ep. 3.02: “Cut Ties” follows season protocol, with added complications

Justified, Season 3, Episode 2: “Cut Ties”
Written by Benjamin Cavell
Directed by Michael Watkins
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX

Moreso than with most “prestige” dramas, seasons of Justified tend to follow a pretty set formula in terms of serialization. After a premiere in which the season’s major players are introduced, we get somewhere between two or three episodes that feel less tethered to the season’s master plot, opting instead to flesh out Raylan’s fellow marshals a bit, and remind us of what Raylan’s day job really entails. (Last season, this was especially true of “The Life Inside” and “The I of the Storm.”) “Cut Ties” hews to that pattern more than it breaks from it, but it’s an interesting installment nonetheless – and for unusual reasons.

In February and March of last year, while Justified‘s second season aired, two Deputy US Marshals were shot dead in the line of duty in separate incidents. That might not seem like such a noteworthy occurrence, given the dangerous nature of the work, but in actuality it had been almost 20 years since the last time that happened. (Last season’s “Brother’s Keeper” was dedicated to their memory.) Considering Justified takes place in a heightened, Elmore Leonard-ified version of reality, any attempt on the show’s part to reflect those grim real-life events without disrespect needs careful calibration, and that sensitivity is apparent early on in “Cut Ties,” in which a Deputy Marshal (not Raylan, duh) is indeed killed.

That Deputy (Michael Harding), is, much like the real-life figures, just doing his job when the shitbird-of-the-week (a sleazy ex-con in witness protection played by Frank John Hughes) takes him down – but it’s noteworthy that the Marshal’s actual death occurs off-screen. (We see him get shot in the leg, but the clearly telegraphed killshot is cut off by the credits.) Both in keeping with Justified‘s seasonal rhythms and the respectful tone of the episode, much of the rest of this week’s gnarly stuff is handled by two more Marshals who aren’t Raylan – his boss, Art (Nick Searcy), and his rarely dispatched co-worker, Rachel (Erica Tazel). The former is actually the one who collars the sleazebag in question, even employing some old-school Southern roughhousing in the process – which, paradoxically for him, makes him a little more similar to Raylan than he might appreciate, but also illustrates the impact of the Marshal’s death. Rachel, meanwhile, slickly protects the remaining witness, with her and Art tag-teaming the anonymous gun thugs who ultimately arrive to take her out. (As far as Rachel-powered episodes go, this one’s a fair sight more credible than “The I of the Storm.”)

Though Raylan notably isn’t doing any of the shooting this week, there’s no shortage of stuff on his plate. Of course, there’s the new deputy director of the Marshals, his old flame Karen “Goodall” (a thinly, and humorously, veiled version of Leonard regular Karen Sisco, a role “not” reprised here by Carla Gugino), who’s on hand to oversee the handling of the dead Marshal’s case, but also to remind us that Raylan has a history in Miami beyond shooting Peter Greene. What she’s not here to do – not yet, anyway – is to provide significant complications in Raylan’s love life; any disgruntled Winona haters that still linger have more to grumble about in that regard.

While Neal McDonough is a no-show this week (he’ll be back in a big way next week, if the preview is any indication), we do get a glimpse of Mykelti Williamson’s character, Ellstin Limehouse, a butcher who holds Mags’s missing fortune, which will no doubt put him in contact with the newly freed Boyd next week. We only get an introduction this week, and though Williamson is fun to watch and a great contrast to McDonough, his scene is weirdly familiar. He threatens a lax employee while carving up meat – hello, Tywin Lannister! – and also brings out a bucket of lye and details its deleterious effect on flesh, which evokes pretty much beat-for-beat a key scene in David Fincher’s Fight Club. Given that the show is rarely lacking for creative menace, we’ll have to mark this one down as an off night in that respect. In all others, a fine, necessary hour, with a few intriguing wrinkles that may inform the series’ future in unexpected ways.

Simon Howell