Justified, Ep. 3.05: “Thick As Mud” a thriller in miniature

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Justified, Season 3, Episode 5: “Thick as Mud”
Written by Jon Worley and Benjamin Cavell
Directed by Adam Arkin
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on AMC

As the episode’s title implies, Justified gets dense, tricky and seriously murky this week, in what’s probably the strongest outing yet of the new season. The show has gotten downright artful about blending episodic case-of-the-week plots and serialized elements, and that sense of balance was more evident in “Thick as Mud” than maybe any other episode; it’s easy to imagine a new viewer getting swept up in Dewey Crowe’s apparent ticking-clock scenario (which helps to make this episode feel like a miniature, self-contained crime feature) without feeling too lost, but the episode also advances quite a few narrative threads in significant ways, not to mention featuring a number of significant callbacks.

First things first: hats off to Damon Herriman, since this will probably be the most Dewey-centric episode ever, and he takes full advantage. Set off on a frenzied hunt for cash by the prison nurse we met last week, he briefly becomes a can-do sort of man, though you’d never mistake him for graceful. Major props to this week’s director, Adam Arkin, who makes Dewey’s rude awakening in a bathtub stained with his own blood exactly as creepy as it should be. (The POV shots as Dewey looks for discoloration in his hands: also a nice touch.) The fact that the stolen-kidney plot turns out to be a ruse doesn’t make the episode any less harsh, especially given that Raylan very nearly gets chopped into little bits near the end. That is, until he shoots a woman in the chest through another body. Yeah, it was that sort of Justified tonight.

What really makes “Thick as Mud” a superior hour of TV, though, is that the character moments trump the rampant badassery; for the first time in recent memory, the show nails both the Raylan/Winona and Boyd/Ava scenes. Early in the episode, Raylan comes home late, hoping to sneak in without waking Winona, now seven weeks pregnant, only to find she’s already awake. It’s hard to get a precise reasing on her tone at first; she seems resigned both to the fact that Raylan will never change, and to the fact that her marriage to Gary was doomed the moment Raylan became an option again. The scene is replicated again at the end, right down to the camera movements, only this time Winona’s not home; she’s apparently decided she’s better off without Raylan given the life he’s repeatedly chosen. That this comes only moments after a tranqed-out Raylan confesses to Art an apparently sincere desire to maybe not so often find himself in such peril is a seriously bitter bit of dramatic irony.

The Ava and Boyd pairing has long been a sticking point for me, but their tender scene in Johnny’s bar wherein they compare gunshot wounds while Boyd frets over the future of his enterprise was easily the best argument for their pairing yet. It doesn’t change the fact that Ava Mk. II isn’t really contiguous with the character we met in the show’s first season, but it’s a marked improvement. Speaking of Boyd, his first meeting with Quarles was a lot more dramatically effective that Quarles’s one-on-one with Devil last week, with Boyd proving he’s neither dumb nor easily bought off, and Quarles quietly exhibiting his willingness – desire, even – to get the hollers to bend to his carpetbagging ways. The weakest bits of the episode belong to Limehouse, who’s still mostly around to explain the status of Mags’s mythical fortune, but we at least get the sense that he’s privy to what’s coming in terms of the coming Oxy wars, which should put him in a crucial position shortly.

And hey, this is Justified, so despite all the organ harvesting, beatings, gunfire and heartbreak, we still get some quality wit. Olyphant predictably gets the line reading of the night with an Archer-worthy pun, but the various reactions to Enrampagement Dewey are pretty golden too, from the strip-club manager who’s sure he’s tweaking (but isn’t judging!), to the convenience store clerk who isn’t happy with his repeated blasphemy. Finally, Dewey’s wonderful last line makes it clear that despite his ordeal he’s still fundamentally thick. Triple-crosses, dumb jokes, gunplay, foreboding, and a little tragedy: after last week’s just-OK outing, the show’s definitely firing on all cylinders again.

Simon Howell

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