Justified, Season Four, Episode One: “Hole in the Wall”
Written by Graham Yost
Directed by Michael Dinner
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX
In a recent blog post summing up the joys of watching Justified, Vulture’s Matthew Zoller Seitz compared the show to Cheers – not because the shows share thematic or structural DNA, mind, but because the act of diving back into the show’s criminal funhouse version of Harlan County, KY, recalled for Seitz the act of popping into an episode of Cheers and being comfortably immersed in a very clearly realized setting and set of characters, not to mention a generally stellar standard of writing. Watching the talky-but-violent, whip-smart fourth season premiere, “Hole in the Wall,” it’s easy to see his point, even if the comparison seems odd at first glance.
The episode opens atypically, with a distant flashback: in the early 80s, a man crashes to his death, apparently hlstered to a faulty (or sabotaged) parachute. His bloody, broken corpse is surreounded by what looks like bricks of coke. Later, in the present day, two small-time young crooks break into the home of the incarcerated Arlo Givens (the awesomely incorrigible Raymond J. Barry) in order to steal a bag, containing an old Kentucky driver’s license formerly belonging to one Waldo Truth. The relationship between these events is not at all made clear in this episode, making it plain that Season Four is going to be a different beast from all of its predecessors: we\ve got ourselves a bona fide, bloody, three-season spanning mystery for Raylan to uncover. Sounds good to me.
As with last season, this outing introduces a lot of new players, making it likely that Raylan’s co-workers Rachel and Tim (Erica Tazel and Jacob Pitts, series-long regulars) will ultimately be getting the shaft again this year in terms of screentime and actual usefulness, despite yhe best efforts and stated intentions of showrunner Graham Yost and company. It’s hard to stay annoyed about that, though, when we get the additions of Patton Oswalt as Constable Bob, a barely paid local cop with whom Raylan conspires to keep an increasingly volatile situation under control, Joe Mazzello as Billy St. Cyr, a new-deal preacher who cmpaigns with phony million-dollar bills and might (or might not) have designs on taking down Boyd, and, most intriguingly, Ron Eldard as Colton Rose, an old buddy of Boyd’s from his Gulf War days. With no Big Bad this year (unless you count Arlo), it should be a blast to see how Yost and company exploit and explore these new figures and play them off out heroes (and villains).
While the master plot is just getting started, “Hole in the Wall” finds time for a half-dozen or so killer scenes: the aforementioned, totally unexpected cold open, Boyd quoting scripture and putting the fear of God into a distributor via carefully placed explosives (twice!), Raylan sidestepping danger by setting off an airbag with his sidearm, Raylan’s crack with selfsame crook about “assholes,” Ellen Mae vs. The Bear, and Constable Bob’s bumbling-but-effective solution to the episode’s climactic standoff. That it doesn’t feel like Yost, who wrote the teleplay, makes every suspenseful and hilarious beat feel earned and contiguous with both one another and the show’s wider universe is a testament to the supreme command of theme, character and millieu that Seitz mentions.
Will this new season comfort the Season Three haters? It’s early going, but the likely answer is “no.” Where last season diverged from the show’s generally-perceived highwater mark, Season Two, by multiplying the villains and doubling down on chaos and disorder, this season aims to take an even more divergent form, doing away with the sort of complex attempts to bring down Raylan that have been de rigeur of late. For viewers willing to luxuriate in the show without quite as much mustache-twirling, though, Season Four seems very much like it should be, to borrow Boyd’s pet name for dynamite, a firecracker.