Justified, Season 4, Episode 4: “This Bird Has Flown”
Written by Taylor Elmore
Directed by Bill Johnson
Airs Tuesdays at 9pm ET on FX
Justified is about a lot of things, but one aspect of the show that often gets overlooked is its nuanced take on masculinity, and its subtle rewriting of the Lone Gunman ethos. Sure, Raylan Givens is a gun-toting badass looking to right wrongs, but he’s also a massive screwup and occasionally even a little difficult to take seriously; at the same time, he tries to live his life in a moral fashion where possible. (Recall the first-season conversation in which a female perp assumes that because he’s a “good ol’ boy” he’ll be down with her anti-Semitic remarks, and is mistaken.) Raylan Givens is frequently allowed to be both a hero and a bit of a fool in the same scene.
“This Bird Has Flown,” which ignores the Drew Thompson/Waldo Truth plot save for a passing glimpse of a mugshot in Sheriff Jim Beaver’s office, has hell of a lot of fun toying with all of these aspects of Raylan’s character, and brings fellow Marshal Rachel along for the ride for kicks (and bonus indignities). Picking up immediately where “Truth and Consequences” left off – with Raylan and Rachel taking off in pursuit of Lindsey, Randall and Raylan’s missing ten grand – “Flown” more or less immediately puts to rest any notion that Raylan is going to come out of this one as the conquering hero via Rachel, who lets him down as easily as possible when she points out that there’s virtually no chance she didn’t take off with her bruiser husband of her own volition. Yet Raylan’s stubborn insistence that, no, Lindsey did harbor real feelings for him sticks around for much of the hour.
Taylor Elmore, who gets the teleplay credit this week (and has just been announced as teaming up with Yost on a new pilot for Fox), exploits this dynamic, as well as Randall’s bullishly jealous ways, both for a host of big comic moments and even a smidgen of pathos. The episode’s unlikely climax, a square-off between Raylan, Randall, Lindsey, and a “beanbag round”-loaded shotgun, is hilarious and effectively staged, but it also ends up cutting to the heart of Raylan’s search for validation in women. After he takes a beanbag round himself, and can barely operate, Raylan can’t help but crack a smile and tell her: “I knew you liked me.” (In that moment, he’s still blissfully unaware that Lindsey left him with only a host of fighting chickens to remember her by, as opposed to his $10k.) A little later, and perhaps a touch too on-the-nose, Randall, who’s beaten up even worse than Raylan, can’t help but add: “In the end, she was kind of worth it, wasn’t she?” Raylan may not agree, considering that he bows out of the episode by taking off for a bender and collapses in his torn-apart apartment. Better luck next time.
The Boyd-Ava half of the episode, in which they must decide what is to be done about returned ex-employee Ellen May (Abby Miller, whose utterly unique visage the show continues to find great uses for), is a little less compelling, but it does some important legwork in sketching Ava’s gradual corruption into a person she herself may no longer recognize. It’s also admirable the lengths to which the episode leads us to believe that Ellen May won’t be surviving the hour – right down to her unknowingly-tragic line about “going home” – until she’s spirited away under the heroin-stuffed nose of poor Colt. Given that she’s the only loose thread from the Preacher Billy story, it seems likely that Cassie took her.
Taken together, both plots touch on the notion of change. Ava has changed course completely from a righteous gun-toting asskicker to the sort of conniving villain she once despised. Raylan, on the other hand, seems incapable of change. Whether it’s Winona, Lindsey, or – gulp – his horrible father, Raylan can never seem to make a clean break even when it’s clearly the only rational option. And so, as Randall promised last week, he did earn a dent in his Gary Cooper walk, and with ten grand less to show for it. It just goes to show that you can’t even beat lessons into some people.