Justified, Season 4, Episode 5: “Kin”
Written by Fred Golan and VJ Boyd
Directed by Peter Werner
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX
As a preface, can we just…? Along with the outstanding regular cast (and an appearance by underrated ex-regular Natalie Zea), “Kin” finds time for past guests Stephen Tobolowsky, Patton Oswalt, Jim Beaver, Romy Rosemont, Jere Burns, and Raymond J. Barry, adds the great Gerald McRaney, and even carves out a little for Jacob Pitts to actually get some substantial material. It’s taken a while, but finally, another drama series can challenge The Good Wife for the most ludicrously stacked cast on television. (All the Deadwood alum shouldn’t be a surprise given Olyphant’s producer status, but that doesn’t temper the greatness. Too bad John Hawkes will be busy courting Oscars for the foreseeable future.) If “Kin” went and trotted out that cast list and the episode itself turned out to be merely adequate, it’d still qualify as appointment television, but it also happens to be the funniest, most whip-smart, and briskly paced episode of the season yet, full of smartly conceived pairings, hairpin twists, and more than adequate proof that the season’s central mystery should provide more than enough juice to keep the pace and intrigue up for another eight episodes.
“Kin” opens as it must, with poor Colt left to figure out where Ellen May’s gone and disappeared to, only to find that she was apparently spirited off in a squad car. That’s an intriguing enough development (I was sure she’d been intercepted by Cassie, Preacher Billy’s grieving kin), but the real shock comes in the next scene, which finds Raylan reuniting with a very pregnant Winona. It’s Zea’s first appearance of the season, and given her (much more lucrative) weekly gig on The Following, it’s doubtful we’ll be seeing much of her at all, so writers Golan and Boyd make every effort to make sure it’s established quickly and thoroughly just how much Raylan has lived down to Winona’s expectations: he’s technically half an hour late, he neglects to purchase decaf, and he finds the time to brag about his new assignments at the Marshals’ service but is unable to actually stay for the appointment itself. None of this should come as news to anyone, least of all Winona – could Justified function properly without Raylan as a screwup and suspect in all matters familial? – but it’s nicely executed by all concerned.
And then things go more than a little haywire, mostly to the episode’s benefit. Back at the Marshals’ office – more crowded than ever before, with even Rick Gomez popping his head in for a rare appearance – Tobolowsky and Barry arrive to kick the Drew Thompson/Theo Tonin/Waldo Truth clusterhoot into overdrive: Arlo has managed to maneuver himself into a sweet deal, meaning that he’ll walk, despite his heinous crimes (genuine and invented), if he manages to hand over Thompson to the Marshals. What follows is a whiplash-inducing plot/character decision too rapidly executed to foreshadow, but almost certainly bound to have long-term consequences: Tobolowky’s agent, moments after spitting venom at Raylan in public over their past scrapes, turns out to be not only gleefully dirty, but is actually an old acquaintance of Tonin’s right-hand man Nicky (Glee’s Mike O’Malley). Oh, and then Tobolowsky gets his brains blown out. This all unfolds over the space of about two minutes.
Thankfully, the rest of the episode doesn’t attempt to match that feverish pace, instead deriving pleasure from doling out one great scene after another, managing to incorporate each member of the show’s crack ensemble for maximum effectiveness. Most of these players only get one scene, but both the performers and the writers make them count: Oswalt’s Constable Bob shows up long enough to be convinced that Raylan won’t be returning from his visit to the Hill People, McRaney gets to have a hilarious quasi-standoff with Raylan that ends when he’s dragged from a car window; Beaver gets a splendid (if insufficiently foreshadowed) sequence that reveals the fate of Ellen May and indicates that he’ll be a more integral part of the season for at least the next little while; and, best of all, Pitts and Ron Eldard get a great series of scenes in which would-be enemies bond over their shared military past. That’s vintage Justified: attention to character possibilities trumps obvious narrative expediency.
And, of course, we get Raylan and Boyd, teaming up, however briefly, for the first time (if I recall correctly) since the first season’s spectacularly violent finale, “Bulletville.” It may never happen again in the remainder of the show’s history, so savor it. The entire Hill People sequence is Justified as its most purely entertaining, from the dimwitted Hill offspring who isn’t permitted a loaded gun, to Raylan’s resourceful use of a bullethole, to Raylan’s parting advice to Colt. And Gerald McRaney’s bloody, severed foot to lead us into next week? It feels like the series is daring itself to constantly top its own pulpy plotting. Which is a very good thing indeed. Now can we just get Titus Welliver or Brad Dourif or – gasp! – Ian McShane to play the elusive Drew Thompson? We can dream.