Justified, Season 4, Episode 7: “Money Trap”
Written by Chris Provenzano
Directed by Don Kurt
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX
With its colorful-but-inept villlainry, reams of gunplay, and swift pacing, “Money Trap” surprises by feeling more like a throwback to Justified‘s first season than perhaps any since Mags Bennett cast an ominous cloud over the Season 2 premiere. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – Justified had a strong first season – but it does feel a little strange for a show that’s made a point of evolving from season to season.
With only the smallest of plot movements on the Drew Thompson front, “Money Trap” hones back in more specifically on Raylan, Boyd, and Ava after last week’s more diffuse, ensemble-heavy outing. We open on a flashback to six days ago, after Raylan hands off fugitive Jody Adair (Chris Chalk) to his bail-bondsman pal (and onetime lover) Sharon Edmunds. (Did it surprise anyone else to see that the entire span of the season so far had only amounted to six days?) We shift to her perspective, where shortly after the handoff, Adair escapes and kills both Edmunds and her partner, making for the most violent opening to a Justified outing in recent memory. Adair teams up with cokehead “filmmaker” pal Kenny (Michael Gladis, continuing to develop one of TV’s odder resumes) in what’s supposed to be a swift hunt for some stashed dough, until a pesky grad student and alleged poker whiz ostentatiously named Jackie Nevada (Shelley Hennig) gets in the way, and into Adair’s twitchy crosshairs.
The Adair plot is weirdly straightforward for a late-era Justified episode. Adair wants money and to kill Raylan – and that’s it. There’s a cute scene involving a “movie” of Adair cartoonishly professing his willingness and ability to kill Raylan, but that’s about the only distinct beat he gets. The episode doesn’t try to get any traction out of Sharon’s death – Raylan gets about a split-second to mourn – and their final showdown, a seemingly deliberate echo and reversal of last season’s Quarles showdown in “Guy Walks Into a Bar” – is brief and unusually flavorless. (Before that, a scene in which Adair stalks into Nevada’s apartment and holds her hostage is predicated entirely on Raylan not following her inside, which feels awfully contrived.)
The Boyd/Ava B plot is considerably more successful. With the groundwork laid, they set out to infiltrate Harlan high society in an effort to ferret out the real Drew Thompson. They’re unsuccessful over the scope of the episode (of course), but the evening takes a turn that puts those concerns on the backburner anyway: Boyd meets a set of conniving rich folk (including Lost and Angel alum Sam Anderson, much more in the mode of his Holland Manners character from the latter series), at first seeming to get along with them just fine, perhaps even helping to accelerate his idyllic plans laid out to Ava last week. But by the story’s end, it’s clear that Anderson and company consider Boyd lower than dirt, just like his deceased father Bo, who apparently had an arrangement by which he did some of their dirty work. They “allow” Boyd to survive, on the premise that he may be of some use to them – if he turns out to be less cooprative, they’ll wipe him off the face of Kentucky. Walton Goggins does great work here, constantly readjusting expectations, keeping his seething rage contained, and even finding time for a vocabulary lesson. He may very well turn out to be the season’s MVP.
At the very least, the Boyd/Ava plot doesn’t feel like it’s just spinning its wheels, unlike Raylan’s. Interestingly, though, the shooting of Adair marks the first time Raylan’s actually used his piece since all the way back in Season 3’s “Coalition”, when he shot Dickie Bennett in the leg. (You have to go back even further than that for the last time he shot to kill.) I’ll be surprised if “Money Trap” marks a return to the more trigger-happy Raylan of the show’s early seasons – it seems like the show has eveolved past that – but the idea of making the stakes more consistently deadly is not a bad one. But what the show really needs is more scenes like the fantastic closing sequence here, in which Raylan finally sees Arlo and offers him a deal in order to find Drew Thompson – a deal he flatly rejects. It’s in those last moments – in which Raylan relishes telling his deadbeat father that he’ll be glad to hear of his death in prison – that we find ourselves back to what the show does best. More of that, please.