Justified, Season 4, Episode 8: “Outlaw”
Written by Benjamin Cavell and Keith Schreier
Directed by John Dahl
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX
Read any interview with Graham Yost and he’ll mention that, in the grand scheme of things, Justified has been conceived as being about six seasons long. That puts us well over the halfway mark, and in Elmore Leonard terms, that means we shouldn’t be surprised when bodies start dropping. That doesn’t mean it’s not a shock, though, when Arlo Givens takes a pair of shears to the heart in “Outlaw”‘s pre-credits stinger – the sort of injury he’s not likely to come back from.
Raymond J. Barry – an actor who, between Justified and Walk Hard, was plainly born to play terrible, son-baiting fathers – will be missed as Arlo, long the series’ (and Raylan’s) troublesome shadow, but I don’t share the opinion (already stated by some critics) that killing him off is necessarily a mistake. Yes, the show has gotten a ton of mileage out of the outright antagonistic relationship between father and son, but there are only so many variations on the Arlo/Raylan dynamic to be contrived. Arlo was a scumbag, through-and-through, and that’s not exactly the most flexible of character traits. More broadly, Justified is all about family, succession, tradition, and fate-by-bloodline, and terminating Arlo is an interesting juxtaposition given Raylan’s impending fatherhood.
“Outlaw,” which has a body count far exceeding any episode in recent memory, corrects the season’s course after a couple of hit-and-miss outings, and only partly thanks to the above development. Though admittedly it is a slight retread of last season’s showdown with “carpetbagger” Quarles, Boyd’s manipulation of Wynn Duffy and the Detroit folk into killing off a couple of the white-collar creeps who tried to put him in the corner last week was thoroughly wonderful. Not only did it allow for a classic turning-the-tables sequence late in the episode – complete with Boyd apparently becoming a Dairy Queen franchisee – but it featured an even better denouement, with Ava rightly wondering just how long he can dick around with Duffy and company without incurring some serious wrath. Having that conversation occur in an episode in which Boyd’s surrogate father dies in prison was a typically shrewd move.
Colt’s section of the episode is an improvement on last week’s outing. Particularly great is his dual standoff, first with a drug dealer who chooses an unwise position for his pistol (leading to some very Raylan-esque taunting), then, with a more sympathetic leaning, with Marshal Tim’s NA buddy. It’s plain that Colt doesn’t want to kill him – he sees too much of himself in the poor soul – so he does him the little favor of making it seem like he’s going to be let off the hook, doing away with the dread of anticipating the end.
There is reason for a little bit of reservation about the remainder of the season, though. The Drew Thompson mystery seems destined to now feature someone we’ve already met as Thompson, which really only leaves Shelby and Sam Anderson’s Lee Paxton as genuine possibilities. The certain seems more likely, but I preferred the notion of Shelby as just a beleaguered, world-weary citizen than as a man with an elaborately hidden criminal past. But it feels churlish to complain given the huge number of quotable moments and great scenes packed into just one hour this week, from those already mentioned, to Raylan divulging Arlo’s death an hour after the fact (a dramatically perfect choice, given their relationship), to Raylan’s deadly (and hilarious) standoff with a Detroit thug in a cop’s outfit. Enough of these standout moments, and an iffy plot beat or two won’t matter much.