Justified, Season 4, Episode 9: “The Hatchet Tour”
Written by Taylor Elmore and Leonard Chang
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX
First things first: if, like me, the title of this episode conjured visions of a hatchet-wielding baddie (perhaps in Detroit’s employ) making Raylan or Boyd’s life difficult, shutter those expectations. As it turns out, the title has a much more sentimental meaning for Raylan: it refers to his sainted mother Frances’s habit of “cutting through the muck” with a plain old meeting of adults in level-headed conference. The differences between Arlo and Frances Givens, and where Raylan might stand within that divide, keeps popping up over the course of the episode, informing Raylan’s mindset as we enter the season’s endgame.
As virtually everyone has speculated, yes, Shelby is Drew Thompson. It’s a little early to weigh in on how the show is going to handle this development, but it’s certainly good news that the cat is out of the bag with four episodes still to go. That leaves plenty of time for chaos and fallout, elements that Justified thrives on – see the end of last season for proof. What is clear is that the season-long mystery format ensures that Season 4 will play considerably better for most viewers on DVD than broken up over three months. The episode-opening recaps have been utterly inadequate in helping to keep the plot strands being called back to from half a season or further back ago straight, and the exposition that would make things less hectic isn’t really Justified‘s style. It’s easy to imagine casual weekly viewers feeling disoriented.
Luckily, there are a lot of accessible character beats to latch onto, especially in the post-Arlo landscape. One of the chief pleasures of “The Hatchet Tour” is watching Timothy Olyphant play Raylan’s evasiveness. Watch, for instance, the sequence in which Raylan serves Hunter Mosely up to Wynn Duffy to see if he can get Mosely to cough up Drew Thompson’s identity (and to ensure Mosely dies badly, in prison, as Arlo did). Besides giving us another welcome dose of Jere Burns playing “I’m not quite sure what’s going on,” it allows Olyphant to balance his need for revenge with his apparent lack of actual tenderness for his departed father. Cross-reference that with the scene in which Moseley tells of the time Arlo shoved dogshit into the mouth of a man who’d made untoward remarks about Frances, leading Raylan to express something close to admiration. Layers, friends.
Elsewhere, though, the material betrays the episode’s status as a plot-piece mover – the object is to get to Raylan and Boyd figuring out who Drew Thompson is, meaning some of the other plot beats feel a little tossed-off. Marshal Tim confronts Colt…only to ease off his vengeance kick, at Boyd’s behest. Speaking of Boyd and Colt, Boyd knows everything about how he didn’t kill Ellen May…but does essentially nothing about it, for the time being. Starting to wish you had a screener for next week’s episode handy yet?
All that said, it’s impossible to complain too much about an episode that climaxes with Constable Bob finally retrieving his mythical “go-bag” and promptly assembling a gun almost as long as he is tall, then proceeding to unload a hundred rounds with no particular aim. Or one that ensures that the great Jim Beaver will get plenty of material to chew on in the remaining episodes. Even better, now that Boyd knows Shelby/Thompson has Ellen Mae, that places Boyd and Raylan on an even more direct collision course. Which is, as ever on Justified, the correct course.