Just to emphasize how great “Shot All To Hell” is, and how its developments utterly contradict most of the easily-drawn conclusions about how the season might well play out, let’s get some minor grievances out of the way. For starters, Alan Tudyk (credited as Wray Nerely, for some reason?) is an incredible actor, and while he gets a solid showcase early in the episode in his scenes with Nick Searcy, it seems awfully wasteful to have Raylan dispatch him on their first meeting. (I do not grieve to nearly the same degree over poor Will Sasso, though it is disappointing that having that particular showdown take place in Windsor is a nice touch.) More grievously, the Danny Strong plot to keep Ava in jail is an exceedingly odd and not-altogether-convincing turn of events. This guy is going risk running afoul of a demonstrably powerful criminal element just to secure petty revenge? Moreover, though this might very well turn up as an issue next week, will no one in charge find it odd that a prisoner due for release in only a few hours’ time would attack a guard, thereby securing time in a federal pen? More to the point, that particular turn of the screw feels considerably more contrived than most of what surrounds it. Manufacturing new threats tends to a strength of the Justified writers’ room, and this development doesn’t have that usual, pleasantly organic feel.
Now that that’s dispensed with: the good stuff, and the liberal quantities it arrives in. I don’t have the precise math handy at the moment, but I’m willing to bet that in the entire history of Justified, “Shot All To Hell” features a) the highest-ever body count for named characters in the series’ not-inconsiderably-bloody history, and b) features a remarkably low amount of scenes featuring the series’ ostensible lead character. “Shot All To Hell” belongs to Walton Goggins and, to a lesser but still noteworthy extent, Nick Searcy. The former gets a half-dozen remarkable showcases, starting with that ruthless cold open, in which Lee Paxton (the first casualty) is undone by Boyd in spectacularly verbose fashion. It’s really saying something that this might very well be the single greatest episode-long showcase for Goggins yet, as he dispatches foes, cracks wise, hatches a whole new scheme for the future, quick-draws with the best of them, and ultimately finds his hopes dashed yet again, all in the space of one episode. (Remember how Boyd was originally meant to die in the pilot? Ponder that for a moment, all over again.) The man is a neverending sizzle reel.
Let’s reserve some praise, however, for Nick Searcy, who gets an unprecedented turn at being a stone-cold badass all on his lonesome as he chases down the truth about just what went down when Nicky Augustine bit the dust. Not only does he get to issue a Raylan-style ultimatum (a blatant nick that Raylan calls him on, affectionately, near the episode’s end), but he gets to pair up with Raylan in a showdown involving what is apparently automatic shotgun (!), as well as claiming his greatest career victory yet: nabbing Theo Tonin. Not only is the sight Adam Arkin sickly and holed up bin Laden-style a great one, but it’s remarkable that the series has appeared to close the book on the looming threat of Detroit, at least for quite a while. The Tonins and their associates have acted as the nearly series-long Big Bad of sorts, and with over a season and a half to go, Yost and company seem to favor a different tack entirely.
“You want me to move from the low-risk, high-reward wees business into the high-risk, high-mortality trade of black tar?” Hot Rod, who may not have much longer on this Earth himself, having been outwitted by Cousin Johnny (truly embarrassing), unwittingly lays out what might very well serve as the game plan going forward. Is Boyd going to run afoul of a Mexican cartel? What’s intriguing and slightly worrisome about that development is that it will be trickier than ever to keep Boyd and Raylan’s plots intersecting in some way. Presumably, that’s where the Crowes will come in. Having Allison point out that Raylan’s use of young Kendal crosses an ethical line that she’s uncomfortable with and that Raylan should be uncomfortable with is a nice touch, but the fact that she’s already interacted with the Crowes might indicate that she’s due for a vintage Raylan Rescue later in the season. Whatever the future brings, the Danny Crowe/Jean Baptiste sequence is yet another grim highlight, managing to both raise the stakes and provide a jaw-dropping early exit for a character who’d barely gotten to make a dent. (That Edi Gathegi was one of the show’s few current performers of color is a shame, though.) Surely the seeds for their future demise lie either with poor Kendal, or Dewey, who gets a hilarious soliloquy this week, once again proving that a little Dewey goes a long way.
One last bit of business: Raylan fessing up, in a way, to Art. He doesn’t fully admit his part in what happened to Nicky Augustine, only stating that he knows “for a fact” that Stephen Tobolowsky’s “missing” Agent Barkley isn’t to blame. Hopefully this won’t mark the end of Raylan’s slow descent into full-blown ethical compromise, which happened to dovetail so nicely with Boyd’s increasing desperation. We can assume that Raylan will take a more active role in the following episodes, especially as there will be so very much cleaning up to do. RIP Lee Paxton, Sheriff Mooney, Jean Baptiste, Elias Marcos, Canadian #1, and possibly Hot Rod. Bring on whatever fresh hell awaits all remaining parties.