Wednesday 25 January 2012

'Cut Ties' (Justified, Season 3, Episode 2)

From the beginning, Justified has struggled somewhat with integrating supporting players. I don't mean guest stars - virtually without exception, they've been exceedingly well-cast and thoroughly written. It's part of the regular cast that's been let down so far. The writers have gradually amended that - witness Ava's reincarnation as a badass crimelady - but there are still some weak spots: Winona first and foremost, but Raylan's colleagues are not far behind. By and large, they don't do much and we don't know much about them.

Well, 'Cut Ties' finally puts some meat on them bones. In the A-plot, Rachel and Art are both given a chance to shine after Bill Nichols (Michael Harding), a Marshal in charge of the Witness Protection programme in eastern Kentucky, is found murdered and Raylan's colleagues have to secure Nichols's charges. (Tim is for some reason not in the episode.) Raylan, meanwhile, teams up with his ex-girlfriend Karen Goodall (Carla Gugino), now a Deputy Director, to question a mob boss who may be involved in the murder. In the B-plot Boyd, still in prison, tries to get to Dickie Bennett to force the whereabouts of Mags's money out of him.

Art - a reliable presence on the show, but not seen in the field much so far - gets seriously dark this episode. After realising that the 'witness' he's supposed to protect murdered Nichols, Art goes medieval on his ass, beating information out of the suspect in a way that I found quite cringeworthy. I expect this sort of thing from Raylan - who is, after all, 'a lousy marshal but a good lawman' - but seeing the usually by-the-book Art cross the line in this way was shocking. Effective, but shocking. It helps that the perp is so unlikeable, but I like pretending that at least in TV-land, the authorities are there to help and protect us. Rachel, too, is improved as a character just by acting capably and professionally.

The addition of Gugino to the episode is a little strange: she's decidedly underused, which is a shame considering Carla Gugino is super-awesome. I don't just mean that I've seen Sin City, take from that what you will, but that Gugino is always a charismatic presence. It'd be a shame if Karen Goodall didn't return - her arc in this episode alone feels weirdly incomplete. As for Raylan, I really like his rekindled relationship with Winona. Not just because unlike a lot of people I don't feel Winona held on to the Idiot Ball throughout Season Two, but because it allows Raylan to develop as a character, as he has to think about becoming a father and steady partner. So I haven't at all got tired of the 'maybe we should find a new place' subplot yet.

Then there's Boyd, who provokes some African-American inmates in an amusing scene just to be put into solitary confinement, where he can get to Dickie. Boyd's menacing of Dickie - and his encounter with the newly-awesome Ava upon being released - clue us in that we're dealing with a more ruthless, less affable Boyd Crowder this season. But the revelation that Mags's money is held by Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), a criminal who's revealed to be quite vicious in the episode's final scene, means they're facing quite a challenge.

All in all, I like how the pieces are falling into place. Season Three is more multipolar than Season Two - which rightly focused on the mesmerising Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett - but the larger number of players is shaping up to be a good thing. Bring on Episode 3.

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