Monday 12 March 2012

'Watching the Detectives' (Justified, Season 3, Episode 8)

The Justified team know how to craft an episode. That isn't just a platitude. As episodes have become mere chunks of a larger ongoing story, their internal dramatic structure has declined. Take Game of Thrones, whose first four episodes are pretty much nothing but exposition and world-building. It pays off in the latter half of the season, but a viewer who hasn't read the books might have given up by then. Or True Blood, which seems to mostly have abandoned intra-episode dramatic arcs for, well, stuff happening for an hour bookended by cliffhangers.

Justified outdoes those shows by striking a middle ground between one-offs and a larger myth arc: episodes develop one theme, story or character while simultaneously moving the main plot forward. (There were pure monster-of-the-week episodes in the first season, but no more.) 'Watching the Detectives' is a fine example: a breather episode in which we get to spend time with some neglected characters, it also moves the main plot forward by getting Boyd in trouble, showing us another side of Ellstin Limehouse, and murdering the hypotenuse.

Ah, yes: poor Gary. I liked him back when he was the sensible, grounded anti-Raylan: before, that is, he lost all his money and was chased by some very scary people, and before he fell in with Wynn Duffy and sent killers after his rival in love. The pathetic man holding poorly attended motivational seminars that we see at the end of 'The Man Behind the Curtain' hardly seems like the same person, but then Gary was always about appearances. It seems oddly appropriate that he would end up on the front lawn of the house he shared with Winona, shot through the heart by Quarles as a 'message' to Raylan.

In 'Watching the Detectives' Raylan has to deal with not one but two internal investigations. The local police department suspects him of killing Gary, and Quarles's men try to frame him for that crime by leaving murder weapons around Winona's place and using a bullet that bears his fingerprints. Meanwhile an FBI agent (Stephen Tobolowsky) believes Raylan is a dirty marshal in Boyd Crowder's pocket, and enlists our first-season friend David Vasquez (Rick Gomez) in his investigation. Other plot developments include a conspiracy to frame Boyd for an attempt on the life of Sheriff Napier (David Andrews) and Quarles's possibly final break with his Detroit superiors.

Letting us see Raylan's frequently extra-legal approach to law enforcement catch up with him is a blast, frankly, and it gives us more time with his colleagues: Art, bristling at Agent Barkley's suggestion that he's running a less than tight ship; Tim, giving Raylan a hard time while still letting him escape to cover up evidence and blatantly not caring about the FBI's opinion. The collision between Raylan's ways and proper procedure is a welcome reminder that far from being some sort of superhero he still is a 'lousy marshal but a good lawman'. And he's damn cool all the same.

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