In Slate’s Justified TV Club, Rachael Larimore will IM each week with a different fan of the FX drama set in Harlan County, Ky. She dissects Episode 3 with Holly Goddard Jones, a Kentucky native and author of Girl Trouble (P.S.) and The Next Time You See Me, out Feb. 12.
Rachael Larimore: Welcome, Holly! I understand you’re a fan of Boyd Crowder. So, if we were teenage girls, we’d start off our chat with a big Team Raylan vs. Team Boyd fight. But I have to admit, Boyd is growing on me. How do you feel about his storylines and character this season?
Holly Goddard Jones: Yes, I'm a conflicted Boyd fan. Not to say I don't also love Raylan, but part of the appeal of Boyd is how surprising it is to discover he's appealing. This season is building slowly for me compared to Seasons 2 and 3. Boyd is still great—god, do I love him in preacher mode, dancing up the aisle at the tent revival—but I'm curious to see how fallible the writers will make him. Part of what's reassuring about the show is that Boyd, in particular, always seems to land on his feet, is always three steps ahead of everyone who'd try to wrong him, but that becomes predictable at a certain point.
Larimore: Something that I find appealing about Boyd, that we're reminded of just every once in a while, is that he might be a criminal kingpin, but he really doesn't relish hurting or killing people. There’s a decency to him. We saw it back in Season 2 when he spared Shelby from dying in the mine heist. And in the season opener, he didn't mean for Colton to kill Hiram. We see it again tonight, when he's figured out that Preacher Billy's sister is draining the snakes of their venom. He brings a freshly caught rattlesnake to the sermon and dares Billy to handle it. It becomes clear quickly that he's just calling Cassie's bluff, and he doesn't actually want Billy to touch the snake. What did you make of this scene?
Goddard Jones: Well, I'm a sucker for Boyd's softer side—he won me over at the end of Season 1 when he called Raylan his friend—and so I loved that moment as he's walking out, the conflict on his face. He knows what this man has been through, and he's guilty about being the means by which this innocent believer begins the process of losing his faith. (Of course, he's probably losing not just his faith but his life.) This is what makes you want to root for Boyd, even though when you step back and analyze the situation, what's happening is that the drug dealer is trying to run a source of hope out of town, however problematic that source of hope might be.
Larimore: I was fearful that the writers might be too cynical in this story arc and make Cassie and Billy out to be total frauds. I like the direction that they took with Billy being a true believer, and I like the smaller moments, like tonight when the camera flashed on Ellen May. She looks so good! Flush and clean and happy. The church has helped her. It's given the storyline more complexity than just being a thorn in Boyd's side. However, it looks as if the church might be coming to a premature end, but there are no shortages of thorns in Boyd's side. If I had to pick a theme for tonight's episode, it would be "Nothing and no one is as it seems." In Boyd's case, of course, I'm talking about Cousin Johnny, who we see meeting with Wynn Duffy because Johnny wants Boyd killed. Like most folks on Justified, Johnny and Boyd have a complicated history, but I didn't see this coming.
Goddard Jones: They've been hinting at it for several episodes. For me, this comes back to that How fallible is Boyd this season? question. Because I don't think they've developed Johnny enough, after Boyd's takeover of the Harlan crime scene, to make me truly feel the pathos of his betrayal. So he seems more like a plot problem, and those tend to get dispensed with pretty tidily by Boyd. If that does happen, it leaves Boyd in a vulnerable position. Who is his clan at this point? A snake-bit kid, Colton, and Ava. And Colton doesn't feel like a permanent addition. One question: Where do you think the show's going with Rachel? I've wanted to see more happen with that character, and I hope she'll get more than a peripheral arc in the near future.
Larimore: I am hoping that we got a hint that there’s more to come in Episode 2 when Art, in running down the reasons that no one in his right mind would want his job, pointed out that Rachel just left her husband. If we're going to find out what's going on with Rachel from Rachel, I think we’ll have to wait. In her scene with Raylan at the bar, he asked if he was supposed to ask about it, and she said no. I think you see that a lot with females (real life and literary characters) who work in male-dominated fields. They are not overly emotional, at least outwardly. Rachel has to keep up the tough-guy persona, so she's going to be reserved. Aside from more screen time for Rachel, I'm also ready for the Drew Thompson/Waldo Truth/Arlo's wall mystery to circle back to Arlo. Am I crazy?
Goddard Jones: They've layered these side stories—the church, Lindsey and her ex-husband the fighter—atop the real story, and I think the point is to tease out the mystery, but maybe that's not what this show does best. It's hard to invest in characters we're not seeing. The writers want me to care about Drew Thompson, but that's just a name to me right now. And this story with Lindsey is not my favorite. Not that it's bad for us to see Raylan in a different light, but it brings out qualities in him that I don't love—not just weakness, which we've seen before, but a lack of nuance. He usually wears the cowboy hat with a wink.
Larimore: Exactly! I was a little frustrated when he at first appeared to be bothered by Lindsey's past of shaking down guys by getting close to them. But then she walked out in her bra and ... well, there went that. (Something tells me that Raylan wasn't having sex with her just to piss off Randall.)
Goddard Jones: Oh, no. The man has a type, doesn't he? Get a stringy blond thing in a bra, and there goes his brain.
Larimore: An affliction that has once again turned his life—or at least his apartment—upside down.