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. This week she chats with Jeffrey Bloomer.
Rachael Larimore: Jeffrey, thanks for joining me. Shall we jump in both feet?
Jeffrey Bloomer: Don't want to get off on the wrong foot? That's the best I got. Also: Poor Josiah.
Larimore: Oh yes, poor Josiah. Arlo proves again that being in a prison cell is no deterrent to maiming or killing. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Down in Harlan County everyone seems to be looking for something, but doing so in the wrong places. Boyd is looking for Drew Thompson among the wealthy in Clover Hill. Colton is looking for Ellen May—which is risky and makes him look unhinged. And Raylan is looking for information on Thompson from Boyd. Not surprisingly, at the end of the day we know more about who ISN'T Drew Thompson but we aren't much closer to knowing who is.
Bloomer: Indeed. Of course I love the texture in each of these episodes, but I'm beginning to hope the show has more up its flannel sleeves than turning up some random drifter as Drew Thompson. Maybe I am spoiled by procedurals that too quickly find their man, but I'm getting a little impatient.
Larimore: I've read that this story line will reach its conclusion during Episode 9 or thereabouts, so we have some time. I suspect that the writers have something special in store. If Arlo is involved, it's got to be good. One of the highlights for me, in this search for not-Drew-Thompson, was the dialogue between Raylan and Shelby. Each lawman needs the other, but both are holding something back. What did you think of their scenes?
Bloomer: Justified loves its odd couples. It was nice to see Shelby out and sparring with people—too often he seems like the resident impotent sheriff mostly around to maintain the criminal order. Do we know exactly why he is protecting Ellen May and so stridently putting himself out there against Boyd? This all reads to me as "noble death forthcoming."
Larimore: Forces are conspiring against Boyd. Johnny wants to kill him, Colton is a ticking time bomb, and Shelby has had enough. Yet, while things are looking bad for Boyd, it's hard to imagine Justified without Walton Goggins. So I think your scenario of a noble death for Shelby is not far-fetched. And he himself said as much, with his retort to Boyd's threat, that "that's like warning a man it’s going to rain when he’s already wet." As to why he's protecting Ellen May, I think it really does come back to the scene with Cassie. He realized if Boyd was hunting her then she must know something terrible.
Bloomer: I think his long looks and reassurances suggest paternal tendencies, but I suppose it might not be anything untoward. I do hope for the best for Ellen May—she even made Colton cry last week. And speaking of, his lovable lunatic is quickly veering toward just lunatic. To be fair, he killed a man by accident the first time we met him, but I still felt like there was some gruff integrity to the guy. No more. One interesting thing: Tim Gutterson's brother recognized Colton's glazed eyes in one glance, but after Colton gets high in the bathroom at the bar, Boyd makes a bathroom joke. He wants to own half the heroin business in Harlan, and he can't sniff it out right in front of him?
Larimore: Good catch! I think Justified is always careful about such things. So it must mean more—that Boyd is distracted, or he just can't see his own friend's failings. Speaking of Boyd … while he is accosting well-to-do strangers in Clover Hill, Raylan is at least doing some detective work. He finds Josiah's stepdaughter, who left a bloody bootprint in the dirt at his place. She delivers the nugget that the men who "chopped" Josiah called him by the wrong name: Drew Thompson. Raylan plays dumb about Drew Thompson to Shelby, but they share a common goal in tracking down Josiah. Were you surprised to see who the REAL culprits were in Josiah's kidnapping?
Bloomer: Yes, though I probably shouldn't have been, right? Arlo and Boyd’s shifty lawyer was playing the game, though not very well as it turns out. The bumbling duo from the paneled van taking the blowtorch to poor Josiah was a classic instance of Justified's carefree veneer turning dark and primal. Is there anyone in state of Kentucky who doesn't want Drew Thompson at this point?
Larimore: Not sure, though I do wonder if that was television's first cauterization by blowtorch.
Bloomer: That has to be an IMDb tag, right?
Larimore It's hard to believe, but in an episode that involved a bloody stump, a hooker with a black eye, and a john with a rearranged face, we ended on a touch of romance: Boyd proposes to Ava. The closing scene really gets at the complexity of Boyd Crowder. He's often too despicable to stomach—like in his using Shelby to hunt down Cassie, and his willingness to dispatch Ellen May. But then he starts talking about how he wants the Crowder name to mean something, and you can really feel the pain of the poor little kid who grew up embarrassed to be white trash. And his mention of it taking a few generations— he's not dumb. He knows what he is, and that his kids might have money but never be respected. But their kids, on the other hand…
Bloomer: Like many characters on this show, he is a moral chameleon, willing to justify whatever is necessary to get what he wants, but also a rich and complex product of his environment. He lives the world as he knows it. I want him to be happy with Ava, but at this point, he deserves to have all those guns pointed at his head. I agree with your earlier point that it's hard to imagine this show without him, but the nod toward their future could be setting us up for a very bloody wedding day. That said, there's nothing more romantic than being proposed to over a box stacked with cash.
Larimore: I admit I use a lot of ink weighing Boyd's moral complexity. But that's a testament to the show, because they give you so much to think about. In heist movies, where you're rooting for the burglars, or in shows like Dexter, where you're supposed to root for the anti-hero, writers often make it too easy for a viewer to set aside her morals for a few hours. With Boyd, not only do we see his good and bad side, but we see how other people in the show (most often Raylan) handle their difficult choices. Boyd's a bad guy with a good side, but he's still largely a bad guy.
Bloomer: Yes—and this show certainly doles out grim justice on its bad guys. Boyd has been with us since the beginning, but inside his operation and out, people are coming for him. I think Justified might just be brave enough to give him what's been coming his way for a long, long time. We'll see!
Larimore: In the meantime, do you think we'll get to attend, vicariously, the Napiers' high-society swingers party next week?
Bloomer: We can only hope. If Harlan's upper crust is half as good as its underbelly, it certainly won't be boring.
Larimore: I'll be there. With my red dress on.