Certain things about Justified never change. There's always likely to be some kind of armed standoff. There's always someone with a secret, possibly more than one. And no matter what the story, something always comes back to history or to family. All of those things are true about "Hole in the Wall" - and yet, surprisingly for this usually excellent series, the episode doesn't quite gel together.
Season four opens with a flashback to January, 1983, when a disgruntled husband finds a dead body that's literally fallen to earth in the middle of his suburban street - bringing with him what looks like a huge score of cocaine.
In the present day a very bored Raylan Givens receives a call from a bail bondswoman named Sharon that, we needlessly find out, he once slept with a long time ago. She needs his help bringing in a double-homicide suspect that's in his neck of the woods, and for a cool three thousand dollars, he obliges. "Don't get caught, dude," Rachel advises him, not needing to know what Raylan is up to in order to dispense that piece of advice.
While Raylan is playing bounty hunter, Boyd Crowder is talking to one of his many criminal associates, who claims he's been saved by a guy named 'Preacher Billy' at the new Last Chance Holiness Church. Boyd inquires as to when Hiram's salvation occurred and what happened to the oxycontin that was given to him before that. He doesn't want to hear that Hiram flushed the product. Their terse chat is disrupted by an explosion outside, but Boyd is unfazed by it. Before he leaves, he issues a warning that he wants his money back, or "the next firecracker's going to go off in here."
Two young thieves are spending their evening busting into Raylan's family home in an attempt to steal copper wire, but their plans are interrupted by the arrival of Constable Bob Sweeney (guest star Patton Oswalt), who fails to intimidate or arrest them. Bob enters the house and inspects the damage the two kids have done to the wall, before phoning Raylan, who's having a chat with the con he picked up about whether or not the guy gets visitation rights. Clearly things between Raylan and Winona must be off again - especially as actress Natalie Zea has been dropped from the main credits, and has a new gig as James Purefoy's ex-wife on FOX's The Following.
As day dawns, Raylan arrives at the house with Bob to survey the damage, and is surprised to find a bag hidden in the wall. The only thing in the bag is a Kentucky driver's license belonging to one Waldo Truth. No, that is not a joke. Someone named their kid Waldo. Neither Raylan nor Bob recognize the name, but Raylan takes it with him as they leave. Oh, and he's still got the convict Sharon sent him after handcuffed in the trunk of his car, much to the man's annoyance.
Ava Crowder comes back into the picture interrogating Ella Mae, the prostitute who shot one of her clients when he scared her in a very realistic bear costume. She wants to know why Ella Mae has a gun on the job. Ella Mae confides that she's often scared and Ava suggests coming off meth and cocaine might help with that. "You know there's going to be consequences," she tells the other woman, before taking notice of a fake bill printed by Last Chance Holiness Church that Ella Mae's client left in the trailer.
Raylan visits the hardware store to pick up supplies to fix the busted door at the house, only to turn around and spot the girl who broke into the house. He doesn't know her, but she knows him, and tries flashing her breasts at him before taking off - with Raylan's car.
Ava, Boyd and Johnny (guest star David Meunier) talk about the decline in their business and if it does indeed have any connection to the new church. After a cranky Johnny leaves, Ava and Boyd discuss what to do about Ella Mae. When she leaves to get him a soda, Ava is unnerved by the presence of a stranger (guest star Ron Eldard) asking for Boyd. She and Johnny play dumb, but bartender Jimmy is too easy to read, and the stranger goes off in search of Boyd. Fearing for Boyd's safety, Ava and Johnny follow the stranger only to find Boyd welcoming him with open arms - the man is Colt, an ex-military policeman that Boyd has a history with.
Meanwhile, Raylan explains to Bob about his encounter with the young woman, but Bob doesn't seem bothered. He suggests they try the scrap yard and Raylan, remembering not just what but who he left in the car, cringes at the thought of his Lincoln being crushed. Thankfully, he and Bob arrive and find the vehicle before any damage can be done. The scrap yard operator claims not to know anything about the contents of Raylan's car or the two kids that stole it. Raylan decks him while the convict and the two teenagers look on from where they're holed up in the scrap yard's storage shed, trying to come up with an escape plan.
While they're chatting amongst themselves, an unruffled Raylan strolls in. He almost has the situation defused before Bob comes in behind him, being held at gunpoint by the irritated scrap yard operator. A quick brawl ensues, but once it's all said and done Raylan turns on the two kids, saying that they ought to tell the truth: they weren't at his father's house for the copper wire, but for the bag hidden in the wall. He wants to know why it's so important. They don't answer right away.
Later on, Raylan asks Bob to keep an eye on some personal effects while he takes the con back into custody. He confides that he's turned to bounty hunting in order to make some extra money for the child he has on the way, and Bob agrees to keep his secret.
Boyd and Colt spend some time catching up before Boyd confides in Colt about his problems. He brings Colt along with him for his follow-up conversation with Hiram - and things don't go well. When Boyd forgives Hiram and asks Colt to "take care of him," Colt mistakes that as being told to kill him, and shoots him in the head.
Raylan visits Arlo (guest star Raymond J. Barry) in prison and asks him about the recovered bag and the driver's license therein. Arlo claims not to know what he's talking about, and tells Raylan to put the bag back in the wall and forget about it. When Raylan points out that he never said that the bag was in the wall, Arlo abruptly ends their conversation. A nonplussed Raylan returns home and back into the arms of Lindsey (guest star Jenn Lyon), the bartender he hooked up with last season.
In the closing moments of the episode, we get our first look at services at the Last Chance Holiness Church, and amongst the crowd of people listening to 'Preacher Billy' is Ella Mae. While she looks utterly lost, Arlo is visited in his prison cell by another inmate, who wants to know what Arlo and Raylan spoke about. He claims it's worth some money, which is all Arlo needs to hear. When his visitor turns his back, Arlo cuts the man's throat and calmly retires to his bunk while the guards arrive.
As season premieres go, Justified has done much better. While the show ably sets up what's coming next - it's already easy to guess where certain aspects of the season might be headed - "Hole in the Wall" lacks that dramatic tension that energized the previous three premieres. There's mystery and a little danger, but it's tame compared to what one expects from this series. This isn't necessarily a fatal flaw, but hopefully things will ratchet up in the next few episodes.
The installment also somewhat ducks the significant question left over from last season, which is how or if the series will incorporate Raylan and Winona's baby. From what's gleaned in this episode, it sounds as if both the child and Winona will be off-screen for at least part of the season - and if that's the case, the question of why said development was introduced in the first place springs to mind. Even if Natalie Zea hadn't gotten another role elsewhere, Justified doesn't seem like a show where a baby fits. Especially as Raylan's romantic life continues to be a mess that's better left alone.
Having said that, the performances of the main cast - Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, and Joelle Carter - are as good as they've ever been. These three could read the phone book and it would be watchable. Things will get even better when the rest of Raylan's colleagues at the Marshals Service make their appearances. This is one of the best casts on television, and as the plot gets stronger, their acting will be a joy to watch.
While "Hole in the Wall" isn't a phenomenal premiere, it's still a pleasure to see one of TV's best shows back on the air. Even an average episode of Justified is head and shoulders over almost everything else on television.
Also be sure to check out my interview with Justified star Timothy Olyphant about what's ahead in Season 4.
(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.