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'Justified' recap and review: 'Kill The Messenger' is a game of revenge

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How do you follow up a pivotal episode of Justified? Break some stuff, kidnap some guys, and make Raylan Givens angry. This is basically everything that any sane person should never do, which means damned if it isn't fun to watch.

Art's already kind of drunk when Raylan finds him, which isn't a good sign. A worse sign is Art punching Raylan, which seems to indicate that Art has put all the pieces regarding Nicky Augustine's death together. The look on Raylan's face as Art leaves him there says all we need to know. And that's our entire teaser. One scene with one word of dialogue in it. How awesome is that?

Oh hey, we have an on-screen caption for perhaps the first time in series history. It's to tell us that Ava is now being housed at the Kentucky State Women's Prison. While she tries to get used to her new surroundings, her fiance Boyd is still saddened over her remaining locked up - but puts on a happy face to meet one of his old white supremacist contacts. This contact has already heard about Ava's transfer, and deduces that Boyd wants his also-incarcerated sister to look out for Ava behind bars.

Things aren't going so well for Raylan's girl, either, as Alison visits the new Crowe household. She's checking in with Daryl (Michael Rapaport) and Wendy (Alicia Witt), the latter of whom has deduced from her earlier office visit that Alison is dating Raylan. After an awkwardly polite conversation, Alison leaves the home only to be intimidated by Danny (A.J. Buckley) on her way out. You just know that's the tip of the iceberg, and indeed it is, as her car is subsequently run off the road by the same moron, who sticks around to gloat about it. He's that stupid.

At the Marshals Office the following morning, we actually get to see Rachel and Tim for the second week in a row, as they sit in on a staff meeting with Art, who's injured his hand punching Raylan, who now sports a black eye. Neither man wants to talk about it. As Raylan and Rachel head to work, Alison arrives, wanting to know what happened to his face - but he's not going to tell her until he finds out why she's there. We don't actually see the subsequent conversation, but is anyone really surprised that Raylan and Rachel decide to make a detour down to Harlan? Of course not. You don't tick off Raylan Givens, just like you don't tick off Liam Neeson.

But the Crowes have their own problems. Daryl is starting to ask where Jean Baptiste is, while Dewey (Damon Herriman) is still trying to come up with ways to get his Florida relatives to go back home. It's just like your family after the holidays, except with criminal records. Dewey and Danny decide to try once again to put the squeeze on Boyd, but he's not at the bar, so they kidnap Carl, the dude who is, hoping that Boyd will pay a ransom for him. This is followed by a preview of the new movie in which Kevin Costner plays a hitman, which just makes us miss Timothy Olyphant in Hitman.

While Boyd and Wynn Duffy have their first face-to-face meeting with their new Mexican drug contacts, and Ava meets her new prison friend Penny (Danielle Panabaker, who starred alongside Timothy Olyphant in The Crazies) before being attacked by the woman who was supposed to protect her, Wendy thinks Danny and Dewey's plan is idiotic (because it is), and does not like the fact that Raylan and Rachel have arrived on their doorstep. The one sane Crowe in the bunch claims that her brother didn't have anything to do with Alison being run off the road, but Raylan knows better and comes thisclose to walking into Danny's hiding place. Instead, he and Rachel run into Kendal and Daryl at the local hardware store, the latter of whom is holding a saw, because he's in the middle of working. He's like a regular Norm Abram.

Boyd quickly finds out about Ava's attack and who the responsible party is. When he tries to reach Carl for backup, he gets Dewey instead, holed up at a hunting cabin. The horrible cell phone reception between the two of them is an unintentionally hilarious moment. Yet before Dewey can worry about Boyd, he's got Raylan mere feet from him. As Danny answers the door, Rachel improves his face, before she and Raylan muscle in to take care of him and rescue Carl. Carl claims he wasn't kidnapped ("we never agreed on a safe word") and suggests that everybody cut their losses rather than lose any more blood.

Wendy now agrees with Dewey that the Crowes need to go back to Miami, but Daryl will have none of it. Nor is he thrilled with Danny, who can't figure out the word "consensual." Before an episode of Dr. Phil can break out, Boyd and Carl pay an unrequested house call. He wants the Crowes to work with him to get revenge on the old friend who betrayed Ava, and that's exactly what Daryl does, beating the dude into a bloody pulp. "If anything else happens to my woman," Boyd warns, "I'm going to take it out on you a hundred-fold." Cut to a very nervous Ava awake in prison, where she gives herself an impromptu haircut.

And on their way back to Lexington, Rachel tells Raylan that she came with him because they've built up trust over the years, and she wants to know what happened between him and Art. "You know I think the world of you, and I trust you with my life, but Rachel, I ain't saying a goddamn thing about me and Art," he tells her, because they both know it'll be a world of hurt for everyone if he does. Instead, Raylan drinks even more before unwinding with Alison, who starts poking at his psyche. That's really not a good idea either. Women, stop trying to psychoanalyze your men.

Our closing scene of the night is Boyd talking with Daryl about a new proposition: killing his cousin Johnny. Because that's been coming for like a few weeks now.

The "A" plot of "Kill The Messenger" isn't new. Threatening the woman close to Raylan Givens has been done quite a few times over the course of Justified's run, from Ava being in peril at the end of season one to Winona at risk at the close of season four. It should just be a line in the antagonist's handbook by now: don't mess with the Marshal's woman if you want to remain unscathed. But maybe the reason the show can go to this well repeatedly is because it's so entertaining to watch. Timothy Olyphant is so good at always portraying an anger underneath Raylan's controlled surface, and when he gets to let it out, even in small, less overt doses, it's fantastic TV. He doesn't have to beat someone up for us to know you do not screw with Raylan Givens.

What's finally gaining steam between this week and last week is the "B" story of Ava's struggles behind bars. We're now past scenes of her and Boyd meeting with her lawyer, and into some serious stuff for both the Crowders. Whether it's Ava trying to keep her head above metaphorical water, or Boyd angsting over her not being beside him, it's compelling stuff to watch and great material for the always-outstanding Joelle Carter and Walton Goggins to play with. Plus, it's a nice reminder that Boyd has burnt plenty of bridges over the last five seasons. Even he's got repercussions that he has to deal with.

Here, too, is the episode that sort of turns the light on as to why the writers chose to make the Crowes a focal point of this season. You can almost empathize with Dewey, even if his responses to things are downright moronic. Who hasn't had difficult family members that come to town and won't leave? Yours may not be criminals, but you can understand the sentiment. It's being able to humanize the so-called "bad guys" that's made Justified such a great show. With rare exception, even the characters that are making trouble, we can at least grasp at understanding. We may even find ourselves rooting for them in certain situations. The show doesn't judge its players; it just lays out the whole picture and lets us decide what we believe.

And one of the things we believe is that Justified is one of the best shows on television. We'll weep next spring when this is over, that's for sure. Television this good only comes around once in awhile.

Justified takes a break next week due to the Winter Olympics, but returns the following Tuesday.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.

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