After its Olympic hiatus, Justified is back, and it was definitely worth waiting two weeks for. While the show continues to find ways to push Alison into the plot, everyone else has plenty to deal with, whether it's Raylan being taunted by an unlikely foe or Boyd and Johnny finally having it out with each other.
Daryl and Danny Crowe are arming up for their new "business trip," which is going to send them, Dewey (Damon Herriman) and Boyd to Mexico in search of Johnny (David Meunier). Meanwhile, Ava is still sporting several reminders of being jumped in the prison yard, and Penny (Danielle Panabaker) thinks she can keep Ava out of further trouble. Of course, that's not entirely true, or Ava wouldn't have anything interesting to do this week.
Raylan's chilling in the office when a dude named Larry storms in looking for a sizeable sum of money that was seized in the shutdown of a website owned by Monroe (Xander Berkeley). Raylan quickly deduces that the site wasn't really seized by the Marshals because the notice there spells "Marshal" with two L's. He brings this amusing quirk to the attention of colleagues Rachel and Tim, who get some awesome screen time together, with Tim being Exposition Guy this week. He has the great line "rides off into the nerd sunset." Let's put that on a T-shirt.
They send our hero off after a guy named T.C., who they figure is the responsible party and is currently playing some knock-off of Mortal Kombat. He's visited by Larry and another dude named Kemp (that's Gary Basaraba, from Graham Yost's Boomtown, who looks really odd with a fake neck tattoo), demanding Larry's money. T.C.'s girlfriend squeals when a gun gets put to her arm, and when Kemp finds out that the money at stake amounts to a sizeable quarter million dollars, he shoots Larry. Stuff just got hairy in here.
While Ava looks for protection with Penny's religious friends and finds out they're bringing drugs into the prison, she finds herself faced with the choice of joining their operation. Her man is on the trail of Johnny, who's in Mexico on the phone with Wood Harris, just before a Not At All Mysterious Black SUV rolls up. It's Boyd's Mexican contact, and Johnny wants a meeting with the boss man. This requires getting into the SUV by himself, which is totally safe.
Elsewhere, Alison (Amy Smart) has another run-in with Wendy (Alicia Witt), who continues to make reference to Alison's relationship with Raylan. There's some needless girl snark before Wendy reveals that she's just spoken with Alison's boss, in a skirt that the camera makes sure we take notice of. Imply what you will.
When Boyd arrives to meet his Mexican associates, he finds Johnny already there. This is not a happy family reunion. The boss man walks into the room and the back and forth begins immediately, ending with Johnny saying he's buying Boyd's life. That hangs in the air for a moment as the boss man tells them that he'll take the deal from whoever has the good money.
Speaking of money, T.C. watches as Kemp abducts his girlfriend to use as a hostage, walking right by Raylan on his way out. Raylan's suspicion that something's not right is confirmed when T.C. decides to make a run for it (and flips him off in the process). However, this means Raylan can poke around his apartment, and he finds Larry's corpse in the bathtub.
He updates Tim and Rachel, the former of whom is way too amused by the situation. Rachel suggests that Raylan try to find Kemp rather than take a second shot at the hacker. Of course, Raylan only half-listens, leaving a snarky reply on T.C.'s blog, blogging being something that our hero knows nothing about. That's when he gets a phone call from his girlfriend telling him that Wendy got her suspended for two weeks.
Boyd and Johnny share another awkward conversation while waiting to see whose money turns up first. Another Black SUV arrives, and it's Johnny's minion with his money, which means the cartel folks are changing their allegiance. Johnny hauls Boyd away, as back in Kentucky, Alison rants at Raylan. Raylan psuedo-tries to reassure her by saying that Wendy isn't his type. He's surprised when his credit card gets declined, and it's not that hard for those of us watching at home to know exactly who made that happen. As if on cue, T.C. phones him to mock him more. He claims to have drained Raylan's bank accounts too. It's like reverse Live Free or Die Hard.
Ava finds out that smuggling drugs through prison is not a pleasant experience, and decides it's not something she wants any part of. Raylan rescues T.C.'s girlfriend, but doesn't find the hacker. "He's the only reason I came," he mutters. The now ex-girlfriend leads him and Tim to - wait for it - Grandma's basement. T.C. seems surprised that his girlfriend gave him up. Apparently he hasn't watched a lot of crime TV, because it's always either the girlfriend or the best friend that rat you out. At least T.C. claims he'll set Raylan's financials back in order.
Back at the office, Rachel tells Raylan that Daryl Crowe's parole will not be reinstated, after a complaint from - who else - Wendy. Raylan strides into Art's office. Art really doesn't want to talk to him. Raylan gives Art the choice to stop freezing him out or transfer him to another office. When Art implies he'll make Raylan wait on that transfer, Raylan retorts that he'll be taking his vacation time, to see Winona and his baby down in Florida. What's implied is that it's possibly with a boost from T.C.
Ava tells her new colleagues that she can get heroin into the prison now that she's conveniently busted the existing supplier. Now she's got a mission of her own. Raylan goes to see Wendy, who flirts with him, and tries to convince her to switch sides by revealing that Daryl killed Dilly (Jason Gray-Stanford's character from the season premiere). Wendy tries to get him into her hotel room, but no dice.
As for Boyd, he's rescued by the Crowes. After he drops Johnny to the turf, he puts his business back in order. And then the Crowes kill pretty much everyone whose last name isn't Crowder. When Johnny makes the mistake of laughing, Boyd puts him down, too. And we say a fond farewell to David Meunier.
If there's a weak aspect of "Raw Deal," it's one that's persisted for a few episodes now - the feeling like the series keeps finding excuses to make Raylan's new squeeze Alison part of the plot. Their chemistry hasn't much improved since her introduction, and it's really hard to care about whether or not she's suspended from her job, because she exists only in relation to Raylan. Even Winona, when the series had her reunite with Raylan to keep her relevant, had her own storyline that stood on its own. Unless there's some significant reveal about her later on, she's not a necessary piece of this season.
Everything else, however, is traditionally awesome. This episode features a lot of things we love about Justified: Raylan's sense of humor, screen time for Rachel and Tim, and continually evolving character relationships. Whether it's Boyd and Johnny having the tables turn between them, or us seeing that Art and Raylan's friendship really is on the rocks, our characters have problems and reactions to those problems that last more than one episode. Feuds last. Scars are permanent. It's not just whatever works for the sake of the current episode. As fans, that means we get rewarded for paying attention all season. We hear about characters or happenings from episodes earlier, creating the further sense that we are in a real world and not a TV one.
Then there's the fact that people die. People die a lot. People don't just die when it can be used for shock value. When you play with stakes as high as those show does, you end up in a bathtub or dead in the desert. We've come to get used to Justified operating on this gritty edge, and that's what will always set it apart. Other shows might pretend to be gritty, or think it's cool to be dark, but this show is the real deal.
Justified continues next week at 10 PM ET/PT. In case you missed it, check out our interview with Joelle Carter.