If you thought last week's episode of Justified was packed full of TV goodness, then you'll love this week. Not only do we have three actors who should be immediately recognizable to any small-screen aficionado, but we've also brought back the great (and greatly underused) members of the show's own supporting cast, in telling a mostly standalone story that serves as a fantastic anti-drug PSA.
Two very not-nice dudes (played by Wood Harris of The Wire and Steve Harris of The Practice, who are actually related) are beating up a third guy for screwing up their business, and then decide to shoot him. Speaking of the beaten, after being gravely injured by Boyd, Paxton is in the hospital with his wife and a sheriff's deputy by his side. The wife positively identifies Boyd for the deputy, who insists that he's "not afraid of Boyd Crowder. In fact, I would bet that Boyd Crowder's afraid of me." Just go ahead and start the countdown to his ego check now.
Which brings us to Xander Berkeley. Yes, that Xander Berkeley, of Nikita and 24 and pretty much everything else, who's being paid a visit by Raylan and Rachel. They're not only arresting him, they're seizing his house and Raylan is playing with his stuff. It's a triple whammy. Tim appears, giddy that the place has a bowling alley. "All this for doing Detroit's dirty laundry," Rachel says with a knowing smile. We're just happy that Rachel and Tim still exist.
As Rachel's ushering the guilty party out the door, Raylan tells her that he's headed to Lexington, because a police lieutenant has just accused him of being responsible for his kid's drug problem. And with that, he borrows our mafia associate's expensive car to take an unscheduled trip.
Elsewhere, a frustrated Boyd is cornered by our self-assured deputy and a bunch of his friends in his bar, and when he sees Paxton's wife, he can guess what brought this on. Only the supremely stupid would bring the sole witness to a murder along to pick up the suspect she's already identified. It's like showing the killer in a horror movie exactly who's on to them. Anyway, when the deputy goes to arrest Boyd, Paxton's wife recants her earlier statement, much to his ire. Yay for the ineptitude of local law enforcement.
Raylan finds out that the issue he's being hauled in about is none other than Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever), who's been selling marijuana to the lieutenant's kid. He's less upset about that than he is her throwing her name around, and decides to leave her sitting in a jail cell, much to her surprise. As Raylan's leaving, Loretta's social worker Alison (Amy Smart) pretty much just rambles in front of him for two solid minutes. When Alison finds out he chose not to bail Loretta out, she gives him a mini-lecture, but it falls flat, because they're already flirting in a scene that's unnaturally heavy-handed for Justified. (Besides, if you've seen the commercials for this season, they give away exactly where these two are headed.)
Following Loretta's questionable boyfriend leads Raylan to Wood Harris and Steve Harris, who are about to beat him up, too. They decide to leave instead, and Raylan advises the boyfriend to dump Loretta before he calls up Alison and proposes that they meet up again.
Meanwhile, Boyd speaks with Paxton's wife, who matter-of-factly informs him that she's not happy and she wants the money he was planning on bribing her husband with so that she can leave the country. "As long as I get my money soon," she says with an ominous look, "everything will be fine." Boyd is then late for a meeting, leaving Wynn Duffy to try and pacify their drug dealers. Thankfully, Boyd gets there before Duffy gets punched in the face.
Back at the Marshals Office, Art and AUSA Vasquez have heard from Rachel about Raylan's disappearing act. Vasquez runs with the news, suggesting that Raylan move into Xander Berkeley's mini-mansion just in case something pops up. Once he leaves, Raylan finds out from Art that not only is Sammy Tonin dead, but he'd called the office looking for Raylan just before he died. That last part doesn't make sense to either man.
But Raylan doesn't have more than a minute to chew on that before Loretta walks in, looking nonplussed. She tells him that her boyfriend is missing, and we find out that he's stuck with Wood Harris and Steve Harris again, brutalized and searching for something he buried. Before they can kill him, it's Raylan to the rescue, knocking out Steve Harris with a well-placed shovel to the head, and drawing his gun before Wood Harris can react. Turns out they're working with some bad guy from Memphis, who's now on the boyfriend's case because of - you guessed it - Loretta. Raylan's reaction to this additional information is priceless. It's classic Timothy Olyphant.
Everybody gets together (some of them in handcuffs) at an unnamed location which looks suspiciously like the one at the beginning of Scott Grimes' music video for Sunset Blvd. That makes it even more unfortunate that Jason Gray-Stanford was already killed off this show. "My general rule is keep talking, I put you in the trunk," he informs a smart-mouthed Wood Harris, and we know that he means it. Apparently he's missing dinner with Alison to meet with the dude from Memphis. Raylan wants his deal with the kids squashed and his crew out of Kentucky, and gets what he wants after another very well-articulated Raylan Givens threat. When he dumps Loretta's boyfriend at the nearest bus stop, Loretta wisely stays in the car. Although Raylan easily deduces she used him to take care of her problem, he doesn't seem all that offended.
As the action wraps up, Dewey is terribly unenthused - maybe even a little terrified - to see his Florida cousins come to town, Art begins poking around in the past, and Raylan pursues Loretta's social worker, despite her saying she was previously turned off by cops, and him apparently having told her about Winona and the baby. Most importantly, though, Boyd arrives to pick up his drugs, and finds a disaster zone.
Justified usually sprinkles a standalone story or two amongst its season-long arc, and it's easy to see why this one is at the beginning, because characters are introduced and moved around here that will be relevant later. The good part of this episode is that it's another return for Loretta, who still serves as an interesting foil for Raylan and is still wonderfully played by Kaitlyn Dever. As Raylan points out, it's not really a surprise to see her still on the metaphorical wrong side of the tracks, and her predicament generates enough drama to at least keep the story moving, even if it doesn't keep us guessing. Hopefully, we'll see more of her in another chapter; on just the merits of this installment, it looks like her story serves mostly to introduce Raylan's new love interest - the one major weak point in this episode.
To be fair, the execution of a new romance for our favorite U.S. Marshal likely has some off-screen factors involved; we've previously mentioned Natalie Zea's pre-existing commitment to return in a recurring capacity to The Following, plus the wrench that got thrown in when the writers opted to make Winona pregnant last year, as having a baby around on Justified is about as good an idea as a fork in a toaster. But all that aside, the introduction of Alison hits us over the head on a show that doesn't normally do that. They're openly flirting in their very first conversation, setting up a dinner date in their second, and it's pretty obvious they're going to sleep together by the end of the episode, which is maybe a day or so after they've met. It wouldn't kill the show to move things between the characters at a reasonable pace, and let the chemistry between the actors develop, instead of coming across like a pair of...well, teenagers.
At least this episode gives us many little things to enjoy, whether it's Xander Berkeley - not enough Xander Berkeley, in our opinion - Wood Harris and Steve Harris dropping by, or another one of Raylan's great monologues to a bad guy, or the fact that Tim and Rachel have not been forgotten by the Justified writers. These are small hallmarks of how good the show is; even when the main plot itself isn't perfect, the episode is still worth watching, because the universe is so well fleshed out and the production values are so high. Let's hope that next week, we see some of these bits and pieces put together into something much more on the level of Justified's typical high-caliber drama.