"But our stories are our own, huh? We all got our cross to bear." -Arlo GivensThe early episodes of "Justified" dropped so many ominous hints about Raylan's father that the episode introducing Papa Givens was going to have a lot to live up to. Fortunately, "The Lord of War and Thunder" was up to expectations, thanks in part to the casting of ace character actor Raymond J. Barry as Arlo, in part due to Timothy Olyphant putting Raylan's more laid-back qualities aside for an episode and unleashing that anger we all know he plays so well.
In particular, I loved the scene where Raylan goes to Perkins' house and tells the story of his childhood. It wasn't because of the content of the speech, since a lot of the Givens family backstory was already strongly implied (as I've said, Graham Yost characters tend to spell out more than is necessary), but because of how Olyphant played it. In that scene, Raylan wasn't talking to Perkins, and was barely even talking at him. In that moment, Raylan was alone with the ghosts of his childhood, and anyone else in the room was irrelevant, except as someone whose ass Raylan could kick if they were dumb enough to make him.
And it's also a mark of both Olyphant's performance and the way Yost and company have written the character that he did not, in fact, go off on Perkins or his nephews when the opportunity arose. Raylan's angry, but he grew up in the home of a man who couldn't control his anger. And just as Arlo vowed to be the opposite of his own father, Raylan the son of a criminal not only went into the law, but made himself into a man with a tight leash on his own fury. He can let it out when necessary, but usually he does it in a controlled manner. He has his code, and he makes sure his opponents know it; if they follow his rules, they get a pass, and if they don't, he can always tell himself it's their own fault they're dead.
(And, really, can you blame him after seeing the little cemetary outside his childhood home? We all figuratively have a gravestone waiting with our name on it, but Raylan had to grow up looking at a literal one. It'd make any man angry and death-obsessed.)
After the last few episodes were largely self-contained adventures of Raylan and the other Marshals, "The Lord of War and Thunder" suggested that "Justified" may have room for some longer-term storytelling, after all. Not only does Raylan vow to put Arlo back in prison, somehow, but we're reminded that Boyd has a very large family, and most of them - including papa Bo (who will also require great casting, after the build-up here) - aren't too happy with either Raylan or Ava. And I liked the way this episode flipped the format, with the more serialized and personal plots taking the forefront but with an engaging, and brief, episodic story about Raylan playing gardener to catch a fugitive. If the series can be fluid about its format - standalone-only if the story's good enough to carry the hour (like last week's fugitive dentist plot), and a mix when it's not - I'll be very pleased.
A few other thoughts:
• These days, with most shows operating on a tight budget where only a handful of actors are budgeted to appear in every single episode, the idea of who is or isn't a "regular castmember" is less aesthetic than it is contractual. Still, when Winona turned up in the scene where Ava met U.S. Attorney David Vazquez, I shrugged and said, "Oh, yeah, Natalie Zea is on this show." She appeared briefly in the pilot and the second episode, wasn't in episodes 3 and 4 at all, and did a scene and a half here. I like Zea fine, but I enjoy Olyphant's chemistry with Joelle Carter so much that I don't exactly miss her when she's not around.
• Yost brings in another familiar face from a past project, casting Rick Gomez (who was wisecracking George Luz in "Band of Brothers," as well as the older brother of Josh Gomez from "Chuck") as Vazquez. Given all the talk about both the Crowder family and the legal problems that would come from Raylan and Ava having a relationship, I'm expecting/hoping to see a lot more of Gomez down the road.
• Couple other guest stars of note: Eddie Jemison from the "Ocean's Eleven" films (but better known in the Sepinwall household for this series of Bud Light commercials) as Glen Perkins, Linda Gehringer as Raylan's knife-wielding stepmom, and Brent Sexton (Damian Lewis's ex-partner from "Life") as the cop from Raylan's hometown.
What did everybody else think?