Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Justified, "The Lord of War and Thunder": Raylan at the bat

A review of tonight's "Justified" coming up just as soon as I get my dignity back...
"But our stories are our own, huh? We all got our cross to bear." -Arlo Givens
The 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?


JordanFromJersey said...

"The wrong kid died"

(I didn't get a chance to see this ep yet, but that's what the pic reminded me of)

Unknown said...

Great, fun episode. I'm one that enjoys larger arcs, but if they can simply get an arc or two going, involving the Crowder's and Papa Givens, I'll be pleased.

Who played the new Crowder today?

Zach said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rollie said...

This is the first episode where Raylan didn't send anyone on their way to the after, is it not? The show has shown marked improvement the last couple weeks. Here's hoping the trend continues as the show moves deeper towards its arc.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Zach, no talking about what's in the previews. No Spoiler rule.

GMan said...

Really enjoyed this episode, a much needed episode for those like myself were fearful that this show wouldn't have that next level of story continuation we were looking for. Great dialog, though still think some of characters are painted with a wide brush. But, great, great turn for this show.

Anonymous said...

I share the happiness that this is the first episode lead didn't fly. They're such great characters in this show; I was so satisfied when Raylan completely deflated whatever fight the cousins might have had by kicking away their shotgun he'd located with his Jedi mind powers.

AC said...

I enjoyed this one a lot, and as you wrote, Alan, I'll be very pleased as well if the show can work in some long term storytelling alongside the "case of the week" arcs.

I'm glad that Pa Givens entered the picture now, instead of holding his appearance for the equivalent of sweeps. I think we had just enough build-up. I'm also glad that the character is being played by, well, a "character actor", and not some stunt-casted, "big name." It makes the whole story more believable.

Happy to see Rick Gomez pop up. He'll always be Endless Mike from "Pete and Pete" to me, though! As for Natalie Zea, I'm sure we'll get some more scenes of Winona and Raylan in the future, and that backstory will come out more. I don't mind that she's in the background for now. It's better than trying to shoehorn a Raylan/Winona confrontation into every episode.

AG said...

Deeply satisfying casting tonight -- always nice to see Eddie Jemison lending his special brand of squirrelly to any proceedings. I'm hopeful too that the pacing changeups continue; I wasn't as taken with the aunt's-house soliloquy (though Olyphant would sell me on that if anyone could), but overall, good stuff. (And I'm glad to be back to Harlan County; though Alan Ruck tore it *up* last week, the LA thing was way too fish-out-of-water for me, and made me worry that the writers were trying to escape eastern Kentucky. May they be no more successful at that than Raylan.)

Trilby said...

Eddie Jemison is well-known in my household for playing Adrienne Shelley's love interest in Waitress, AKA the crazy stalking elf.

JanieJones said...

Ah, Trilby, I remember him from Waitress too. I knew his face from Ocean's but knew I had seen him in some other things. Thanks for the reminder.

I thought this was a well-done episode all around. The only thing that bothered me a bit was the poor CGI in the car drive (someone also mentioned this last week). It makes things look cheap.

Raylan interacting with his father was superb.
Raylan, looking at the grave stones of his mother, father and himself was chilling. It appeared to evoke sadness and anger from Raylan.

I see trouble down the road with large extended Crowder family for Raylan and Ava. Raylan was warned last night. I do enjoy the larger arc's but I can definitely do both within this show if keeps it's good consistency.

I watch the credits but I tend to forget about Zea, also. I know there is alot to be unearthed re: Raylan and Winona. I have to agree with Alan, I enjoy Olyphant and Carter's chemistry together.

Perhaps, it's just me but I think Raylan probably pines for ex-wife or the idea of her. He didn't break into her house to look for decorating tips.

Who played the fugitive's wife? I know I've seen her somewhere. She reminds me of younger Grace Zabriske.

DonBoy said...

See, I figured the money would be buried in Raylan's "grave", although I guess that would be obvious from the state of the ground.

Busman said...

I quite liked how they incorporated the weekly gunfight in the showdown in the fugitive's kitchen. You don't always need guns to throw down.

Zach said...

My apologies Alan about the spoiler, won't happen again.

Solid episode, I'm enjoying all of the "that guy's" the show brings forth every week

Mapeel said...

It's like the show's creators couldn't live without Sheriff Bullock and so created the perfect vehicle to bring the 21st century version of him into our lives. It's perfect, so enjoyable.

Author said...

This episode should have aired about 2 weeks ago. Would have given more of a personal side for Raylan. Something more for viewers to relate to. I didn't mind at first, but it was nice to have a episode where he didn't have to pop anyone, even if it was "Justified".

Joan said...

This is the first episode where Raylan didn't send anyone on their way to the after, is it not?

Second; he didn't kill anyone in "Riverbrook," either. Tim did, but Raylan didn't.

Stephanie said...

I actually don't enjoy the chemistry between Raylan and Ava at all. Maybe it's due to her way too exaggerated Southern accent, but she doesn't seem intellegent enough for Raylan.

This was the best episode for me since the first. I also would like to mention that I do, however, enjoy the (non-sexual)chemistry between Raylan and his female partner.

Great critique, sir. This is my first trip here, and it was very satisfying.

Lisa said...

I agree with Stephanie -- Ava doesn't seem good enough for Raylan. But then as attractive as Olyphant is, I suppose there's some measure of jealousy seeping in on my part.

Douglas said...

Best episode since the pilot and worthy of a second viewing.

I agree with JanieJones in that the CGI was slightly distracting. It feels like there's been an epidemic of pretty bad "characters in cars driving in daylight" CGI going around. Must be the budget cuts.

Anonymous said...

I was reading this review and waiting to get to the comments so i could type "The wrong kid died!" only to find the very first poster beat me to it. lol Glad to see a fellow Walk Hard fan.

"You're not half the boy that Nate was! You're not even half the boy that the TOP half of Nate was before you cut him in half."

Looking forward to more of Papa Givens.

Kimmy said...

Yet another awesome show you got me into with your reviews Alan. I just caught up on the show with On Demand, and now I am up to date for tonight's episode. I am glad to follow your reviews and suggestions.

Anonymous said...

I'm loving reading these reviews about a decade late, as I'm new to the show.

I have to hard disagree about Ava and Raylan here. Joelle Carter seems to be the main weak link in the cast at this point. Her accent is cartoonish southern and I do not see the chemistry at all between her and Raylan. She seems way too unattractive for someone as ridiculously handsome as Raylan. I fully understand why he pines for Winona though. Natalie Zea is incredibly gorgeous and Raylan seems to not be over his ex-wife at all (the scene in the pilot when he goes to the court room to find her and just stares at her, the subtle way that Olyphant shows Raylan is completely lost in his feelings looking at her is amazing).

I am really hoping Ava becomes more of a background character for a little while because I cannot handle her unhinged accent.