A review of tonight's "Justified" coming up just as soon as I bob and weave out of the path of a bullet...

"Wouldn't it be easier just to go and buy yourself a new hat?" -Joe the bartender
"Probably. But it ain't easier I'm after." -Raylan

Back in January, I interviewed "Justified" showrunner Graham Yost, mainly to talk about the challenge of adapting Elmore Leonard, but also to get his take on the show in general. At this point, I had only seen the pilot, and I asked about the challenge of maintaining suspense on a show where the main character is so confident and capable that he's always telling the bad guys what he's going to do, and then does it.

"You have to turn that on its head," Yost said, "or it's going to become too predictable. He has to become more fallible. Elmore gets into cool things with him in the books when you realize he's concerned about what his pay grade is, or whether he likes a particular flavor of ice cream. He's a very particular character. He's not just the superman. There are elements of him almost being a superhero in the pilot, because he's so competent, so we have to shake that up and have things not go the way he expects."

In early episodes, Raylan remained very much the master of all he surveyed, but as this season has gone on, Yost has been true to his word. And the show has been more interesting for that.

"Hatless" finds Raylan stripped of all his powers: no badge and gun while on vacation, no hat after the loudmouths at the bar take it, no aura of invincibility after the loudmouths mark up his face. After he played an inadvertent role in getting both Bo and Boyd Crowder sprung from jail early, he's doubting himself, drinking, getting into fights and modeling other self-destructive behaviors. And when Winona comes to him again about her husband and Wynn Duffy, Raylan can't go in all guns-a-blazin'. He's essentially on a paid suspension, it isn't Marshal's business anyway, and Raylan's confidence is at a series low.

But we've seen that Raylan is more than just a stetson and a quickdraw. He's smart and tenacious and understands how to talk to people so they'll do the right thing (either for themselves or for Raylan), so he's able to go and speak to all the parties involved and ultimately find a way to solve Gary's problem without violence. (That there's a shootout anyway says more about Wynn's psychopathy than about Raylan, who's an innocent, miraculously unwounded bystander.)

The conversation Raylan and Gary have on the site of the failed "shopping destination" was the most vulnerable, and in some ways the most likable, we've seen Raylan so far in the series. He resents Winona having left him for this doofus, and is mad Gary has put her in harm's way, but he knows he has to find a way to relate to the guy to get him to put the gun down and agree to give up the property, and he does it. He lets Gary tell him all about his unfinished plans, and compliments them, and then when Gary asks why he's doing this on his vacation, Raylan wryly calls back to his conversation with Arnie the fixer and says, "Apparently, Tahiti sucks."

Just a very well-written episode, and nicely-played by Timothy Olyphant and Natalie Zea, who had to carry the episode while the Marshals, Ava and the Crowders all took the week off. We know from the episode with Raylan's dad why he's as dark as he is, but "Hatless" helps show why Winona would have left him, no matter what created that personality.

The one thing I do wonder is what the show does with Winona now. Winona's speech about why she loves Gary, and then the "Stand By Your Man" ending, makes it clear she has no intention on backsliding with her ex (if this won't chase her away from Gary, only infidelity will). So with her happily married, and her jeopardy resolved, what role does she have in the series? Does she just show up now and again while Raylan's walking through the courthouse to wryly banter about his problems? Does she become some kind of platonic confidant? Or does she go back to being marginalized once "Justified" focuses back in on Ava and the Crowders?

A few other thoughts: 

  • Glad to see David Eigenberg return as Arnie. The show would be wise to build up a network of recurring characters like him, who get a ton of screen time when they first appear and then can pop up again as the plot needs them. And the line, "Don't you usually wear an obnoxious hat of some sort?" made me laugh.
  • Hands up, everyone who assumed at first that Wynn and Billy Mac did more than mess up T-Bone's knee? That was a nice little role for Malik Yoba, by the way.
  • I liked Raylan subconsciously moving to take off his hat when he entered Wynn's office. Little touches.

What did everybody else think?