A review of tonight's "Justified" coming up just as soon as I fail the third and sixth grades...

"But the way I see it, Ava Crowder: you and me, we ain't like most people." -Boyd

This has been a darned entertaining season of "Justified" so far, but "Foot Chase" illustrated some of the pitfalls of building the season around this complicated mystery story involving many players with many agendas. It's an episode that almost works anyway, thanks to the chemistry between Raylan and Shelby in one corner and Boyd and Ava in another, but on the whole, it's a mess. The hour tries to pack too much in, and the storytelling suffers as a result.

The main plot, with Raylan and Shelby looking for the suddenly footless Josiah, leaves too many narrative gaps — many of them involving how Arlo's lawyer wound up kidnapping Josiah to sell him to Theo Tonin — because the hour's too busy bouncing around to watch Colton battle his drug addiction and rage issues, Tim help a fellow veteran out, etc., to tell it properly. It's not that I can't fill in some of those gaps myself (and some others may be explained next week), but it felt sloppy in a way that "Justified" usually isn't, all because it was trying to service some more minor characters.

It's a tough balancing act Graham Yost and company have to do; I get that. It's a big cast, between the regulars and all the recurring guests, and you want them to seem interesting enough that we'll care when they get caught up in the plot. There's been a more concerted effort to beef up the presence of Tim and Rachel this season, for instance, but I think both characters still matter almost entirely in context to how they deal with Raylan. (Not that they're alone in this; the show has done one or two Art-specific plots, but his defining trait remains exasperation towards the guy in the hat.) I don't know that I need a Tim-specific subplot — even if it intersects with what's going on with Colton — if it's going to come in the middle of an episode that needs more breathing room.

Similarly, I imagine Colton will be important down the road, and these episodes are laying the groundwork for that, and giving Ron Eldard something to play. But it still felt like more time was devoted to him than necessary.

On the flip side, I would happily watch far more of Raylan and Shelby's unlikely partnership. Timothy Olyphant and Jim Beaver obviously have a long history of working together, and a performing shorthand as a result, and it was a pleasure to see it at work — even if both men seemed a bit lackadaisical about finding Josiah before he bled out. My concern for Shelby is even higher now that he's made such an overt move on Boyd, rather than plotting in secret around him. But that story he told about the kid he shot was a good example of narrative economy in making the audience invest more deeply in a fairly minor character. If or when Boyd takes Shelby out, it'll hurt not just because I have pre-existing affection for Beaver, but because the show has turned Shelby into an interesting person.

Meanwhile, as I watched the Ava story, I was struck by how odd it is that she and Raylan used to be a hot and heavy item, and that at the start of the series, she was so willing to aim both barrels of her shotgun at Boyd and pull the trigger. Their romance is one of those situations where the show had a talented actress under contract and no obvious direction for her, and if you think too deeply about how she and Boyd became each other's One True Love, it doesn't make a ton of sense. But in this case, Walton Goggins and Joelle Carter are so good together that I inevitably forget about that and just enjoy the two of them together for scenes like his unexpected proposal. The show has had to take Ava a long way from who she was (even if, before Raylan, she was married to another Crowder), and it's been smart about acknowledging how uncomfortable she is in this life of crime, even as her passion for Boyd inevitably overwhelms those qualms.

As with any series, "Justified" has to take shortcuts sometimes. "Foot Chase" was just an episode where they were more noticeable than usual.

A few other thoughts:

* Raylan acknowledges it's been a while since he shot somebody. I honestly couldn't remember how long it had been, and after some research I think the last time (unless you count the beanbag rounds a few weeks ago) was when he shot Dickie Bennett late last season. The show has definitely become much more sparing in how often Raylan pulls the trigger.

* I will admit to having a "Holy cow!" moment (only I didn't say "cow") when it was suggested that Josiah was really Drew Thompson. Would have been an excellent use of the many faces of Gerald McRaney, who can work either as comic relief or as a much more important dramatic figure. Instead, it was just a fake-out. And now they have to find somebody better than McRaney to play the real Drew, no?

* The Tim subplot pulls in a couple of faces I'm familiar with from sitcoms: Michael Stoyanov from "Blossom" as the drug dealer, and Ian Reed Kessler (who'll always be Derek the douche from "The Loop") as Tim's recovering addict pal.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com