It’s Mission: Impossible as the US Marshal service is tasked with transporting Drew (Jim Beaver) out of Harlan County alive. The problem is that everyone wants him dead. Game on!
Let’s bitch it out…Has there ever been a more perfect episode of Justified? I say that rhetorically, because I firmly believe that ‘Decoy’ is the best. Not simply because it’s filled with adventure, well-timed violence and stand-offs worthy of the best Western films. No, what makes ‘Decoy’ stand out for me is the absolutely spot-on character moments. Literally every single character has an opportunity to shine – it’s an entire episode filled with Emmy-worthy performances.
Justified has struggled in the past to grant these kinds of opportunities to anyone other than Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd (Walton Goggins). Traditionally Tim (Jacob Pitts) and Rachel (Erica Tazel) get the short shrift while Art (Nick Searcy) and Ava (Joelle Carter) fall somewhere in between.
This isn’t the case in ‘Decoy’, though. All of our core cast of characters have a minimum of one stand-out scene, up to and including S4’s recurring guest stars (Patton Oswald’s Constable Bob, Ron Eldard’s Colt and Mike O’Malley’s villanous Nicky Augustine). Let’s count them down:
- The most memorable scene of the night for me is also the most vulgar. It’s a little strange to see Kurt’s dad from Glee unleash a monologue showcasing sucking c*ck, but it’s a tour de force performance. It also sets the table for Ava’s showcase. It’s strange to consider how much Ava has grown as the last few seasons have turned her into a dynamic, multi-layered character, even as she’s become increasingly morally grey. The moment she scoots closer to Nicky with the brandy and the lighter had me on the edge of my seat, anticipating the moment she’ll set him on fire. Instead it’s a set-up to expose the terrible truth about Cousin Johnny’s (David Meunier) betrayal, which comes out in the most innocuous of ways. I was particularly taken with Meunier’s delivery of “Ava, I love you” as Ava backs out of the bar, presumably on her way to tell Boyd and seal Johnny’s fate. A+
- My second favourite scene is the phone conversation between Tim and Colt. Whereas Nicky underestimates Ava’s abilities, the two former military operatives have had a handle on each other since they first met. The fictitious book Tim claims to be writing is a marvelous narrative device for the two to try and maneuver the other into a compromising position. While I did anticipate Colt’s betrayal of Nicky’s henchman (using the exploding car as a distraction), it still provides a satisfying ending to the stand-off
- Following closely behind Tim and Colt’s conversation is the absolutely brutal beating of Constable Bob at the hands of Nicky’s enforcer Yolo (Bobby Campo). Although Justified has killed characters before, I was fairly certain that Bob would survive his encounter so it was no surprise when he persevered (using his knife to stab the Mafia enforcer just like he did back in 4×01 ‘Hole In The Wall’). What is a surprise is how close he comes to death, as Yolo beats him so severely he can barely walk. Bob’s arc has been about proving his abilities beyond his silly Constable moniker (which is once again mocked), but this goes a long way to redeem the character after his stupid actions back in 4×09 ‘The Hatchet Tour’
If I’m being honest I liked all of the Raylan, Rachel and Drew stuff at Arlo’s house and the school, but it didn’t stand out in quite the same way. I’m glad that Drew didn’t try to make a daring escape, or that Rachel couldn’t handle him on her own (the final image of Drew and Rachel sitting in the coal train is particularly memorable).
Also enjoyable: the continued friction stemming from Raylan’s complicated relationship with Arlo. As prompted by Drew’s recollection of his introduction to Arlo in Vietnam, the references to Raylan’s deceased father reinforces how well Justified has handled Arlo’s death. It’s unconventional, but I like that Arlo’s ghost continues to haunt Raylan’s interactions with Harlan County residents. And it gives Jim Beaver even more opportunities to shine as a character who still has layers of depth to explore.
All in all, ‘Decoy’ reaffirms just how great Justified is. I can’t think of another show that employs its entire cast in such entertaining, memorable circumstances. Against all odds the semi-lackluster hunt for Drew Thompson has transformed S4 into one of the show’s best seasons and kicked the series into the same realm as TV’s best dramas, up there with Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Game Of Thrones.
- Nicky (to Boyd): “Man I love the way you talk, using 40 words when you could use four.”
- Raylan (after Shelby “You smell that? It’s irony”
- Tim (to Colt, when he tries to suggest his fictitious representation would beat them): “It’s not a fantasy”
- Drew (offering to help defend the school): “I want you to know I can be the man I became, not just the man I was.”
- Boyd (referring to his companion): “His name is Picker. I didn’t ask if he can play guitar.”
- Nicky (to Johnny, after Ava nearly lights him on fire): “Oh okay…I see what you like about her.”
- Raylan (when Picker incredulously realizes Bob killed Yolo): “People underestimate Bob at their peril.”
What did you think of ‘Decoy’ – is it worthy of being called the best episode of the series? Was there another stand-out moment for you? What do you think will happen now that the truth about Cousin Johnny is out? How will Boyd get out of letting Drew escape again? Add your theories in the comments below
Justified airs Tuesday nights at 10pm EST on FX