Spoilers for last night’s Justified below:
“Man, I love the way you talk. You use up forty words where four will do.”
Talk is cheap. Cheap? Talk is free. That’s the great thing about it. In the Harlan County of Justified, there are people who are rich and people who are poor, and people who are in-between, and people who are on their way from one to the other. But they all have words, and the beauty of an episode like “Decoy” is the free-wheeling joy that Justified takes in letting its characters spend their words like newly minted lottery winners.
“Decoy,” the best episode of an increasingly good season 4, is an action-oriented episode, insofar as there’s a showdown and beatdowns, helicopters and trains, guns are fired and shit blows up. But it’s also a siege episode, whose events take place practically in real time, which means a lot of waiting and assessing and talking.
It’s a truism of TV that dialogue drives the medium: budgets and schedules being what they are, even a visually dramatic show has to lean a lot on conversation. (Take Game of Thrones, which has spectacular sequences, but scene by scene is largely a sequence of successive dialogues.) But the distinction of Justified–a literary, word-lover’s show to begin with–is that on this drama, talk is action. It is how characters test one another’s mettle, conduct reconnaissance, and carry out war by other means.
And “Decoy” was just one fantastic instance of this after another. I could have listened to it as a radio drama.
To take just a few examples: that first scene between Nicky Augustine and Boyd, of course, which Nicky begins by talking about the way Boyd talks. Nicky is tough and terse: “God of the Old Testament: kind of a dick!” Boyd, the backwoods boy proud of his intelligence, has a courtly flourish even when he’s keeping it brief: “I tried to keep it to four words. You’ll allow the contraction as one.” (Love that “You’ll allow.”) Nicky’s words are hard and hammering; Boyd’s are fluid and flowing, a torrent of verbiage trying to find the cracks in the wall so he can talk his way into keeping himself–and his $500,000 payday–alive.
Then there’s that fine, playful phone call between Tim and Colt—”I’m writing a book set in Iraq…”—that’s about Colt’s IEDs and ambush plan but also about Colt’s conception of himself. That both are veterans adds to the complexity and ball-busting; Justified loves setups between antagonists who share some kind of history. (“Our paths have crossed.”) Terrific, laconic delivery by Jacob Pitts throughout. (“You want to know the sad part?” “Oh, there’s a sad part?”)
There’s each conversation between Raylan and Shelby/Drew, with the prisoner trying to establish a rapport and Raylan reminding him that, though he may have played the role of lawman, they are not on the same side here (and Drew is no harmless miscreant). There’s Ava’s trumping Nicky’s threats with seduction. There are the tense talks between Raylan and Boyd, which come down–as so much does between them–to their childhoods, as we listen to two men with guns argue about their high school memories of an astronaut. Boyd was right: In the end, you always go back to high school.
And good Lord, there’s Constable Bob’s hero moment–hero Bob!–in which the comic-relief civil servant finally shows his badassery in the form of wordplay, as he claims ignorance of Drew’s whereabouts. (“The doctor on TV? Nancy Drew? Drewbacca? Drew Mama? Drewsitania?”)
“Decoy” ends with a double-decoy move the key fake-out happens off-camera: Rachel sneaking out of town with Drew on a coal train. But as in so many of Justified’s best episodes, what happened before our eyes and especially our ears–the storytelling, rationalizing, negotiating, and old-fashioned bullshitting–was no mere diversion. The words are the deeds.
As Boyd says to Raylan, as they hold guns in the stairwell of their old school, “You know I like a good conversation as much as anybody.” When the conversation’s as good as it is in “Decoy,” I like it even more.
Quick hail of bullets:
* I say that I could have enjoyed this episode as a radio play, but then I’d miss things like the little eyebrow-flicker Ava gives Nicky, just before she sits down with the brandy that she will threaten to flambée him with.
* One nice touch in the Ava-Nicky scene: the song playing in the background ends just as things get uncomfortable, and there are a few seconds’ silence before the next one starts playing.
* Speaking of musical cues, Yolo’s turning on “Love Train” before beating up Bob suggests he’s seen his share of Tarantino movies. (Also: “Love Train”? The inspiration for his plan to sneak Drew out of town?)
* “None of you smokes? This is Kentucky, not Sausalito! What’s wrong with you people?”
* “Why don’t you hand over Drew to these–well, I won’t say nice, but people.”
* “Who’s he?” “He’s the one who killed Yoohoo.” “Yolo.” “Whatever.” “Him?” “People underestimate Bob at their peril.”