If there was still a question as to how well Justified was served by not having Raylan and his fellow marshals do battle with a big bad, then the tense, interconnected elements of ‘Decoy’ should provide ample proof that the series is capable of more than constantly trying to outdo the memorable villains of seasons past.

Though free from having to surpass the likes of Mags Bennett – and, to a lesser degree, Robert Quarles – the plot of the season has felt at times slightly more drawn out or divergent than it needed to be, with the various Drew Thompson bits intersecting with the likes of Billy St. Cyr and the adults-only parties of Clover Hill.

Within those elements, however, the storytelling has proven to be a boon for the characters of the series, leading to such fantastic moments as Raylan’s visit to his dying father and Boyd’s attempt to transcend his humble beginnings and notorious surname through the acquisition of a Dairy Queen franchise.

Besides, with a character like Theo Tonin in the back of everyone’s mind, forever distant and invisible – and likened by some to the big guy from the Old Testament – Justified doesn’t need another big bad chewing up screen time.

To that end, ‘Decoy’ provides another great example of just how threatening and seemingly all-pervading Theo Tonin is. Having assembled a small army in Harlan through the presence of his mouthpiece, Nicky Augustine, it appears Theo’s henchmen will stop at nothing to hunt down and kill Drew Thompson, even if that means helping Colt set up IEDs along a stretch of road or sending a fresh-faced psychopath (who likes to go by the name YOLO, by the way) to Arlo’s old house, just in case Raylan is still holding Drew in his childhood home.

Theo Tonin, like the characters’ loftier goals, has been a strong part of the season, and here, ambition takes a backseat to mere survival, as the commotion surrounding Drew calls up nearly every player in the Justified roster. Sure, Wynn Duffy is nowhere to be seen, but as Augustine mentions to Boyd – in between complimenting him on his loquaciousness and those pearly whites paid for by his tour of duty – Duffy had the good sense to make a run for it rather than try to talk his way into a life-extending bargain with the unseen Tonin.

While Tim and Art’s decoy is trapped between Colt’s roadside IEDs, Raylan and Rachel are stuck listening to Shelby/Drew describe the first time he met Raylan’s father. There’s a nice back-and-forth between the two men, where Raylan essentially calls out Drew for being an actual criminal posing as a lawman and Drew telling Raylan, “You don’t even want a quiet moment where you might even think about your daddy.”

The episode manages to escalate things, as those typically in the margins are swept up in the frantic rush to kill or save Drew, but ‘Decoy’ does so in a way that gives them some real quality moments. Constable Bob winds up being a punching bag for Yolo, but, as Raylan says later, “People underestimate Bob at their peril.”

Meanwhile, Ava’s forced to put up with Augustine’s lurid advances and accusations, telling her, “You attach yourself to whatever guy gets you what you want,” before falling prey to the old flammable-beverage-in-the-face trick. Whatever insult Ava was forced to endure, none was as cutting as finding out Johnny betrayed her and his cousin for a shot at Boyd’s position.

‘Decoy’ is an episode with an abundance of white-knuckle moments, but it also finds the time to illustrate the common themes of history and legacy that have been circling Raylan and Boyd all season long. Boyd’s able to track Raylan to the abandoned high school they once attended together, telling Augustine he knows his adversary’s next move because “We dug coal together.” Which is Harlan shorthand for saying their lives are inexorably linked and until one or the other bites the dust, there’ll be no extricating them from each other’s path – just as there’s no chance either will ever fully disentangle themselves from the Harlan County they both so desperately wish to leave behind.

Various Items:

  • There are pop culture references abound in ‘Decoy,’ as Raylan feeds Art the image of reenacting the Battle of Bloody Porch, while Colt makes the somewhat self-deprecating call to have a young Gérard Depardieu play him in the movie version of Tim’s hypothetical book.
  • “Drewbacca.”
  • Tim to Art after being asked whether he gets PTSD episodes a lot: “Only when I’m handling firearms in public.”
  • YOLO is referred to as “Yoda” and “Yoo-Hoo.” Justified has turned an annoying aphorism into the Yayo of the 21st century.

Justified continues next Tuesday with ‘Peace of Mind’ @10pm on FX. Check out a preview of the episode below: