One of the many, many things the creative folks over at Justified excel at is the sometimes tricky art of repartee that’s not simply entertaining, but also manages to get something important about the characters across (beyond their adroitness) when it comes to conversation. It’s a useful technique, allowing the audience to better understand where a character is coming from without eating up too much screen time with what would otherwise be banal exposition.

The end result – when it comes to Justified, anyway – is the audience instantly has a feel for who a particular person is and how he or she perceives the situation or individuals they are dealing with. But it’s not just Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) or Art Mullen (Nick Searcy) who get to participate in all this witty repartee (though they are definitely three of the most gifted at it); such verbal dexterity is granted to nearly everyone who has a line in the series.

This notion was brought up in the review of the season premiere, ‘Hole in the Wall,’ when bail-jumping murderer Jody Adair (Chris Chalk, who played Tom Walker in Homeland) had only a few chances to converse with everyone’s favorite loose-cannon lawman. Despite those scant, objective-based lines of dialogue, Jody still managed to feel like a fully realized character; not simply a nonentity intended to somehow move the plot along – even if that’s all that he ended up being.

So it should come as no surprise that Randall Kusik (Robert Baker), estranged husband to whiskey-slinging bartender, Lindsey Salazar (Jenn Lyon), would also have a few interesting verbal jabs to accompany his mighty fists of fury. Case in point: Randall’s threat to “put a limp in that Gary Cooper walk” of Raylan’s after the two feign a courteous, but tensely testosterone-driven tête-à-tête, only to end it by agreeing to a showdown later that day (which, according to Raylan, will end with Randall either “in cuffs, or in a box”).

It’s all just getting-to-know-you talk, but Randall gets fleshed out pretty quickly, and it’s clear that he’s not someone to be trifled with – although that doesn’t stop Raylan from assuring his punchy acquaintance that he’d been intimate with Lindsey the very night Randall stopped by the bar to say “hi” and be all sorts of intimidating. It turns out, prior to the intimacy, Lindsey lets Raylan in on the petty criminal past she and Randall had – the one that landed him in prison for beating a guy half to death just for “rubbing on her,” while she went on to fall into the good graces of a U.S. Marshal.

This personal beef with Randall unfolds as the season’s growing mystery regarding the truth about Waldo Truth and the probably-not-dead Drew Thompson heats up. The case continues to unravel thanks to a lead on Thompson’s ex-wife, Eve Munro: Certified Spiritualist (Julia Campbell), which puts Raylan and Tim (Jacob Pitts) in her living room. Eve gives Raylan an unnervingly accurate psychic reading before a dirty FBI agent named Barnes shows up, causing her to scamper out her half-bath window and into the arms of a Detroit hard case named Mason (who, as it turns out, has a propensity for telling people the manner in which they are going to die – of which badly and slowly seem to be the primary methods). One wonders why Eve failed to see that coming.

Later on, Raylan runs into Agent Barnes outside of Randall’s gym, after the amateur fighter was a no show to their potentially violent rendezvous. Barnes’ presence gets Raylan thinking, and no sooner does he inquire as to what kind of tip led the FBI to this particular gym than Barnes makes like he’s going to either shoot Raylan or himself. For a brief moment, it seems like Barnes will be talked down, thanks to Raylan’s patented mixture of the threat of violence and future spousal shame, but whatever the agent has himself mixed up in, it’s bad enough that suicide is the only viable alternative.

Before he checks out, though, Barnes lets Raylan know where he can find Eve – the tip allows the marshals to arrest Mason before Eve can start dying slowly. After some coaxing on Art’s behalf, Eve finally gives up what she knows about Drew, which ties his disappearance to Detroit mobster Theo Tonin (Adam Arkin), who Drew witnessed killing a government informant.

Despite the Drew Thompson case giving everyone a certain tumescent glow, the episode manages to do a great job focusing on its characters and examining how close relationships affect the decisions an individual makes, regardless of what it might mean for his or her own welfare. Rachel (Erica Tazel) has left her husband, even though he’s a good man, and now she’s apprehending dangerous fugitives without calling for backup; Randall went to prison and is now violating the terms of his release, apparently to search for Lindsey; Cassie Cyr (Lindsay Pulsipher) has been milking the venomous snakes her brother handles without his knowledge; and now, Johnny Crowder (David Meunier) is conspiring with Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) to kill Boyd because he felt passed over when Bo died.

Meanwhile, Boyd’s trying to oust the Cyrs by first offering them money, then sending Colton (Ron Eldard) and a young kid to force them out – which ends badly for the kid, but gives Boyd the edge needed to reveal Billy St. Cyr (Joseph Mazzello) to be the false prophet he’d earlier accused him of. So far, season 4 has mentioned the notion of faith quite a bit, and in balancing the characters’ beliefs with the harshness that the truth can often bring, Justified is making those who inhabit its version of Harlan County have kind of clarity of character Boyd demands from Billy. It’ll be interesting to see where it brings someone a little further out there like Raylan, or even his father.

Other Items:

  • Just three episodes into season 4 and we’ve two confirmed sightings of Tim Gutterson and Rachel Brooks. Let’s hope the writers continue to find ways of keeping both marshals in the storyline as the season progresses.
  • I wonder if that poster behind Dr. Painter (Scot Zeller), as he was explaining to Boyd that the poor snake-bitten kid should have died from his exposure to the snake venom, was a mere coincidence that capitalized on the moment or if it was put there deliberately.
  • With talk of Gary Cooper, Wyatt Earp, ‘The Dead Zone’ and Michael Jordan, Justified’s characters are slinging pop culture references more frequently than they do bullets these days – which seems to be working just fine.
  • While there’s been plenty of violence, Raylan seems to be avoiding it, either by choice or by chance, as evidenced by his unwillingness to fight Randall in ‘Where’s Waldo?’ and then by him seeking to have it out with his would be adversary, which leads to him getting burgled instead. Chances are that’ll be the last time Raylan ends up dodging a fight.

Justified continues next Tuesday with ‘This Bird Has Flown’ @10pm on FX. Check out a preview of the episode below: