[This is a review of Justified season 5, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
‘Kill the Messenger’ commences with a dialogue-free sequence that has Art greet Raylan in a bar with a haymaker worthy of a title fight. The lack of verbal interplay between them only heightens the emotional impact of what has clearly taken place – i.e., Raylan has confessed to orchestrating the murder of Nicky Augustine.
Nick Searcy has always been a strong presence on Justified, but here he manages to convey a broad range of emotions with nothing more than body language. Searcy’s hunched body hangs like a wet towel on that barstool before he stands to face his deputy with such conviction you can feel the punch well before it lands – once again demonstrating the best-written shows on television know when to let the performances and the emotional tenor of the scene do all the talking.
Writer Ingrid Escajeda wisely leaves the event largely unspoken, which only serves to heighten its impact, as Raylan’s bruised face and Art’s swollen hand become the elephant in the room that Tim and Rachel now have to accommodate. But that’s just in addition to everything else going in the Kentucky field office, thanks to Raylan’s shenanigans.
This is a common theme in Justified, one that resonated tremendously during last season’s discussion on familial legacy, which now seems to have branched out into a discussion of what will be Art’s legacy, considering he’s left to wrestle with the moral and legal ramifications of what Raylan’s done.
But what ‘Kill the Messenger’ does so well is point out that for all the trouble that’s come Raylan’s way because of the Givens name and what it means in Harlan County, a great deal more comes to him (and those around him) because of how he conducts himself in life.
Near the end of the episode, Rachel acknowledges Raylan’s status as a hero, telling him he’s the kind of guy who’d run into a burning building without thinking twice; but she’s also cognizant enough to point out that fire (metaphorically speaking, anyway) was likely started by Raylan in the first place.
One of the throughlines of season 5 has been the idea of characters making trouble for themselves where there either previously was none, or trouble had been nominal before their meddling served to exacerbate the problem. And that aspect has helped some of the rather disconnected plotlines feel moored to something more substantial.
Right now there are a lot of great scenes resulting from Boyd and Wynn Duffy seeking Mexican heroin, attempting to free Ava, teaming with Darryl Jr. and the Crowes, and, of course, Boyd’s ongoing efforts to kill cousin Johnny, but they don’t quite feel cohesive, or that the season has a convincing, overarching narrative structure yet. It feels like season 5 wants to explore the criminal world in freefall, and to a certain extent, the chaos of Boyd’s storyline is an extension of that, so hopefully it will begin to tie together now that he and the Crowes enjoy a tenuous alliance.
Despite everything else that transpired, the most interesting takeaway may be the realization of how, as audience members, it’s easy to get caught up in the actions of the characters we like, even when the action itself is inherently wrong and will have a tremendously negative impact. And when the story in question concerns someone as interesting and as entertaining to watch as Raylan Givens, the temptation is to generally be on board with whatever he’s doing.
But compelling moments that give the storyline its dramatic heft don’t always wind up being the best thing for the character in terms of the truth of his or her situation, and from this can come a kind of self-reflection that is worthy of investigation.
Justified will be taking a week off and will resume with ‘Raw Deal’ on Tuesday, February 25 @10pm on FX.
Photos: Prashant Gupta/FX