[This is a review of Justified season 5, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.]
As a rule, supervillain team-ups generally don't work. There's always a problem with ego; someone either isn't getting their share of the booty, or they think they could lead better than whomever is leading already – because, who the heck appointed that guy leader in the first place, right?
So, when Justified finally got around to having Boyd Crowder use his considerable personality and ability to make any phrase sound a little like a preacher at a poetry slam to woo the Crowes (or what's left of them, anyway), the idea that Darryl Jr. and Danny would fall in line and let Boyd lead them to untold wealth was already something of a pipe dream. Their efforts to spoil Boyd's business venture into Mexican heroin with Mr. Yoon (James Kyson) may wind up putting the first cracks into the foundation of what could have been a solid relationship, but they also forced Boyd's hand when it came to ending another relationship, which he does by killing his cousin Johnny.
So far this season, Justified has been spinning so many plates it's been difficult to get any sort of thematic read on what's been going on. The problem has largely been that there's so much actually happening, the writers haven't had much of a chance to connect it to an overarching idea or concept hat helps make the heretofore unrelated plot threads feel associated or part of something larger and more significant. A lot of that has to do with the Crowes; their presence in Harlan has been a source of great aggravation for Raylan, but beyond being annoyed that a bunch of criminal miscreants spawned out of the same shallow gene pool as Dewey moved into his backyard, there's not been a lot of dramatic weight attached to or larger themes at play with Deputy Marshal Givens' annoyance.
In 'Raw Deal,' though, the season comes around, takes a shot at wrapping the elements around a single focal point, and manages to present one of the best episodes so far in season 5. Writer VJ Boyd is working with the concept of loyalty and the consequence of disloyalty throughout the entire episode, with fascinating ramifications for nearly everyone involved. Of course, when it comes down to the idea of being loyal, the aforementioned dust-up near the Mexican border between Johnny's crew and the Crowders serves as a perfect example, but so does Johnny's attempt to pull a fast one and buy his way into taking over Boyd's deal with Yoon. The fact that Boyd shoots his cousin in such a brusque manner demonstrates everything the audience needs to know about the shooter's state of mind, and his level of concern over adding another body to the "no killing in Mexico" rule Mr. Yoon's guy mentioned before everything went sideways.
Boyd, Johnny, and the Crowes would have made for an interesting enough episode about loyalty on their own, but 'Raw Deal' also strives to weave in some of the same ideas into Raylan's thread about chasing down a hacker who ripped off a haughty backgammon champ named Larry Salmeron (Greg Bryan) and winds up on the run after Larry's hired thug (played by Gary Basaraba, Mad Men's Herb Rennet) proves his disloyalty by shooting Larry in the head. Outside of some entertaining one-liners and some of the best back-and-forth the season has put on display so far, the hacker story doesn't factor into the season much at all. However, the circumstances of how the case fell into his lap in the first place help set the tone for Raylan's terse tête-à-tête with Art, wherein he demands to be transferred to another city – unless his boss can find a way to move past his role in Nicky Augustine's murder.
As with most good Justified storylines, there are a few different ways of looking at Raylan's troubles and what he's basically asking Art to do. Tonight's focus on the idea of loyalty makes those moral gray areas even grayer. Throw in Eva's prison-set power play and the above-mentioned death (maybe) of Johnny Crowder and you have the makings for one strong episode.
Justified continues next Tuesday with 'Whistle Past the Graveyard' @10pm on FX.