[This is a review of Justified season 6, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS.]
The dialogue on Justified has always been one of the series' major selling points. It has a deliberately verbose quality that never descends into aimless rambling. It oftentimes comes to the point of being lyrical, all the while sounding like something these characters would actually say. Now that's partly because the show has so much Elmore Leonard in its DNA, and partly because it has a history of hiring actors who've done that sort of thing before – on a little show called Deadwood(there's three in tonight's episode alone).
Regardless of the writers' influences and inspirations for the colorful discourses between equally colorful characters, season 6 has presented a compelling argument for having some of the best dialogue the series has ever delivered.
The episode doesn't go quite as far as last week's terrific interplay between Raylan and Choo-Choo, turning the question of "Do you follow?" into a brilliant, Kentucky-fried version of "Who's on First?" Instead, 'Noblesse Oblige' takes another route by pitting two garrulous characters against one another, and adding a cheeseburger, a basket of fries, and a nasty hangover to the mix – just to see what will come of it.
The result, then, is the cantankerous recognition of a kindred spirit, as Boyd demonstrates an irrefutable level of self-awareness responding to Ty Walker's wordy introduction of "I come with no more lofty of an aim than to apprise you of the situation in which you find yourself," by saying, "Damn, son, you like to talk as much as I do."
That level of awareness is present in nearly every encounter, but it's especially strong whenever Raylan finds himself dealing with someone he holds at a disadvantage – intellectually or otherwise.
In dealing with Tyler Kent (Patrick Carlyle) and Earl (Ryan Dorsey), Raylan is composed – despite his method of subduing Earl – and manages to thread a brief discussion about having a child at his age into the dialogue about the matter at hand; namely, Tyler's involvement in the theft of some explosives and his tenuous connection to whatever Boyd Crowder's cooking up. It's a masterful way of using dialogue to tell the audience what's on a character's mind, even when it bears no actual relation to what he or she is dealing with at the moment.
But there is more going on in 'Noblesse Oblige' than a series of exceptional interchanges between characters. The episode follows up the introduction of Ty Walker's gang with a string of encounters meant to afford the various threads between Raylan and Boyd a chance to coalesce around a bank vault in a pizza parlor. It also works to define who Avery Markham is and to demonstrate, through his initial lack of action, just how dangerous a fellow he actually is.
Only a man who's developed a reputation like Markham has can turn an impromptu conversation at Ava's dining room table into an incident more menacing than being abducted by masked intruders. He may be lacking his signature mustache, but Sam Elliott's slow, deep-voiced cadence underscores the sheer menace of his presence. Avery's a legitimately scary guy, and he's done nothing so far but allude to the manner in which he conducts his business and detail his distaste for bourbon. That's a distinct advantage for an antagonist to have – something the dimwitted Crowes of season 5 lacked – and Avery seemingly has it by the bucketful.
And yet there's something off about Avery. It's something about the circumstances of his homecoming, and the way he never developed a taste for bourbon – which calls to mind Raylan's inability to find tequila palatable – that makes him part pariah, part prodigal son. He's a carpetbagger of his own volition, a fact that earns him the rightful ire of Boyd Crowder, whether either of them is aware of it or not.
Meanwhile, Raylan's side of the RICO case against Boyd isn't going fast enough for Vasquez and Rachel, putting added pressure on Ava who, like Boyd, begins the episode riding the fumes of blissful drunkenness, only to be jolted into the head-throbbing disappointment of a hangover met with reality. But it's more than just the alcohol contributing to Ava's condition. She's suffering from the letdown of having a great night with Boyd be complicated by her situation as Raylan's CI – which is complicated further as she appears to be playing both sides without a clear agenda of her own.
At the moment, the RICO case has slowed to the point that Tyler Kent and his father Luther (Brent Briscoe) are small but necessary cogs in a much larger wheel of organized crime. And with Luther opting to take the fall for Tyler's crimes, they may both wind up paying for their insignificant status to a significant degree. Luther's somewhat ironic act of "noblesse oblige" gives the episode its title, but his discussion with Raylan affords the writers another opportunity to remind viewers what it means that Raylan is a father – and an untested one at that.
This is Justified's way of running a parallel between Raylan and his nemesis, as Avery's comment to Boyd about being "grown, but still just playing pretend" may be a fitting sketch of both men. But there are also the lingering ghosts of Bo and Arlo to consider, two indomitable presences that neither the men, nor the series seem willing to let go of. And for Boyd at any rate, Avery's return to Harlan is the return of a figure he thought he'd outgrown the fear of. And Boyd's reaction to Avery's pointed, verbal (for the time being, anyway) intimidations suggests a willingness to prove it.
Justified continues next Tuesday with 'The Trash and the Snake' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Byron Cohen/FX