An early scene in Justified‘s fourth-season premiere is simplistic in its badassery. Raylan Givens has tracked down some fella who jumped bail down in Knoxville, both as a favor to the the bondswoman (who Raylan once bedded) and to earn some extra cash. Raylan’s supposed to just ID the guy and call in the local police, which is practically a joke in itself to anyone who watches this show on a regular basis. Naturally, by the end of the scene the two are pointing guns at each other from opposite sides of a car door, a standoff Givens wins when he shoots the steering wheel, letting loose the driver’s-side airbag which incapacitates the bail-jumper. Still smooth as a cucumber that Raylan.
The last two seasons of Justified have presented everyone’s favorite TV U.S. Marshal with a seemingly never-ending string of colorful bad guys to contend with down in Harlan County, but it looks like showrunner Graham Yost, who wrote this episode, has something a bit different in mind for year four. There’s a mystery at the center of “Hole in the Wall” and, presumably, the entire season. Two numbskull teenagers show up at Raylan’s no-good dad Arlo’s house — now empty and up for sale after Arlo murdered a cop (thinking it was Raylan) at the end of last season — and start tearing into the walls. Constable Bob, a wannabe tough guy who Raylan pays to keep at eye on the joint, runs them out of the place and assumes they were just looking to steal some copper wire. But, before long, Raylan is caught up in a web on intrigue involving some kind of official-looking government bag that was hidden in Arlo’s house, an old driver’s license and a skydiver who splatted down to the ground along with a butt-load of cocaine 30 years ago. There’s no doubt the new season will continue to feature quirky villains, snappy dialogue and duplicitous double-crosses — Justified mainstays all — but it’s possible those things will serve more as window dressing with this old family mystery acting as the narrative’s driving force. That approach is fine by me, as the fourth season of any show is usually the right time to start shaking up the formula.
“Hole in the Wall” wasn’t entirely about setting up the season’s big storyline, though. It was also about being really damn funny. That’s in part thanks to the casting of stand-up comic Patton Oswalt as Constable Bob. Oswalt has successfully padded his acting resume with strong roles over the last few years, and it’s already clear he’ll make a fine addition to the Justified universe. Bob is an old high-school acquaintance of Raylan’s now pulling down $2,400 a year as a constable and yearning to spruce up his sad little life with some real action. Raylan mostly just rolls his eyes at him, but the two have a nice moment at the end of this episode after Bob saves Raylan’s life by stabbing a teenaged girl in the foot. I’m not sure how many episodes Oswalt will appear in this year, but I hope it’s a solid number. He makes a nice comic foil to Raylan’s straight man while at the same time adding a pitiable dimension to Bob.
As for Harlan characters we’re already familiar with, Walt Goggins fans — uh, which is all of us, right? — will be happy to know Boyd is featured prominently in this episode. His storyline is completely separate from what Raylan’s up to, although they do share some neat similarities. Both, for example, are secretly stashing away wads of cash. Raylan is presumably doing it for his unborn baby, but who knows what Boyd is up to? Anyway, while Raylan is trying to figure out why people are looking for stuff in his daddy’s walls, Boyd is dealing with work problems both small (Ellen May shoots one of her johns) and large (his Oxy buyers are rapidly diminishing, perhaps because they’re off finding god at a newly-opened fire-and-brimstone-style church). He recruits an old military buddy named Colton Rhodes (played by Ron Eldard) to help him set some things right, but that results in a riotous misunderstanding of the phrase “take care of him.” Late in the episode, we get a peek at the church, which is led by a testi-FY!-in’ snake-handling preacher played by Joseph Mazzello, still known mostly as the kid in Jurassic Park though he was one of the leads in HBO’s The Pacific two years back. We don’t see anything particularly shady going on. Just a bunch of rednecks convulsing as the word of god courses through them. But it’s a fair guess that there’s another angle at play here once the sermon comes to an end. (By the way, I’d make a strong wager Mazzello’s character was inspired by the recent death of a snake-handling pastor in West Virginia. This kind of thing isn’t confined to fiction, people!)
The final half of “Hole in the Wall” contains two memorable scenes. In the first, Raylan amusingly tries to negotiate his way out of a Mexican standoff involving the teenaged thieves, Bob and the bail-jumper. In the second, Arlo brutally kills another inmate who knew too much about this Givens family mystery that’s been freed from Arlo’s wall. The scenes couldn’t be more different tonally, but together they effectively announce that one of television’s very best shows is back with all of its faculties intact.
Some other thoughts on “Hole in the Wall” …
– Line of the night: So many good ones to pick from, but I’m going to go with Bob’s “If I’d caught ‘em, I would have opened a Costco-size can of whoop-ass on ‘em,” if only for Oswalt’s jovial delivery.
– Raylan quotes The Big Lebowski while Boyd quotes Isaac Asimov. Well, isn’t that just about perfect?
– It was clear by the end of last season that the writers had run out of things to do with Natalie Zea, who plays Winona, so it’s not a huge surprise she no longer appears in the opening credits. (There’s also the matter of Zea now serving as a regular on FOX’s The Following.) Being that becoming a dad is still very much on Raylan’s mind, however, I assume we’ll still see Winona at some point this season.
– Is it just me, or did this episode seem like another big push against cable television’s content boundaries? “Hole in the Wall” had side boob, a full female butt shot, multiple uses of the words “shit” and “titty,” and a pretty gnarly throat slashing. I know individually all of these barriers had previously been broken, but the cumulative effect here was really noticeable. You’d have never seen that stuff on commercial-based cable 10 years ago.
Follow Bob on Twitter: @robertbtaylor