Because it’s so well cast and because its writers are so effective with characterization and dialogue, Justified sometimes gets away with a lot from a plotting perspective. And I’m not talking about plot holes, although I’m sure there would be plenty discovered if you really took the time to sift through all the double and triple-crosses. But, no, I mean from a broader perspective. You could make a case that the mad dash to capture Drew Thompson this season has been a largely empty affair. Just ask the questions: What is so dramatically relevant about catching this guy? And are we supposed to be actively rooting for his capture?
After all, from what we’ve seen of Drew-as-Shelby, he seems like an okay bloke. He’s even taken it upon himself to look out for poor Ellen May when no one else will. Sure, a long time ago he threw a guy out of an airplane and smuggled a shitload of cocaine into Harlan County, but that’s a side of Shelby/Drew the series hasn’t bothered to show us. And, yeah, his secret resulted in Arlo’s murder, but Arlo was such a colossal asshole not even Raylan appears to care all that much. We’ll see if any unresolved feelings on that matter come to the surface next week when Raylan and Drew are put back together. But, up till now, capturing Drew has just been a matter of the Marshals doing their job and nabbing a big fish. And Boyd has been looking for Drew merely to get in Theo Tonin’s good graces. His search only took on added significance this week when he learned that Shelby/Drew was on the run with Ellen May, finally upping the stakes to include Ava’s freedom. I know Boyd is treated like an anti-hero on this show, but no one actually wants him to get a hold of Ellen May, do they?
And so on a lesser series, I think I’d be seriously questioning the effectiveness of the entire Drew Thompson arc. But not on this show. Why? I’ll tell you why. Because of the moment when Art walks up and says about Drew, “First thing we’re going to do is we’re going to acknowledge that this guy is awesome.” And then, after he gets done listing the many reasons why Drew should be admired — wrapping it up with the fact that he’s run off with a hooker half his age — he punctuates it with, “That’s some badass shit.”
Raylan, standing nearby, can only agree. “It’s pretty badass,” he says.
In that one little scene, the show acknowledges the preposterousness of the Drew/Shelby twist, turns it into a great joke and reminds us how fucking entertaining these characters can be when they’re doing nothing more but standing around talking to each other. So it ends up not mattering if everyone’s motivations for catching Drew have been soft, or if we’re not sure why it’s so important that Drew is caught, because watching the chase has been so much goddamn fun.
And, in “Get Drew,” the chase takes us back to a part of Harlan we haven’t seen since last year — Noble’s Holler, the backwoods African-American community ruled by Ellstin Limehouse. Seeing him pop back up in this episode would have been a wonderful surprise had it not been ruined by Mykelti Williamson’s name showing up in the opening credits. (Stupid contractual stipulations.) After fleeing the scene last week, Drew/Shelby is planning to escape by flying his plane out of Harlan. But Raylan figures it out before Drew can reach the airport, and so Drew and Ellen May decide to lay low in the only place they suspect no one will look: Noble’s Holler. Ellstin isn’t too keen on taking in Drew, but Drew offers him $15K to at least protect Ellen May. The problem is Ellstin has already gotten word that Shelby is Drew, and he decides to sell both of them to Boyd for a whopping $300K, which he desperately needs to pay back his creditors left hanging when the Marshals cleaned him out at the end of season three.
Boyd gets authorization from Tonin’s people to make the deal, but when he shows up to complete the transaction, Ellstin has a change of heart. Boyd is only going to get one of them for that amount. So he must choose: Leave with the guy who will get him paid and make him the Tonin-backed king of Harlan County. Or leave with the girl who could put Ava behind bars. He leans toward the latter, but Ava convinces him to go for the former. Unfortunately, that ends up being all for naught as Raylan and company show up at the last second and grab Drew just as he’s about to be handed over to Tonin’s people. So Boyd is screwed, Wynn Duffy is screwed and Theo Tonin is screwed … unless they can somehow get Drew back from the Marshals.
All in all, “Get Drew” was a fast-moving, focused and enjoyable episode. It kicked off in style with Boyd’s great little speech to Raylan (“You should have been on the other side with me and your daddy. You’d still be able to shoot people and be an asshole — your two favorite activities.”) and ended with enough propulsion to make the seven-day wait until next week at least a minor inconvenience. It’s a shame that a show known for developing dynamite villains never bothered to do so this year (seeing Limehouse again proved to be a stark reminder), but it’s also hard to blame showrunner Graham Yost and his writers for trying something new. Even if the Drew Thompson storyline hasn’t always been a resounding success, Justified is still finding ways to entertain us as we head into the season’s final three episodes.
A few more thoughts on “Get Drew” …
— Johnny’s rant to Raylan about Boyd’s fickleness was classic. It is sort of unbelievable how many shenanigans Boyd’s gotten himself into over these four seasons, from the white supremacy stuff to his days preaching the word of Jeeeeeeesus, and it’s amusing to see a character acknowledge it from inside the Justified universe itself.
— Speaking of classic, check out the face Timothy Olyphant makes when Rachel, while in the middle of chewing him out, casually mentions that he’s “easy on the eyes.”
— Wynn Duffy revelation of the week: He wears a sleep mask to bed and wears it well.
Follow Bob on Twitter: @robertbtaylor