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TV Diary | Justified – “Thick As Mud”

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TV Diary | Justified – Episode 3.05 – “Thick As Mud” – Original Airdate: 2/14/12

Episode Grade: B

I had kind of a weird reaction to Justified’s fifth episode of this third season, “Thick As Mud.” Immediately after watching it – as I often do – I checked out the reaction online from some of my favorite critical sites and, to my surprise, they absolutely loved it. Many seemed to hail it as an all-time classic while surely viewing it as the best episode of this third season. This shocked me. While I enjoyed the majority of “Thick As Mud,” I didn’t really care for how it messed with my perceptions. Normally I’m all for that kind of thing but here… I don’t know. Something didn’t ring as true as I’d hoped. And that got me to thinking… am I being too hard on this season in general? While I currently have it as probably the second-best thing that’s aired this year [1] I can’t help but compare it to the show’s second season which, to this point, I think was far better. But is that fair to the third season, which is no slouch in its own right? I don’t know. However, that’s more of a macro issue so let’s get back to the micro one – an appraisal of “Thick As Mud.” There was definitely good and bad here, almost in equal measure. What I liked – that the episode was focused mostly on Dewey Crowe. Damon Herriman has been an integral portion of the ancillary cast since Justified’s pilot so it was nice to see him get a showcase here. Yes, Dewey is a racist asshole but over two-plus seasons he’s become OUR racist asshole so an episode where he got as much screen time as anyone else was welcomed. However, that it came as a part of a ridiculous storyline where the prison nurse accomplice of the now-demised Ash, Lance (Clayne Crawford), duped Dewey into thinking that he’d removed Dewey’s kidneys and then forced him to try to buy them back from him before his body started failing seemed a little too over-the-top in its cartoonish villainy even as it felt almost like a smaller-scale version of Crank to some degree, as pointed out by The AV Club’s Scott Tobias. Sure, in the end we learned that Lance had put one over on Dewey and HADN’T actually taken his kidneys out, but the episode never really made that clear [2] to the story’s detriment. Had the show allowed the audience to be in on the joke from the start, maybe it would have been easier to enjoy the story but I can’t help but feeling like I was taken out of the moment and this would qualify as one of those “messing with the perceptions” moments of the episode. To be fair, the plot did provide for some great, great Dewey/Raylan interaction [3] and I like the developing trend of tying the self-contained storylines together from episode to episode as the thrust of this episode was introduced in “The Devil You Know,” and how can you not like Raylan shooting someone THROUGH ANOTHER PERSON’S BODY FOR CHRIST’S SAKE [4], but the execution frankly hurt this storyline more than a little. Unfortunately, the missteps didn’t end there because there was a pretty big development in the Raylan/Winona/baby storyline and, while I had a problem with this angle as well, part of that is probably due to my own expectations. In “Thick As Mud’s” teaser, we see Raylan and Winona reminiscing about the first time that Winona saw Raylan after his return to Kentucky in the show’s pilot and Winona says she realizes that she’s never going to be able to change him and that she’s never going to love anyone like she loves him. Of course, TV 101 tells you that anytime someone seems content with their station they likely have one foot in the grave and I’d already mused on the fact that a strong dramatic choice in the growing war between Raylan and Detroit [5] would be for Detroit to strike at Raylan via Winona. With that in mind, I was fully expecting Winona’s demise by the end of “Thick As Mud.” Not that I’m a completely cold-hearted bastard but having Winona simply just walk out on Raylan via a Dear John note was significantly less dramatic, particularly when watching the entire penultimate scene with Raylan and Art driving back to Raylan’s place and then Raylan entering the house in the dark had my heart pounding until his discovery of the note drastically lessened the tension. These two things unfortunately affected my enjoyment of “Thick As Mud” and are making me re-evaluate whether I need to adjust my expectations in order to enjoy this season of Justified more.

[1] Behind another FX series, the ribald and genius Archer.
[2] And perhaps I’m as stupid as Dewey is for thinking that was possible. Don’t answer that.
[3] Herriman and Tim Olyphant have had great chemistry from day one, so anytime Dewey and Raylan’s paths cross it’s pretty much gold.
[4] Lance’s turncoat accomplice Layla (Maggie Lawson, Psych), a pretty attractive nurse who I wouldn’t have minded seeing past this episode.
[5] Whose name was finally stated for the record. More on that later.

Miscellany:
*More scenes between Walton Goggins and Neal McDonough as Robert Quarles (Detroit done got a name!) please. Watching these two incredible actors play opposite one another may have been the episode’s overall highlight. Boyd blames Quarles for turning Devil against him and is going to go hard at him, even knowing that he doesn’t match up well from a manpower standpoint. He ultimately turns down Quarles’ attempt to broker an alliance in their face-to-face meeting while calling him a carpetbagger and subtly threatening him to his face. If I had to guess, I’d say we’ve got what’s going to put Boyd and Raylan together by the end of the season, if not sooner.
*Interesting revelation that Limehouse was screwing with Dickie and that there’s more of Mags’ money left than he’s letting on. He also has spies within the white Harlan community as well as evidenced by his conversation with the young blonde girl who was present at Boyd’s little message-sending session at the redneck bar along with being aware of Quarles’ presence in town. Limehouse is quickly turning into one of the better puppetmasters we’ve seen on the show yet.
*I like the continuing portrayal of Boyd as the principled man’s criminal. Exhibit A: His response to Arlo as to why Devil is being buried instead of dumped in a “slurry pond” – as Arlo suggests – is because he was once a friend and is deserving of at least a proper burial. It’s also good to see on a show like this where gunshot is as commonplace as drawing breath that the characters are affected from time to time by their actions. Boyd clearly struggles with his decision to kill Devil while Raylan is given pause after shooting Layla since it’s the first time he’s ever had to shoot a woman.
*I’m not usually a fan of the gimmicky camera around the waist shot that seems to be prevalent in film and television over the past handful of years, but here it captures Dewey’s desperation well as he’s out trying to collect enough money to “buy” his kidneys back.
*Nice little in-joke when Dewey gets pissed after someone thinks he’s a tweaker. I’d have to think that this was a little nod to Herriman’s role as a meth addict on the past season of Breaking Bad.
*”Get it? Lawrence instead of Florence. As in Nightingale.” Rachel’s annoyance after this Raylan line was amusing.
*Is it wrong that Boyd and Ava comparing shooting scars is kinda sexy? It is, right?
*You know that idiom “buzzard’s luck”? I think we might soon be able to replace that with “Dewey Crowe luck.”
*Raylan trying to pantomime a blow job is nothing short of hilarious.
*As is Johnny getting a plug for his bar in on the way out after Boyd delivers a beatdown to Quarles’ man.
*”You want us to use the ram?” “Or <waves keys>.”
*”Looks like we’ll get to use the ram after all.” “You’re just dying to smash something, aren’t you?”
*”Dewey ain’t the ‘get the drop on anyone’ type.”
*”He never was the sharpest apple in the city.”
*”He said things might get weird. I think this qualifies.”
*”I got a room set aside. We can make it a quickie or we can ‘do the other.'”
*”Way I see it, you’re between a rock and a much, much harder rock.”
*”Son, I’ll ask you not to blaspheme in here.”
*”These are the end times for Dewey Crowe.”
*”Have you been pissing?” “He took my kidneys, Raylan! Not my dick!”
*”Holy shit. You mean I have four kidneys?”
*”Honey… I start arresting people for committing adultery I’d never make it home for supper.”
*”Prison doesn’t offer much but it does give a man ample time to read.” “Amongst other things, I’m sure.”

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