Justified is a show that likes to put a pretty good amount of cards on the table, so it usually helps to make sure you're paying attention. Hell, the third season featured plotting so thick that I found myself having to re-watch episodes on a regular basis just so I could make sure I remembered who was whom. Of course, it paid off very nicely in the end, with the tail end of the third season featuring some of the series' best work (lookin' right at you, "Slaughterhouse"). Season four, while taking its time to get things going, has certainly proven to be an awesome season of television, even if it relies a little less upon action and flair. This season is a lot more about what makes these characters the way they are, and what compels them to do the things they do. It helps that Grahm Yost and his team are a bunch of consummate professionals, as the resulting season of television (so far, at least) has brought the viewing audience a lot closer to a cast of characters that was awesome to begin with. While it's still a bummer that Tim and Rachel are as underused as they are, the vast majority of Justified's primary and secondary characters have been given the chance to reveal something interesting and important about how they are and why they turned out that way to begin with. In a season that sees Raylan say goodbye to his own father as he prepares to become one himself, Justified is making a point of exploring the things that made Raylan into the asshole that he is. Hopefully he can spare his own kid from the same kind of fate. It's easy to get caught up in the exciting game of cat-and-mouse in which Drew's got most of the cast of Justified participating, but it's interesting to remember the real motivation here. Seasons one through three featured interesting portrayals of organized crime in Harlan County, but the show never forgot to make sure that its action was somehow intimately connected to Raylan Givens' complicated past. What's interesting about this season is how it's connected to Raylan's future, as well. We're having a ton of fun chasing Drew alongside Raylan, but the main reason he's doing all of this is so he can make some serious money and cement his future with the Marshall Service in a very legit way. Of course, at this point there's a lot more behind Raylan's drive to see this whole situation through, but at the beginning of the season, Raylan was almost entirely motivated by a desire to provide for his unborn child.
Justified, like any great show, loves its characters, and this makes it easy for the audience to do the same. The insight we've been given into the lives of this show's key players, combined with the inherent intrigue of the Drew storyline, have made this season highly enjoyable in spite of its relatively slow pace. The last couple of episodes were relatively incredible, and as we approach the home stretch, Justified has to take a breath and move some things around.
Drew and Ellen May are trying to figure out how to skip town, but eventually just wind up in the clutches of Limehouse, whom Ellen May expected would protect them. Raylan's wise to the whole situation, so Drew realizes he won't be able to get out of Harlan. He also can't just leave Ellen May behind, though, and even though Raylan (correctly) describes him as a "drug-smuggling murderer," we know who Drew really is. At his core, he's a man who doesn't want to hurt anyone that doesn't deserve it. He's probably able to easily rationalize the hit he put out on Arlo, but can't bear to think that Ellen May, as (relatively) innocent as she is, might meet some kind of harm.
This, of course, means that we get an hour full of Ellen May, who's played with irritating zeal in this episode by Abby Miller. Her normally apt performance is dialed all the way up to 11 here, and it gets to be pretty grating by the time she's spitting in Ava Crowder's face. So Boyd winds up with Drew, but Raylan manages to grab him before Tonin's people can, thanks to Johnny's meddling. Now we're talking. The end of "Get Drew" sees Justified sitting in the middle of a complicated web of motivations and allegiances, and the next three episodes are definitely going to be exciting.
Justified arguably got to be as good as it is because it decided it would build its universe up instead of out. Harlan County and Detroit (with maybe the exception of Miami, sometimes) are the only two locations with which this show concerns itself, but each gives way to a rich and complicated world where history is as complex as it is volatile. Thanks to this, Justified has become one of those rare shows that can use a familiar face to serve up a completely exciting surprise.
Oh, and also...
• Art's speech was maybe my favorite moment of the season, so far: "That's some badass shit." Indeed.
• Ryalan should have been an outlaw, according to Boyd. He could still be an asshole and shoot people, which are his two favorite activities.
• In an episode that concerns itself with really getting to the bottom of who these people are, at their cores, it's interesting to hear Limehouse describe himself as basically the caretaker of everyone that he holds dear in his life as motivation for his actions.
• This awesome interview with Graham Yost gives some insight into how thoroughly thought-through all these characters' actions are, in terms of motivation.