This week’s episode of FX’s Justified, “Money Trap,” is mostly a break from the season-long hunt for Drew Thompson. Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) sets out to talk to his father, Arlo (Raymond J. Barry), in prison to see if he can convince Arlo to give him a new lead on Drew. But since it’s a task Raylan doesn’t want to do anyway, he jumps at the first distraction that will take him away from the task.
Despite minimizing the large arcs, “Money Trap” is more than just a case-of-the-week installment. It puts Raylan back up against a foe we see in the season premiere, Jody Adair (Chris Chalk, The Newsroom, Homeland). It’s cool that Justified continually builds up a cast of recurring players and pulls them out from time to time to keep the story interesting, rather than reduce itself to a typical crime drama.
Justified has never been suited to a formula. Each season is entirely different from the last, and each twist can spin the plot in unexpected directions from week to week. It’s really a setting-driven piece, fleshing out a specific world in Kentucky that lies outside of the big city. Each character is a panel of fabric, some bigger than others, but sewn together in an intriguing patchwork.
Which means that often connections that are not obvious suddenly emerge. “Money Trap” has several of those, as the characters move around, encountering a number of people, including Raylan seeing a former lover. Justified never leaves its world, just revealing unseen corners as it goes instead, so there’s an overarching sense of continuity throughout the entire series.
The side trip with Jody this week is a dangerous game between Raylan and a very hardened criminal, one who will not hesitate to kill Raylan given an opportunity. Most bad guys aren’t this bad, matching wits and trying to get away with stolen goods or money, rather than committing murder. Sure, people are killed all the time on the show. But it’s not usually the intent or stated mission of the shooter to take someone out permanently. Jody is different.
To illustrate this point, I refer you to Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Ava’s (Joelle Carter) subplot in “Money Trap.” They rub elbows with the rich and powerful of their county, only to find out they are invited to the party in order to more directly serve their masters. Boyd doesn’t realize he’s been allowed to operate his enterprise all this time with the permission of others. He is told if he wants to keep his business running, he needs to kill a man.
This disturbs Boyd. He isn’t good, by any means, and we’ve seen him kill this season. But it’s always incidental, and is never his first choice of action. People aren’t useful to him if they’re dead. He doesn’t want to do what they’re asking him to, and I think it’s as much about whacking someone he has no beef with as it is not wanting to seem like a weak lackey, when he believes himself to be a leader. We’ll have to wait and see what Boyd chooses to do.
Back to Raylan, we know that he is capable in a wide variety of situations. Jody is a new challenge, but one he is up to the task of. He takes the manhunt extremely seriously, personally protecting Jody’s other intended victim, the young, hot Jackie Nevada (Shelley Hennig, The Secret Circle), while seeking out Jody.
Raylan doesn’t rely on others too much, though he knows when he needs to, and is smart enough to ask for help in those instances. Which is why his lone wolf routine is rarely a problem, as it is for many a flawed hero in other stories, as he actually he is more talented than most. “Money Trap” shows us once more why Raylan usually prefers to operate by himself, able to move quicker and less noticed, as well as avoiding putting others in the line of fire. And he doesn’t have to worry that Jody will find Jackie and hurt her while he isn’t looking when he sticks by her side.
This eventually leads to a one-on-one showdown between Jody and Raylan, just downstairs from Raylan’s home. Once more, we see Raylan’s wisdom, recognizing when he must use his gun, knowing Jody will keep coming after Raylan or his loved ones, as well as other innocents, while he roams free. Raylan can see the evil in his eyes, and thus, he does what needs to be done.
Some would argue that Raylan killing Jody defeats the purpose of law enforcement. Cops (and marshals) should seek to apprehend, rather than take out. Yet, in this case, it’s really Raylan’s only option, as Jody would hurt people if allowed to live, even if he is in prison, which is a big ‘if,’ since there’s no easy way to capture him here. Realizing this, Raylan operates with complete confidence, putting several bullets into Jody.
Raylan Givens is one of the coolest characters on television. It’s not because he’s violent, because he’s not always, and never without cause. It’s because he has an ingrained sense of right and wrong, and though his mettle is tested constantly, he almost always does the correct thing. He doesn’t waste time doubting himself once he’s done something, and he has the utmost faith in his own reasoning skills. For this, it’s easy, as a fan, to get behind him.
Raylan isn’t a brash, young man, though. We see in “Money Trap,” when alone in a hotel room with Jackie, who is getting undressed to shower, he doesn’t make a move. Raylan loves the ladies, but he’s recently betrayed by one, and he admits to himself, and to Art (Nick Searcy), that he is an old man, one Jackie shouldn’t or wouldn’t be interested in. I don’t think for a second that Raylan couldn’t sleep with Jackie if he wanted to, but he doesn’t, because he knows himself, and knows what he needs.
Now, Raylan does make mistakes, and often a woman is involved. I just think he’s learning from those mistakes, making them less frequently, and being realistic about his love life. For that, he deserves credit.
At the end of “Money Trap,” Raylan does go see Arlo, ready to stop avoiding things, choosing the right path once more. Arlo won’t cooperate, of course, which does cause Raylan to speak to his father in anger, as Arlo can push Raylan’s buttons like no one else, being the catalyst for a temper flare up. But the confrontation ends with little movement on the Drew Thompson story.
After Raylan warns Arlo that he will die in jail, I think that scares Arlo. I worry that it’s foreshadowing for Justified, that Arlo will soon be gone with the last words from Raylan being cruel ones. Or, it could be the kick in the pants Arlo needs to cut a deal and finally start helping the marshals. Either way, Arlo won’t just sit pretty and protected behind bars for much longer.
It is hard to talk about this episode linearly, and I couldn’t even find a place in the flow to touch on the other subplot involving Johnny (David Meunier) and Colt (Ron Eldard). But that’s because the series is so fluid and intertwined that it’s just as hard to describe the story as it is to describe the lives of a village full of people. I think this is a testament to the quality and realism of the show, rather than a negative.
“Money Trap” is an excellent episode, not exactly super important to larger story of the season, but compelling in its own right because of the personal side of Raylan that we see. If this is Justified‘s version of a stand-alone installment, I welcome more of them from time to time.
Justified airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.