4x11 – Decoy
"Holy shit. They circled the wagons."
Okay, what we need to talk about is the scene with Tim and Colt. In fact, instead of forty scenes, I’m gonna talk about Decoy in four and who’s on first is the scene with Tim and Colt. Because, “holy shit,” says Colt, and holy shit says me. I don’t know how many hall-of-famers we can have in a season, but this one is making the cut. And then you dig past the dialogue, and dig past the comedy and trip-wire tension, and there’s even more gold underneath. Take Raylan, and take Boyd, who spend the whole episode inside each other’s heads, the whole episode out-guessing each other’s every move, and write that on the level of these two men, Tim and Colt, who barely know each other’s name. Deputy Dawg and Bagram— that’s close enough. Yet, they’re Boyd, they’re Raylan, they’re in each other’s head. What does Boyd say, when Nicky’s mocking how he can possibly call Raylan’s move and Boyd’s at a loss to explain it? The best he can do is, the helpless: “We dug coal together.” Trying to put into four words what couldn’t even fit in forty. The connection, the vocabulary, the reality that maybe no one else can share. The same as Tim slamming the brakes on that back Kentucky highway. The same as Tim sounding the alarm. Tim’s the only one who can! (Tim: “That’s weird.” Art: “That’s Kentucky.”)
But Tim’s the one who’s been in the sandbox. And Colt’s the one who’s been in the sandbox. And I know we all love Gutterson, and we want more Gutterson, and Tim’s largely been a mystery for the first three seasons, but here’s the reason I’m so personally fine with the fact we’re just digging into Gutterson now. We haven’t had a vocabulary for Tim yet. He’s been a mystery to us because, beneath that deadpan, sarcastic sniper exterior, he’s kept himself a mystery to all. Art, Rachel, Raylan included. Tim’s been in the shit in a very specific way that no one else here has been in the shit, and right here, with the screech of those brakes, is where we start to get the language for it. When he’s so right about Colt. When he dials up Colt’s number and this long wild spar of a conversation where they just read loud and clear each other’s move, and this “fuck, yes!” kind of serious joy when he knows exactly Colt’s play because he knows exactly where this guy’s been and it’s the same place he’s been and they’re the only two here who know this game. Here’s the best thing he’s equipped to handle and better still: he’s the only one here who possibly can. And for Colt, the exact same thing. Coming alive when, all season he’s been this fucked up guy and now it’s time to ass-kick a few of his demons. “Anyone who thinks he’s in any way diminished,” Colt writes his own role, “is in for a big surprise.” For Colt, for Tim: to have this thing that others would perceive and pity as their weakness, and turn it into their suit-of-armor strength— there’s so much power in that. The grins on their faces, this whole thing— I swear ten seconds in, they’ve forgotten Drew Thompson. The stakes of this game are all in the game, and for both it’s a big fat win.
Which cues it right up, scene #2. Along with the sweet sound of The O’Jays. Were we scouting for the badass hall of fame with this episode? Were we rounding up everyone who’s an underdog contender? Because here goes Yolo, opening up a Costco-sized can of whoop-ass and Bob just takes one look at it, takes every lick dished out, and opens up the Costco-sized can of whoop-ass of his own. Shelby had his back, once upon a time. Shelby’s had his back for most of his life and if there’s something you could beat out of Bob it’s not the location of Drew. And here’s the unbreakable cool of Elmore Leonard. (And Justified’s cool by ever-faithful extension.) It’s the cool built out of uncool. The cool of being broken and weird and the least likely of men. It gives Constable Bob Sweeney the heart of a champion. It duly elects him the day’s hero of men. Not even Yolo, or Raylan, or anyone can hold back their awe of the little dude. “My God, what happened?” says Rachel, and Raylan: what happened is Bob’s a tough son of a bitch. “Him?" says Picker, and Raylan: you better goddamn believe it. People underestimate Bob at their peril. The theme of the day (and the show), apparently: you think he’s in any way diminished? You’re in for a big surprise.
Three for three now, and it’s the screw Augustine tries to tighten on Ava. (In the scene, holy shit, where my heart finally tried to hammer out of my ribcage.) Thinking he’s got her read, thinking he’s got a mouse he can bat around. But this is Ava. This is trouble the second she talks her way into a cigarette and a brandy. Yeah, go ahead. Please. Underestimate. Augustine sells Ava far short but Ava: this is the twist, this is where the news drops of how they’ve undersold Johnny. And of all the ways the scene could have played, it’s Ava’s words at the door that sound so familiar. “Oh, that’s sweet,” she says, like déjà vu. I doubt if it’s even intentional, but it’s all the way back from season 1. When Bo’s after her for shooting Bowman, when Boyd’s worked the angle in prison, making Bo promise to not go after Ava, but when Johnny’s the one on the outside trying to warn her clear of the threat. “Oh, how sweet,” was what Ava said. (“I guess talking about plastic-lined trucks and chainsaws,” she said, “is a kind of flirting.”) “Try to understand, Ava,” is what Johnny says now. “Ava, I love you.” Knowing he’s a dead man, but helpless to fit all or any of it into four words. So poignant, for a moment, not pathetic. The rich point of Johnny’s view, where he’s the one who’s always had her back. The rich side of Johnny’s story, where she and Boyd were the ones who betrayed it first. Their bond, their vocabulary, their forty-year history.
Picker: You Givens? You know why we’re here, right?
Raylan: Yeah. Boyd, what was the name of that astronaut?
Boyd: [Smiles] You know, I don’t recall.
Raylan: He was a big deal. Went up to the moon.
Boyd: He swung the golf club, Raylan.
Raylan: He drove the car.
Boyd: Raylan, I was the one enamored with space flight. Pretty sure I’m right on this one.
Raylan: He drove the car. I bet a dollar.
Of a bond, a vocabulary, a decades-long history: here it is, #4. If you’ll allow the contraction, allow two scenes for one. Raylan and Boyd, the scene in the stairwell and the scene in the hall. Their old alma mater, now gutted and trashed. Decoy, taking a break from one-day-per-episode, plays this whole hour in close to real time so for the past hour, they’ve been reading minds. (Art: “Thirty plus fifteen’s forty-five.” Raylan, well: “The better part of an hour.”) And now here’s the real deal that Tim and Colt echoed, except writ so much larger, on a much deeper level. The old thing that doesn’t make them friends, or enemies, but some alchemy beyond that. The nth time this season, where they’ve ended up right in the same place, same time, but this time it’s not by surprise. They’ve called each other’s plays to get here. And the explanation for it is the same helpless kind of explanation as “we dug coal together.” Futile to account for it, useless to even try. Yet it’s the only thing Boyd has to count on when Detroit wants him first through that door. “Raylan, old friend,” Boyd tries to lay it on the line. “Raylan. It’s all on the line.” Not much of his earlier confidence; a lot of the underneath fear. Because here’s the last wildcard. Maybe he can guess what’s inside the mind of Raylan Givens. And right down to the wire, he can call it that something ain’t right, that Drew’s not there. (Raylan: “Hold your fire. He is right. Drew’s not here.”) But the one last wildcard is, in that moment, Boyd still can’t call it, what Raylan will do. Do they both get out of this alive? The way Boyd fights it, and then surrenders to it, standing there letting Raylan make the call.
That’s what it takes, maybe. The security, but the surprise. The plays called, but the curve balls too. The certainties but the variables and unknowns. Because what’s the catalyst of all this— what ass-kicks the demons, what forges the weaknesses into suit-of-armor strengths, what makes the least likely of guys the most badass of all, what proves what fine grain we’re made of— if not the tightening screws, the trouble, the tests? I know I’ve said it before, I know I said it episode one this year and probably a few times before and since, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted, how the trouble— that security, but that surprise— gets welcomed here with a kind of relish and joy. Life is trouble, sweetheart, so trouble is being alive. It’s a back road of Kentucky strewn with explosives. It’s besting the guy named You only live once. Ready or not, you give it all you’ve got, whatever it is that you’ve got to give. “You promise me too, Boyd,” calls Raylan down the hall, after Boyd as he walks away. Alive. The close call of it. And it’s the promise that they’ll do this again. Boyd doesn’t hesitate. He calls back, “You can count on it, Raylan.” Yeah, if there’s anything to count on, there it is.
This season, guys. This fucking season. I promised myself from the beginning I wouldn’t say “favorite season” every week, and I’ve been trying to swear dumb things like “I’ll wait to see how they stick the landing.” But nope. Sorry. The next two episodes could be the cast singing showtunes and the landing, it’s stuck. Favorite season.
Some realtor’s having a hell of a time staging the Givens property for buyers. Too bad the Crowders are currently down some earnest money because, checklist: Up on a hill. Defensible position. Good sight lines, good view. And a little crime-scene cleanup is nothing: Lysol’s the best cleaning product you can buy.
Speaking of callbacks to season 1, it’s Art with the age-old question of Harlan: “Wouldn’t happen to have a rocket launcher, would you?”
"Nobody smokes? This is Kentucky, not Sausalito! What the hell’s wrong with you people?"
Ha! It’s Dunlop, the marshal on Art’s shitlist for the Raylan/Hunter fiasco, donning Raylan’s hat for the convoy. Either this is how he’s working off his penance, or dude’s got some balls, or dude’s been drawing a lot of short straws.
Raylan: Take Yoda’s. Bob: Yolo’s. Raylan: Whatever.
Raylan: He’s the man shot Yoohoo. Bob: Yolo. Raylan: Whatever.
"Man, I love the way you talk. Using forty words where four will do." And to think, Augustine was only necessary because Adam Arkin wasn’t available for a season’s worth of Tonin. Mike O’Malley’s been a hell of a pinch hitter, such a mix of comedy, menace, and smarm.
Same time, season three: Anniversaries, all around. Boyd was making the acquaintance of Duffy, Duffy was making the acquaintance of Tonin, Dickie was plying Ellen May for the whereabouts of Limehouse’s cash, and Raylan and Art thought Raylan was the top of the hitlist for the Detroit mob. What with all the Measures undertaken, Johnny probably put it best. “We got ourselves a problem,” Johnny said.