Justified: ‘Decoy’ is a Near Perfect Game of Cat and Also-Cat

By  · Published on March 20th, 2013

With Justified winding down to its season finale in two weeks, it hasn’t lost the high-octane momentum of last week’s amazing episode with “Decoy” continuing to plow along full steam ahead – an apt metaphor, given that Rachel and Shelby/Drew got the hell out of Harlan on the coal train by the episode’s end. Again, this episode upholds Justified’s high standard for the most clever, well-written dialogue on television (this episode was written by showrunner Graham Yost and Chris Provenzano) and at the helm of director Michael Watkins, had a consistently swift and exciting pace, cutting between various high-tension locations and groups of characters. Each character also got their moment in the spotlight – Raylan and Boyd being clever and badass! Tim’s sardonic wit! Colton’s tortured-ness! Art being Art! Johnny’s bleeding heart! Ava being one tough cookie! – which is a difficult feat to accomplish, given this week’s large ensemble-like nature.

So many good things again this week, it’s almost difficult to simmer down and make this sound coherent.

The episode kicks off with perhaps one of the best dialogue exchanges ever on the show – so good that I took the time to transcribe it for your reading pleasure. Boyd is holed up with Nicky Augustine at Johnny’s bar… and Nicky wants some answers from our favorite little crime lord about the whereabouts of Shelby/Drew… or where he thinks that Raylan could have taken him. In this exchange, Nicky finally verbalizes Boyd’s two most delightful physical traits, and the speed and cadence of their dialogue is nearly theatrical and, quite frankly, mellifluous:

Nicky: Look at you, Mr. Crowder. You’re a well-dressed man, you’ve got a sense of style. You’ve got your shirt buttoned all the way up to the top. I’ve got to ask – where did you get all those teeth?

Boyd: Courtesy of the American taxpayer while serving our great nation in Desert Storm.

Nicky: Man, I love the way you talk. You use forty words where four will do. I’m curious – what would you say if I was about to put forty bullets through that beautiful vest of yours?

Boyd: What’re you waiting for?

Nicky: Oh, you’re cool, huh?

Boyd: I tried to keep it to four words, if you’ll allow the contraction as one.

Ba-BAM! Boyd will never not win a battle of wits and words. Though Nicky’s asshole henchman, YOLO (an awful expression makes an awful nickname), punches Boyd so many times that Boyd loses one of those giant capped teeth! Leave Boyd alone, goddamn it! But yeah, Boyd eventually does remember the “coolest” moment from high school, a visit from an astronaut in a helicopter, and therefore assumes correctly that his frenemy Raylan has taken Shelby/Drew there. Which brings Boyd to meet Raylan at the school…

…but not so fast. This episode was really a beautiful dance of location and characters – as opposing sides figured out each others’ potential locations, they all swapped, upholding a quick, exciting pace and also leaving you guessing at Shelby/Drew’s eventual spot. Raylan/Rachel/Shelby began at Arlo’s, left for the school, and then Raylan stayed while Rachel/Shelby escaped on the coal train. Art/Tim were with the Decoy Raylan on the road, where they crossed paths with Colton. Constable Bob and YOLO ended up at Art’s (Bob is awful at puns, but kills YOLO), then Raylan moved Constable Bob to the school, where he met up with Boyd (as noted). Nicky stayed at the bar with Johnny and Ava… whew! So much fluid, well-directed movement and action, a constant flow of people and locations that never ceased to be interesting.

I have been prophesying for weeks about an eventual Tim/Colton standoff. And we seem to have gotten a nice precursor to that this week, as Art and Tim lead a convoy with a fake Raylan as a distraction. A Tim-made Molotov cocktail which blows up one of said trucks is also pretty goddamn impressive as an opposing distraction. And how amazing was Tim and Art’s banter about PTSD? Anyway, Tim surmises quickly that they are blocked by three parked trucks and that they are at the end of Colton’s gun. Well, really it’s Detroit goon Mort’s gun, but whatever… he doesn’t matter. Tim has Colton’s number from their mutual friend (RIP!) and he calls him, beginning a snappy phone dialogue during which Colton reveals his dreamcasting in the movie of his life is a young Gérard Dépardieu (YES!). Colton knows he has a valuable opponent in Tim, and tells Mort not to fire, because, please, he will miss. Colton also knows that, given his failure to kill Ellen May, he is a dead man… so he tricks Mort into giving him his gun and shoots the Detroit goon and flees into the woods. Like the lumbering, wounded bear of a man that he is.

Once again, a Tim/Colton spin-off would be pretty amazing.

Mike O’Malley was really on fire this week, right? My god. Especially the way he talks to Ava, trying to insinuate that she is a whore to incite her anger? Ava keeps her cool and threatens to kill him… but Johnny doesn’t. For years, he has secretly loved Ava and rushes to her defense, causing Nicky to leak the fact that he was a traitor. With his gun on Ava, he murmurs that he loves her, in public for the first time, and Ava stumbles out of the bar holding them both at gunpoint. Shit is about to go down here. Sadly, it’s looking like Johnny’s days are numbered, now that Ava knows what he’s done (even in the abstract) – especially since David Meunier gave such a brilliant performance all season. Another anticipated showdown here is between Boyd and Johnny. Those two have such a deep, lifelong history that the betrayal will truly shake Boyd to the core. Also, as we learned last week from Johnny’s anti-Boyd monologue, Johnny’s feelings for Boyd are so incredibly twisted and venomous… but at the same time, Boyd is his blood, which obviously complicates matters.

Timothy Olyphant brings it in his usual manly, in-control fashion as Raylan this episode, and he successfully orchestrates getting Shelby/Drew out of Harlan. So much to talk about Raylan-wise here, but his riffing with Boyd and the henchman was pretty damn brilliant – he defeated an fairly large group of armed men just with clever rhetoric. He first prevented them from coming upstairs when Shelby/Drew was still there, claiming they would need more firepower. When they came back, Shelby/Drew was already whisked away… so they could storm the place all they wanted. Absolutely brilliant. Also, if there was no love between Raylan and Boyd here, Boyd would have probably shot through when Raylan was on the school stairs while they were waxing nostalgic. No… instead, Boyd took his frenemy at his word. He wouldn’t shoot Raylan just to shoot Raylan. Their cat and mouse game would then end… and no one loves the Raylan/Boyd cat and mouse game more than Raylan and Boyd do.

Uh… they worked the mines together! Bonded for LIFE!

The Upside: Most things here are pretty stellar. The swift pace, the exciting alternating between characters and locations… the fact that each character got their moments in the sun.

The Downside: Boyd was damn proud of his teeth! So would be the taxpayers! Damn you, Nicky and YOLO! Also, “YOLO” being used as a name is not my favorite, but I can forgive.

On the Side: Did everyone catch that Art went to a Guns ‘N Roses concert in 1989? Um… if only a flashback sequence made sense here, it would have been MUCH appreciated. Did he wear a bandana? Was he headbanging? AHHH!!!!

Top Moments of Badassery: All of Raylan’s screen time, Tim making a Molotov cocktail, Colton shooting the Detroit gunman, and Ava not backing down to Nicky.