If you’re looking for a key scene in “Full Commitment,” a tense yet subtler-than-usual episode of Justified, it’s in the little exchange between Helen and Ava as their men are negotiating on the front porch. Helen recognizes that Ava has a life similar to hers, hitching her wagon to a wily career criminal who knows all the angles, but perpetually gets himself in trouble. Her advice for Ava is to keep herself in the dark as much as possible; this way, she can honestly claim not to know her boyfriend’s business, which will help her in the courts and in her soul. It’s only later that we learn Helen’s advice turns out to be tragically meaningless; no matter what you do, if you cast your lot with dangerous men like Boyd and Arlo, the consequences are bound to be dire.
“Full Commitment” is an episode about protection—some of it genuine, some of it false. Most of the major characters in the hour play the roles of either protector or protectee, and Raylan gets to play both, however reluctantly. It’s a fine episode all around, with plenty of good twists, a coherent and well-executed theme, and a particularly strong supporting turn by Jacob Pitts as Tim. But I appreciated it most as an ambivalent treatment of Raylan himself, who lives up to Art’s tough assessment of him as a good lawman and a poor marshal. We’re used to seeing Raylan as a clear-thinking man of action, practicing Old West-style justice in a contemporary setting. But this hour casts him in a more complicated and often less flattering light, as someone who may be trying to do the right thing but who doesn’t have the discipline or moral authority to be in the marshal service.
In the aftermath of the attempt on Raylan and Winona’s lives, Art orders protection on both for different reasons—Winona in case another wave of contract killers comes after her and Raylan in case he decides to get too proactive in solving this mystery himself. Rachel gets the easier of the two jobs, babysitting Winona and the suddenly (and suspiciously) deferential and apologetic Gary, and Tim gets the impossible task of guarding Raylan, who lets him know upfront that he intends to give him the slip. Tim takes to his role with a great sense of humor—many of the hour’s best one-liners belong to him—but it’s shit work, guaranteed to make him look enabling and incompetent when he’s only trying to do his job.
Normally, Raylan’s maverick approach to his job is endearingly anachronistic, but “Full Commitment” does well to show us how much Art was right about him. Raylan’s way of doing things has resulted in a situation where he cannot operate within the strictures of the marshal service; he’s accumulated too many secrets and too many enemies for that. While we certainly understand his reasons for giving Tim the slip—people tend to be interested in finding out who’s trying to kill them—there’s something distinctly shameful about Raylan trying to work around a fellow deputy. He’s like a bad, sneaky little kid around grown-ups. No wonder Tim refers to his thankless job as “nanny duty.”
Nevertheless, Raylan’s actions are not entirely about self-preservation, especially when he discovers that Gary is responsible for bringing this down on their heads. And he finds himself protecting Winona again—not just from the contract killers threatening her life but also from the horrible truth of who was behind the hit. Then again, “Full Commitment” is about the limits of protection: Like Helen and Ava, Winona may not know the full truth about her man, but that’s no guarantee that she won’t be collateral damage when one of his many enemies tries to strike him down.
And my, how many enemies there are! You get a sense of how much danger Raylan courts when he has to investigate which of the many candidates have ordered a hit on him. Could it be Mags, who’s bitter about him killing her son and shielding Loretta from her? Could it be Dickie, who’s unhappy about his mother refusing to revive the Bennett/Givens blood feud? Could it be the Miami drug cartel? Turns out none-of-the-above, of course, but we get a feeling for what Raylan’s life is like in Harlan going forward; there will never be a time when he’s untangled from all the messes he’s made.
Beyond Raylan’s messes, “Full Commitment” effectively gears up for the final two episodes, as Boyd once again asserts himself as a Big Bad. His move on Dickie’s weed business is wonderfully unexpected, since that was the one piece of the Bennett pie Mags had bequeathed to her son. It remains to be seen whether Mags will show any loyalty to Dickie in this dispute, but it’s a savvy way for Boyd both to open for business and test the limits of his alliance with Mags. After what happened to Aunt Helen, the next two weeks stand to be quite a bloody reckoning.
- “Are we done with playtime now?” Art’s contempt for Raylan out in the open now.
- Raylan on getting ice cream for breakfast: “It’s got eggs, milk.”
- Lots of funny pop culture references this episode. My favorite, via Tim: “I feel like I’m in The Big Chill.” “Except no one’s dead.” “Yet.”
- Another fine scene with Mags, who’s still dealing with the dangerous fallout from her Black Pike deal. Her conciliatory tone with Raylan (“You did kill my baby, but I’m the one who let him become a nitwit”) speaks to her capability for perspective, but she hasn’t shaken the impression that the Bennett family is weak. The fact that locals feel empowered to ransack her general store likely means that she’ll have to show some strength soon, perhaps by intervening in the Boyd/Dickie feud.
- “What’s with the Oak Ridge Boys in front of her place?”