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Justified: “Thick As Mud”

Illustration for article titled Justified: “Thick As Mud”
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“A guy matching Crowe’s description just knocked over a Fluff N Fold.”

As I’ve been noting the last few weeks, the various criminal elements in Justified’s third season have been coalescing pretty quickly. And now that we know the players and the stakes, the show can focus more on payoffs that stem from one or two storylines, rather than trying to juggle too many at a time. This will likely mean more episodes like the stellar “Thick As Mud,” which has the luxury of zeroing in on the misadventures of Dewey Crowe while exerting less energy keeping other balls in the air. The result is the best hour of the season—tight, suspenseful, hilarious, and a great showcase for a peripheral character who finally gets his time in the spotlight.


Poor Dewey Crowe. It seems odd to feel any kind of affection for a character with a Third Reich tattoo emblazoned on his chest, but Dewey has always been naïve and impressionable, the sort of soldier (per Devil) that Boyd likes to have on his team, if only for his limitless malleability. (Had Boyd changed his gang from a white-supremacist group to a rainbow-pony club, Dewey probably could have been talked into those tattoos, too.) Point being, he isn’t very smart and he’s easy to manipulate, which is something Lance—the sadistic prison nurse still looking for an angle after Dickie’s $3 million didn’t materialize—obviously understood pretty quickly. Dewey is a man who could be convinced to scrounge up money to buy back his own kidneys—in part because he’s not the sort to question whether they’ve actually been removed from his body or not.

Most of “Thick As Mud” is a small-screen Crank, a thrilling race against the clock. Lance has given Dewey four hours to come up with the money to buy back his kidneys, which launches Dewey on an amazing spree of high-risk/low-yield stickups that include an appliance store (where all the value is in the merchandise and customers pay with credit cards), a strip club (where only so much money can be tucked in the dancers’ panties), a Fluff N Fold, and, finally, a convenience store. As Dewey blazes his conspicuous trail, it leaves a fittingly bemused Raylan and Rachel to figure out why he’s doing it and chuckling a little over how. The puzzle leaves them to divide and conquer, with Rachel eying Dewey’s next not-big score and Raylan digging into the motivation behind the curious crime spree, which inevitably takes him to the hotel bathroom where Lance sent Dewey on his way.

The back-and-forth between Dewey’s desperate cash grab and the marshals’ attempts to figure it out carries the episode through wonderfully absurd scenes like the stick-up at the strip club to extraordinarily tense ones, like Raylan’s visit to the home of a flirty hospital nurse who’s part of Lance’s criminal conspiracy. The writers (Jon Worley and Benjamin Cavell) have a great time riffing on organ-harvesting—often the province of urban legend or crappy movies like Turistas, which gets referenced here—while also mining it for all the narrative tension they can muster. And by devoting such a large chunk of the script to this one thread, they’ve made a great self-contained hour of TV, too. Though I’m on record stating that people should watch serialized shows like Justified from the beginning, “Thick As Mud” would be a fine gateway to more casual viewers who are curious about the show.

Other developments I’ll leave for the stray observations, but the terrific scene between Boyd and Quarles, perhaps the chief combatants in the battle over Harlan (Limehouse still lurks on the outside), deserves some mention. Earlier in the episode, we heard some frank talk from Boyd to Ava about how overmatched he feels against Quarles’ operation at this point, and we can see why—he’s just lost Devil over a betrayal that revealed a lack of confidence in his ability to organize, and Boyd’s gang seems short on muscle. Faced with Quarles’ scary connections and his capacity for criminal deviancy and hair-trigger violence, Boyd has every reason to shrink before his adversary and offer some compromise that can keep them both in business. But instead he hits him with an amazing “carpetbagger” speech that suggests the region itself may land Quarles in a quagmire, as it has many others who have tried to lay claim there. (I’m reminded of Afghanistan’s status as “the graveyard of empires.”) There’s a general arrogance to northerners’ consideration of their southern counterparts that Boyd understands as fatal, and though I don’t think Boyd has figured out a strategy to rebuff Quarles’ superior force, he’s prepared to stand his ground.


Stray observations:

  • Turns out Limehouse isn’t true to his word, at least when it applies to Dickie.
  • Telling character moment: Arlo rifling through Devil’s wallet for cash before he’s put in the ground. That’s all you need to know about him, right there.
  • Dewey, after being told that strippers don’t make the kind of money a former acquaintance suggested they do: “Granted, she’s a nine-and-a-half and you’re a six, but I figured you’d be good for a grand or so.”
  • Though it’s a little old-hat to have Raylan’s anesthesia wear off at an opportune moment, that shot through Lance’s chest and into the nurse’s was tremendously satisfying.  “I can’t believe you shot me.” “I can’t believe it, either.”
  • A “Dear John” letter for Raylan, but can Winona really quit him?

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