Ever since I moved up to NYC, I’ve realized that my weekly sojourns into the backwoods of Harlan County have become my own sort of hour long return to Appalachia and home (although Barbour and Monangalia counties in WV are not remotely as bad as Harlan County, KY). Despite the fact that I witness pretty much the most depraved and worst aspects of my mountains and hollers of my part of the country, it’s nice to still see those trees and mountains and hollers when all I see is row and row of steel titans every day. However, there was absolutely nothing comforting about my return to Harlan County during Tuesday’s episode of Justified thanks to one of the creepiest and most disturbing tales they’ve covered in the entire series. While the show has always maintained this pulp, dime novel feel, it had never felt quite so lurid and deranged as it did during Tuesday’s, “Thick As Mud.” Since the episode’s story was written by Elmore Leonard himself, it explains everything and for the easily disturbed, last night’s escapades might be a little too much.

After the epic failure that was the attempts to steal Dickie Bennett’s money from Elstin Limehouse and Dickie (as it turns out Elstin was lying as much to Dickie as everyone assumed), Dewie Crowe has now been held hostage by the prison nurse. After Dewie wakes up in a blood filled bath-tub with massive incisions on both sides of his stomach, he’s informed that both of his kidneys have been removed and he’s got 4 hours to come up with $20,000 if he wants to get them back. Dewie’s an idiot though and after attempting to rob a liquor store, he gets fired on by a religious store owner who didn’t take kindly to Dewie’s panic-stricken blasphemy where he winds up holed up in a closet til the police arrive. As it turns out, Dewie’s kidneys hadn’t been taken out. It was all a scheme by the nurse and his other female nurse friend to scam Dewie for $20,000 and then harvest his organs. Raylen is nearly harvested himself when he gets a needle stuck in his neck Dexter style by the prison nurse. However, the female nurse betrays the prison nurse and shoots him, just as Raylen is waking up who shoots the woman through her dead former partner. When Raylen gets home after nearly dying, there’s a note in an empty house but we don’t know what it says. I’m guessing Winona left him. The last main plot point of the episode was a very tense first meeting between Boyd and Quarles where Boyd called Quarles a carpetbagger and essentially told him he could expect a bullet if he didn’t leave Harlan.

There wasn’t enough Boyd in this episode, but other than that, it was easily the most disturbing thing the series has ever done. Although it turned out that they hadn’t really taken out Dewie’s kidneys, they waited so long into the episode to tell you that fact that you spent pretty much the whole time on the edge of your seat wondering how Dewie was going to survive (Dewie’s inherent stupidity is like some super armor against the violent death he should have met several times on the show, and also I would be more pissed if he died than if Winona or Ava [especially Ava] met their ends). It didn’t feel like a cop out at the end when they admitted that his kidneys were still there because it confirmed how dumb Dewie was and it led to the shocking scene where someone actually got the leg up on Raylen. You don’t normally see him screw up, and you were wondering what miracle would save him. It turns out the sedative was weak and the woman nurse didn’t think he had it in him to shoot a woman (He didn’t think he had it in him either). While there wasn’t much Boyd, his showdown with Quarles obviously points to bigger things to come. Everyone in this town is playing a dangerous game and we all know that in the end, it’s going to be up to Raylen to clean up whatever explosions inevitably erupt. Neal McDonough and Walton Goggins had fantastic chemistry, and you could just cut the tension in that scene with a butter knife thanks to the brilliant subtlety and nuance of both of their performances. I’m not sure if I’d rather see Raylen bring Quarles down to size or see Boyd do it instead.

At first, I thought this episode had the potential to take a detour into Eli Roth schlock territory but it mercifully avoided those easy trappings. Instead, we got another darkly comic adventure that actually focused on a B-lister in the cast but was for more engaging than any random criminal of the week story could have been. I’ve definitely enjoyed the way that this season has played with the criminal of the week structure and the way that it’s become much more connected with the main plots. However, nothing can beat an episode devoted to the criminal incompetency of the character we all love to hate (and laugh at). This has easily been the best season of the series and while neither Quarles or Limehouse have yet to top Mags Bennet as villains, I’m sure there times to shine are still on the way.

Final Score: A-

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