Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman) is a desperate man—as you’d expect him to be, waking up in a bloody bathtub, ostensibly with both his kidneys missing, as he does in “Thick As Mud,” this week’s episode of Justified. Last week I expressed concern over this coming organ-harvesting plotline, mostly because I didn’t find Lance (Clayne Crawford) particularly compelling as a villain and would prefer that the show focused on more interesting characters. But as it turns out, “Fancy Lance” is nothing more than a plot device, there to set into motion the next chapter of Dewey Crowe’s hard-luck story. Lance offers Dewey the opportunity to buy back his own kidneys, but warns him that he’ll only have four hours of life left to do it. The result is a race against the clock, as poor, incompetent Dewey robs anyone he thinks might have cash.
There’s something incredibly strange, frantic, and amazing about Dewey stumbling his way through Lexington trying to raise the money to buy back his own kidneys. It’s as if Justified has created a madcap mash-up between itself, Dexter, and Crank, with results as riveting and bizarrely hilarious as you might expect. This is possibly the oddest episode of Justified yet, and it’s also one of the most flat-out entertaining.
As this is Dewey we’re talking about, we know there’s little chance of him actually stealing enough money by his deadline, and, as Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) points out, he’s not exactly the type of guy who could get the jump on Lance. From the start, then, there’s a sort of tragic fatalism to Dewey’s journey that adds both immediacy to his struggle and an added layer of comedy once it’s revealed that Lance lied and Dewey’s had his kidneys all along.
“Thick As Mud” is something of a stylistic anomaly for Justified: Between the saturated morning light accentuating just how strung out Dewey is, to the fast-paced cutting between Dewey and Raylan, who follows Dewey’s absurd path of robbery and tries to figure out just what’s inspired him to start knocking over appliance stores, the style feels as strange as the subject matter. There’s nothing particularly heavy or fleshy—err, figuratively speaking—about this story, but it’s a master class in execution that demonstrates why the show’s production, at its best, deserves mention alongside the likes of Mad Men and Breaking Bad.
The episode is also hilarious, from Dewey’s ill-fated attempts at sticking up a convenience store, to Raylan’s general goofiness through the entire episode (see the way he pokes fun at a police officer who wants to break down the motel door, bickers with the man he ran over twice with his car, and jokes about “Dr. Blowjob” with evil nurse Leila).
Perhaps the most interesting thematic element this week is the thick yet often amusing undertone of misogyny to Raylan’s conduct. He makes jokes about male nurses and refers to Winona (Natalie Zea) subverting her will to his lifestyle as “sweet.” He’s shocked that he actually shoots the woman he earlier called “cute as a pound full of kittens.” Though, to be fair, so is she. His reaction reveals a slightly backward element of his personality he was previously oblivious to. It’s enough to make him realize that something’s wrong about his relationship with the women in his life. He doesn’t realize quite how true this is, of course, until he returns home to find that Winona has left him. Raylan doesn’t receive his comeuppance too often, but he does here in a big way and, as we can expect from Justified, it’s the culmination of something that’s long been gestating beneath the surface.
Of course, we can’t forget the meeting between Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Quarles (Neal McDonough), which contrasts the more visceral excitement of the Dewey plot with what turns into a battle of literary references. Quarles is impressed when Boyd recognizes a Thomas Jefferson quote (prison affords a man ample opportunity to read, Boyd points out), but things get downright obscure when Quarles picks up Boyd’s paraphrase of a letter Saul Bellow wrote to Philip Roth (the original: “I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do about the journalists; we can only hope that they will die off as the deerflies do toward the end of August”).
The tension these two men manage to create over a glass of bourbon is palpable, and we can see the deep offense Quarles takes to Boyd calling him a carpetbagger. It’s a moment that frames Quarles as the most natural of Justified’s villains and makes it quite clear that, one way or another, these two men are going to do their damned best to destroy each other.
• “Thick As Mud” is a spectacular episode, with some of the best writing and dialogue Justified has given us, and it wasn’t a surprise to see that it was penned by none other than Elmore Leonard.
• It’s truly impressive that, in the middle of this in-your-face story about organ extraction, the show still manages to portray Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) as the most badass man in town while he’s being nice to someone.
• With Dewey’s seemingly tragic tale turning comedic, there’s something brilliant about capping it off with his friendly “God bless you, son”/“Thank you, sir” exchange with the convenience store manager who shot him. Somehow, Dewey comes across as endearingly innocent.
• The writing is the star here, but Adam Arkin is also quickly proving himself to be one of the best directors on television. I miss his work on Terriers, so it’s great to see his talent finding a home with Justified.
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