Raylan Givens has trust issues. I don’t mean that in the conventional sense, although he does seem to exist as an island too remote for any permanent bridge to reach. Raylan’s problem is that he’s tempted to trust too much, and the implications of his trust suggest that he’s waiting for people to disappoint him so that he can intervene in the most macho way possible that allows him to channel his innate anger and violence into his work.
Last season, the bartender he started seeing had a rather violent former paramour who was recently released from prison. At the end of that debacle, Raylan had the guy, also a bareknuckle backyard boxer, cuffed to a trailer full of chickens intended for cockfighting, with the girl he trusted with a spare key to his apartment nowhere to be found. And she took all the extra money he’d been saving to help support his then-unborn daughter.
In “Good Intentions,” Raylan bides his time with Allison, Loretta’s social worker played by Amy Smart, to see whether she’s involved in an elaborate scheme to extract something of value from the mansion seized by the marshals last week. Raylan isn’t setting any kind of trap for her or investigation any suspicion, but it’s clear that he’s giving her enough rope to prove whether he misplaced trust in her. Rachel points to the tiny signs—she smokes pot right in front of him, and may have planted meth in the home of an admitted meth dealer in order to get the man’s son into child protective services. But while Raylan pushes back against Rachel’s accusations, the thought is clearly on his mind, and especially on Allison’s when she playfully confronts him again at the end of the episode.
I was certainly surprised that Justified got any extra mileage out of the mansion plot. It seemed like the show would just plop Raylan down in that house with no further questions, just to observe what he would do while nestled in the lap of Louisville luxury. But once a thug shows up outside the mansion to set off a car alarm, Raylan feels his itchy trigger finger. His doorbell ditch story is basically a tamer version of the showdown at the end of last week’s episode, showing once again that he loves getting into standoffs that he can either talk down with wit or end with a quick draw.
As Wynn Duffy posits to Raylan when the marshal shows up for his “protection” out of the blue: “You’re protecting me from a situation you created.” That elegantly sums up a lot of Raylan’s actions, protecting family, friends, and others from situations that wouldn’t arise without his intervention. The main plot essentially boils down to crimes of misunderstanding, caused by Raylan bringing Allison to the mansion. First, there’s the thug outside, who Raylan assumes showed up at the behest of Monroe, the guy whose house, car, and wine the marshal is enjoying. Not knowing that the guy is actually there because of Allison, Raylan goes to confront Monroe at a bail hearing to dissuade (threaten) Monroe not to do something like that again. But because Raylan doesn’t read the situation correctly, even when he’s able to snuff out the thug for coming after Allison for revenge over his son, Monroe’s mind is trying to find reasons why someone he didn’t hire would be at his house. So he repeatedly chokes and suffocates his girlfriend in an excruciatingly violent scene in order to find out who would be able to get access to the gold he has in a hidden safe.
Once the girlfriend shows up at the mansion and fails miserably to get the gold without attracting suspicion (Raylan and Rachel are much too keen for that plan), it allows Raylan to press the issue of trust in order to bring Monroe up on bigger charges. He and Rachel pressure the girlfriend into saying the gold is gone, meaning Monroe has no choice but to go after Duffy, which leads to the ever-present bodyguard Mikey dropping Monroe with a couple bullets. All of this was unnecessary, brought on by Raylan confronting Monroe at the courthouse. In running around to solve everything with intimidation and sheer strength of reputation, Raylan causes more trouble that he fixes—which is exactly why he’s a bad fit for Winona and his daughter at the moment.
On the other side of the law, Boyd has trust problems of his own. With a missing shipment of dope hijacked, there’s still no money to pay off Paxton’s wife, the sheriff, or anyone else in order to get Ava out of prison. And Dewey is starting to grow a backbone at Audrey’s, egged on by his cousin Darryl, who chips away at the control Boyd wields over that “friendship.” Boyd’s world is crumbling around him, from the dope to his fiancé to his underlings, and the only thing he can really hold onto is another woman. He hasn’t given into that temptation yet, but Justified doesn’t much care for subtlety—it prefers to move in broad, witty strokes—and the foundation is there for Boyd to make an irrevocable mistake while trying to weather the storm.
“Good Intentions” also features a diverse range of female characters. Monroe’s girlfriend is a special strain of passive abuse victim, enduring not only horrific violence from her boyfriend but also implied daily racism. (Rachel’s incredulous delivery of, “You call him mister?” says it all.) Mara feels trapped in Harlan, in her marriage to the undertaker, and by the sheriff’s unwanted advances—so she exploits what little power she has in teasing Boyd. She asks to see his tattoos—ostensibly to figure out what part of a corpse she’ll use to try and convince her husband that Boyd is dead—but it’s a far more intimate scene where the two talk about survival. Meanwhile, Ava is trapped in prison, and the rift between her and Boyd is growing, especially after his rather tactless statement that though he beat Paxton to a pulp, he didn’t kill the man, which makes Ava’s two (justifiable) murders weigh heavily on her.
But I keep coming back to that final scene, in light of Boyd’s catchphrase of the night while “interrogating” Cyrus with Wynn and a BB gun: “Come on now son, pussy is a powerful thang.” Boyd pulls Candy— contains a woman who defines her worth with sexual abilities—out of a small box, after he sends a henchman to kidnap her. And the unexpected twist of cousin Johnny’s involvement only adds trouble to Boyd’s already full plate. But what “Good Intentions” suggests is that Raylan just can’t resist sticking his nose into things in order to try and shut them down. Which means that sooner or later, a powder keg in Harlan County is going to go off and draw the marshal back to his hometown once again to cause more havoc. In the end, Raylan Givens gets the criminal, that much is sure, but the amount of carnage he leaves behind him along the way—and how little it seems to affect him—remains troubling.
Kevin McFarland is a Contributing Writer at The A.V. Club and in other little corners of the Internet. His Alaskan Malamute, Dynamite, loves the snow so much he might as well be a direwolf. Follow him on Twitter.