The last time Raylan Givens saw Loretta McCready, she had become the surprising but not unexpected beneficiary of pot empress Mags Bennett's money, and Raylan instructed her not to spend all of it on a Lexus or having Van Halen perform at her birthday party, lest he'd come around to haul her off for spending ill-gotten gains. Over a season later, Loretta lives at a nicer house (it certainly looks better given where Raylan drops her off toward the end of the episode). But everyone knows better: you can take the girl out of Harlan, but you can't take the Harlan out of the girl.
"The Kids Aren't All Right" is basically an episode check-in on Loretta examining how the people who grow up in Harlan tend to have a cyclical nature. They make good, but something about that place, the harsh upbringing, the reliance on crime to provide, rampant violence, drives Loretta to stay connected to her roots through criminal activity that drags other people around her way in over their heads.
She gets busted selling weed to a cop's kid, which lands her in jail, but worse, she and her boyfriend Derek ripped off associates of Rodney "Hot Rod" Dunham from up in Memphis, another big-time distributor who hasn't popped up since aiding the Marshals in obtaining evidence against Dickie Bennett to save his own skin in season three. Dunham is understandably enraged, and sends two hitmen—played by Wood Harris (Avon Barksdale on The Wire) and Steve Harris (Friday Night Lights, Awake, The Practice)—to settle the debt and exact vengeance.
I think what Raylan fears about being a father, even more than his innate violence and capability to become as cold and distant as his father Arlo, is the possibility that he harbors an aching love for his daughter. That kind of all-consuming protective attachment has driven him to save Winona multiple times. Back in the pilot, Winona said Raylan is the "most violent man" she's ever met, but he's also fiercely devoted, which is the double-edged sword of his personality. I think more than likely he'd spoil his kid something fierce if he was able to be a permanent fixture in her life.
That can't happen now, as he still feels drawn to bigger case work as a marshal. But what this episode does provide is a glimpse into Raylan testing out his parenting skills on someone who has been in his charge, but isn't his daughter. At first he tries tough love, calling Loretta on her bullshit attempt to drag his name into the case as a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card. But once Raylan sets eyes on Loretta's social worker Allison (Amy Smart), he changes his tune, and once he's involved with the two hitmen coming after Derek, and the kid goes missing, he kick into full protective father mode.
The showdown scene, with the hitmen tied up and lit by Raylan's car headlights, is pure cold-eyed violence. The only thing that separates Raylan from his Harlan brethren, and their business partners outside Kentucky, is that he carries a badge that justifies his actions. And as he says to Dunham, his skills as a gunman will take down four of his men before anyone else fires a shot, and the badge will make it legal. Raylan can be scary when he wants to be, and because of his reputation, Dunham backs down for now, begrudgingly accepting Raylan's observation of the deal-gone-wrong: "You get in the weed business with teenagers and it's their fault when things go wrong?"
And so it gets to Raylan dropping Loretta off at home after driving through the night. He figures out she may have played him by showing up at the Marshal's office, bailing her out after she dangled Derek's life out as a way to escape for a while. She exploited that buried compassion, the connection Raylan feels for her as a surrogate daughter. Raylan mentions his daughter a few times during the episode, so it's clear that his child is on his mind. And that's enough to tip him into protecting Loretta again. But what Loretta's actions should teach Raylan, at this early stage, is that no matter how much you try to shield someone or correct mistakes, they continue down their own path, and Raylan won't always be around or willing to put up with another scheme Loretta gets caught up in.
As for Boyd, he's adrift more than usual after bludgeoning Lee Paxton into a coma. Paxton's wife Mara saved him, and initially implicates Boyd (if not by name, then by confirming the appearance of the attacker) to a sheriff's deputy, before recanting when the creepy deputy brings her by the bar. To Boyd, it's a miraculous move and one that suggests she wants more, and he's right: she wants more money to go back home. Boyd's inability to control the situation through increasingly dangerous illegal means has Ava on edge—and Paxton waking up . Though Boyd continues to reassure her, Mara's unknown motives for changing her story set the stage for temptation.
In addition to the problems with Paxton, the shipment of dope from Canada still hasn't arrived. Wynn Duffy attempts to placate a meeting of distributors at Boyd's bar when he shows up late, but it's one of those distributors, the indignant Cyrus ("A question worthy of the white house press corps! I always knew you had it in you Cyrus."), who may have cost Boyd even further. After Cyrus gives up information about the shipment to Candy—a junkie who teases him with the promise of a blowjob aided by Pop Rocks—the shipment from Canada gets hit, leaving bodies and cars strewn across a road, with no suspect to be found. Walton Goggins is still reeling off magnificent line readings all over the episode, but Boyd is so scattered, so nervous about having no control, that there is real fear in his future for the first time in a while.
"The Kids Aren't All Right" largely leaves the initial season-long arc of the reuniting Crowe family on simmer, only showing Michael Rapaport arrive at Audrey's to greet his cousin Dewey. Understandably, given everything Dewey has told Raylan about his kin—dating back to the pilot of the show—he's not exactly pleased to see Darryl in his new whorehouse. I don't think I got a chance to note it last week, but the fact that Graham Yost and his writers returned to that first exchange between Raylan and Dewey at Ava's house in order to spin out the overarching plot of the season is so clever. It's a very cool touch that the seeds of the next 11 episodes were planted years ago in an origin story.
But as Raylan suspected last week, Boyd is still looking to get his cut from Audrey's, and with Darryl's arrival and likely plan to get into criminal activity up in Harlan, that looks to be a more difficult proposition. Somebody with a stronger backbone behind Dewey means the Crowes may stand up to Boyd Crowder, only now Boyd is firmly backed into a corner. Ava in prison staring down a no-nonsense judge in 10 days; Paxton awake from his coma; Mara looking for a payout of $300,000; and another shipment of Canadian dope missing. But Boyd is a wild man given to creatively violent tendencies, so backing him into a corner is sure to set off a few explosions down the line.
- Raylan begins the episode by helping to seize the giant mansion of a man involved in the Detroit crime family, driving off in a possessed car, and eventually gets to move in. That makes for a nice episode-capping date with Allison, and a nice upgrade from his above-bar digs since moving out of the motel.
- Boyd's observation of his associate who helps shepherd Mara into the hospital stairwell to talk: "He's a nice enough fellow, but I wouldn't ask to borrow his corduroy jacket."
- "So…more than $100?"