This post contains spoilers for the February 21 episode of Justified.
If shows like the Law & Order franchise hammer home how easy it is to get lost in the big city, or to hide yourself in it if you’ve got wickedness in your heart, Justified last night felt like it was making a reverse and perverse case for the ability of rot to flourish in the country. Limehouse’s holler is still the most fascinating place the show’s taken us this season, a little fiefdom anchored by history, tradition, and an absolute refusal to be uprooted by racism. But Delroy’s entrance onto the scene is a reminder that you don’t have to have good intentions to build an enclave. And Arlo’s reappearance in his son’s life at the time when Raylan needs him least is a reminder that neglect to relationships is not determined by geography.
Let’s take Delroy first. There’s no question that he’s a smooth talker, telling Ellen May “My parents raised me in a commune of sorts. I wouldn’t call it hippie, exactly. Mostly dope farmers. But strangely, we were a family. Looked after each other. Just like we do here…It ain’t easy looking after you girls. There’s doctors, and clothing and food, what-not. Porn don’t nearly pay the bills. It’s those pills that keep the roof over our heads…Like everyone else, you must be willing to make a sacrifice,” before sending her back into a situation that nearly got her killed. He may be a pimp, but telling Ellen May “It pains me to do this to you, truly. But you have to learn accountability, just like I had to,” before beating her viciously makes him sound more like a cult leader than a hustler. Ugly things can flourish in isolation, particularly when someone’s willing to pray on people who are exceptionally isolated, like J.J., who corrects Ava’s memory of her, reminding the other woman that Ava remembers her from “Middle school. I never made it to high school.” Justified can be a bit talky this season, but in moments like this when it hammers home the importance of education and the isolation of rural poverty, it delivers tremendous sermons with very few words.
Limehouse may rule his holler with a similarly iron fist, but at least he goes to the trouble of articulating and grounding a code. “Gold chains and champagne and hoes and shit,” he lectures a deputy who’s getting all Emiliano Zapata on him. “Oh, son. We have survived in these hills for 15 decades by staying among ourselves.” I can imagine that Limehouse will wield terrible violence before this season is over, but so far, his game of only giving when he’s got first, his insistence that “The people who bank with me are the ones who have access to the things I know” is a form of insurance. The question becomes what happens when people like Dickie Bennett stop trusting the bank. And while Noble’s Holler has held on to its independence by not challenging white folks directly, amassing power can invite investigation, and as we’ve seen in earlier episodes, interdiction.
Then, there’s Arlo. Alan Sepinwall pointed out that if Arlo’s not faking, “the idea of Raylan having to care for the father he despises — wondering all the time how serious his condition really is — could yield some terrific material,” and I tend to agree. It would be fascinating to see FX become the first network to seriously examine the relationship between middle-aged people and their aging parents, particularly when those adults are under severe pressure. But even if that doesn’t turn out to be the case, Raylan’s relationship with Arlo isn’t something he can bury in the backwoods. Whether it was Arlo’s continued criminality or Quarles’ determination to ferret it out, some things can’t stay dead and buried, even in the backcountry.