By Cheryl Collins
After last week’s taut, intense, and focused episode, this week’s scattershot, all-over-the-place “Raw Deal” feels a bit like just that. Certainly it was a raw deal for the main characters, for whom nothing seems to go according to plan.
Bruised and battered Ava finds herself caught between two hard-bitten women whose lives are written on their faces, in close up. It’s nice to see unbeautiful middle-aged women on television: here one is Gretchen, a very scary white supremacist, and the other Judith, a self-appointed priestess of the “heavenly mother.” To protect herself and her devotees, Judith supplies drugs to the general populace — instead of “waiting on a man” to save her, she says. Ava, who was stood up by Boyd, again, eventually offers to supply her the drugs.
Raylan spends much of the episode chasing a one-legged computer hacker, a step behind throughout. He not only lets the guy slip through his fingers, he also somehow walks right past a murderer who’s got a gun to the hacker’s gal pal.
Throughout the episode — and for much of the season— Raylan has seemed passive, unfocused, off-kilter, plus he’s drinking too much. Are these the after-effects of his complicity of Nicky Augustine’s murder? Art still refuses to talk to him; it’s Rachel who is giving him orders.
The hacker first taunts him by posting “I made this U.S. Marshall MY BITCH”; if you’ve been watching along with me, you know how this reflects what I think is the primary theme this season. Later the hacker, after hijacking Raylan’s bank account and noting the number of beers he had that night, straight out asks him, “Are you an alcoholic, deputy?” Alison is stuck having to pay the bill; she’s been suspended after Wendy Crowe goes through her entire case file, digging for dirt.
Meanwhile, Boyd heads down to Mexico to close the deal on his heroin purchase —only to find Johnny has beaten him there. (The first thing I wondered was if Walton Goggins wasn’t hot in all those wool layers.) The elaborate double cross ends in the desert with Boyd holding the guns, drugs, and the money. He’s just about to allow Johnny’s muscle guys to go free, when, unsurprisingly, the Crowes throw a wrench in the works and kill them. Perhaps they want to create more enemies for Boyd as they work to muscle him out of Harlan.
Johnny, despite being on his knees and having a gun on him, can’t keep his mouth shut. After the shooting stops he taunts Boyd one last time — and Boyd promptly shoots him, apparently dead. It’s clear Boyd can’t quite believe it himself — despite their enmity, they were kin, and only hours before had been trading stories of the girl in high school they both had a crush on. He may have wished his cousin dead, but to actually kill your kin is a new line for Boyd to cross, one that mimics the Crowes killing off their brother Dilly.
Adios Johnny. If you are truly dead, I will mourn you. A few posts ago I described David Meunier, who plays Johnny, as a kind of downmarket Joaquin Phoenix. I’m sad to see you go.
All the main characters — Raylan, Boyd, Ava, Alison, Wendy, even dimwitted Dewey — seem to be playing catch-up with their lives, at that moment when you wake up and ask “how in the hell did I get here?” (Or, as the Talking Heads asked, “My God, what have I done?”) You can make decisions that may feel internally consistent and correct in the moment, especially when fuelled with youthful bravado, but in accumulation they can eventually bring you to a very different place than you ever intended or imagined. This is middle age, folks. And yes, it is a raw deal.
“Raw Deal” may not be best-written or directed episode of the season, but it moved the pieces a bit further along the board as we head toward the end of the season.
Use of the word “pussy”: 0. Hooray.
I agree, the quality is slipping. The appearance of Dale Dickey as Judith makes up for it, though. She is definitely my favourite haggard matriarch. I find both her and Gretchen beautiful in their own frightening ways.
Her previous roles include a scary but kindhearted hillbilly matriarch in the fantastic film Winters Bone; ‘Patty The Day-Time Hooker’ in My Name Is Earl; a nameless meth user, credited as ‘Spooges woman’, in Breaking Bad (she had the same aversion to the word ‘skank’ as you do to ‘pussy’, albeit with a more hands-on approach); and of course the werewolf grandmother in True Blood.
I would like to coin the phrase “hell hath no fury like a woman casually insulted”. The hacker wouldn’t have been caught if he hadn’t denigrated the coding skills of his female accomplice. And he did it in the most unfunny, hackneyed, Redditesque way possible. Farewell, Pubestache, we hardly knew ye!
I agree — Dale Dickey as Judith brings a big dose of real to the proceedings. Very nice to have some interesting women characters, for a change.
“And of course the werewolf grandmother on True Blood” — classic!
Yup, it would be nice to have an interesting woman on the show again (R.I.P Mags Bennett and please come back Ellen May and Loretta). Ava’s storyline has been on the backburner for quite some time now. Mara was incredibly two-dimensional (she’s also in True Blood BTW, as a very family values-oriented Catholic vampire), and the social worker was easy on the eyes but had little substance beyond being Raylans seasonal squeeze.
I think the problem with flat female characters arises when characters are written not as humans but as something for Raylan or Boyd to react to. This goes for a lot of the male guest- and co-stars as well, of course. The one-legged hacker was a 90’s parody of a computer nerd, and wasting William Forsythe’s (ep.8) talent on a handful of gravelly lines is just lazy. The “bad guy of the week”-concept is probably easy to manage from a show runner standpoint, but it invariably results in crappy characters.
I feel like the writers are missing the forest for the trees when they introduce new characters. How about giving Rachel a few lines now and again? I can’t be alone in thinking she has a lot of potential. And TV-land isn’t exactly overflowing with well-written black women.