I feel as though I would have liked “Cut Ties” even more if I had seen the film Out of Sight whose protagonist, U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco, another Elmore Leonard creation, was a supporting character in the episode, but nevertheless it was another excellent example of everyone’s favorite modern Western. Despite not having a greater familiarity with Ms. Sisco the former Mrs. Goodall, played by Carla Cugino (the same actress who played the role in the character’s eponymous 2003 ABC series), I still found the writer’s subtle explanation of her new name immensely clever and the use of the character totally badass. Raylan and Karen clearly have a history together in Miami but the details of which, whether they be purely professional or something more, were left unexplored and I have to assume Cugino will have more appearances this season.
For a character that at first glance seems to pretty much be a female Raylan (or is Raylan a male Karen?), Karen’s presence did not feel forced at all and was called for due to the murder of her colleague, a fellow U.S. Marshal by the name of Bill Nickols. I absolutely love Justified’s consistent style of showing and not telling. I genuinely appreciate a series that forces its audience to pay attention. It isn’t until about half way through the episode that one realizes who Nickols is, why he was playing cat and mouse with his murderer, and what the killer’s story is. Turns out the killer, Terry Pough, aka Walter, is one of three individuals whom are all under Nickol’s custody as part of the same witness protection (“wit sec”) initiative, and has murdered Nickols to obtain enough cash to buy back into his old life in addition to selling out one of the other two witnesses.
I very much enjoyed this structure as it allowed for the audience to get better glimpses of Deputy Rachel Brooks and especially Chief Deputy Art Mullen in addition to newcomer Karen Goodall. Perhaps the episode’s most striking shot was when the camera saw Raylan and Karen on opposite sides of the screen as they each took down an assailant in a symmetrical, almost choreographed manner. Bonus points earned by the attention to detail of not having Raylan engage in too strenuous physical activity as he should still be recovering from the injuries he suffered during last season’s finale. We got to witness Rachel’s second on-duty kill which was 100% professional and a zillion percent awesome in the episode’s exciting bullet-laden climax. Rachel has consistently displayed an even cooler and calmer demeanor than Raylan and tonight that stone cold attitude meshed seamlessly with behaving warmly toward a frightened mother and her two young children, a unique and intriguing combination.
“Cut Ties”’ true high point, however, was undoubtedly the interrogation Art conducted on Pough. Credit is due to the episode’s writer-director team for perfectly placing the meeting between Art and Nickols before he was killed or properly explained as it drew the audience’s attention and demonstrated Nickols’ significance to Art which made his death that much more foreboding, especially once the audience realized who Art was dealing with before he did. Nichols immediately won me over when he mused to Art how they would measure up against figures like Wyatt Earp, a line spoken by Raylan way back in season one. Watching Art quietly decipher Pough’s true intentions was hands down the best piece of detective noir I’ve seen since watching 2005’s Brick. Not since the episode in which Art chased down an aging fugitive on an oxygen machine to his escape plane has the chief been seen being such a BOSS. Sure, we’ve seen Art yell at Raylan like his name was Murtough, but I’m one of those fans whom are most excited when seeing a character break out of his comfort zone and go into “I MEAN BUSINESS” mode and that’s exactly what Chief Deputy Mullen did. Mullen’s brutality was understandable (or justified…ahem) because he was dealing with the killer of a colleague, a marshal, and a friend.
In addition to a thrilling stand-alone story of the marshals doing what they do best, “Cut Ties” also included the ongoing adventures of Boyd in prison. This plot opened with Boyd approaching Dickie and Dewey with a concealed shiv but before Boyd can make his move against the man who nearly killed his girlfriend, he is interrupted by a visit from none other than his better half, Raylan. Not only has Raylan come to vent about his unusual courtship with his ex-wife and soon to be baby-mama, Winona, in what was the comedic high point of the episode as Boyd retorts with the fact that his girlfriend is his brother’s widow and murderess, but also to inform Boyd that in retrospect Raylan understands Boyd’s actions that landed him in prison once again and has decided to drop the charges against him in what is a beautiful allusion to cowboy ethics and letting a bad man walk free because the crime he committed wasn’t so different from what Raylan the lawman would have done in Boyd’s shoes. Plus, this showcased Raylan’s strategic brilliance and proved once more that Raylan need not fill a body with lead to circumvent a potential crime.
This good news does not keep Boyd from getting around isolation to reach Dickie, in a scene which once again allowed Jeremy Davies to demonstrate his incredible talent as an actor, only to find that Boyd needs to keep him alive and get him out of prison to obtain the money he wants from Dickie before properly disposing of him. Once Boyd had his pow-wow with Dickie, thanks to some very cooperative prison guards, he was released to the loving arms of Ava, a fantastic character who shines brightest when playing Bonnie to Boyd’s Clyde. Apparently the man in possession of the Bennett savings and trust is another new character named Limehouse – first Quarles, now Limehouse – what is up with the names of this season’s villains?
The scene which closed “Cut Ties” also introduced Limehouse as a brutal and brilliantly manipulative crime boss whose methods I couldn’t help but think of as those of a mean Tyler Durden. It looks like Boyd will be forced to work with Limehouse to some extent and watching them contend with Quarles and Duffy for criminal dominance in Harlan with Raylan just trying to get his house in order before his and Winona’s child arrive should prove to be a compelling season of modern power struggles and classic heroics.