Season 1, Episode 1: “Fire in the Hole”
One thing I liked early on was how Raylan glanced at that list of phone numbers on the wall of Ava’s house. That was good, that felt like a piece of grounding in a scene where, my lord, he’s got his hat off and Ava’s talking at him and kissing him because she can and then peering out of the bathroom with nothing but a towel on. Up until that moment we’d mostly seen Raylan in control. We saw complete the bargain of an ultimatum issued, and we saw him handle things, like being reassigned to his hometown when he clearly does not care to be reassigned to anyone’s hometown. Like being interrogated by suits when he clearly doesn’t care for suits. Like stepping in to question a witness who clearly doesn’t care to be questioned.
But you give him a girl, it seems, a girl who you know’s gonna look good in a pale pink sundress (which she puts on a little while later, but still, you knew from the beginning) and all Raylan can do is let her talk.
I just have to say up front that I’m wary of that. I’m wary of the strong woman in the pale pink sundress, the one who shoots her husband and kisses the marshal all at once. That woman is a magical woman, altogether vulnerable and in complete control of her side-eyed sexuality. She’s hungry and she’s got wet hair all the time. And you let her talk because she talks but watching Raylan glance at that list of numbers, you think, you let her talk because she’s surely going to say something of value. They always do.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Timothy Olyphant is playing Raylan like the museum of masculinity’s equivalent of the pale pink sundress, his goddamned strong jaw and quick smiles and taking off his hat at the right moment, all the time. When he’s violent he’s so quick with it that you see the damage long before you recall his movements. And he makes jokes, lord help us, he’s got a sense of humor that you just know got forged in the mines of pain and suffering. hum-um. I nearly died when he made a joke, the first time, if anything sets this man apart from the ghost of Seth Bullock it’s the up-turned mouth in place of the clenched jaw. It’s the feeling that while Seth always knew what was the right thing to do, whether or not he was doing it, Raylan might not be sure. For all his he drew first for all his you make me pull, I’ll put you down, I mean, righteousness is best adopted to quell a man’s quiet uncertainties. The Bible is best misinterpreted to rob banks.
Which brings us to Boyd, which brings us around to the scene that I loved best. Raylan visiting Boyd in the compound. Boyd sending his henchm’n away so that the two could reacquaint. Boyd is such a louse from go that it was almost impossible to believe that scene wasn’t going to be Raylan flat cuffing him and there you go, your show is over. Bad man captured. But not only does Raylan not cuff him, he doesn’t really question him, either. It’s like he shows up and they both know already what’s going on, and then they sit one in front of the other in pews, that’s where we’re at. The game has already advanced far beyond solutions; what in the hell happened to them when they were babies digging coal! That flashback is hiding things, I know it. So I was sad a little when Boyd got up to preach, I wanted them to sit like that for hours, fixing their eyes on points just above each other, not talking about fathers, smiling to themselves.
It’s already a strong pilot when we reach the last scene. And the last scene is hard. The last scene could undo us all. I’m on board with my smirking quick-draw, I’m on board with his villainous other, I’m on board with pink sundress and good-humored boss and other marshals whose names I don’t yet know. I do love a scene where a man breaks into a house and sits there like a creep in the dark, that’s fine. But ex wives! Ex wives are a variation on the pink sundress, they are, beautiful martyrs with stable husbands, far beyond our damaged heroes. So the good was undone a bit, for me, until the last line of the episode brought out the nicest bit of acting I think I’ve ever seen from our friend Timothy Olyphant. Raylan tries to describe himself, says he doesn’t think of himself as an angry man. And for a second you’re on his side with that. Well sure, he’s not an angry man. He’s got a way of doing things but there’s no anger in that, anger would make it dangerous. So imagine our surprise when ex wife, with stable husband, points out the obvious. Raylan is angry. He’s the angriest man she’s ever known. Something flickers across his face, then, and it’s not good. It’s scary.
So we got ourselves a show.