TV RECAP: 'Justified: Long in the Tooth'

TV RECAP: ‘Justified: Long in the Tooth’

Well, after watching the first three episodes of this new FX drama, I decided to start recapping the show. How befitting that last night’s episode ‘Long in the Tooth’ revolved around a fugitive dentist.  I worked as a dental hygienist for seven years, so I got an extra kick out of the subject matter.  (Hate to break it to you, though, there is no way in hell those two tri-furcated molars could have been extracted so easily, they practically leaped out of the victim’s mandible.  Just saying.)

If you are not familiar with Justified, Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood, Damages)  plays Raylen Givens, a U.S. Marshal who is disciplined after a “justified” killing of a criminal by being relocated from Miami to eastern Kentucky, his childhood stomping grounds. Givens was a character created by novelist Elmore Leonard, and the pilot of the series “Fire in the Hole” was based on a short story featuring the character. Each week Raylen tracks down some sort of fugitive, and so far each episode has been self-contained, which is a nice change of pace from serial dramas like Lost, Breaking Bad, or Fringe.

There is no way you can pick a random episode on any of those shows and really understand what is going on. Justified has recurring characters, but you are not going to be completely lost if you just now start watching it, so go ahead and set your DVRs. The show is a breezy, fun hour of television that won’t make your head hurt with theories, conspiracies, and convoluted storylines. I enjoy all those  show components, but sometimes I am in the mood for something a little less complicated.

Olyphant is enormously likable in the lead role. It is about time he have a starring vehicle, and his affable demeanor is perfect for the smarmy, sexy Raylen. He sports  a confidant swagger and he never  goes anywhere without his trusty hat (of the cowboy variety.)

Spoilers for this episode ahead.  “Long in the Tooth” begins in a Los Angeles dental office where a kindly dentist is performing procedures on Mexican children for tamales and hot sauce.  A haughty, self-important patient is berating and belittling the receptionist about some insurance issue, and tells the dentist he will not pay for his work due to the incompetence.  He exits talking on his blue-tooth earpiece, but is stopped before he can get into his car by the furious dentist, who is armed with a hypodermic needle filled with draino.

He explains to the patient that if he is not going to pay for his work, then the work will be reclaimed, so to speak.  Molar extractions ensue.  Authorities are notified, and Givens is placed on a flight (with partner Rachel) to Los Angeles to track down Roland Pike, the real name of the dentist.

Seems he used to do a bit of money laundering for the mob and has been a fugitive from the law and the mob for years.  He got himself a DDS degree in Panama, and has become a beloved member of the hispanic community, until a nasty security camera film of him yanking teeth out in a parking lot is plastered all over CNN.

Pike flees for the border with the help of some indebted patients, his cute receptionist Mindy in tow.  It is a race against time for Givens to find Pike (an old acquaintance, incidentally) before the mob’s goons do.

This episode did a great job of establishing a few things, namely Given’s compassion for the fugitives he hunts down.  He seems genuinely concerned for the welfare of Pike, and doesn’t want to see Pike and his lady friend gunned down by the mob, he wants to protect them by finding them first (although he did allude to some testimony that Pike could give that would put away some mob members.)

He seems to have a certain respect for Pike as he explains to Rachel, who’s hoping to trace a cell phone signal,  “He dodged the marshals, the FBI, and the mob for five years. He’s already dumped the phone.”  I like the mutual respect angle. It is a theme we’ve seen in lots of movies and television shows, the notion that not so much really separates the good guys from the bad guys, it’s all a matter of which side of the line you end up on.

I think this will set up some interesting dynamics throughout the series.  You see a flicker of remorse and regret on Givens’s face after he shoots the two mobsters.  This is a man headed for crisis of conscience, mark my words.

Some tension is laid  between Rachel and Givens, as Rachel confesses that she is resentful of Givens’s leapfrogging into senior position immediately upon his arrival to the office.  She’s got a chip on her shoulder about being 1) a woman, and 2)black. Givens acknowledges her feelings, but is wise not to agree that she is in a position of weakness because she is a black woman.  I suspect we will see lots of bickering from these two, but god willing, no sexual sparks. Pop culture junkies all know how that kills a show.

There was also a very understated scene where Rachel got some insight into why Givens is so good at his job, when he sits down with an elderly Mexican gentleman and earnestly tells him why he is concerned for Pike. He respectfully gets his point across, and  Rachel and Given leave with the information they need.  The man is smooth, but sincere.

There are some scenes that showcase some good comedic writing. Mindy makes the ill-advised decision to  order ceviche from a street truck, resulting in a spastic stomach and some very inconvenient bathroom stops.  Pike yells, “Who orders ceviche from a taco truck!?”

There is also a scene at the end of the episode when Pike confesses to Givens that it was Hermey the elf from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer television special that served as his inspiration to  become a dentist.  “That little gay guy?” is Given’s response.

In the end, the mob was able to make contact with some of their associates in Mexico, so in a desert standoff, Pike becomes a willing sacrifice, partly to protect Mindy, and partly because he cannot fathom a life without his beloved dentistry.  He knows if he goes into the witness protection program, he’ll never practice again. He goes out like a hero, on his terms.

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